The lack of capacity for critical thinking among some of the American electorate is nothing new. The French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville famously noted it in the late 1830s in the two volumes of his book, Democracy in America. Almost 130 years later, the American historian Richard Hofstadter remarked upon it in two of his works from the early 1960s, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, and The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Both of Hofstadter’s works still apply today in complementary fashion as the 2020 election nears and Clueless Leader and his cult followers on the far right drop in greater and greater numbers off the edge of reality into the realm of psychotic fever dreams.
Mike Caulfield’s “Four Moves and a Habit” method for the detection of Fake News online. Infographic created by Shonnmharen.
The great difference between now and the early 1960s, when Hofstadter wrote about the propensity of some people for ignoring facts that didn’t fit their world view, is that those people now have access to the internet and to social media, where they can spread their diseased notions like a contagion. Rumors that once took days or weeks to spread, and in the process may have fizzled out when confronted by facts, now spread in minutes and hours in a continuous onslaught that drowns outs facts. For those too intellectually lazy to engage in critical thinking, there has never been a better time for finding spurious rumors to prop up their dangerously bonkers ideas.
Most of the rumor mongering conspiracy theorists with dangerously bonkers ideas are now, and have always been, on the far right of the American political spectrum. It’s an ongoing feature of American life that the ruling class demonizes the far left because they rightly suspect the far left would overturn the cushy lifestyle of the ruling class if they could, and to help them turn the focus of hatred and suspicion upon the far left the ruling class has always had willing allies, or rather dupes, among the far right. Useful idiots.
These are the kind of people who adhere to QAnon conspiracy theories about the evil character of Democrats and Antifa partly out of credulity since they want to believe the stories, and partly because it titillates them that most reasonable adults, and particularly liberals, are outraged and appalled by the stories. For a third of the American electorate, an incapacity for critical thinking is displayed as a badge of honor, not of shame.
Too many right wing delusionists are willing, even eager, to use violence when they don’t get their way. In this they are aided and abetted by the ruling class, who use them as a cudgel against the far left and anyone else who questions the established capitalist order. Terrorism in this country has almost always come from the far right, not the far left, and for nearly four years now the current president has winked and nodded at right wing terrorists in this country. He has filled a powder keg with dangerous fantasies and then recently lit the fuse with his call out to right wing terrorists ahead of the election.
A sketch from a January 1979 episode of Second City Television, starring Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, and Dave Thomas. In 2016, 52% of white women voted for the Republican presidential candidate, someone who would be incapable of understanding this SCTV sketch as satire.
For Richard Hofstadter in his examination of American history there have been breakdowns in what may be considered the consensus of political views reconciling economic and cultural differences (though he himself chafed at being lumped with the post World War II era “consensus” historians), but only one failure of consensus, and that led to the Civil War. Perhaps hope can be found in the realization that the truly dangerous right wing terrorists in this country are fewer in number than they would have everyone else believe. If the current president somehow gains four more years in power, however, that glimmer of hope may go dark because more violent reactionaries will become ever more emboldened, growing their numbers to become a visceral threat, sinister and close.
Researchers with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile have developed an insulating material which allows a device to achieve a cooling differential of up to 23 degrees Fahrenheit using no electricity and no moving parts. 23 degrees cooling may not be sufficient on its own in all applications, but it will certainly increase the efficiency of existing devices by assisting them in not working as hard and thereby using less electricity. The useful attributes of the new insulator will help mitigate the climate warming effects of increased use of air conditioning and refrigeration, which in turn can lead to increased climate warming, and on and on.
Heating and cooling of indoor spaces accounts for between 40 and 60 percent of energy use worldwide, depending on location and also on who is doing the studies and how. It’s enough to know that indoor climate control is the single biggest factor in energy use around the world. Heating is the larger portion of the 40 to 60 percent of energy use, but that could flip by mid-century as the warming climate increases demand for cooling and lessens demand for heating. Be that as it may, it helps to understand that overall energy use will continue climbing, as it has throughout human history, though perhaps at a lesser rate due to improvements in the efficiency of devices and systems.
A banner outside the August 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, displays an image of Martin Luther King, Jr., along with a quote from him. Though the Reverend Dr. King’s remarks and activism on behalf of civil rights earned the most attention, his beliefs about the evils of unbridled capitalism and militarism were also worrisome to leaders of the nation’s power structure. Photo by Flickr user Liz Mc.
