Power, Identity and Social Change as We Enter Degrowth

August 14, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Image RemovedUnderstanding the interplay of power[i],[ii] identity, and social change is critical to those who recognize that modern societies are at the limits to growth, in ecological overshoot[iii] and undergoing a first phase reaction of economic contraction;[iv] disintegration of modern finance, as evidenced by massive corruption and wealth destruction;[v] and political upheaval[vi]. While responses to these dilemmas can take the form of involvement in community localization, disengagement from modernism, studying yoga and Zen Buddhism, shrugged shoulders, political activism, or focusing on one institution –like health care, education, transportation, public banking, or the food supply, they all contain layers of nuance involving the relationships among power, identity (personal and collective) and social change.   

I want to speak to those who feel, as the cultural, thermodynamic and biophysical clocks enter the eleventh[vii] hour,[viii] either confounded or bludgeoned and “powerless” facing the deep-seated cruelty, incapability and intransigence of modern civilization to recognize overshoot and the limits to growth. I speak also to those who have a seemingly contrary reaction: flickers of intrepidness and hope despite recognition of enormous obstacles and dilemmas. This essay in addition is addressed to health professionals, most of whom do not comprehend overshoot and the limits to growth but find themselves in hierarchical bureaucratic systems that will increasingly malfunction and are susceptible to punctuated collapse[ix] or “failure cascade”[x] –which will present the best opening for fundamental change- as the world lunges into degrowth.

Almost all contemporary governments are ignoring or misinterpreting economic contraction, resource scarcities and biophysical crises and dilemmas by intensifying their servility to the neoliberal[xi] model of society, which operates in terms of debt-based economic growth; class exploitation; and fundamentalist faith in “The Market,” where individuals are told “there’s no such thing as society” and, therefore, they are free to be “entrepreneurs of [themselves]”[xii][xiii] –and are personally to blame if they fail to climb an economic ladder of  opportunity[xiv]. Those cognizant of ecological dilemmas realize this system cannot be resuscitated and is in fact beginning to break apart. They realize that modern culture remains captive to the neoliberal[xv]political/economic/cultural paradigm as it produces further ecological destruction, increasing socioeconomic inequality – allegedly to revive the economy, a side “benefit” is the spoils of class warfare- and proceeds with the temporarily successful privatization of public goods and services, social control measures of secrecy in government policy[xvi] making[xvii] and embracing embryonic[xviii] totalitarianism[xix] in the guise[xx] of protecting[xxi] the homeland.[xxii]
Simultaneously, neoliberal governments delude themselves[xxiii] and propagandize their citizens that this corporatocracy[xxiv] is not just the best option, but also the only feasible model of governance in the modern world. Since they believe the status quo offers the only way forward, corporatocracy members regard themselves[xxv] as the select evolutionary elite[xxvi] to manage[xxvii] 21st century society.[xxviii] The opposite is the case;[xxix] and this will become manifest even to them as, for example, the power of climate change, water scarcity, ocean acidification, nuclear disaster[xxx], bee population die-off, peak oil (immediately and directly through its impact on the economy and finance), etc. mounts and proceeds to undermine neoliberal shibboleths –as well as the neoliberal “Masters of the Universe” collective identity- about how the world works.
Neoliberal ideological hubris is built upon the modernist mythology that human’s ability to fashion the social world is infinite, the earth’s resources are essentially limitless and its biophysical systems are passive and resilient vassals absorbing industrial society’s wastes and toxins. This is a colossal conceit as the further we go into overshoot and hit against resource limitations the more inept, desperate and downright socially and ecologically destructive neoliberal policies become[xxxi] and the fewer options modern culture has to reconcile its practices with ecological realities.
As things look, neoliberal governments will continue to do their utmost[xxxii] –that is, use their waning but still potent power- to preserve the current political/economic hierarchy and ecologically destructive social order.[xxxiii]However, their power is not stable, nor is it insurmountable and -this must be stressed- it does not derive exclusively or primarily from cultural and historical phenomena, such as media propaganda and other forms of rhetoric and symbol manipulation, institutional inertia, incentives and rewards, tradition, appeals to fear and xenophobia, vested interests, and the implicit threats of surveillance and state sanctioned violence.
To make my argument requires a brief tour of how social science has reflected cultural ideas about power and how Michel Foucault, in his mid to late career writings, challenged the conventional view, arguing “power is everywhere,”[xxxiv] regarding the location and function of power in society. Foucault’s concept of power is then synthesized with ecological theory to recognize resource scarcity and biophysical forces as agents (of power) shaping personal and collective identity and proscribing the possibilities for social change.
