Contrived Chaos and States of Confusion

by Randall Amster, Common Dreams, February 24, 2017

There has been a lot of analysis suggesting that the executive-level politics we’re seeing play out right now are about incompetence or irrationality. The psychology of the President himself has been called into question, with bizarre public performances and blatant falsities being propagated, mirroring that of others in the Administration. To those accustomed to the presidency (irrespective of ideology) requiring certain levels of comportment, decency, and accountability, this moment can be dizzying and even terrifying.

To reach the conclusion that this is the product of ineptitude or insanity, however, would also require us to conclude that the past two years of campaigning and governing have been equally accidental or the result of someone being unhinged (not to mention the years spent on television). A far more plausible conclusion is that this actually is being done by design, in the sense that the immediate goal itself is to stimulate chaos to induce fear in some and admiration in others. Indeed, Dr. Allen Frances (who helped write the DSM) cautioned against following this red herring: “Trump represents a political challenge to the American democracy. To attribute this to his psychological quirks is to underestimate the danger.”

This is distinct from supposing that the contrived nature of the turmoil and ineptitude we seem to be experiencing is a kind of diversion or subterfuge meant to keep us from following the real moves being made or to throw us off the trail of potentially damaging storylines. It might be even simpler, in that chaos is the lifeblood of this Administration, the essential quality that animates their personalities and that has made them seemingly impervious to rational discourse, bad publicity, lampooning, or even fact-checking.

If chaos itself is both their method and goal, then the principal mistake they could make would be to seem reflective or repentant at any point. Instead, the premium is on being outrageous, unvarnished, off-the-cuff, impolitic, even shocking. In this view, the value is in appearing “unhinged,” taunting the media and others with ridiculous “alternative facts,” tweeting out misspelled rants at all hours of the day, asserting bald-faced lies, and acting in bizarre ways that give new meaning to the “bully” facet of the bully pulpit.

Taking it one step further, one can see the potential appeal of this modus operandi in some sectors—particularly those in the support base who are tired of politicians being all talk and no action. This contingent is more accustomed to the personality types found on “reality TV,” which is popular for a reason. The President not only garnered support through those channels, but did so by accentuating a persona that is natural in its brashness—and that doesn’t overestimate the refinement of the public.

Still, it leaves one to wonder where all of this may lead. Chaos for its own sake may be the order of the day, but surely there must be a long game at work in all this. Consider the posturing of an Administration whose support hinges on an intention to dismantle bureaucracies and “drain the swamp,” to roll in and restore that which has been lost through years of capitulating to career politicians who have sold out our values, jobs, and security. This has been the mantra for a long time now, as was noted back in 2015:

“And while it may seem like a lurching, chaotic campaign, Trump is, for the most part, a disciplined and methodical candidate, according to a Washington Post review of the businessman’s speeches, interviews and thousands of tweets and retweets over the past six months. Trump delivers scores of promises, diatribes and insults at breakneck speed. He attacks a regular cast of villains including undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, his GOP rivals and the media. He keeps the narrative arc of each controversy alive with an endless stream of statements, an unwillingness to back down even when he has misstated the facts—and a string of attacks against those who criticize him. All the while, his supporters see a truth-talking problem solver unlike the traditional politicians who have let them down.”

That was written over a year ago, in an article titled: “It’s not chaos. It’s Trump’s campaign strategy.” The phrase “disciplined and methodical” stands out, as in sticking to the game plan and being calculated—further suggesting that all of this isn’t happening by accident or due to irrational behavior, but instead represents a form of contrived chaos. As such, Steve Bannon recently stated that the aim is nothing less than the ”deconstruction of the administrative state,” and previously had reportedly said that “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down.”

Which brings us back to the question: to what end? The inducement of dizzying chaos may be a brilliant strategy and even a short-term goal in itself, but if it actually succeeds in bringing “everything crashing down,” then what? And who or what is the “everything” in that equation? We might surmise that this could mean “everything that potentially stands in the way of our agenda,” or perhaps simply that which is deemed superfluous or redundant in an attempt to streamline operations and consolidate power.

