World Change Cafe Having conversations that matter. Sat, 19 Dec 2015 20:15:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 We Must Refuse to Participate in the Destruction of the Planet Sat, 19 Dec 2015 20:15:54 +0000

By Chris Hedges

The charade of the 21st United Nations climate summit will end, as past climate summits have ended, with lofty rhetoric and ineffectual cosmetic reforms. Since the first summit more than 20 years ago, carbon dioxide emissions have soared. Placing faith in our political and economic elites, who have mastered the arts of duplicity and propaganda on behalf of corporate power, is the triumph of hope over experience. There are only a few ways left to deal honestly with climate change: sustained civil disobedience that disrupts the machinery of exploitation; preparing for the inevitable dislocations and catastrophes that will come from irreversible rising temperatures; and cutting our personal carbon footprints, which means drastically reducing our consumption, particularly of animal products.

“Our civilization,” Dr. Richard Oppenlander writes in “Food Choice and Sustainability,” “displays a curious instinct when confronted with a problem related to overconsumption—we simply find a way to produce more of what it is we are consuming, instead of limiting or stopping that consumption.”

The global elites have no intention of interfering with the profits, or ending government subsidies, for the fossil fuel industry and the extraction industries. They will not curtail extraction or impose hefty carbon taxes to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They will not limit the overconsumption that is the engine of global capitalism. They act as if the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases—the animal agriculture industry—does not exist. They siphon off trillions of dollars and employ scientific and technical expertise—expertise that should be directed toward preparing for environmental catastrophe and investing in renewable energy—to wage endless wars in the Middle East. What they airily hold out as a distant solution to the crisis—wind turbines and solar panels—is, as the scientist James Lovelock says, the equivalent of 18th-century doctors attempting to cure serious diseases with leeches and mercury. And as the elites mouth platitudes about saving the climate they are shoving still another trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), down our throats. The TPP permits corporations to ignore nonbinding climate accords made at conferences such as the one in Paris, and it allows them, in secret trade tribunals, to defy environmental regulations imposed by individual states.

New technology—fracking, fuel-efficient vehicles or genetically modified food—is not about curbing overconsumption or conserving resources. It is about ensuring that consumption continues at unsustainable levels. Technological innovation, employed to build systems of greater and greater complexity, has fragmented society into cadres of specialists. The expertise of each of these specialists is limited to a small section of the elaborate technological, scientific and bureaucratic machinery that drives corporate capitalism forward—much as in the specialized bureaucratic machinery that defined the genocide carried out by the Nazis. These technocrats are part of the massive, unthinking hive that makes any system work, even a system of death. They lack the intellectual and moral capacity to question the doomsday machine spawned by global capitalism.  And they are in control.

Civilizations careening toward collapse create ever more complex structures, and more intricate specialization, to exploit diminishing resources. But eventually the resources are destroyed or exhausted. The systems and technologies designed to exploit these resources become useless. Economists call such a phenomenon the “Jevons paradox.” The result is systems collapse.

In the wake of collapses, as evidenced throughout history, societies fragment politically, culturally and socially. They become failed states, bleak and desolate outposts where law and order break down, and there is a mad and often violent scramble for the basic necessities of life. Barbarism reigns.

“Only the strong survive; the weak are victimized, robbed, and killed,” the anthropologist Joseph Tainter writes in “The Collapse of Complex Societies.” “There is fighting for food and fuel. Whatever central authority remains lacks the resources to reimpose order. Bands of pitiful, maimed survivors scavenge among the ruins of grandeur. Grass grows in the streets. There is no higher goal than survival.”

The elites, trained in business schools and managerial programs not to solve real problems but to maintain at any cost the systems of global capitalism, profit personally from the assault. They amass inconceivable sums of wealth while their victims, the underclasses around the globe, are thrust into increasing distress from global warming, poverty and societal breakdown. The apparatus of government, seized by this corporate cabal, is hostile to genuine change. It passes laws, as it did for Denton, Texas, afterresidents voted to outlaw fracking in their city, to overturn the ability of local communities to control their own resources. It persecutes dissidents, along with environmental and animal rights activists, who try to halt the insanity. The elites don’t work for us. They don’t work for the planet. They orchestrate the gaiacide. And they are well paid for it.

The Anthropocene Age—the age of humans, which has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species and the pollution of the soil, air and oceans—is upon us. The pace of destruction is accelerating. Climate scientists say that sea levels, for example, are rising three times faster than predicted and that the Arctic ice is vanishing at rates that were unforeseen. “If carbon dioxide concentrations reach 550 ppm,” writes Clive Hamilton in “Requiem for a Species,” “after which emissions fell to zero, the global temperature would continue to rise for at least another century.” We have already passed 400 parts per million, a figure not seen on earth for 3 million to 5 million years. We are on track to reach at least 550 ppm by 2100.

The breakdown of the planet, many predict, will be nonlinear, meaning that various systems that sustain life—as Tainter chronicles in his study of collapsed civilizations—will disintegrate simultaneously. The infrastructures that distribute food, supply our energy, ensure our security, produce and transport our baffling array of products, and maintain law and order will crumble at once. It won’t be much fun: Soaring temperatures. Submerged island states and coastal cities. Mass migrations. Species extinction. Monster storms. Droughts. Famines. Declining crop yields. And a security and surveillance apparatus, along with militarized police, that will employ harsher and harsher methods to cope with the chaos.

We have to let go of our relentless positivism, our absurd mania for hope, and face the bleakness of reality before us. To resist means to acknowledge that we are living in a world already heavily damaged by global warming. It means refusing to participate in the destruction of the planet. It means noncooperation with authority. It means defying in every way possible consumer capitalism, militarism and imperialism. It means adjusting our lifestyle, including what we eat, to thwart the forces bent upon our annihilation.