From the conventional behavioral viewpoint, Max Weber[xxxv] writes, “Power is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance…” from another actor. Simply put, power is the ability of actor A to compel actor B to do something actor B would prefer not to do, all things being equal. “Authority” connotes legitimate power; “coercion” indicates the illegitimate use of power, ultimately through the threat or application of harm or violence.[xxxvi] In Weber’s view power is a force that actors and institutions possess and at times use to assert their will upon others with less or no power. The implication is that power is a tool or resource, not a constitutive feature of all interaction.
Foucault challenges the received understanding of power, where it exists and how it functions. He writes,
We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’.  In fact power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.  The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production[xxxvii].
Cole summarizes in plain English Foucault’s  “power is everywhere” thesis:
Foucault explains that all social relations -between persons and between people and institutions- are imbued with power relations. Wherever there are points of contact between persons, or between persons and institutions, power relations -which is to say, force relations -exist. Power exists in the spaces between us. It is present in all our interactions. Power, as it exists in power relations, is dynamic. Power is not permanently possessed by any one actor or institution. It cannot be protected or guarded. Rather, power is constantly in circulation -always in adjustment, as our interactions with one another take place in time. [xxxviii]
Critically, in this conception power is unstable and is –theoretically- up for grabs whenever people interact. Social reality is, after all, merely a contingent human arrangement; that is, socially shared definitions of situations where people are expected to behave in terms of the established “rules of the game” of social organization and human interaction.[xxxix] In short, an actor’s sense of power -or powerlessness- and, also, the individual’s identity –identity motivates people[xl]– rests upon the rules she believes to be governing social interaction. Change the rules[xli] and you change the power relations and identities among actors. Admittedly, changing the rules that define the situation is in many social interactions not at all easy, and in any given instance it may prove all but impossible to do. Nonetheless, Foucault’s point is that the essence of power is a socially constructed definition of the situation with –again, simplified- negotiable and unstable rules.[xlii]
The rules of a social situation define what identities are acceptable to display, that is, what an individual can (openly) think, feel, say and do. So when people challenge or resist rules, they take on an oppositional identity, which undermines social reality and established power relationships; and this is why seemingly trivial indiscretions or objections to authority or rules are often severely punished. Put differently, the instability of the definition of the situation -something voicing protest, offering criticism, satire or “inappropriate behavior” can expose (think of George Carlin’s humor)- explains why governments and all large organizations engage in propaganda and severe punishment: Is Edward Snowden -and Bradley Manning- a criminal and a traitor? Is he a whistleblower doing a public service by exposing unconstitutional activities by the US government? Is he something else?[xliii]Or is the question of his character itself not the right one to be asking?[xliv]
Pickard notes,
Insofar as those [definitions] can never be fixed, then, power relations are not and cannot ever be inevitable, unchanging, or unalterable … Power is not seen to radiate in a single direction [as with Weber’s conception] from a specific source, and is not solely a matter of force or coercion, but permeates every aspect of social life, exercised from an infinite multiplicity of positions. People, then, are not so much victims of power, as vehicles…[of its application].[xlv]
 From this insight that power is relational, not fixed in roles or institutions, Foucault argues that cultural “truth”-which in his view is always associated with dominant, legitimated knowledge- is socially constructed. That is, the relationship of “power/knowledge/discourse” (derived from an episteme or paradigm which organizes collective thought) like neoliberalism has power relationships encoded in its dogma. So “a rising tide lifts all boats” connotes the legitimacy of massive disparities in wealth distribution, and “There Is No Alternative” implies the Borgism “all resistance is futile.” And if people believe all resistance is pointless then power appears absolute, ones identity is subservient and tightly constrained and political opposition need not be considered.
Foucault writes:
Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint.  And it induces regular effects of power.  Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true[xlvi].
Rainbow adds: “These ‘general politics’ and ‘regimes of truth’ are the result of scientific discourse and institutions, and are reinforced [and always threatened by the possibility of resistance] constantly through the education system, the media, and the flux of political and economic ideologies.”[xlvii]
Again for emphasis, this is why the use of propaganda, control of narratives, and the suppression or exclusion of counter-narratives and bodies of knowledge/discourses -like realistic discussion of peak oil or the limits to growth- from consideration in mass media, businesses, medicine and higher education is critical to perpetuation of established regimes of truth (which are rules for the definition of situations) and power relationships. Dominant institutions are not seekers of truth, they are in charge of allocating imprimatur to “legitimate discourses” and fields of knowledge, which also means isolating or suppressing bodies of knowledge that threaten established constructions of social reality and power relations. (This explains the cluelessness of government, business, medicine, the media and higher education as we enter degrowth –fear of the unknown, vested interests and the decadence evidenced by massive corruption pretty much round out the model.)
