"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


April 19, 2007

These are the best of times, these are the worst of times . . .

Fortune magazine reported on April 15, 2007, that Fortune 500 companies "generated unprecedented earnings" in 2006, collectively earning of $785 billion in profits, almost 30% more than in 2005.  "American companies are enjoying the most sumptuously profitable period in the 500's 53-year history," reporter Shawn Tully wrote.  "These happy numbers are largely due to a sort of harmonious convergence, a perfect economic calm."

Yet all around the world, citizens are waking up and asking what has gone wrong in the world. Lee Iacocca published a diatribe this week entitled Where Have All the Leaders Gone? (Scribner, 2007).  "I've had enough.  How about you?  I'll go a step further.  You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged."  Perpetual war, endemic prejudice, environmental catastrophe, social division, and a culture of hate and violence make a mockery of our deeply held spiritual and religious beliefs.  Confidence in our institutions and hopefulness about the future are at all-time lows in the United States.  This evening in Tacoma, Washington, a group of citizens is convening this weekend's World Affairs Summit, with dozens of presentations and workshops asking fundamental questions in three areas:  peace and social justice, the environment, and education.

But could it be that these three areas need to be combined?  Could it be that what we need to learn is that these are the best of times because these are the worst of times?

In January, the Paris publishing house Seuil issued a slim volume with a provocative title:  How the Rich Are Destroying the Planet ('Comment les riches détruisent la planète').  In it, Hervé Kempf, argues that there is an essential link between the ecological and environmental crisis that is leading to catastrophic climate change, and the socioeconomic crisis that is producing an ever-growing gap between rich and poor and breeding war and terrorism.

The author is a reporter on the environment for the Paris newspaper Le Monde.  He writes with a sense of urgency and a belief that humanity's global socioeconomic system is barreling faster and faster toward the brick wall of the planet's finite limits.  "One cannot understand the concomitance of the ecological and social crises if one does not analyze them as two facets of the same disaster, one that results from a system directed by a dominant stratum that today has no motive but greed, no ideal but conservatism, no dream but technology.  This predatory oligarchy is the principal agent of the global crisis," writes Kempf.

The historical justification of industrial capitalism, economic efficiency and the production of wealth, has collapsed, he argues. In its place has arisen a financial capitalism that is decried even by many capitalist economists, since its growth is fueled by job-destroying downsizing, new technologies, and a form of globalization that increases the gap between rich and poor in every country as well as between countries.

Leslie Thatcher of Truthout recently told Kempf how much his book had impressed her: "I read Comment les riches detruisent la planète this afternoon.  I'm not sure 'like' is the operative term for my response.  I devoured it in one go. . . . The book seems to me an incredible tour de force.  I could not imagine it possible to lay out systematically, with sentences of classical limpidity and concision, such a complete, as well as completely persuasive argument for what ails the world and what needs to be addressed.  The dense connections between all the disturbing phenomena of recent years—ecological degradation to the point of habitat destruction for our own species, increasing social inequality and unemployment, the new totalitarianism (government snooping, torture, the percentage increase in prison populations), and the disappearance of a seriously contentious press are simply and powerfully delineated."

Kempf argues that beliefs that have become deeply ingrained in both dominant elites and the general population must be jettisoned as humanity begins to address itself to this general crisis.  Among them:  the belief that economic growth is the solution to social problems, the belief that technology is the solution to ecological problems, the belief that unemployment is inevitable, the belief that Europe should ally itself with North America.  The model of hyperconsumption that Western advertising tends to promote must be abandoned as an "ideology of waste."

But Kempf is not pessimistic:  he sees global society as possessing great strengths.  Among them:  millions of free and educated citizens devoted to the public good, a mass media which, however much it is now controlled by the oligarchy, is nevertheless capable of being once again a vehicle of real information and empowerment, strong left movements around the world that could be rejuvenated by joining the causes of inequality and ecology, and developing global solidarity movements.

Surprisingly, the book has yet to be translated into English.  Asked about a possible English translation last month by Truthout, Kempf said:  "This depends on generating the interest of an English-language publisher."

Takers, anyone?



"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."