The animal agriculture industry has, in a staggering act of near total censorship, managed to stifle public discussion about the industry’s complicity in global warming. It is barely mentioned in climate summits. Yet livestock and their byproducts, as Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn point out in their book, “The Sustainability Secret,” and their documentary,“Cowspiracy,” account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Methane and nitrous oxide are rarely mentioned in climate talks, although those two greenhouse gases are, as the authors point out, respectively, 86 times and 296 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. Cattle, worldwide, they write, produce 150 billion gallons of methane daily. And 65 percent of the nitrous oxide produced by human-related activities is caused by the animal agriculture industry. Water used in fracking, they write, ranges from 70 billion to 140 billion gallons annually. Animal agriculture water consumption, the book notes, ranges from 34 trillion to 76 trillion gallons annually. Raising animals for human consumption takes up to 45 percent of the planet’s land. Ninety-one percent of the deforestation of the Amazon rain forest and up to 80 percent of global rain forest loss are caused by clearing land for the grazing of livestock and growing feed crops for meat and dairy animals. As more and more rain forest disappears, the planet loses one of its primary means to safely sequester carbon dioxide. The animal agriculture industry is, as Andersen and Kuhn write, also a principal cause of species extinction and the creation of more than 95,000 square miles of nitrogen-flooded dead zones in the oceans.

A person who eats a vegan diet, they point out, a diet free of meat, dairy and eggs, saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life every day.

The animal agriculture industry has pushed through “Ag-Gag” laws in many states that criminalize protests, critiques of the industry, and whistleblowing attempts to bring the public’s attention to the staggering destruction wrought on the environment by the business of raising 70 billion land animals every year worldwide to be exploited and consumed by humans. And they have done so, I presume, because defying the animal agriculture industry is as easy as deciding not to put animal products—which have tremendous, scientifically proven health risks—into your mouth.

We have little time left. Those who are despoiling the earth do so for personal gain, believing they can use their privilege to escape the fate that will befall the human species. We may not be able to stop the assault. But we can refuse to abet it. The idols of power and greed, as the biblical prophets warned us, threaten to doom the human race.

Timothy Pachirat recounts in his book, “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight,” an Aug. 5, 2004, story in the Omaha World-Herald. An “old-timer” who lived five miles from the Omaha slaughterhouses recalled the wind carrying the stench of the almost six and a half million cattle, sheep and hogs killed each year in south Omaha. The sickly odor permeated buildings throughout the area.

“It was the smell of money,” the old-timer said. “It was the smell of money.”

Are Boys Failing School or Is School Failing Boys? Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:35:59 +0000

By Jennifer L. W. Fink

It’s the ultimate chicken-or-egg question.

According to a comprehensive new report about gender and education:

Compared to girls, boys are more likely to say they think school is a waste of time, show up late to class and generally be less ambitious with their education and career expectations. They also spend less time doing homework and reading for pleasure, and more time playing video games or engaging with technology.

If you have boys, I bet those findings come as no surprise to you. Those sentences pretty much sum up what I see in my home and in my community, and what I’ve heard from dozens of families of boys.

It’s entirely possible to look at those findings and blame boys for their lackluster achievement in school. After all, boys, how do you expect to get ahead if you don’t put some serious effort into your education!

But isn’t it also possible that those findings describe the symptoms, not the cause, of a problem? Perhaps boys are less excited about school and less likely to do homework because school doesn’t meet their needs.

  • Perhaps boys consider school a waste of time because school asks them to spend a ton of time on topics and activities that don’t interest them and appear to have no relevance to their lives, while asking (or requiring) them to ignore, deny and push aside things that do interest them.
  • Perhaps boys show up late for class because they don’t feel comfortable in a place that rarely or never asks them what they’d like to learn, or how they’d like to learn it. Perhaps boys instinctively avoid a place where they’re statistically more likely to get in trouble, to be suspended or expelled.
  • Perhaps boys don’t put time and effort into their homework because, too often, the homework is merely busywork that has nothing to do with their personal interests, agendas or learning styles. Perhaps boys would rather spend their time and energy on activities that are personally meaningful to them.
  • Perhaps boys spend less time reading for pleasure because schools don’t spend much time on reading materials boys enjoy. Perhaps these boys have not been introduced to authors and genres they’d like, and perhaps neither boys nor schools or surveyors count much of the reading boys do. (Surfing the Web requires lots of reading.) And is reading for pleasure really superior to reading for information? To reading for a purpose?
  • Perhaps boys spend a lot of time on video games because video games give them freedom and allow them to exercise their creativity and problem skills in ways that few school do.

Perhaps boys’ response to school is entirely reasonable when we consider the school experience from boys’ point of view.

Recently, I visited the local high school’s Freshman Orientation night with my second son. We wandered through the library, which was filled with tables and students promoting the various extracurricular activities available at school: Spanish Club. Yearbook. Forensics. Show Choir. Soccer. Basketball. Baseball. Student Council. Football. Track and Field. Cross Country. Band.

A fellow mom of an 8th grade boy cornered me. “What are you making your son do?”

I paused, unsure how to answer. Making him do?

“Well,” I finally said (with my son at my shoulder), “I’m sure he’ll play baseball.” (Said son has played baseball since age 6 and loves it.)

“Oh, that’s right. Your son does sports,” the other mom said. “My son’s not in anything.”

Clearly, this mom wants her son to be involved. She heard the school administrators say that kids who are involved in school activities are more likely to enjoy school, more likely to feel a part of the school community, and more likely to do well. Her heart is in the right place.

But as I walked around the room — seeing kids I’ve known for years — I realized that the school’s offerings don’t match up with the boys’ interests.

“Hey,” one kid said to mine, nudging him. “Where’s the fishing club?”

Huh. No fishing club. No class either, I’m sure, that uses fishing to help students learn about ecology or geography or physiology, history or language arts. My son, an avid fisherman, would thrive in that class. So would the friend who nudged him and many of their fishing buddies. School doesn’t work that way, though.

Similarly, there’s no video game club or class that uses video games to teach coding, storytelling, history, geography or any of a thousand other things. The boy who’s “not in anything?” He’s an avid — and intelligent — gamer. He creates mods. Uploads content to YouTube. And communicates with other gamers worldwide via the Internet.

The shame here, in my opinion, isn’t that he’s not in a school activity; the shame is that far too many schools marginalize boys like him by essentially telling them that their interests are worthless. Instead of encouraging boys’ interests, school too often tell them their interests are a waste of time.

What a waste!

According to the OCED report, the one about gender and education, “boys download music, films, games and software from the internet more than girls.” Boys are also more likely to upload their own content (which means they’re creating content) and more likely to read news online.