Foucault’s thoughts on power developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and, according to Pickard, are tinged with anthropomorphism and modernism, and therefore lack the contributions of ecological theory. For example, Cole’s summary of Foucault’s work, cited above, holds that power is present in all “contact between persons, or between persons and institutions…” Put differently, Foucault’s view, for all its departure from convention, begs the question, “Where do the rules come from?”
To supplement this social construction of reality perspective, Pickard argues that all ecological science –which he refers to as complexity theory- shares the premise that humans, nonhumans and environments are interconnected. That is, they are networked agents exercising power -force- in the construction of social reality. This suggests, argues Pickard, that power in human affairs should be thought of as social, a la Foucault, and ecological.
Pickard writes:
Modern notions of agency are not only insufficient to the task of acknowledging that humans exist within material, ecological environments, but because their binary construction [power seen as zero sum] serves to limit access to agency [power], they also reinforce Modern power relations that have legitimized the discrimination of those who are constituted as non-agential [e.g., women, ethnic minorities, animals, children, low wager earners, “the environment,” and so forth] (see footnote 45).
Because a relational power is necessarily dispersed throughout every relationship, and because it constitutes nonhumans and environments as well as humans, such a relationality implies a radicalness that even Foucault did not acknowledge. In this sense, a more radical relational agency recognizes that humans, nonhumans and environments are all participants within relations of power [they all contribute to the definition of the situation and identity formation]. Foucault’s thought both implies a radical relational agency, and yet, does not quite acknowledge it (see footnote 45).  
At this point we can ask, so what? Is this merely academic autoeroticism? It’s that and more.
For example, Pickard’s formulation helps us ask questions (readers will think of others, and may reject these) as degrowth tightens its grip on society:
  1. Can this formulation of power aid people to remain sane[xlviii] as they undergo, and observe in others, changes in personal and collective identity?
    • The differences between a growth-based modernist identity and a sense of self that is rooted in an understanding of ecological theory are many and profound.
  2. How can this conception of power inform a cultural narrative that explains why degrowth is occurring?
    • How can it guide us to develop strategies to both overcome neoliberalism –a negation of the present- and live within ecological boundaries –an affirmation of what is emerging?
    • How can this narrative help to ameliorate identity crises and enable personal and collective identity transformations?[xlix] In other words, taking care of oneself is not narcissistic but healthy[l].
    • What does entering into degrowth mean for the possibility of some form of genuine political/economic democracy[li]?
      • How to prevent neoliberalism from transforming into a neo-feudal, totalitarian, authoritarian, or non-egalitarian dystopia?
Pickard goes on,
The importance of recognizing that humans exist in relationships with nonhumans and environments is that it extends a relational agency to include not only the limits imposed by [human] power relations, but also recognizes that there are material, ecological limits on human power relations [e.g., peak oil, climate change, and so forth]. While Modern systems of thought are characterized by the recognition that Man is a natural being, such systems of thought nonetheless constitute human beings as superior to Nature [faith in technological fixes, regarding Nature as passive, whether to be exploited or protected] and, hence, as distinct from Nature. In this sense, the emergence of Man [the Enlightenment] did not include a recognition that humans are bound by ecological limits. (See footnote 45)
For illustration, let’s ponder the current cultural hegemony of neoliberalism and the biophysical reality of degrowth. This reveals two diametrically opposed forces at work in the social world, the first of which pales in strength to the second:
  • Neoliberalism currently has massive power –“regimes of truth”- in the cultural/mythological and political/economic dimensions. A sociologist laments,  “We face a system that is now much more integrated, and dominant groups that have accumulated an extraordinary amount of transnational power and control over global resources and institutions.”[lii]To be fair, there are also critics and observers who believe that neoliberalism is in decline,[liii] and many who know it’s moribund but marvel that its power persists[liv].
  • However, the “amassed power” of neoliberalism is merely a social construction of reality –or collection of definitions of situations. Indeed, peak oil and other ecological forces, following Pickard’s thesis, are undermining neoliberalism’s cultural and political power and producing degrowth –the situations in Greece and Egypt are illustrative. This juxtaposition is well known among those who understand the limits to growth and ecological overshoot, but baffling to those unaware of ecological theory.
Briefly, neoliberalism is capable of tremendous devastation as it succumbs to its many contradictions and arrant incompatibility with a social world entering degrowth.
Let’s consider an historical case to demonstrate Pickard’s thesis, which I hope will be eye opening for those readers unaware of the ecological dimension of power in shaping human society.
