7.2 The How of Change

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Dr. Vandana Shiva, the Indian humanitarian and environmentalist, said recently[18],

"There are two great trends sweeping the world: one, a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture, people celebrating their lives. And the other, monocultures, deadness, everyone depressed, everyone on Prozac. We don't want that world of death."

It’s fitting that at this time of great transformation, we see extreme polarization so that people can clearly discern the fork in the road. Which way do we want to go: evolve towards Utopia or careen towards Oblivion? In his memorable opus, Why the West Rules For Now[19], Ian Morris contended that this is precisely the choice we are facing today. There was a similar moment in the 1960s when the great American architect, systems theorist and inventor, Buckminster Fuller, authored the book, Utopia or Oblivion[20], in 1969, but Norman Borlaug and his Green Revolution postponed our day of reckoning for a few decades. Borlaug won a Nobel Peace prize for his efforts, but the trouble with postponing the day of reckoning is that the choices become so much starker, the next time around.

To reach a steady-state Butterfly civilization, we must nurture and accelerate the former trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture, people celebrating their lives, while repurposing the technologies that we've developed to help life thrive on Earth. Think of the millions of Non-Governmental Organizations that have sprung up to address social ills of every kind. Think of the idealistic young men and women who are willing to take steep pay cuts in order to work on social causes. A Brookings Institution Report indicated that 64% of the Miglets would prefer to work in a meaningful job paying $40K per year as opposed to a meaningless job paying $100K per year[21]. This is the great trend that is leading towards the awakening of our Butterfly phase. As this trend is fostered, I imagine that we will be focusing our cameras on the forests of the world to monitor their regeneration, instead of focusing them on ordinary people for ubiquitous surveillance. I imagine that we will be building solar greenhouses yielding organic produce year-round in our urban gardens, instead of building cheap computer-controlled drones that drop more useless merchandise on our suburban front lawns. I imagine that we will be using our technological skills to build fewer, high quality, essential things that last instead of more cheap, low quality, disposable things that break.

The latter trend that Dr. Vandana Shiva mentions, of monocultures, deadness, everyone depressed, everyone on Prozac, is just the terrible hangover from our frenzied, tool-building Caterpillar phase. These are the symptoms indicating that our current hierarchical socioeconomic system is so corrupt that it is time to dissolve it. But this is unlikely to occur from the top down without a significant grassroots movement from the bottom up.
At the moment, mental health problems are rampant in the upper echelons of our hierarchical system with one in four people in the US suffering from depression and other mental diseases[22]. In one of the richest societies in the world, roughly half the American public consumes anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications or illegal drugs on a daily basis, which is an indication of their immense isolation, misery and suffering[23]. Illicit drug use is pervasive up and down the economic scale in American society, with Wall Street executives ingesting more drugs on average than the poor people who disproportionately crowd federal prisons for drug abuse. Yet, they desperately cling to the power that they wield and the privilege that they think they have earned. Corruption is rampant at all levels of our world political structures with Americans, especially young Americans, beginning to tune out of the political process. Recent voting turnouts in midterm elections are in an abysmal 20%-40% range in most congressional districts in the US. The NY Times op ed columnist, Nicholas Kristof, wrote[24],

"Let’s face it: The American political system is broken. The midterm elections were a stinging repudiation of President Obama, but Republicans should also feel chastened: A poll last year found Congress less popular than cockroaches."

Not only is the US Congress less popular than cockroaches, the same poll found Congress, which has an 8% approval rating, to be less popular than dog poop, hemorrhoids, toenail fungus, witches and mothers-in-law[25]. This is the same Congress that continues to foster the latter trend of monocultures and deadness to keep the current hierarchical system going. Two sociologists, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, have shown that while the US Congress is highly responsive to the interests of the economic elite, it is utterly indifferent to the interests of the general public[26]. The former NASA scientist, James D'Angelo, has traced this indifference to the so-called "Sunshine Act" of 1970, which essentially eliminated the secret ballot for Congressional votes[27]. If votes can't be cast in secret in any system, then intimidation and corruption becomes endemic. But this is not just an American phenomenon, as the governments of the world have been continuing to foster the latter trend of deadness as well, even as they meet annually in the UN Climate Change conferences. In a brilliant article entitled, "Are we on the Verge of Total Self Destruction?". Prof. Noam Chomsky of MIT wrote[28],

"At one extreme, you have indigenous tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible."  