Following this arc, David Brooks recently characterized his fear about this Administration as “not that it’s incipient fascism, it’s that it’s anarchy.” Brooks is making a common mistake here in his conflation of anarchy with chaos, and moreover with his assessment of the Administration’s possible intentions. One clue is the nod to Lenin as a paragon of “destroying the state,” since what he replaced it with scarcely resembled anything like anarchism, instead moving toward an even more centralized apparatus. An even stronger prompt is Bannon’s description of the aim as implementing “an economic nationalist agenda.”

The contrast returns us to the question of what ensues in the emptiness created should the “chaos first” strategy succeed in crashing the system. History cautions that inducing such a vacuum by itself will more likely lead to authoritarianism, totalitarianism, dictatorship, fascism, or other similarly troubling variants. These repressive outcomes entail the replacement of the preexisting state with deeper forms of autocratic power (even when cloaked in populist rhetoric), often vested in an “inner party” circle or a single person.

Anarchism is actually the opposite of this. While the impetus to break down oppressive structures may be overlapping, it is equally the case that anarchism seeks to foster wider forms of participation in the process. As such, it is constructive in its attempt to “prefigure” this future through action in the present, seeking not primarily to create a vacuum (which could serve as an invitation to tyranny) as much as it strives to cultivate more egalitarian relationships and greater capacities for self-organization in the process.

As the German anarchist Gustav Landauer observed: “The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another…. We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community.” Landauer articulates a more evolutionary perspective that sometimes contrasts with anarchism’s revolutionary spirit, but the shared impetus is constructive.

At this juncture, the current Administration has not articulated a coherent worldview that provides any confidence that its penchant for destruction and chaos is anything other than an attempt to consolidate power. Indeed, the methods utilized (promulgating alternative facts, false populism, bullying and strong-arming, profiteering through governance, and the like) align much more closely with the hallmarks of despotic regimes, and bear no semblance to anarchism beyond a superficial equation with disarray.

Today we find ourselves at the horns of an ostensible conflict between “order” and “chaos,” with the apparatuses of the “deep state” seemingly at loggerheads with this Administration’s desire for “deconstruction.” Where it will lead is hard to say, and we still haven’t factored a third pole into the dynamic: the people, a large number of whom are awakened and mobilized right now. It is entirely possible that this era represents an opportunity for another framework to emerge, one that isn’t defined in either reactionary or stationary terms. Perhaps out of the confusion will ultimately emerge evolution.

Randall Amster

Randall Amster, JD, PhD, is Director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University. His books include Peace Ecology (Routledge, 2015), Anarchism Today (Praeger, 2012), Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB, 2008); and the co-edited volume Exploring the Power of Nonviolence: Peace, Politics, and Practice (Syracuse University Press, 2013).

“Climate Skeptics” More Likely to Embrace “Free Market” Ideology, Conspiracy Theories

Common Dreams Survey by Common Dreams staff,, July 27, 2012

New study shows correlation between so-called “skeptics” and tendency towards “conspiracist ideation”

A new survey of so-called “climate skeptics” — those who reject the global scientific community’s broad consensus that global warming and climate change are being driven by modern society’s emission of greenhouse gasses — concludes that individuals who hold such views are also much more likely to believe in outlandish conspiracy theories and hold favorable views of the “free market” theory of the economy.

 Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. (Photograph: NASA/AP) The new research, which The Guardian reports will be published in the forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, surveyed more than 1,000 readers of websites related to climate change and found that people who agreed with free market economic principles and endorsed conspiracy theories were more likely to dispute that human-caused climate change was a reality.

In addition to rejecting the findings of climate science, the survey found that “endorsement of the free market [...] predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer.”

The findings also showed that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that 9/11 was an “inside job” or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings, above and beyond endorsement of laissez-faire free markets. According to the researchers, “this provides empirical confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science.”

According to the methodology of the survey, the researchers focused on “climate skeptic” blogs, both because of the inherent target group found there and to highlight the enormous power that the culture of “climate change denial” has been able to wield in the internet age.  Researchers surveyed over 1,000 users of these blogs on (a) their views on climate science and a range of other scientific propositions; (b) two constructs that the researchers hypothesized to be associated with rejection of science (free-market ideology and a range of conspiracy theories); (c) a construct targeting people’s sensitivity to environmental problems (e.g., whether previous concerns about acid rain have been addressed); (d) and the perceived consensus among scientists, which has been repeatedly linked to acceptance of science.