What a wasted opportunity! This report — as well as conversations with and observations of our boys — tells us what our boys like, what they value. Yet everyday, far too many of them are herded into schools that completely ignore the boys’ interests and needs.

No wonder the boys are disengaged. No wonder they spend their time and energy on non-school related activities. And no wonder their grades reflect their lack of interest and disengagement.

We can fix this. Unfortunately, I think the recommendations in the report don’t go nearly far enough. The report’s five recommendations are:

  1. Give students greater choice in what they read.
  2. Allow some video gaming, but homework comes first
  3. Train teachers to be aware of their own gender bias
  4. Build girls self-confidence
  5. Help students look ahead

I’d recommend adding a #6: Create classes that respect boys’ interests and learning styles.

To learn more visit:

Working with violent women Mon, 16 Nov 2015 00:25:53 +0000

By Erin Pizzey

Those of us working in the field of domestic violence are confronted daily by the difficult task of working with women in problematic families. In my work with family violence, I have come to recognize that there are women involved in emotionally and /or physically violent relationships that express and enact disturbance beyond the expected (and acceptable) scope of distress.

Such individuals, spurred on by deep feelings of vengefulness, vindictiveness, and animosity, behave in a manner that is singularly destructive; destructive to themselves as well as to some or all of the other family members, making an already bad family situation worse. These women I have found it useful to describe as ‘family terrorists.’  In my experience, men also are capable of behaving as ‘family terrorists’ but male violence tends to be more physical and explosive.

We have had thousands of international studies about male violence but there is very little about why or how women are violent. There seems to be a blanket of silence over the huge figures of violence expressed by women. Because ‘family terrorism’ is a tactic largely used by women and my work in the domestic violence field is largely with women, I address this problem discussing only my work with women.

The potential for terrorism may rest dormant for many years, emerging in its full might only under certain circumstances. I found that in many cases it is the dissolution, or threatened dissolution, of the family that calls to the fore the terrorist’s destructiveness. It is essential to understand that prior to dissolution; the potential terrorist plays a role in the family that is by no means passive.

The terrorist is the family member whose moods reign supreme in the family, whose whims and actions determine the emotional climate of the household. In this setting, the terrorist could be described as the family tyrant, for within the family, this individual maintains the control and power over the other members’ emotions.  The family well may be characterized as violent, incestuous, dysfunctional,  and unhappy, but it is the terrorist or tyrant who is primarily responsible for initiating conflict, imposing histrionic outbursts upon otherwise calm situations, or (more subtly and invisibly) quietly manipulating other family members into uproar through guilt, cunning taunts, and barely perceptive provocations.  (The quiet manipulative terrorist usually is the most undetected terrorist. Through the subtle creation of perpetual turmoil, this terrorist may virtually drive other family members to alcoholism, to drug-addiction, to explosive behavior, to suicide. The other family members, therefore, are often misperceived as the ‘family problem’ and the hidden terrorist as the saintly woman who ‘puts up with it all.’)

While the family remains together, however miserable that ‘togetherness’ might be, the terrorist maintains her power.  However, it is often the separation of the family that promises to rend the terrorist’s domain and consequently to lessen the power.  Family dissolution, therefore, often is the time when the terrorist feels most threatened and most alone, and most dangerous.

In this position of fear, the family terrorist sets out to achieve a specific goal.  There are many possible goals for the terrorist, including:  reuniting the family once again, or ensuring that the children (if there are children in the relationship) remain under the terrorist’s control, or actively destroying the terrorist’s spouse (or ex-spouse) emotionally, physically, and financially.

When it was evident to Adolph Hitler that winning the War as an absolute impossibility, he ordered his remaining troops to destroy Berlin:  If he no longer could rule, then he felt it best for his empire to share in his own personal destruction. Similarly, the family terrorist, losing or having lost supremacy, may endeavor to bring about the ruin (and, in some extreme cases, the death) of other family members.

The family terrorist, like the political terrorist, is motivated by the pursuit of a goal.  In attempting to ‘disarm’ the family terrorist, it is vital that the practitioner begin intervention by trying to recognize and understand the terrorist’s goal.

The source of the terrorist’s goal as in the case of the political terrorist usually can be understood to spring from some ‘legitimate’ grievance.  The grievance’s legitimacy may be regarded in terms of justified feeling of outrage in response to an actual injustice or injury, or the legitimacy may exist solely in the mind of the terrorist. Whether this legitimacy be real or imagined, the grievance starts as the impetus for the terrorist’s motivation.  One hallmark of an emotional terrorist is that this motivation tends to be obsessive by nature.

Whence this obsession? Why this overwhelmingly powerful drive?  In many cases, that which the terrorist believes to be the grievance against the spouse actually has very little to do with the spouse.  Although the terrorist may be consciously aware only of the spouse’s alleged offense, the pain of this offense (real or imagined) is invariably an echo of the past, a mirrored recreation of some painful situation in the terrorist’s childhood.

I will not describe here in any detail the types of childhood that tend to create the subsequent terrorist. I will say, however, that invariably the terrorist’s childhood, once understood, can be seen as violent (emotionally and/or physically).  Also invariably, the terrorist can be regarded as a ‘violence prone’ individual.  I define a ‘violence prone’ woman as a woman who while complaining that she is the innocent victim of the malice and aggression of all other relationships in her life, is in fact, a victim of her own violence and aggression.

A violent and painful childhood tends to create in the child an addiction to violence and to pain (an addiction on all levels:  the emotional, the physical, the intellectual, the neurochemical), an addiction that then compels the individual to recreate situations and relationships characterized by further violence, further violence, further danger, further suffering, further pain.  Thus, it is primarily the residual pain from childhood – and only secondarily the pain of the terrorist’s current familial situation – that serves as the terrorist’s motivating impetus.  There is something pathological about the terrorist’s motivation, for it is based not so much on reality as on a twisting, a distortion, a reshaping of reality.

Because the emotional terrorist is a violence-prone individual, addicted to violence, the terrorist’s actions must be understood as the actions of an addict.  When the family was together, the terrorist found fulfillment for any number of unhealthy appetites and addictions.  When that family then dissolves, the terrorist behaves with all the desperation, all the obsession, all the single-minded determination of any addict facing or suffering withdrawal.