Thomas Mitchell, in Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil[lv]argues that the use of coal to build industrial society fashioned a social context for the diffusion of political power and the spread of democracy, while the exploitation of oil has had the opposite effect of fostering a social construction of reality that concentrates political power, neoliberalism is the current manifestation. Mitchell’s analysis shows how the fact that coal had to be dug from the earth and shipped via rail set up a relationship between capitalists, labor and coal which allowed workers to exercise significant control over the extraction and shipment of coal (the primary source of energy at the commencement of the industrial revolution). Resistance to capital exhibited labor’s ability to align with the physical force, which labor could provide, needed to extract and use coal. This in turn enabled labor to make successful economic demands of capitalists for a more politically and economically democratized life. In contrast, the fact that oil is pumped out of the earth and then sent through pipelines onto giant tankers allowed power to be concentrated in the clutches of political/economic elites, both governments and corporations, who typically worked in tandem.
Today, the supremacy of neoliberalism ultimately rests, if one accepts Pickard’s thesis and my interpretation of Mitchell’s book, upon the flow of oil,[lvi] not on the ephemera of “accumulated power,” which treats a fragile contingent social construction of reality as virtually immutable.
One astonished reviewer, whom I quote because he is not a peak oiler or otherwise steeped in ecological theory, summarizes Carbon Democracy this way. He describes this book as:
a history of the relationship between carbon-based fueling sources and modern political systems… and after reading it, it’s hard to imagine thinking about political power the same way again.
Everything in our politics flows through dense carbon-based energy sources, and has for three to four hundred years.[lvii]
Carbon Democracy, combined with Pickard’s synthesis on power confirms what those who grasp overshoot and limits to growth already know, either implicitly or explicitly about power and politics. And it opens the door for mainstreamers and fence sitters to understand what is occurring in the social world in a radically different manner that can give them new identities and strategies to simultaneously accept degrowth and overcome neoliberalism.
Let me close with a caution. First, at present everyone’s identity is subject to crisis. Numerous surveys indicate growing numbers of Americans suffering from high stress, depression, and other mental illnesses, which sociologically indicates identity crisis. We see that collective and personal identities are subject to significant modification as degrowth unfolds. Marshall McLuhan, always good for a reprise, wrote years:
When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself. Anybody moving into a new world loses identity…So loss of identity is something that happens in rapid change.[lviii]
Awareness that natural forces are changing society is a great advantage, yet it places those who know it on a psychological tightrope. They are living in two social worlds: one that is passing and the other inchoate and to varying degrees unknown and potentially threatening. The passing of the growth-based system cannot be halted –this is where the neoliberal identity is trapped in morbid resistance and denial. Those living in two worlds are tasked to fashion “truthful existence”[lix] identities, which ideally are characterized by lucidity, flexibility and strength in sync with degrowth, while simultaneously using strategic –perhaps pseudo- identities to triumph over neoliberalism[lx],[lxi] as it continues to demand privilege[lxii] for the 1% despite a shrinking economic pie.

Notes and References
[i] Power is a part of all interaction among humans. This is a controversial claim to conservatives and many liberals, who find the discussion of power disturbing to their consensus –as opposed to conflict- conception of how society works.
[ii] To be sure, this examination of sociological power and social change is a minute contribution, if that, to the topic. The hope here is to reorient and open thinking to possibilities and perceptions dimly visible. Many readers will be familiar with my argument.
[iii] Catton, William. Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 1982.
[iv] Short, Doug. “Vehicle Miles Driven And the Ongoing Economic Contraction.”Business Insider, July 25, 2011. http://www.businessinsider.com/vehicle-miles-driven-and-the-ongoing-economic-contraction-2011-7#ixzz2XhEhoD9o.
[v] Financial chaos is actually the expected outcome of the end of a debt-based system.
[vi] Egypt Oil and Gas. “Egypt and its looming energy crisis.” ND. http://egyptoil-gas.com/read_article_issues.php?AID=26.
Sharif Yamani. “Egypt endures fuel crisis.” Asharq Al-Awsat, June 27, 2013.http://www.aawsat.net/2013/06/article55307370.
[vii] Emmott, Stephen. “Humans: the real threat to life on Earth.” The Guardian,June 29, 2013.http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jun/30/population-growth-wipe-out-life-earth. Emmons writes:
“The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, whose job it has been for 20 years to ensure the stabilisation of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere: Failed. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification, whose job it’s been for 20 years to stop land degrading and becoming desert: Failed. The Convention on Biological Diversity, whose job it’s been for 20 years to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss: Failed. Those are only three examples of failed global initiatives. The list is a depressingly long one.”