The researchers found that those with a “libertarian streak” are more likely to dabble in conspiracies and to deny widely accepted scientific findings.

“The link between endorsing conspiracy theories and rejecting climate science facts suggests that it is the libertarian instinct to stick two fingers up at the mainstream – whatever the issue – that is important,” writes The Guardian’s James Corner. “Because a radical libertarian streak is the hallmark of free-market economics, and because free market views are popular on the political right, this is where climate change skepticism is most likely to be found.”

And Corner concludes: “All of this suggests that the battle to overcome climate scepticism – if that is even a useful way of thinking about it – will not be won by simply restating the scientific facts. The problem is that “the facts” are not “the facts” for a small proportion of people – and the noise made by this minority group dilutes the otherwise clear signal about climate change received by the wider population.”

The researchers offered no simple solution on how to counter the trend of climate change denial. “Conspiracist ideation is, by definition,” they write, “difficult to correct because any evidence contrary to the conspiracy is itself considered evidence of its existence.”
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US Poverty Rate Reaching 50-Year High by Common Dreams staff

Common Dreams, July 23, 2012 

Economist Dean Baker: “The real tragedy is that this economic collapse was totally preventable before the fact and it could be quickly overcome even now with the right policies.”
- Common Dreams staff

Poverty in the U.S. is on track to be at its highest level in 50 years, according to analysis collected by the Associated Press.  Meanwhile, social safety nets are being pulled out from under those in need, leaving them in a spiral downward with little hope of escape.

The consensus of the more than dozen economists and think tanks the AP surveyed, both left- and right-leaning, was that the poverty level — 15.1 percent in 2010 — would reach as high as 15.7 percent for 2011. Even the 2010 figures represent a record breaking number.  The Census Bureau states that “the number of people in poverty in 2010 (46.2 million) is the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published.”

A mere tenth of a percent increase to 15.2 percent would make the poverty level match 1983′s rate, which was the highest since1965, AP reports.

Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research says that “a rise in the poverty rate is the entirely predictable result of a high unemployment rate and cutbacks in various forms of government support” and sees little chance of a change in course.

“The real tragedy is that this economic collapse was totally preventable before the fact and it could be quickly overcome even now with the right policies. However, in both cases there is not the political will. The interest groups that dominate U.S. politics are just fine with the current situation,” Baker stated.

The safety net allowing some to scrape by are at risk, with unemployment insurance, food stamps and welfare getting cut.  But Peter Edelman, director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy, tells the AP, “The issues aren’t just with public benefits. We have some deep problems in the economy.”

Edelman, author of So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America, also highlighted the problem of low-wage jobs affecting poverty when he spoke to Bill Moyers in June.  “[W]hat I’m worried about is the longer term continuance of this plethora of low-wage jobs. “Of the inability of people at the bottom, and not just the poor, I’m talking about the whole lower half. The way the median wage absolutely stagnated beginning 1973. The economy grew over the last 40 years basically doubled in size. And the entire lower half got none of that. The median wage went up 7 percent in 40 years. A fifth of a percent a year,” Edelman said during his interview with Moyers. 

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Earth Facing Imminent Environmental ‘Tipping Point’ by Common Dreams staff

Common Dreams, June 7, 2012

Biosphere reaching an environmental ‘state shift’, says scientists

Humankind is facing an imminent threat of extinction, according to new research released on Wednesday by the science journal Nature. The report Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere reveals that our planet’s biosphere is steadily approaching a ‘tipping point’, meaning all ecosystems are nearing sudden and irreversible change that will not be conducive to human life.

 ”We have reason to believe the change may be abrupt and surprising,” said co-researcher Arne Mooers, a professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University in Canada’s British Columbia. (Photo: Image Science & Analysis Laboratory , NASA Johnson Space Center) The authors describe what they see as a fast paced ‘state shift’ once the tipping point is reached, which contrasts with the mainstream view that environmental change will take centuries. “It’s a question of whether it is going to be manageable change or abrupt change. And we have reason to believe the change may be abrupt and surprising,” said co-researcher Arne Mooers, a professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University in Canada’s British Columbia.

“The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations,” stated lead author Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California in Berkeley.