The single-mindedness, the one-sidedness of feeling, is perhaps the most important shibboleth of the emotional terrorist.  Furthermore, the extent of this one-sidedness is, for the practitioner, perhaps the greatest measure and indicator of how extreme the terrorist’s actions are capable of becoming.

Any person suffering an unhappy family situation, or the dissolution of a marriage or relationship, will feel some pain and desperation.  A relatively well-balanced person, however, will be not only aware of their own distress but also sensitive, in some degree, to the suffering of the other family members.  (For example, reasonably well-balanced parents, when facing divorce, will be most concerned with their children’s emotional well-being, even beyond their own grief.)   Not so the emotional terrorist.

To the family terrorist, there is only one wronged, one sufferer, only one person in pain, and this person is the terrorist herself.  The terrorist has no empathy and feels only her own pain.  In this manner, the terrorist’s capacity for feeling is narcissistic, solipsistic, and in fact pathological.

Again, I will not attempt here to detail the factors in childhood that lead to the creation of an emotional terrorist.  What is, however, evident, in the terrorist’s limited or non- existent ability to recognize other people’s feelings, is that the terrorist’s emotions and awareness, at crucial stages of childhood development, were stunted from reaching beyond the boundaries of self, due to a multiplicity of reasons.

Later, the adult terrorist went on to make a relationship that was, on some level, no true relationship, but a re-enactment of childhood pains, scenarios, situations, and ‘scripts.’   Throughout the relationship, the solipsistic terrorist did not behave genuinely in response to the emotions of other family members but self- servingly used them as props for the recreation of the terrorist’s program.

And when that relationship finally faces dissolution, the terrorist is aware only of her own pain and outrage and, feeling no empathy for other family members, will proceed single-mindedly in pursuit of her goal, whether that goal is reunion, ruin, or revenge.  The terrorist’s perspective is tempered by little or objectivity.  Instead the terrorist lives in a self-contained world of purely subjective pain and anger.

Because conscience consists of the awareness of other people’s feelings as well as of one’s own, the emotional terrorist’s behavior often can be described virtually without conscience.  In this lack of conscience lies the dangerous potential of the true terrorist, and again the degree of conscience in evidence is a useful measure in my work to anticipate the terrorist’s destructiveness.

An additional factor, making the terrorist so dangerous, is the fact that the terrorist, while in positively monomaniacal pursuit of her goal, feels fueled by a sense of omnipotence. Perhaps it is true that one imagines oneself omnipotent when, in truth, one is in a position of impotence (as in the case of losing one’s familial control through dissolution).

Whatever the source of the sensation of omnipotence, the terrorist believes herself to be unstoppable, and unbound by the constraints or conscience or empathy, believes that no cost (cost, either to the terrorist or to other family members) is too great to pay toward the achievement of the goal.

The terrorist, and the terrorist’s actions, know no bounds.  (The estimation of the extent of the terrorist’s ‘boundlessness’ presents the greatest challenge to my work). Intent only to achieve the goal (perhaps ‘hell-bent’ is  the most accurate descriptive phrase) the terrorist will take such measures as:  stalking a spouse or ex-spouse, physically assaulting the spouse or the spouse’s new partners, telephoning all mutual friends and business associates of the spouse in an effort to ruin the spouse’s reputation, pressing fabricated criminal charges against the spouse ( including alleged battery and child molestation), staging intentionally unsuccessful  suicide attempts for the purpose of manipulation, snatching children from the spouse’s care and custody, vandalizing the spouse’s property, murdering the spouse and / or the children as an act of revenge.

In my experience both men and women are equally guilty of the above behavior but on the whole, because it is men’s dysfunctional behavior that is studied and reported upon, people do not realize that to the same extent women are equally guilty of this type of violent behavior.

My working definition, then, of a ‘family terrorist’ or an ‘emotional terrorist’ is: a woman or a man (but for the purposes of this work, I refer only to women) who, pathologically motivated (by unresolved tendencies from a problematical childhood), and pathologically insensitive to the feelings of other family members, obsessively seeks through unbounded action to achieve a destructive (and, therefore, pathological) goal with regard to other family members.

Of course, this defining profile pertains to individuals in differing degrees.  Many people, unhappy within a relationship or made unhappy by the dissolution of a relationship, may lapse into periods of ‘irrational’ behavior.  What characterizes the terrorist, however, is that the vindictive and destructive behaviors are consistent; the moments of calm and periods of lucidity are the lapses, temporary lulls in the storm.

Also, there are women who, suffering chagrin and misery during or after the lifespan of a relationship, appear far more  self-destructive than destructive to anyone else. For the other partner, contemplating leaving this kind of individual, the very thought of leaving such a person is made difficult and untenable by such frequently uttered protestations as ‘ I cannot live without you,’ and ‘without you, I might as well be dead.’

To be sure, many women exist, extremely dependent within their relationships, who, probably having suffered severe emotional betrayal during their childhood, genuinely feel that their life outside a relationship would be so lonely as to be unbearable.

It is difficult to leave such a woman, and the man attempting to leave may well feel that, by leaving, he would be responsible for delivering a mortal blow to an already pathetic wretch. Men also, are often kept in  relationships which can only be likened to ‘personal concentration camps,’ by the fact that they feel a genuine feeling of ‘chivalry’ towards their partner. Women tend to put so much more of themselves into their relationships and therefore suffer when these relationships fall apart.

There is a valid question as to whether or not this sort of suicidally-inclined individual may be deemed a terrorist.  (To many minds, this kind of individual, no doubt, would seem to fall more within the category of ‘emotional black-mailer.’)  I believe that sadly, there are people, deeply damaged by their childhoods, who genuinely cannot face life by themselves.

When dealing with such potential cases, however, I try to make the leaving partner understand that the suicidal inclinations predate the relationship by many years, and that, however tragic the situation, one person simply cannot be held responsible for keeping another person alive.  In some individuals, the authentic (though unhealthy) longing for death is a longing planted within them since early childhood, and there is very little a partner can do to alter the apparently inevitable course of that longing.