The indigenous tribal societies all have one thing in common: they consider the Earth to be sacred. Many of them had already fashioned steady-state civilizations in harmony with the Earth in their local environments before they were disrupted and dislodged by the ever-expanding base of the global industrial civilization. They were the "early adopters" in the trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy and culture that Dr. Shiva spoke about. The richest, most powerful societies in the world all have one thing in common: they are effectively ruled by transnational financial institutions and corporations who consider the Earth to be composed of resources to be processed for economic profit and material progress. They foster the latter trend of monocultures, deadness, everyone depressed, everyone on Prozac, that world of violence and death. Now the rich societies are using their immense military and economic power to crush the remaining indigenous tribal societies in the name of progress. Nurturing elements within the rich societies get caught up in this conflict. For they face a dilemma either submit to the dominant exploitative view of the Earth or face discrimination and oppression in the name of the greater good. In the rich societies, even grandmothers are branded as “eco-terrorists” and thrown in jail for daring to oppose this exploitative paradigm[29].

While the pervasive discrimination and oppression in the hierarchical system can be classified as economic colonialism, sexism, racism, etc., the underlying motivation is mostly just business. Economic colonialism reduces commodity prices. Sexism sells. Racism creates cheap prison labor and wage slaves. It is the debt paradigm of our world financial system and the quest for ever-growing profits that drives most injustices in the current system[30]. Any hierarchical system needs to select who gets to be on top and who languishes at the bottom, which fundamentally fosters such injustice and inequality. As Ashley Maier and Stacia Mesleh described it[31],

"A pervasive mindset, conscious or unconscious, underlies most human-caused violence, exploitation, and oppression: Me and those like me are better and more important than others.  Our feelings, wants, needs, desires, and very lives are worth more than ‘theirs.’ This mindset persists in most cultures and reveals itself in manifestations that are both socially sanctioned (i.e. animal consumption, land use, inequitable pay) and non-socially sanctioned (i.e. abuse of companion animals, toxic waste dumping, rape). These two branches of injustice share the same root system; thus one cannot be watered without causing the other to thrive and grow.  The outcomes of this mindset include, but are not limited to: patriarchy, racism, sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, classism, genderism, ageism, environmental destruction, speciesism, consumerism, family violence, sexual violence, the prison industrial complex, war…  Though seemingly disconnected, these manifestations are connected by the paradigm of perceived superiority. This mindset endures because it has well-established safe havens within the human social norms of most cultural contexts."

Since the global industrial civilization is male-dominated and Western European in origin, its hierarchical system institutionalized the kinds of injustices that are so prevalent today. Therefore, it is no coincidence that four of the richest societies, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are the only four countries to have voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007[32]. Even as they reluctantly ratified the Declaration after it was overwhelmingly adopted at the UN, these countries passed legislative resolutions stating that the UN Declaration was non-binding on them[33]. These four countries all happen to be colonized countries, majority populated by recent European immigrants, where symbols of overt racism towards their indigenous populations are still prevalent, even in the 21st century. For example, the names and mascots of national sports teams use pejorative terms and symbols for indigenous people, even today, in the United States[34]. It is also no coincidence that these four countries along with Great Britain are the "Five Eyes" nations implementing a total surveillance state, where there is a mere semblance of privacy for the general public, but total secrecy for governments and corporations. As Bruce Schneier, a security expert wrote[35],

"Both government agencies and corporations have cloaked themselves in so much secrecy that it is impossible to verify anything they say; revelation after revelation demonstrates that they've been lying to us regularly and tell the truth only when there's no alternative… All of us are being watched, all the time, and that data is being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it is efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell."

This is the exact opposite of what should be happening in true democracies, where governments and corporations should be transparent, while the general public should be enjoying freedom and privacy. Instead, corporations are often unwilling to tell us what exactly are in the products they are selling us and what exactly are the chemicals they are injecting underground to extract oil and natural gas. The laws of the land have been clearly orchestrated to support such corporate opacity[36]. The government of the United States has even gone so far as to assert worldwide, extrajudicial, absolute rights, wielded in total secrecy. As Rosa Brooks, the Former Special Coordinator of the US Defense Department Rule of Law and Humanitarian Policy Office, testified before the US  Congress recently[37],

"Right now we have the Executive Branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials. That frightens me!"

But there are no signs that governments around the world are about to change any time soon. Their institutional integrity is virtually nonexistent. When governments sign an agreement at the UN that they will halt biodiversity loss by 2020, for example, they act as if that is a green signal to continue destroying biodiversity until 2020. As the climate scientist, Joern Fischer, said recently[38],

"For biodiversity conservation, we are trying at the moment a whole bunch of meetings and setting ambitious targets. The UN set itself a target of no biodiversity loss by 2010 and failed. And it set itself a target of no biodiversity loss by 2020 and it will fail again. And it will fail again because there are simply no strategies in place that would ensure that this target can actually be met. At the moment, we have a lot of talking about things and appealing to things within the same systems that we have used in the past and hoping we will somehow get a different outcome."