The achievements of researchers and engineers who develop improvements in using energy more efficiently are necessary and helpful in the fight against global warming, and they are to be lauded. It is government and business leaders and ourselves, the users of energy, who deserve condemnation as improvements in energy efficiency come without changes in the overall demand for energy and reduction of its deleterious effects on the climate. Embracing improvements in efficiency without simultaneously reducing our demand for more of a currently harmful thing is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Eliminating the burning of fossil fuels for energy will make the single greatest reduction in the pollutants causing global warming. That seems obvious, and it’s a simple statement to make, but it conflicts with powerful corporate, capitalist interests. Switching energy production entirely to renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric will greatly reduce pollutants, though not eliminate them. That also seems obvious. Ignoring for the moment the fraction of the population who blindly refuse to acknowledge responsibility for what is happening all around them, there is a greater obstructive force standing in the way of reducing carbon emissions enough in the next 10 years to slow – or even halt – climate change, and it is called capitalism.
The Trio of Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt sing “After the Gold Rush” on Late Show with David Letterman on March 24, 1999. Neil Young wrote the song for his 1970 solo album, and the lyrics of the final verse dreaming about escape from this planet to a new home are bound to remain a dream for the foreseeable future, despite the efforts of technology capitalist Elon Musk.
At the climax of Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain, the team of scientists studying an alien microbe they have dubbed “Andromeda” discover in the nick of time that the destructive microbe would grow out of control if given a nearly limitless source of energy, in this case the detonation of a nuclear device meant to contain it by destroying it. They discover the opposite would happen, that the Andromeda strain would feed greedily on the energy supplied by nuclear fission and would quickly overtake the planet, and in a tense scene during the countdown to detonation, they manage to disarm the research facility’s nuclear device. Capitalism is similarly greedy and destructive. It is a system that needs close watching and regulation, not the rampant deregulation of the past 40 years. Like the unregulated sex urge which has led to global overpopulation and the consequent strain on the earth’s resources, greed is also an innate urge in humans, an urge that has found its closest reflection in capitalism, and unregulated it plunders and eventually destroys the earth’s resources, including its many peoples, rich and poor alike. — Techly
“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”
— Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Some sociologists have disproved the widely held notion that people become more conservative as they get older, and while that may be the case, and therefore old does not necessarily equal conservative, statistics verify there is still a generation gap between the percentages of older and younger people who vote. Old people turn out to vote in a higher percentage for their age group than young people do in their age group. Old for our purpose here is over 50, which encompasses Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation, and the Greatest Generation. Young is under 50, which includes Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.
The two largest demographic groups of voting age are Baby Boomers and Millennials. In this year, Millennials will surpass Baby Boomers in numbers as Baby Boomers continue dying out. For all that, the voice of Baby Boomers at voting time remains louder than that of Millennials, because the percentage of Baby Boomers who vote remains higher than the percentage of Millennials who vote. Baby Boomers remain in control of the leadership and apparatus of both major political parties, and that led to the debacle of the 2016 presidential election.
The March for Our Lives protest took place on 24 March 2018 in Washington, D.C., and other cities, when hundreds of thousands of students and others marched to demand common sense gun control in the wake of deadly school shootings in the United States. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili.
In the Democratic Party, leadership foisted Hillary Clinton on everyone, and she turned out to be a candidate with little appeal to voters outside of the Coasts and the big cities, a fact that polling consistently pointed out heading into the election, but which the Democratic leadership chose to ignore. For the Republican Party, the crowded field of candidates in the early primaries allowed the demagogue who eventually overtook the field to win with vote percentages only in the teens and twenties, and with that he was able to pick off his rivals one by one, aided by high amounts of free media coverage for his outrageous comments and behavior.
In the end, we got the president we deserved, we meaning all of us, voters and non-voters alike. A dismal statement, but one we need to come to terms with by election day in November 2020. It seems we have all overestimated the liberal leanings of Baby Boomers as a group, and perhaps popular culture is responsible. News coverage of Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and ’70s, the enormous changes in fashion and entertainment, the weekly confrontations on television’s All in the Family between Baby Boomer Mike “Meathead” Stivic and his Greatest Generation father-in-law, Archie Bunker, all may have contributed to a perception of Baby Boomers as liberal overall.