Among true terrorists, however, threats of suicide can be seen to serve a largely manipulative role.  In short, the terrorist says, ‘If you can’t do as I tell you, I will kill myself.’   Whether suicide remains only a threat or is realized, the true terrorist uses suicide not so much as an expression of desperate grief but as a weapon to be wielded against others.

In working with clients struggling either relationships or with the dissolution of a relationship, I am faced with many questions, all relevant to gauging the woman’s terrorist potential:   ‘Will the woman persevere in her efforts to financially ruin her partner?’   ‘Is she sincere when she promises to kill her partner, or have him killed, should he ever become involved in a new relationship?   Are the threats of suicide genuine or manipulative?’  ‘Will she carry out the promises of using the law to ‘kidnap’ the children in order to hurt the ex-partner?’  ‘Will she brain-wash the children to such an extent that her ex-partner dare not form a new relationship?’

Emotional terrorism is by no means confined to the family context.  I know an extremely successful woman in the world of fine arts.  This woman has been haunted by a former assistant who, vicariously imagining herself to be the writer herself, dresses like her, stalks her, and issues public statements that it was she, not the writer, who created the works of art for which the writer is internationally famous.  If the writer is to ensure her own safety, then very definite steps must be taken.

In situations of emotional and family terrorism, there are two areas of work to be done:  practical measures of protection (‘ strategies for survival’) on the part of family members, and therapeutic work with the terrorist himself or herself. I must reiterate at this stage, that both men and women are capable of terrorist tactics but men tend to behave in a more physically violent manner within the family. Women, as I have shown use far more subtle tactics i.e. that of the terrorist as opposed to outright war.

The first step, on the part of other family members, toward limiting the terrorist’s destructive potential is to understand the terrorist to be a terrorist.  In a recent case, a Mr. Roberts described to me how, during his marriage, he and his children faced a daily onslaught of verbal abuse from his wife.  Mrs. Roberts was also physically violent to the children.  Now that he has asked for a divorce, she is making use of every weapon in her arsenal. In the children’s presence, she has used drugs and drunk alcohol to the point of extreme intoxication.

She has staged several unsuccessful suicide attempts in front of the children, threatened over the telephone to ‘do something stupid,’ promised to kill Mr. Roberts new partner, and assured Mr. Roberts that when she has finished with him he will not have a penny to his name.  To Mr. Roberts, all of this behavior seemed perfectly usual. After all, he had witnessed this sort of commotion for thirteen years of their marriage. When I suggested to him, ‘What you endured is emotional terrorism, he suddenly and for the first time was able to see his situation clearly.

Now, he realized, his wife’s behavior was neither appropriate nor acceptable. No, this was not the treatment that every man should expect from his wife, either in or out of marriage. No, he does not want his children to be subjected to such extreme behavior any longer. The fact of recognizing a terrorist is the essential first step.

Then, because a terrorist is fueled by a feeling of omnipotence and is prepared to behave without bounds, (usually encouraged by feminist therapists who insist that their clients suffer from ‘low self esteem’), pragmatic measures must be taken to define clearly the boundaries of behavior.  It is unfortunate that the legal situation which many divorce agreements mandate is open-ended.

Certainly, when both parties to a divorce are reasonably well-balanced, it is entirely fitting for the settlement to be flexible enough to incorporate changing financial circumstances, child-care capabilities, and visitation rights. When, however, one party to the divorce is an emotional terrorist, then both the confrontational divorce procedure and the resultant open-ended divorce settlement provide infinite opportunity for the courts, lawyers, and the entire battery of psychologists called in for evaluations, to be used the terrorist’s weapons.

In these cases, the court and the divorce procedure provide no boundaries for the terrorist; instead they allow the terrorist to continue to behave boundlessly.

For this reason, when dealing with a terrorist, it is best for the divorce procedure and final decree to be as swift, as final, as absolute, as unequivocal as possible.  Every practitioner or attorney handling divorces is familiar with clients described as ‘litigious.’   Only when ‘litigiousness’ is seen as a manifestation of terrorism can the course to swift and precise legal settlement be steered.

To limit the terrorist’s feelings of omnipotence, there are many effective measures.  The guiding principle, as in the handling of political terrorists, must be ‘There is no negotiating with terrorists.’   Endless telephone calls, conversations, confrontation, trial ‘get-back-togethers,’ correspondence, visitations, gestures of appeasement, and efforts to placate the terrorist’s demands, all serve to reinforce the terrorist’s belief that she is accomplishing something.  Only determined resolution in the face of terrorism shows the terrorist that her power is limited.

Furthermore, for anyone dealing directly with the terrorist, reassurances, ‘ego boosts,’  ‘positive strokes,’ and consolations are lamentably counter- productive. Mrs. Roberts soon found for herself a feminist therapist staunchly supporting the erroneous belief ‘All feelings (and therefore behaviors) are valid.’

Mrs. Roberts is told by this therapist that she has a right to feel and to behave in any manner she chooses, in callous disregard for the devastation inflicted upon the children.  Such reassurances serve only to fortify the terrorist’s already pathological, solipsistic, and eternally self-justifying perspective.

If wishing to undertake the second sphere of disarming a terrorist — personal intervention with the terrorist herself — the therapist must be prepared to be straight, honest and very direct. In my own dealings with women as terrorists, I have found on occasion that one quite simply can point out to the terrorist, ‘You are behaving like a terrorist.  This is what you are doing. This is how you are being destructive. This is the destruction you are heading towards,’ and the terrorist, seeing themselves clearly for the first time, might be encouraged to reconsider their behavior.

More commonly, however, extremely deep therapy is required. For the terrorist’s behavior to change there must first be a solid and fundamental change within the terrorist’s psychological constitution. Usually it is only by an in-depth excavation and resolution of early childhood pain that the terrorist can begin to gain a real, true, and level-headed perception of her own current situation.

Direct intervention with a terrorist – like all forms of therapeutic intervention – can hope to achieve change only if the individual concerned wishes to change and possesses that vital yet ineffable quality:  the will to health.  When the will to health is lacking, there can be no change.  If the terrorist cannot or will not change, one can only help the other family members to be resolute, be strong, and, whenever possible, be distant.