[viii] I add that those who see their response as that of localization and the avoidance of politics are misunderstanding the nature of power and the fact that the present indifference of the dominant system to localization efforts is likely to change as we go further into overshoot and the ramifications of hitting the limits to growth. See footnotes 60 and 61, below, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement for the threat to the localization of economies it may pose.
[ix] Tainter, Joseph. The Collapse of Complex Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1988.
[x] Fabius Maximus. “Is America experiencing a failure cascade?” Fabius Maximus, July 10, 2013. http://fabiusmaximus.com/2013/07/10/failure-cascade-52317/.
Wikipedia, “Cascading failure.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascading_failure.
[xi] This doubling-down is not an exclusive feature of neoliberalism. Barbara Tuchman, in A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century.  (NYC: Ballantine Books, 1978) writes, “To admit error and cut losses is rare among individuals, unknown among states.
[xii] Foucault, Michel. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-79. Translated by G. Burchell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2008: Pg. 252-253. Foucault viewed this self-entrepreneurship as at the core of neoliberalism’s attachment to “rational-choice” theory and faith in “free markets.” Parenthetically, it explains Margaret Thatcher’s, “There is no such thing as society,” remark. In fact, from Foucault’s perspective it makes far more sense to argue, “There is no such thing as an individual.”
[xiii] For an example of this we turn to the always-reliable weathervane of the neoliberal worldview, Tom Freidman. His July 28, 2013, New York Times Op-Ed, “Welcome to the Sharing Economy,” illustrates this “you’re an entrepreneur of yourself” because  “there is no society” to bear responsibility for the fact that there are 15-20 million un and under-employed souls in contemporary America. In short, he encourages people to become “micro-entrepreneurs” earning money “In a world where, as I’ve argued, average is over — the skills required for any good job keep rising — a lot of people who might not be able to acquire those skills can still earn a good living now by building their own branded reputations, whether it is to rent their kids’ rooms, their cars or their power tools.”
[xiv] President Obama’s latest rhetorical turn of phrase to craftily blame individuals can be found here: “Building Ladders of Opportunity.” The White Househttp://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/factsheet/building-ladders-of-opportunity.
[xv] I respect the views of those who feel neoliberalism is the latest bogyman in what they see as the never-ending conflict: humans inevitably dominate one another. This requires elaborate ideological cover to make the dominated willingly internalize the rules that oppress them. On the other hand, humanity’s problem may be that of hierarchy. See:
Thayer, Frederick C. An End to Hierarchy! An End to Competition! Organizing the Politics and Economics of SurvivalNew York: New Viewpoints, 1973.
[xvi] Ahmed, Nafeez. “Pentagon bracing for public dissent over climate and energy shocks.” The Guardian, June 14, 2013.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/earth-insight/2013/jun/14/climate-change-energy-shocks-nsa-prism.
[xviii] Post by “b.” “NSA – Recording One Billion Phone Calls Per Day.” Moon of Alabama, June 29, 2013. http://www.moonofalabama.org/2013/06/nsa-recording-one-billion-calls-per-day.html.
[xix] Augstein, Jakob. “Obama’s Soft Totalitarianism: Europe Must Protect Itself From America.” Spiegel Online, June 17, 2013.http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/europe-must-stand-up-to-american-cyber-snooping-a-906250.html.
[xx] Miller, Tom. “Creating a Military-Industrial-Immigration Complex: How to Turn the U.S.-Mexican Border into a War Zone.” TomDispatch, July 11, 2013.http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/.
[xxi] Dougherty, Danny. “Obama’s crackdown views leaks as aiding enemies of U.S.”  McClatchy News, June 20, 2013.  This story is about Obama’s Insider Threat Program, which is reminiscent of how East Germany’s State Security, The Stasi, had citizens spying on each other.http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/20/194513/obamas-crackdown-views-leaks-as.html#.UdBKkRZ3vw4.
[xxii] The NSA’s collecting of phone and internet records of Americans is a violation of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; this is why the traditional left-right political divide is not a guide to reactions to this conduct.
[xxiii] In the parts of the United States capitol city of Washington, D.C. frequented by federal government employees, lobbyists and tourists all appears to be booming and prosperous. The fact that the child poverty rate in the city surpasses that of Mexico is, I propose, an irrelevancy to Congress and the President.
See: “The Poverty Factor.” Capital Kids Report. http://capitalkidsreport.org/the-poverty-factor/#.
[xxiv] Wikipedia. “Corporatocracy.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatocracy.
[xxv] For a good read on fault lines in the workings of “Trans-partisan Permanent Washington,” see:
Sirota, David. “GOP insurrection heats up over surveillance.” Salon.com, July 22, 2013.http://www.salon.com/2013/07/22/gop_civil_war_leaders_target_rising_star/.