Looking at national Democratic Party leadership since Baby Boomers took over with the election of Bill Clinton as president in 1992, it’s difficult to deny they are in most ways more conservative than their predecessors of the Greatest Generation and particularly going back to Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) a generation earlier. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were certainly more liberal than Bill Clinton. FDR’s policies would be considered dangerous socialism today, which is why candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, whose policy proposals are in line with what FDR might have done, are considered too far left by Democratic Party leadership, and therefore unelectable.
Enumerating goals can be difficult, as demonstrated here in a television skit by Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
In the Republican Party, attitudes have shifted so far right since Baby Boomers took over with leaders like Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney that even Richard Nixon, in whose administration Mr. Cheney first took part, might not have a chance to be elected president these days as a Republican. Too liberal! Dwight Eisenhower, in whose administration Mr. Nixon served as Vice President in the 1950s, would be considered by today’s Republican Party leadership, and assuredly by the MAGA (Make America Great Again) crowd, as a RINO (Republican In Name Only), despite the era he presided over being the one they pine for.
There is no evidence to suggest Millennials are overall more liberal than Baby Boomers, but unlike Baby Boomers they do appear willing to act on the most pressing concerns for humanity, starting with climate change. Unless we take action on climate change now, nothing else matters. Next is growing wealth inequity, because that leads to many other problems, among them being affordability of health care for all. Population growth also needs to be addressed, because Earth’s resources are not infinite, much as delusional capitalist economic modelers like to pretend otherwise.
A satirical public service announcement from the Knock the Vote project. Warning: foul language.
Down the list but hanging over every creature on Earth is the bugaboo of all generations alive since 1945 – nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are down the list because while they are obviously capable of ending everything quickly, they may be the hardest nut to crack on account of their continued proliferation being due to human nature. Addressing these problems requires becoming informed, and voting as well as activism, and it is up to Millennials to rise to the challenges their forebears have been reluctant to grasp. It’s time for Baby Boomers to let go of power if they cannot or will not contribute to battling the world’s most pressing problems, though we know it’s human nature to cling to power, and usually the grave provides the only means of separation.
“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” — Genesis 4:9, from the King James Version of the Bible.
Imagine a television game show in which the announcer calls four contestants from the studio audience to the foot of the stage, a stage that is a mock up of a pharmacy, with a counter behind which stands the host, looking like a pharmacist in a white smock. The host directs everyone’s attention to one side of the stage, where an assistant – also in a white smock – presents a year’s worth of a popular prescription drug, let’s say insulin. The host then asks the four contestants to guess the price of the insulin without going over the amount, and the contestant with the closest guess gets to come up on stage for the opportunity to win prizes.
A lithograph promoting James Morison’s alternative medicines, showing a skeletal figure surveying three doctors around a cauldron in a parody of Macbeth and the three witches. From the Wellcome Collection gallery, London, England.
The remaining contestants try again on the next round, and some of them go home empty handed. Almost all the studio audience in attendance go home without even having been invited to participate. The few winners in each episode get to take home expensive prizes such as the year’s worth of insulin, valued at thousands of dollars, but the majority of those attending a taping of the game show go home with nothing or with a cheap consolation prize, such as a bottle of gummy vitamins. This game show analogy is not far off how Americans seem to prefer having their health care system operate, particularly drug pricing.
If you’re lucky, if you win the lottery (another gamed system Americans seem to prefer over taxing the rich), then you’re good as gold. The majority, however, may run into problems and tough choices, such as paying the rent or buying insulin; paying utility bills or buying any of the number of the life preserving medications people depend on, particularly as they get older. Prescription drugs are every bit as crucial to survival for some people as food and shelter, and yet Americans seem to prefer to let the drug industry operate like any other capitalist endeavor. Profits for drug manufacturers are more important than a decent life for an unfortunate number of citizens who can’t afford the high prices those manufacturers demand simply because they can, and the people principally to blame for this awful situation are some cretins in Congress.
“Someday Never Comes”, by Creedence Clearwater Revival from their 1972 album Mardi Gras.