“My colleagues who study climate-induced changes through the Earth’s history are more than pretty worried,” he said in a press release. “In fact, some are terrified,” said co-researcher Arne Mooers, a professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University in Canada’s British Columbia.

The report, written by 22 scientists from three continents ahead of this year’s Rio+20 summit, claims that the ‘state shift’ is likely; however, humans may have a small window to curb over-consumption, over-population growth and environmental destruction, with drastic efforts to change the way we live on planet earth through international cooperation.

* * *

Agence France-Presse: Environmental collapse now a serious threat: scientists

Climate change, population growth and environmental destruction could cause a collapse of the ecosystem just a few generations from now, scientists warned on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The factors in today’s equation include a world population that is set to rise from seven billion to around 9.3 billion by mid-century and global warming that will outstrip the UN target of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The paper by 22 top researchers said a “tipping point” by which the biosphere goes into swift and irreversible change, with potentially cataclysmic impacts for humans, could occur as early as this century. [...]

The Nature paper, written by biologists, ecologists, geologists and palaeontologists from three continents, compared the biological impact of past episodes of global change with what is happening today.

The factors in today’s equation include a world population that is set to rise from seven billion to around 9.3 billion by mid-century and global warming that will outstrip the UN target of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The team determined that once 50-90 percent of small-scale ecosystems become altered, the entire eco-web tips over into a new state, characterised especially by species extinctions.

Once the shift happens, it cannot be reversed.

To support today’s population, about 43 percent of Earth’s ice-free land surface is being used for farming or habitation, according to the study.

On current trends, the 50 percent mark will be reached by 2025, a point the scientists said is worryingly close to the tipping point.

If that happened, collapse would entail a shocking disruption for the world’s food supply, with bread-basket regions curtailed in their ability to grow corn, wheat, rice, fodder and other essential crops.

“It really will be a new world, biologically, at that point,” said lead author Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California in Berkeley.

* * *

Montreal Gazette: Earth reaching an environmental ‘state shift’: Report

Or, as Canadian co-author Arne Mooers, at Simon Fraser Univeristy in British Columbia, puts it: “Once the shift occurs, they’ll be no going back.”

The “ultimate effects” of a state shift are unknown, but the researchers suggest it could have severe impact on the world’s fisheries, agriculture, forests and water resources. And they warn that “widespread social unrest, economic instability and loss of human life could result.”

A shift or tipping point is “speculation at this point,” Mooers told Postmedia News.

“But it’s one of those things where you say: ‘Hey, maybe we better find out,’ because if it’s true, it’s pretty serious.” [...]

The climate is warming so fast that the “mean global temperature by 2070 (or possibly a few decades earlier) will be higher than it has been since the human species evolved,” they say.

And to support the current population of seven billion people, about 43 per cent of Earth’s land surface has been converted to agricultural or urban use. The population is expected to hit nine billion by 2045 and they say current trends suggest that half Earth’s land surface will be altered by humans by 2025.

That’s “disturbingly close” to a potential global tipping point, Barnosky says in a release issued with the report. The study says tipping points tend to occur when 50 to 90 per cent of smaller ecosystems have been disrupted.

“I think that if we want to avoid the most unpleasant surprises, we want to stay away from that 50 per cent mark,” Barnosky says.

The “ultimate effects” of a state shift are unknown, but the researchers suggest it could have severe impact on the world’s fisheries, agriculture, forests and water resources. And they warn that “widespread social unrest, economic instability and loss of human life could result.”

* * *

Live Science: Tipping Point? Earth Headed for Catastrophic Collapse, Researchers Warn

Barnosky and his colleagues reviewed research on climate change, ecology and Earth’s tipping points that break the camel’s back, so to speak. At certain thresholds, putting more pressure on the environment leads to a point of no return, Barnosky said. Suddenly, the planet responds in unpredictable ways, triggering major global transitions.

The most recent example of one of these transitions is the end of the last glacial period. Within not much more than 3,000 years, the Earth went from being 30 percent covered in ice to its present, nearly ice-free condition. Most extinctions and ecological changes (goodbye, woolly mammoths) occurred in just 1,600 years. Earth’s biodiversity still has not recovered to what it was.

Today, Barnosky said, humans are causing changes even faster than the natural ones that pushed back the glaciers — and the changes are bigger.
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