This is because world governments are essentially tasked with growing the economy and keeping the hierarchical system stable. That is their main job. The communique of the recently concluded G20 summit began[39],

"Raising global growth to deliver better living standards and quality jobs for people across the world is our highest priority."

It mentioned the word "growth" 29 times in 3 short pages. But if any of the governments were looking to reduce human pressure on the Earth's climate and ecosystems by curbing human population, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put rest to that notion[40]. It showed that only the ugliest of scenarios, such as a rapidly enforced global one-child policy or the mass die-off of several billion people could alter population trajectories significantly by 2100 to make a dent on our environmental impact in our current course. The PNAS paper concluded,

"That leaves systemic changes to societies’ resource use, its forms of energy, its economic structures and its social organization as the crucial moves that can lead to a sustainable civilization."

That is, everything must change. System change is the only path to a sustainable civilization, but such a system change is difficult to accomplish from within the existing reality. Fortunately, as Dr. Vandana Shiva pointed out, the new system is already being built, in bits and pieces. It is based on diversity, freedom, justice, equality, joy, culture and it is springing up through various grassroots social justice movements around the world. Therefore, our task at hand is to coalesce these seemingly disparate social justice movements into a cohesive whole and give it the appropriate structure to create a viable alternative for the current hierarchical socioeconomic system. For all social justice activism is part of the same common struggle for freedom and justice[41]. As Holly Wilson said[42],

"Animal rights, gay rights, human rights - it is all the same battle, fought on different fronts. We are all living beings. We possess a desire to live, love whom we choose, and deserve to live free of brutality and oppression."

While all oppressions are based on the idea that some lives matter less than others, Gordon Allport pointed out many years ago that oppressions of all forms have a common origin[43]. They all begin with words. Words that separate an out-group from an in-group, then lead to denigration of that out-group, to avoidance, to discrimination, then physical attack and ultimately to even genocide and extermination.

Thus all social injustices are built with the exact same bricks in every case, whether it is on the basis of gender, sexuality, disability, or the species of origin. According to David Hufton[44],

"Oppression is the bitter fruit of the tree that is grown, root and branch, from bullying seed."

At its core, bullying is the abuse of power to coerce the weak to act against their will. It is the most fundamental form of violence. In turn, bullying is at the very core of the hierarchical system for no one voluntarily chooses to be at the bottom this system. As Kristof Vanhoutte, Gavin Fairbairn and Melanie Lang wrote[45]:

"Most of us first come across bullying in school, whether as victims, perpetrators or both. But it is much more significant in human affairs than a bit of pushing and name calling in the playground. It is to be found in education at all levels, from kindergarten to university, among both staff and students, in prisons and detention centers, in sport; in politics, both within and between political parties and in workplaces of all kinds. It is found in families, where it manifests itself not only in the squabbling that goes on between siblings, but in domestic violence; in the physical and sexual abuse of children and elders; in the imposition, within some communities, of unwanted marriages, and in the explosions of human emotion that are honor killings. It is found in international trade, with some multi-national companies abusing the power that their financial and business strength gives them to bully suppliers across the globe that provide the products they sell. It is found in the lack of empathy and fellow feeling that leads to the abuse of political power and physical force, by repressive political regimes that suppress dissent through torture and disappearances. It features strongly in the route that dominant groups in some countries and regions of the world have taken in moving from intolerance via discrimination, to genocide."

But above all, bullying is rampant in the Animal Agriculture industry. That’s where the “Holocaust on Life” is conducted in earnest within the current socioeconomic system. Animals are maimed, raped, incarcerated and killed by the billions and in terms of sheer numbers, animals constitute more than 99% of the victims of all bullying[46]. We are rightly horrified by the statistic that one billion women living in the world today can expect to be sexually violated within their lifetimes if the current hierarchical system endures. But think of the 70 billion land animals that can expect to be killed on a slaughterhouse floor this year alone! This is why it becomes almost impossible to eliminate social injustices of any kind while continuing the consumption of animal-based products. For how could we possibly eliminate the cultural propagation of gender violence in society, to cite one example, when millions of people are routinely engaged in gender violence on animals in their jobs and come home daily, stressed from that experience? Or when we are constantly consuming the maternal and menstrual secretions of animals, extracted through such gender violence? This is why Dr. Will Tuttle fingers Animal Agriculture as the root cause of all our social justice ills[47]:

"Is there an idea that could transform the roots of our culture and create a solid foundation for peace, abundance, and sustainability? I believe there is, and that it has to do with questioning the pervasive influence of animal agriculture… The essential dot connection we are called to make today is between our routine abuse of animals and virtually all of the crises we face, both collectively and individually."