Who are the people responsible for putting those cretins in Congress and in positions where they can run cover for the drug companies? Why, they are in large part the same people who struggle to buy overpriced prescription drugs. Why do they do this to themselves? Ah, that is the question bedeviling America’s sickness today. The unfortunate part is that while some voters are caught up in Congressional posturing and not paying attention to substance, there are many voters who don’t share their ignorant love of machismo and capitalist lotteries and yet are forced to share the results of the bad policies ensuing from all that greed and childishness. They have to scramble for the scraps left over from the game, while a few wealthy grifters laugh at how they have duped enough voters to go along with their rigged game to keep it going, dangling prizes before the willing saps. Instead of gambling on a rigged capitalist lottery, sensible adults take measures, even – horrors! – socialist measures, to ensure decent results everyday for everybody when it comes to matters of survival like food, shelter, education, and medical care, including drugs.
The Keynesian economic model which held sway in Western capitalist societies in the middle of the twentieth century has long since given way to neoliberalism, a policy and a philosophy which is a reworking of the laissez faire economies of the early industrial revolution. No wonder that we live in a new Gilded Age, the culmination of increasing economic inequality and degradation of publicly subsidized social services for everyone but the rich. Neoliberalism, a term which has meant many things in theory over the last one hundred years, has come to mean in fact laissez faire economics for the poor and middle class, and corporate welfare for the wealthy.
The result has been the takeover of the economy by short-sighted financial interests among the largest banks, and the takeover of politics and public policy making by those same banks and international corporations which owe allegiance to their executives and their shareholders instead of to any one national or local community. Consumers bear a great deal of the responsibility for this state of affairs, while citizens can change it.
A protester at the second presidential inauguration of George W. Bush in Washington, D.C., in January 2005 holds up Adbusters’ Corporate American Flag. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.
Consumers are passive; citizens are active. Consumers are inattentive to politics; citizens pay attention to what’s going on in government. Consumers struggle to get by and blame themselves when they cannot; citizens understand larger forces are arrayed against their interests and demand an equal place at the table. Consumers look at the wealthy and see people who helped themselves; citizens know how wealth creates wealth and privilege looks out for its own. Consumers feel helpless to change the course of society; citizens band together because they realize their power is in their numbers.
A sign at the January 2018 Women’s March in Missoula, Montana. Photo by Montanasuffragettes.
The neoliberal philosophy of the past forty years has stripped people of their view of themselves as citizens with rights, duties, and responsibilities in society and replaced it with the lumpish, passive recognition of themselves as consumers, replaceable parts in the economic machine. Meanwhile, neoliberals have sold the consuming masses on the idea that unions and publicly funded healthcare and education are bad policies, but tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations are good because of some nebulous trickling down that’s supposed to happen. Mission accomplished!
Taking action to change neoliberal policies on the environment, on economic inequality, and on the accountability of corporations, banks, and politicians is going to have start with a change in attitude among the populace from consumers to citizens. It starts with getting the money out of politics, and that starts with overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which equated money with speech. What greater symbol for the neoliberal outlook can there be than “money talks”? The second most important step toward change would diminish the power of the big banks by reinstating the Depression era Glass-Steagall Act, separating commercial and investment banking. The third step would end government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and divest from it entirely. All easier said than done, of course, and only the first few of many steps to curtail the undue influence of the rich and powerful over society, but once consumers get up off their couches and walk down as citizens to their voting places they will be taking the steps necessary to change a system that works only for a privileged few, and not for them.
“Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”
— Luke 18:22, from the King James Version of the Bible.
Philanthropy, meaning love of humanity,differs from charitable giving in that the rich conduct philanthropy in broad brush strokes for society, while charity is usually in the form of small gestures from one individual for the benefit of other individuals or small organizations. Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, endowed libraries across the country as well as cultural institutions. the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations have similarly given large grants to institutions since their establishment in the early twentieth century. When John D. Rockefeller handed out dimes to individuals, as he was known to do, that was charity, not what is generally considered philanthropy.
Two women donate food to a homeless man on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Ed Yourdon.
Among modern philanthropists are Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Supreme Egotist wants to be included in that group, but like everything else he does, his philanthropy is a fantasy for the benefit of his narcissism and con artistry more than it is a real construct for the love of humanity. After first acknowledging what a good thing people like Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates are offering to do with their money, the next thing that springs to mind is how on earth they accumulated their kind of wealth in order to give at least some of it away. The conventional capitalist idea is that they gained all their riches through their own hard work and good fortune. Maybe so. An aspect of capitalism that is usually glossed over in this scenario is how wealth begets wealth in algorithmic numbers. In other words, rich people in our system can benefit from a snowball effect.