[xxvi] Tett, Gillean. “Stop worrying and breathe the zeitgeist in America.”Financial Times, July 4, 2013. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/c5ff7470-e4be-11e2-875b-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2YB1FfLUs.
Tett observes, of the economic optimism she found at the Aspen Ideas Festival: “Now this zeitgeist … is that of an ultra highly privileged elite – and one that is becoming increasingly detached from the poorer parts of America, as economic polarisation grows.”
[xxvii] McCoy, Alfred W. “Surveillance dystopia looms.” Asia Times, July 15, 2013. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-150713.html. McCoy writes about the Pentagon’s plans for total control: “In the stratosphere, close enough to Earth for audiovisual surveillance, the Pentagon is planning to launch an armada of 99 Global Hawk drones – each equipped with high-resolution cameras to surveil all terrain within a 100-mile radius, electronic sensors to intercept communications, and efficient engines for continuous 24-hour flight.
“Within a decade, the US will likely deploy this aerospace shield, advanced cyber-warfare capabilities, and even vaster, more omnipresent digital surveillance networks that will envelop the Earth in an electronic grid capable of blinding entire armies on the battlefield, atomizing a single suspected terrorist, or monitoring millions of private lives at home and abroad.”
Comment: I’m not concerned about this totalitarian mentality succeeding; but it can do untold damage and destruction before it fails. Instead, I think this passage illustrates that neoliberal elites will rely on the tools of repression and oppression, as they remain ignorant of the significance of the increasing power of biophysical, thermodynamic and resource scarcity forces in human societies.
[xxviii] Chicherio, Barbara.  “Trans-Pacific Partnership and Monsanto.” Z-Net,June 26, 2013, http://www.zcommunications.org/trans-pacific-partnership-and-monsanto-by-barbara-chicherio.
[xxix] Rich, Frank. “The Stench of the Potomac.” New York Magazine, August 6, 2013. Rich writes of Washington as if it were the court of Louis XVI: “Washington may be a dysfunctional place to govern, but it’s working better than ever as a marketplace for cashing in. And that’s thanks, more than anything, to the Democratic Establishment.”
[xxx] McKeating, Justin, “Fukushima crisis rolls on as TEPCO admits radiation leaks.” Greenpeace, July 24, 2013.http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/fukushima-crisis-rolls-on-as-tepco-admits-rad/blog/46051/.
BBC News. “Fukushima radioactive water leak an ‘emergency’.”  BBC News.August 5, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23578859.
[xxxi] At present Greece and Detroit serve as the archetypes for class-based as opposed to utilitarian policy-making in response to entering degrowth. The Greek people and citizens of Detroit are to be driven into poverty to maintain the wealth, status and power of the upper echelon of the economic elite. In Detroit the recent bankruptcy filing by the city’s emergency manger outlines a $.75 on the dollar repayment for the banks and $.10 on the dollar to pensioners. In fact, the Michigan constitution appears to prohibit this virtual wiping out of pension obligations, while the loans owed to banks are treated as sacred. (Indeed, there is an issue of lender fraud regarding many of these loans, especially those made in 2005, which could be explored.) In Greece, meanwhile, the economic hits just keep on commin’ from the European Troika. See the website Keep Talking Greece for daily updates of punitive economic and financial policies imposed upon the Greek people:http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/tag/greece/. And we can include Cypress, which recently endured a “bail-in”. See:
Reuters Staff. “Cyprus, lenders set Bank of Cyprus bail-in at 47.5 percent, sources say.” Reuters, July 28, 2013.http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/07/28/uk-cyprus-bank-idUKBRE96R03Y20130728.
DeMartino, George and Ilene Grabel. “Fiscal Crisis Coming to a City Near You?”Triple Crisis: Global Perspectives on Finance, Development and Environment, July 29, 2013.  http://triplecrisis.com/fiscal-crises-coming-to-a-city-near-you/.
[xxxii] President Obama is in his fifth years in office and during this time wealth disparities in the Unites States have increased, as has the number of people receiving food stamps; and all manner of indices of poverty have risen. For example, a recent Associated Press story informs, “Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives.” In July of 2013 Obama turned his attention to social inequality, saying, “This administration’s highest priority is to rebuild ladders of opportunity, and reverse income inequality.” One snarky commentator remarked: “Rock on, Barry. By the way, what were you doing during the last five years – reversing ladders of opportunity and doubling income equality? Why are 50% more Americans on food stamps than before you came into Office, Mr. First Black President Yes We Can Obama?” See: Ward, John. “BREAKING….Real life under the Obaman ‘recovery’.” The Sloglink. July 28, 2013.http://hat4uk.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/breaking-real-life-under-the-obaman-recovery/.