About the Author: Erin Pizzey is founder of Chiswick Womens’ Aid, the first ever refuge in the world for victims of domestic violence. She is a lecturer and advocate, and has authored books on domestic abuse, including the seminal “Prone to Violence.” Her latest effort is her autobiography, titled “This Way to the Revolution.” She is also an Editor-at-Large and adviser for A Voice for Men on domestic violence policy.

How Zoos are Distorting Our View of the Natural World Tue, 20 Oct 2015 23:08:18 +0000

By Corrine Henn

The earliest zoos were merely collections of exotic animals that served as a way to flaunt one’s wealth. These animals lived in luxurious cages that hardly resembled any life they would lead in the wild. It wasn’t until the early 1900s in Germany that an emphasis was placed on ensuring animals had natural looking habitats while in captivity. Efforts to improve the environment for captive animals increased from there and slowly evolved into the modern zoo habitats many of us are familiar with today.

Zoos have gone to incredible lengths to manufacture an environment for the animals they hold that seems “just like the wild.” They’ve created elaborate habitats with trees and even added “enrichment” activities to ensure the animals stay engaged.

The purpose of keeping wild animals in captivity has also “evolved” from being an elaborate way to show one’s wealth to a highly organized practice that is allegedly grounded in “conservation, education, and scientific research.” Many Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited institutions pride themselves on the money they donate to habitat restoration and rehabilitation projects, along with the elaborate Species Survival Plans in place for their captive animals.

By constructing a false habitat in which the animals can have some semblance of an environment like the one they’d have in the wild, and continuing to breed and populate these habitats, zoos have created a skewed image of what the natural world is meant to be like and in so doing, perpetuated the misconception that animals can be “okay” in captivity.

When we take a step back and deconstruct how zoos operate, the true cost of captivity becomes readily evident.

Acquiring Zoo Animals

While people happily pay to see animals in zoos, one thing they might not be so quick to consider is where the animals came from. Sadly, animals like lions and elephants didn’t just decide to put themselves on display; they were either captured from the wild – or their parents were.

Early zoos that took animals from the wild for their collections lacked the understanding to grasp how their actions could also compromise wild herds. Today, we are well aware of the impact that taking animals from the wild has on the population – yet, zoos continue to do this – and sometimes in the name of conservation.

Take the instance of elephants, recent research has revealed that when baby elephants are captured from their herds and taken away, it takes and emotional toll on both the young ones and their entire families. Elephants live in complex matriarchal societies, and the consequences of removing individuals from the herd could very well be irreversible. Of course, the reality presented to zoo patrons is dodgy yet simple: elephants are highly endangered and accredited facilities are doing everything in their power to conserve the species.

Many zoos also have Species Survival Plans that are complex breeding programs that allow them to maintain captive populations. Today, these accredited institutions rely on breeding and trading their animals, to maintain genetic diversity, through a complex network known as the AZA exchange. In some cases, propagating these captive animals has been incredibly successful, and in others, a complete failure. Yet it’s rare (only a handful of cases) that these efforts to breed wild animals in zoological settings lead to the subsequent release of the animal, despite constant reassurance that repopulation is possible thanks to captive breeding.

It’s unusual for zoo patrons to hear of the unsuccessful attempts to breed in captivity and whether the animals are breeding naturally or via artificial insemination, both disclosures that could potentially lead visitors to question whether or not these animals should continue to be kept in captivity. Despite accredited facilities’ reluctance to concede to these failures publicly, it’s always a celebration, often heard all over the world, when breeding attempts are successful. After all, so long as animals are breeding and giving birth in captivity, things can’t be that bad, right?

Stereotypic Behaviors in Captivity

Although zoos may attempt to get wild animals to assimilate into their captive environment, the fact is that these animals will always be wild at heart, and no amount of fake trees or square mileage of grassland will fool them into thinking a zoo is the same as being in their native habitat.

Zoochosis is a term that was coined in 1992 to characterize zoo animals that exhibited some kind of abnormal behavior while in captivity. These stereotypic behaviors, as it would turn out, are indicative of stress brought on confinement. Albeit most large zoos do often spend millions of dollars and take years to reconstruct select exhibits, they pale in comparison to the natural environment where animals can roam without restrictions and express a wide range of natural behaviors.

Although stereotypic behaviors can be observed in a wide variety of captive animals, it’s incredibly pertinent in captive animals with complex social lives like primates and elephants. Pacing, bar biting, head bobbing, neck twisting, regurgitation, and self-mutilation are just a few of the stereotypic behaviors seen in captivity. Because zoos don’t willingly offer this information to the public, many zoo patrons believe the behaviors they’re observing are normal. In many cases, they can even seem amusing.

The environment zoos present to the public is entirely artificial, the animals nothing like their wild counterparts. This, of course, isn’t to say that they’re somehow domesticated or that they’ve lost their instincts. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The demonstration of zoochotic behaviors in captivity shows that these wild animals are bored and frustrated in their zoo environments. Zoos may succeed in fooling people into thinking their habitats are natural, but they cannot fool the animals.

What Do We Really Learn From Zoos?

One of the most commonly used justifications for zoos is the idea that people will only care about animals if they see them in person. While getting to interact with a majestic wild animal is undoubtedly a life changing experience, is seeing an animal in the zoo really the same as seeing one of their wild counterparts?

A study published by Conservation Biology last year found that 62 percent of the 2,800 children interviewed, “showed no indication of having learned new information about animal or environmental conservation.” Still, zoological institutions continue to suggest that the environment allows for an educational experience. Perhaps, this is because displaying wild animals inside cages and behind bars in habitats that only remotely resemble their native habitat, in reality, does little to foster respect for wild animals.

In fact, it only further perpetuates the idea that these animals are ours to view and observe. It seems like there has been an increase in captivity trends recently where the animal’s habitats are being upgraded to enhance the viewing experience for paying customers under the guise of expanding the animal’s enclosures and giving them more space. Take for example, SeaWorld’s Blue World plan. By expanding their captive orca’s tanks and more glass windows to view the animals, the park is really working to make customers more content with their viewing experience. They can get virtually as close as possible to these massive wild animals without worrying about getting hurt.

The bottom line is that one thing and one thing alone matters for zoos, and any other attraction that involves wild animals: profit.