There is a negative snowball effect in operation for poor people in our system who find themselves slipping away due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, whether by their own making or not. A person working a non-union factory job gets injured and cannot work, and for one reason or another workmen’s compensation and unemployment insurance either do not apply or are insufficient, and within months or a few short years the person ends up homeless. Living paycheck to paycheck, disaster is always lurking around a corner of bad luck. These unfortunates, who for the luck of the draw at any moment could be almost any one of us, may have to rely for their next meal and night out of the weather on the charitable giving of those who for the time being enjoy regular meals and a comfortable night’s sleep in their own bed.
What about the philanthropists whose giving is steered toward redressing larger societal ills? Andrew Carnegie hired goons to bust heads when workers at his steel mills struck for better hours, wages, and working conditions. This was the same Andrew Carnegie who endowed libraries so that the children of those workers could get a better education than their parents. He stole from the poor to give to the poor, and as the money changed hands along the way he made a tidy profit for himself. Are today’s philanthropists much better? Instead of expressing thanks for endowments and grants, perhaps it would be better to question whither the gains were gotten. That’s not likely, however, since it is almost always institutions such as universities that receive those endowments and grants, and stodgy university bureaucracies are not in the habit of examining gift horses too closely.
USS Constitution‘s Yeoman 3rd Class Roberta Lee serves lunch to residents of the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. USS Constitution sailors volunteered at the shelter July 1, 2009, as part of Navy Community Outreach’s Boston Navy Week. Photo by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anna Kiner.
What about the recipients of individual charitable gifts, are they relieved of responsibility? Did any of them question John D. Rockefeller about the provenance of the dime he handed them? Most likely not. It is better in spirit, however, for both giver and receiver if a charitable gift is borne out of the giver’s own honest labor rather than the exploitation of the labor of others or the use of money to beget money. Sharing the little extra one may have with another less fortunate is more meaningful and helpful to society than the sharing of largesse by another who came by it through the impoverishment in finances and spirit of the public as a whole.
A scene from the 1982 meditative documentary Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio, with music by Philip Glass.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
The title of this post is a paraphrase of the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth, which states that desire and ignorance are the causes of suffering. The paraphrase states something similar in a different way because of the two meanings of “want” in English. “Want” can mean desire or greed, because it goes beyond “need” into territory destructive both to the wanter and to the ones from whom the wanter takes. “Want” can also mean a lack of things mental or physical to meet one’s needs. The haves and have nots, with the greed of the haves causing suffering for the have nots.
As the population of the worldcontinues to grow past 7 billion toward an estimated 10 billion by mid-century, agronomists are hard at work figuring out how to feed all those people. One school of thought has it that the current agricultural system is no system, and therefore is inherently inefficient, requiring more central planning to efficiently allocate resources and achieve economies of scale for each crop throughout the world. Another school of thought has it that large scale agriculture is destructive of the environment and ultimately leads to worse yields as soil health declines, and forces farmers to become dependent on a capricious international financial cartel rather than building local networks they can rely on in bad times.
Both schools of thought seem to believe their system is the best way forward in order to feed a growing world population. Both are right and wrong, for different reasons. Without going into a specific comparison of the two agronomy models, the main point is that hunger has always been part of the human experience, and it will continue as long as there are greedy people who take more than they need, and in so doing deny to others what they need. The problem is not an agronomy problem, though since people are bound to increase their numbers for the foreseeable future it is good and necessary that well-meaning farmers and scientists continue working to increase agricultural yields, but the problem is one of human nature and an economic system that rewards the worst part of that nature.
A sculpture of Lord Buddha. Photo by Priyanka250696.
There is food enough already in the worldto feed everyone adequately, yet more than a billion people go hungry every day. It is not a distribution problem, either, as some have suggested in the past, as though the food would be evenly distributed if only the logistical problems could be licked. No, it is a problem of poverty and income inequality, and therefore of the will of the haves to share with the have nots. The haves rationalize that if the have nots would only show the gumption to pull themselves out of poverty, they could partake in the bounty of the haves, never mind that the haves often stole the bounty from the have nots in the first place. The haves apply rationality to the problem when rationality is besides the point because they are standing with their boots on the necks of the poor, yelling at them to get up. That is the economic system and the crass part of human nature it enables and rewards.