See also: Yen, Hope. “80 Percent Of U.S. Adults Face Near-Poverty, Unemployment: Survey.” Huffington Post, July 29, 2103.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/28/poverty-unemployment-rates_n_3666594.html.
Brown, Ellen. “The Detroit Bail-In: Fleecing Pensioners to Save the Banks.”Counterpunch, August 6, 2013.http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/06/fleecing-pensioners-to-save-the-banks/.
Baker, Scott. “Detroit Is Not Broke.” OEN Op-Ed News. August 5, 2013.http://www.opednews.com/articles/1/Detroit-is-Not-Broke-by-Scott-Baker-130805-986.html.
[xxxiii] These include economic and social inequality, corruption, psychological comfort and inertia, and faith in perpetual economic growth and the technological mastery of Nature.
[xxxiv] Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage Books. 1990.
[xxxv] Weber, Max. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. New York: The Free Press. 1947. Pg. 156.
[xxxvi] Many are familiar with Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book aphorism, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” This overlooks the role of natural resources in determining the availability of guns, bullets, gunpowder, etc. In our current era it is accurate to say political power has flowed from cheap and plentiful fossil fuels, in particular oil.
[xxxvii] Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punishment. 1994, Pg. 194. New York: Vintage Books.
[xxxviii] Cole, Kathleen. “Power is Everywhere: Social Inequality From Discursive Formations to Patterns of Activation.” December 17, 2012.https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2233473.
[xxxix] Wikipedia. “Pierre Bourdieu.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Bourdieu.
[xl] Foote, Nelson. “Identification as a Basis for a Theory of Motivation.”American Sociological Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, Feb, 1951.
[xli] For an example of how incompatible, poorly enacted or conflicting definitions of the situation are disruptive, see:
Erving Goffman, “Embarrassment and Social Organization.” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 63, # 3, Nov, 1956: 264-272.http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/4111/Readings/GoffmanEmbarrassment.pdf
[xlii] A way to think of rituals is as techniques to stabilize power relations through the internalization of mythology and religion. They instill and sacrilize sets of rigid rules in individuals and groups.
[xliii] Ames, Mark. “Edward Snowden’s Half-Baked Revolution.” nsfwcorp, June 28, 2013. https://www.nsfwcorp.com/dispatch/half-baked-revolution/954f9cf7064a285ace452273be244f74ffa4bf11/.
[xliv] Inside the United States the media has made this about Snowden’s character and motivations; in other nations it’s more often about what he has exposed.
[xlv] Pickard, E. Kezia. A Radical Relational Agency:
Foucault, Complexity Theory and Environmental Resistances
. Thesis Submitted to the University of Nottingham for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. JULY 2010. http://etheses.nottingham.ac.uk/1450/1/Thesis.pdf.
[xlvi] Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader. Paul Rainbow, Ed. New York: Random House. 1984.
[xlvii] Rainbow, Paul, Ed. The Foucault Reader. New York: Random House. 1984.
[xlviii] Levine, Bruce E. “Living in America will drive you insane — literally.”Salon, July 31.2013.http://www.salon.com/2013/07/31/living_in_america_will_drive_you_insane_literally_partner/.
[xlix] Lopez, Ricardo. “Most workers hate their jobs or have ‘checked out,’ Gallup says.” LA Times. June 17, 2013.http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-employee-engagement-gallup-poll-20130617,0,5878658.story. “In its ongoing survey of the American workplace, Gallup found that only 30% of workers are “were engaged, or involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace.” Ones work, of course, is a master identity. And 15-25 million Americans are un or under-employed, be rift of a master identity.
[l] Frank, Arthur. “Stories of illness as care of the self: a Foucauldian dialogue.”Health (London) July 1998, Vol. 2. Frank writes: “Michel Foucault’s idea of the ‘care of the self’ challenges whether ill people can be empowered by telling their own stories in the attempt to reclaim their own experiences from the medical appropriation of illness. This paper explores the ambiguity in what Foucault meant by care of the self and suggests that empowerment through narrative formulations of identity remains possible, though Foucault teaches us that telling our ‘own stories’ is never straightforward.”
Dilts, Andrew. “From ‘entrepreneur of the self’ to ‘care of the self’: Neoliberal Governmentality and Foucault’s Ethics.” http://ptw.uchicago.edu/Dilts10.pdf.
[li] Jimmy Cater recently commented at a conference in Germany that the United States does not have a functioning democracy.