We Can Do Better

Modern zoos have managed to set a precedent for the rest of the public, that observing animals in captivity is somehow ordinary, and the animal’s behavior in these settings is normal. Our understanding of the complexities of the wild animals held in captivity have far surpassed anything biologists, and scientists could have imagined when the first zoos opened thousands of years ago, and with that knowledge comes responsibility. Accredited zoos would like the public to believe the welfare of their animals in priority, but no amount of replicating or expanding will supersede the life they would experience in the wild.

With the news of Ringling Bros retiring their elephants and The California Coastal Commission announcing SeaWorld will only be permitted to expand their tanks if they end their breeding program, it’s clear that the animal welfare movement is at a crucial moment in time. As activists, we need to urge accredited institutions to move away from facilities that tailor to the public’s entertainment and instead towards those that are comparable to sanctuaries for the welfare of the captive animals. As Green Monsters, are you ready for that?

Re-posted from:

Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history Tue, 13 Oct 2015 21:37:06 +0000

By Yuval Noah Harari

Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals. Even tens of thousands of years ago, our stone age ancestors were already responsible for a series of ecological disasters. When the first humans reached Australia about 45,000 years ago, they quickly drove to extinction 90% of its large animals. This was the first significant impact that Homo sapiens had on the planet’s ecosystem. It was not the last.

About 15,000 years ago, humans colonised America, wiping out in the process about 75% of its large mammals. Numerous other species disappeared from Africa, from Eurasia and from the myriad islands around their coasts. The archaeological record of country after country tells the same sad story. The tragedy opens with a scene showing a rich and varied population of large animals, without any trace of Homo sapiens. In scene two, humans appear, evidenced by a fossilised bone, a spear point, or perhaps a campfire. Scene three quickly follows, in which men and women occupy centre-stage and most large animals, along with many smaller ones, have gone. Altogether, sapiens drove to extinction about 50% of all the large terrestrial mammals of the planet before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.

The next major landmark in human-animal relations was the agricultural revolution: the process by which we turned from nomadic hunter-gatherers into farmers living in permanent settlements. It involved the appearance of a completely new life-form on Earth: domesticated animals. Initially, this development might seem to have been of minor importance, as humans only managed to domesticate fewer than 20 species of mammals and birds, compared with the countless thousands of species that remained “wild”. Yet, with the passing of the centuries, this novel life-form became the norm. Today, more than 90% of all large animals are domesticated (“large” denotes animals that weigh at least a few kilograms). Consider the chicken, for example. Ten thousand years ago, it was a rare bird that was confined to small niches of South Asia. Today, billions of chickens live on almost every continent and island, bar Antarctica. The domesticated chicken is probably the most widespread bird in the annals of planet Earth. If you measure success in terms of numbers, chickens, cows and pigs are the most successful animals ever.

Alas, domesticated species paid for their unparalleled collective success with unprecedented individual suffering. The animal kingdom has known many types of pain and misery for millions of years. Yet the agricultural revolution created completely new kinds of suffering, ones that only worsened with the passing of the generations.

At first sight, domesticated animals may seem much better off than their wild cousins and ancestors. Wild buffaloes spend their days searching for food, water and shelter, and are constantly threatened by lions, parasites, floods and droughts. Domesticated cattle, by contrast, enjoy care and protection from humans. People provide cows and calves with food, water and shelter, they treat their diseases, and protect them from predators and natural disasters. True, most cows and calves sooner or later find themselves in the slaughterhouse. Yet does that make their fate any worse than that of wild buffaloes? Is it better to be devoured by a lion than slaughtered by a man? Are crocodile teeth kinder than steel blades?

What makes the existence of domesticated farm animals particularly cruel is not just the way in which they die but above all how they live. Two competing factors have shaped the living conditions of farm animals: on the one hand, humans want meat, milk, eggs, leather, animal muscle-power and amusement; on the other, humans have to ensure the long-term survival and reproduction of farm animals. Theoretically, this should protect animals from extreme cruelty. If a farmer milks his cow without providing her with food and water, milk production will dwindle, and the cow herself will quickly die. Unfortunately, humans can cause tremendous suffering to farm animals in other ways, even while ensuring their survival and reproduction. The root of the problem is that domesticated animals have inherited from their wild ancestors many physical, emotional and social needs that are redundant in farms. Farmers routinely ignore these needs without paying any economic price. They lock animals in tiny cages, mutilate their horns and tails, separate mothers from offspring, and selectively breed monstrosities. The animals suffer greatly, yet they live on and multiply.

Doesn’t that contradict the most basic principles of Darwinian evolution? The theory of evolution maintains that all instincts and drives have evolved in the interest of survival and reproduction. If so, doesn’t the continuous reproduction of farm animals prove that all their real needs are met? How can a cow have a “need” that is not really essential for survival and reproduction?

It is certainly true that all instincts and drives evolved in order to meet the evolutionary pressures of survival and reproduction. When these pressures disappear, however, the instincts and drives they had shaped do not evaporate instantly. Even if they are no longer instrumental for survival and reproduction, they continue to mould the subjective experiences of the animal. The physical, emotional and social needs of present-day cows, dogs and humans don’t reflect their current conditions but rather the evolutionary pressures their ancestors encountered tens of thousands of years ago. Why do modern people love sweets so much? Not because in the early 21st century we must gorge on ice cream and chocolate in order to survive. Rather, it is because if our stone age ancestors came across sweet, ripened fruits, the most sensible thing to do was to eat as many of them as they could as quickly as possible. Why do young men drive recklessly, get involved in violent rows, and hack confidential internet sites? Because they are obeying ancient genetic decrees. Seventy thousand years ago, a young hunter who risked his life chasing a mammoth outshone all his competitors and won the hand of the local beauty – and we are now stuck with his macho genes.

Exactly the same evolutionary logic shapes the life of cows and calves in our industrial farms. Ancient wild cattle were social animals. In order to survive and reproduce, they needed to communicate, cooperate and compete effectively. Like all social mammals, wild cattle learned the necessary social skills through play. Puppies, kittens, calves and children all love to play because evolution implanted this urge in them. In the wild, they needed to play. If they didn’t, they would not learn the social skills vital for survival and reproduction. If a kitten or calf was born with some rare mutation that made them indifferent to play, they were unlikely to survive or reproduce, just as they would not exist in the first place if their ancestors hadn’t acquired those skills. Similarly, evolution implanted in puppies, kittens, calves and children an overwhelming desire to bond with their mothers. A chance mutation weakening the mother-infant bond was a death sentence.