A segment of the 1992 film Baraka, directed by Ron Fricke. Music for the film was composed by Michael Stearns, while this portion, a song called “The Host of Seraphim”, was written and performed by Dead Can Dance, an Australian duo comprising Brendan Perry and vocalist Lisa Gerrard. The spiritual and ethical systems in place around the world help redress some evils, but they have not been enough. The more populous the world becomes, the greater the economic inequities, like a pyramid growing ever larger but retaining the geometric relationship of its parts. Any person who gets in at the top of a Ponzi scheme knows that the wider the base of the pyramid, the greater the wealth accruing to those at the top. Two thirds of the world’s adult population lives on less than $10,000 per year, which is poverty level in the United States, where the threshold for one adult is about $12,000. Economic standards differ throughout the world, of course, but it’s a good guess that getting by on less than $10,000 per year anywhere in the world does not leave room for addressing anything much beyond basic needs.
There’s food enough for everyone, though the poor can’t afford to buy their share. There’s food enough for everyone, though the wealthy have no interest in sharing what they don’t need. Growing more food won’t solve the problem, only maintain the status quo as population increases. In the current economic system, the haves will always have and will have even more as more people come into the world, while the have nots will have to make do with less no matter how much food is out there, always out of their reach. The problem is one of spiritual and ethical guidelines existing separately from and in parallel to a corrupt economic system that benefits only a privileged few, rather than informing and guiding that system for the benefit of all.
The American system, and perhaps the American character as well, has always favored coping with the damage from disasters as they come over doing all that can be done beforehand to mitigate the severity of damage. The insurance industry is aligned toward dealing with the aftermath rather than encouraging preventive measures, as is the government, which tends to label regulations designed for prevention as socialist intrusions. It’s the same philosophy that guides the economic system, which is all for free market capitalism on the front end when businesses are making profits for the few, but resorts to socialism on the back end when things go sour and losses are then spread out among the many. “Heads I win, tails you lose,” says the Wall Street tycoon, and friends in government chime in “Yea, verily.”
Unrestricted urban and suburban developmentcovers acreage that drained itself adequately with concrete and asphalt that does not absorb water. That seems obvious, and the necessity for a drainage system capable of handling all the runoff also seems obvious. Certainly there are some events, such as the unprecedented rainfall in Houston from Hurricane Harvey, that would stretch any drainage system to the breaking point. Extraordinary events require extraordinary preparation, a methodology well known among engineers, who are trained to design and build structures and systems to withstand the extraordinary. Engineers’ best efforts can be hamstrung, however, by ideologically and greed driven government leaders and business executives, the effect of which can be seen when disaster strikes and destruction of life and property is greater than it needed to be.
Dynamiting through a levee during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 to create an artificial crevasse at Caernarvon, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, 14 miles below New Orleans. The crevasse was created to take pressure off levees at New Orleans. Archival photography by Steve Nicklas.
The acknowledged masters of hydro engineering,the Dutch, have recently changed their philosophy about coping with excess water from staving it off to flexing with it. Bend, to keep from breaking. That has always been the way with nature, of course, where coastal wetlands have served to absorb the brunt of ocean surges, and where floodplains served as safety valves for swollen rivers. Holding water back with fortifications has always been expensive and unreliable. Water is relentless, and it will find a way.
A flooded town on the lower stretch of the Mississippi River in 1927. Photo from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Creating concrete and asphalt jungles willy nilly without regard to anything other than the almighty dollar is foolishness, and ultimately a price will be paid. In the American system, unfortunately, that price is often borne by the society as a whole, and especially by the poor, but certainly not by the wealthy or by the government leaders who created the mess. Breaking up the concrete and asphalt jungle with permeable pavement, a construction practice that has been around for over fifty years and needs to be used more widely, is one way to forestall some urban flooding. Installation costs for permeable pavement are higher than the traditional kind, but it has other benefits and cost savings that offset the higher up front price tag. It’s not a perfect solution, but nothing can be. It’s a step in the right direction.
One of the arguments some business people and their mouthpieces in government often advance against green methods applied to development are that they create too much red tape, leading to a bad environment for business and a net loss of jobs, besides being downright socialist, which of course is an accusation that is supposed to make all the Greens (environmentalists, tree huggers – choose your own epithet) run away and hide themselves in shame. Too bad. If the true costs of bad environmental practices were borne by the businesses and governments that engage in them, they would change their tune.