Schmitz, Gregor Peter.  “NSA affair: Ex-President Carter condemned U.S. snooping.” Spiegel Online (Translation from German). July 17, 2013.http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.spiegel.de%2Fpolitik%2Fausland%2Fnsa-affaere-jimmy-carter-kritisiert-usa-a-911589.html.
[lii] Robinson, William I. “Global capitalism and 21st century fascism.” AlJazerra,May 8, 2011.http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/04/201142612714539672.html.
[liii] Peters, Michael. A. “The Crisis of Finance Capitalism and the Exhaustion of Neoliberalism.” Truthout July 21, 2013. http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/17536-the-crisis-of-finance-capitalism-and-the-exhaustion-of-neoliberalism.
[liv] Vakulabharanam, Vamsi. “Why Does Neoliberalism Persist Even after the Global Crisis?” Triple Crisis, December 19, 2012. http://triplecrisis.com/why-does-neoliberalism-persist-even-after-the-global-crisis/.
[lv] Mitchell, Timothy. Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil.London: Verso Press. 2011. http://www.amazon.com/Carbon-Democracy-Political-Power-Age/dp/1844677451.
[lvi] Despite all manner of propaganda and misunderstanding, the world is entering the post-peak oil era.
See: Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose. “Commodity supercycle in rude health despite shale.” The Telegraph,  July 31, 2013.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/10214989/Commodity-supercycle-in-rude-health-despite-shale.html.
‘A new Eos report by the American Geophysical Union, “Peak Oil and Energy Independence: Myth and Reality”, argues that global crude output has been stuck on a plateau of around 75m barrels per day (bpd) since 2005 despite enticing returns. “Global net oil exports from oil-exporting countries have peaked and are in decline.”
‘The output of the big five oil majors – Exxon, BP, Total, Chevron and Shell – has fallen by 26% over the past nine years …
‘Theoretical reserves are meaningless. What matters is the break-even cost.
‘Eos said flows from the world’s existing fields are falling at 5% a year, and it is questionable whether shale or tar sands can easily step into the breach. “Production from these unconventional sources is difficult and expensive, and has a very low energy return on investment. Simply stated, it takes energy to get energy,” it said.
The depletion rate on rigs at the Bakken field in North Dakota – the biggest US shale field – is precipitous. Output falls 30% within two years, and a third is leaking into the air. Shale bears say average declines are nearer 70% in the first year …’
[lvii] Stoller, Matt. “How Coal Brought us Democracy, and Oil Ended It: Lessons form the New Book ‘Carbon Democracy’”. Naked Capitalism, September 13, 2012. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/09/how-coal-brought-us-democracy-and-oil-ended-it-lessons-from-the-new-book-carbon-democracy.html.
[lviii] McLuhan, Marshall. Forward Through The Rearview Mirror: Reflections on and by Marshall McLuhan. Toronto: Prentice-Hall. 1992.
[lix] Robinson, Bob. “Michel Foucault: Ethics.” International Encyclopedia of Philosophy, September 26, 2011. http://www.iep.utm.edu/fouc-eth/#SH4a.
[lx] The “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement” (TPP) is currently being negotiated by the Obama administration in virtual secrecy from the American people and the US Congress. The Americans involved in these negotiations are several hundred employees of corporations; they, corporate employees, have security clearance to be involved in these negotiations. This is the personification of the corporatocracy. Little is known definitively about the content of these negotiations because of the secrecy at play. However, if you listen to the first few minutes of this video overview by an interest group, the speaker refers to the TPP placing restrictions on the “Buy Local”  phenomenon. This makes sense and exposes the desperation and hypocrisy of neoliberalism. By this I mean that while cloaking itself in free markets and open competition rhetoric, neoliberalism in fact uses government to suppress or eliminate competitive forces so as to charge economic rents. Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizens Global Trade Watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Wytq5cPk3Y.
[lxi] Office of the United States Trade Representative. Outlines of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. “On November 12, 2011, the Leaders of the nine Trans-Pacific Partnership countries – Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States – announced the achievement of the broad outlines of an ambitious, 21st-century Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that will enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs.”http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/fact-sheets/2011/november/outlines-trans-pacific-partnership-agreement.
[lxii] Kostko, ADAM. ‘“Privilege” and the rhetoric of austerity.’ An und für sich,AUGUST 10, 2013. http://itself.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/privilege-and-the-rhetoric-of-austerity/.

Sunshine and flowers image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

Dan Bednarz

Since 2004 Dan Bednarz has been ruminating, lecturing, discussing and writing about what a viable health system can look like given the limits to growth, ecological overshoot and the obstacle of a political/economic system with vast socioeconomic inequities that appears wholly incapable of reform. He’s writing a book on this topic.  

Tags: Culture & Behavior, Overshoot, political action