Indeed, sociological researchers have found that someone who believes himself to be superior to animals is more likely to believe himself to be superior to other human beings who are not like him[48]. Conversely, Veganism is a universal salve that heals social wounds of every kind to a large extent and can integrate seemingly disparate social justice activism into a cohesive whole. As the humane educator, Marla Rose, put it[49],

"I am a feminist. I am vegan for the same reasons that I'm a feminist. It is really as simple as that."


[18] As quoted in http://grist.org/food/vandana-shiva-so-right-and-yet-so-wrong/

[19] Ian Morris, Why the West Rules for Now: The Patterns of History and What they Reveal About the Future, Picador, Oct 2011, ISBN-13: 9780312611699. http://amzn.to/240JWMD

[20] Buckminster Fuller, Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity, Lars Muller publishers, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-3037781272, http://amzn.to/2578sxY

[21] As reported in http://nyti.ms/1t5z0Mx

[22] See fact sheet and references cited therein: http://www2.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf

[23] 49% of the people in the US have some form of anxiety disorder, depression or substance abuse issues: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-files/200804/how-big-problem-is-anxiety

[24] http://nyti.ms/1oNpMaf

[25] Polling results compiled when Congressional approval ratings were at 9%:  http://bit.ly/1qnwRwh

[26] Gilens and Page’s study is summarized here: http://slate.me/1KHqTBT

[27] James D’Angelo’s findings are analyzed here: http://ivn.us/2015/07/16/transparency-the-greatest-flaw-in-congress

[28] Quoted from this article: https://chomsky.info/20130604/

[29] Please see, e.g., http://bit.ly/1TpNLWG

[30] Please see, e.g., http://bit.ly/1U6hdQU

[31] Quote taken from Tuttle, Will, ed., Circles of Compassion: Essays Connecting Issues of Justice, Vegan Publishers, Jan 2015, ISBN-13: 978-1940184067. http://amzn.to/1TsYKAO

[32]   Please see e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_on_the_Rights_of_Indigenous_Peoples

[33] Also mentioned in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_on_the_Rights_of_Indigenous_Peoples

[34] Pejorative college and professional sports team names raise hackles in the indigenous communities: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/29/redskins-protest-home-game_n_6390570.html

[35] Bruce Schneier wrote this after the Snowden revelations http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/16/opinion/schneier-internet-surveillance/

[36] Congress specifically exempted the oil and gas industry from environmental laws and from disclosure requirements: http://bit.ly/1U5nsHw

[37] http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4510300/rosa-brooks-testimony

[38] Prof. Joern Fischer’s quote is taken from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_UKw6Z6OP0

[39] This quote is taken from the 2014 G20 Communique: http://1.usa.gov/1YLaXlQ

[40] http://www.pnas.org/content/106/8/2483.full

[41] Tuttle, Will, ed., Circles of Compassion: Essays Connecting Issues of Justice, Vegan Publishers, Jan 2015, ISBN-13: 978-1940184067. http://amzn.to/1TsYKAO

[42] Holly Wilson in Pojman, P and Pojman, L, ed., Food Ethics, Wadsworth publishing, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-1111772307, http://amzn.to/1NDsnQE

[43] Allport, Gordon, The Nature of Prejudice: 25th Anniversary Edition, Basic books, 1979, ISBN-13: 978-0201001792, http://amzn.to/1VersaY

[44] David Hufton in Vanhoute, K and Lang, M, Bulling and the Abuse of Power, IDP Publishing, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-84888-045-0, http://bit.ly/1TxzyKL

[45] In Vanhoute, K and Lang, M, Bullying and the Abuse of Power, IDP Publishing, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-84888-045-0, http://bit.ly/1TxzyKL

[46] The ratio is derived from the 70 billion animals who are raised and slaughtered each year as opposed to the billion plus human victims, who are bullied in their lifetimes.

[47] Dr. Will Tuttle, The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony, Lantern Books, 2004, ISBN-13: 978-1590560839, http://amzn.to/1ONMp5r
   
[48] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciesism

[49] http://veganfeministagitator.blogspot.com/

 

Sailesh Rao

Dr. Sailesh Rao is an Electrical Engineer, systems specialist, Climate Healer, author of "Carbon Dharma: The Occupation of Butterflies" and "Carbon Yoga: The Vegan Metamorphosis", and Executive Producer of "The Human Experiment", "Cowspiracy," "What The Health” and “A Prayer for Compassion.