A 1974 song written and sung by Randy Newman about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, and about American society.
If businesses paid their workers a living wage, fewer of those workers would need to rely on government assistance to make ends meet. If businesses that made money here and took advantage of the national infrastructure were required to have corporate offices here, and therefore required to pay their fair share of taxes to help support infrastructure improvements, then maybe the country wouldn’t be falling apart while a select few get obscenely rich at the expense of everyone else. If, in other words, we stopped allowing some businesses and their allies in government to slough off hidden expenses on society at large, we could make progress toward a less dangerous future. But it’s going to take a change of heart, of character, to turn this backwards system around and look at green development as the only sensible way forward for everyone, instead of being led by the nose by those whose view of development looks backwards and serves only themselves.
Board games don’t require the high technology of video games, but they are enjoying a resurgence in popularity nonetheless, and in many respects they are opposite in nature to video game culture. Playing a board game is a social activity for two or more people, usually in the same room. While there are electronic ways to play board games remotely, such as chess via email, most people still play the games face to face. Board games can be violent in the players’ imaginations only, and game graphics are usually reserved. Like all games, however, they lean toward competitiveness over cooperation, with some board games promoting a winner-take-all outcome.
Monopoly has been such a game, popular since the 1930s when Parker Brothers introduced it. Or at least that was the story until the 1980s, when it became clear that the game was older, and that Parker Brothers had not been first with it. Elizabeth Magie patented the game in 1904 (renewing it in 1924), with two sets of rules, both meant as teaching tools to demonstrate the value of cooperation over unfettered capitalism. She called her game The Landlord’s Game, and under one set of rules, called “Prosperity”, land was taxed and the goal of the game was to make sure the player lowest in resources eventually doubled them, in which case every player won. The other set of rules, called “Monopolist”, contained the elements of the game as we know it today.
Ms. Magie did not mass market her game, with the result that homemade variants popped up over the years, mainly in the parlors of educators at Eastern colleges, who enjoyed the game more or less for its instructional value, as Ms. Magie had intended. She made no money from it. In 1932, Charles Darrow started marketing the game as his own after dropping the “Prosperity” set of rules and changing the name to Monopoly. It is unclear how much he knew about the game’s true origin. He sold the rights to Parker Brothers in 1935, and it was Parker Brothers that, after hearing rumors about Mr. Darrow not inventing the game, investigated and found Elizabeth Magie to sign a deal with her. Parker Brothers made and sold Ms. Magie’s The Landlord’s Game, with her original sets of rules, but it apparently didn’t sell well and soon faded into obscurity.
The Landlord’s Game board, based on Elizabeth Magie Phillip’s 1924 patent; image by Lucius Kwok.
Meanwhile, Parker Brothers continued promoting Charles Darrow as the inventor of the game Monopoly, and that game sold quite well. All games teach lessons, whether overtly as in Ms. Magie’s Landlord’s Game, or in a way most of us take for granted, as in Mr. Darrow’s Monopoly. We take for granted that people are competitive to a fault and that capitalism serves the seemingly inherent nature of people to take all they can, and if their riches come at the expense of others, then so be it. We take it for granted, but it is not entirely true. Human nature as represented in the lessons of the game Monopoly is an aberration. Why then has it become such an immensely popular board game? Why isn’t The Landlord’s Game, with its depiction of a more equitable world, just as popular?
Perhaps the thing about games is they are just that – games. They allow for a certain amount of role playing, of more or less behaving in a way a person would not behave in everyday life. Some games, video games in particular, take that release too far, or rather the players do. There are cooperative board games available, and they are becoming more popular, but they will most likely never equal in popularity their competitive cousins. There are other games, such as Anti-Monopoly, that try to redress the twisted lessons of Monopoly. The game Class Struggle goes even further. Will they ever become more popular than Monopoly, or even come close? Probably not. It’s good for players to stretch out in their games, however, and learn other lessons and other ways of being, and not end up with a one dimensional, selfish view of the world, a view that glorifies some others who probably shouldn’t be glorified, the ones who call themselves “winners”, though they take everything and leave nothing for anyone else, just like at the end of Monopoly.