What happens when farmers now take a young calf, separate her from her mother, put her in a tiny cage, vaccinate her against various diseases, provide her with food and water, and then, when she is old enough, artificially inseminate her with bull sperm? From an objective perspective, this calf no longer needs either maternal bonding or playmates in order to survive and reproduce. All her needs are being taken care of by her human masters. But from a subjective perspective, the calf still feels a strong urge to bond with her mother and to play with other calves. If these urges are not fulfilled, the calf suffers greatly.

This is the basic lesson of evolutionary psychology: a need shaped thousands of generations ago continues to be felt subjectively even if it is no longer necessary for survival and reproduction in the present. Tragically, the agricultural revolution gave humans the power to ensure the survival and reproduction of domesticated animals while ignoring their subjective needs. In consequence, domesticated animals are collectively the most successful animals in the world, and at the same time they are individually the most miserable animals that have ever existed.

The situation has only worsened over the last few centuries, during which time traditional agriculture gave way to industrial farming. In traditional societies such as ancient Egypt, the Roman empire or medieval China, humans had a very partial understanding of biochemistry, genetics, zoology and epidemiology. Consequently, their manipulative powers were limited. In medieval villages, chickens ran free between the houses, pecked seeds and worms from the garbage heap, and built nests in the barn. If an ambitious peasant tried to lock 1,000 chickens inside a crowded coop, a deadly bird-flu epidemic would probably have resulted, wiping out all the chickens, as well as many villagers. No priest, shaman or witch doctor could have prevented it. But once modern science had deciphered the secrets of birds, viruses and antibiotics, humans could begin to subject animals to extreme living conditions. With the help of vaccinations, medications, hormones, pesticides, central air-conditioning systems and automatic feeders, it is now possible to cram tens of thousands of chickens into tiny coops, and produce meat and eggs with unprecedented efficiency.

The fate of animals in such industrial installations has become one of the most pressing ethical issues of our time, certainly in terms of the numbers involved. These days, most big animals live on industrial farms. We imagine that our planet is populated by lions, elephants, whales and penguins. That may be true of the National Geographic channel, Disney movies and children’s fairytales, but it is no longer true of the real world. The world contains 40,000 lions but, by way of contrast, there are around 1 billion domesticated pigs; 500,000 elephants and 1.5 billion domesticated cows; 50 million penguins and 20 billion chickens.

In 2009, there were 1.6 billion wild birds in Europe, counting all species together. That same year, the European meat and egg industry raised 1.9 billion chickens. Altogether, the domesticated animals of the world weigh about 700m tonnes, compared with 300m tonnes for humans, and fewer than 100m tonnes for large wild animals.

This is why the fate of farm animals is not an ethical side issue. It concerns the majority of Earth’s large creatures: tens of billions of sentient beings, each with a complex world of sensations and emotions, but which live and die on an industrial production line. Forty years ago, the moral philosopher Peter Singer published his canonical book Animal Liberation, which has done much to change people’s minds on this issue. Singer claimed that industrial farming is responsible for more pain and misery than all the wars of history put together.

The scientific study of animals has played a dismal role in this tragedy. The scientific community has used its growing knowledge of animals mainly to manipulate their lives more efficiently in the service of human industry. Yet this same knowledge has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that farm animals are sentient beings, with intricate social relations and sophisticated psychological patterns. They may not be as intelligent as us, but they certainly know pain, fear and loneliness. They too can suffer, and they too can be happy.

It is high time we take these scientific findings to heart, because as human power keeps growing, our ability to harm or benefit other animals grows with it. For 4bn years, life on Earth was governed by natural selection. Now it is governed increasingly by human intelligent design. Biotechnology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence will soon enable humans to reshape living beings in radical new ways, which will redefine the very meaning of life. When we come to design this brave new world, we should take into account the welfare of all sentient beings, and not just of Homo sapiens.

The Meat Industry Is Licking Its Chops Over Obama’s Massive Trade Deal Thu, 08 Oct 2015 03:04:37 +0000

—By Tom Philpott

The US meat industry scored a big victory this week when world leaders hammered out an agreement that would reduce trade barriers across the Pacific: from the United Sates, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and Chile on this side to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Singapore on the other.

President Barack Obama has made passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, the signature goal of his second term. Now it goes to Capitol Hill for approval—which it will likely get, given that back in June, Congress granted the president “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals, meaning that it will be considered in up-down, simple-majority votes in both chambers, with no chance of amendment or filibuster.

So how would the TPP affect Big Meat in the United States? The industry is currently facing stagnant domestic demand for its product as Americans eat less meat. The TPP would open markets in countries that currently protect domestic farmers with tariffs. Japan, for example, agreed to slash its tariff on imported beef from 38 percent to 9 percent over the next 15 years—likely making it much easier for American importers to gain a foothold. Because the pact has been negotiated in secret and few details about it have been released, it’s impossible to estimate how big of a boost the TPP will provide to US meat purveyors. But it already has industry groups doing the money dance.

In a press release celebrating the TPP, the National Pork Producers Council declared that the trade pact “could increase US pork exports over time exponentially.” The National Chicken Council, meanwhile, crowed that the TPP “represents a significant opportunity to expand US chicken exports and bring increased economic benefits to chicken farmers and companies across the country.” The United States Cattleman’s Association, facing severely declining US beef demand, hailed it in an emailed statement as “welcome news to a domestic industry in need of expanding international market access and reduction of tariffs in the countries included.”

Of course, when asked why they’re eating less meat, Americans commonly cite a desire to reduce the environmental and social impacts of industrial-scale meat production: everything from animal cruelty to fouled water and air to labor abuses at slaughterhouses and pillaged local economies. An export boom will only intensify those trends.

“We are already seeing the industry posturing in anticipation for the TPP to pass,” Kendra Kimbirauskas, an Oregon farmer and CEO of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project. In Oregon, she adds, “representatives for the industry have spoken about wanting to triple dairy production in the Pacific Northwest to meet Asian demand for powdered milk.”

She points to another concern with the deal: the infamous Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause, which would allow corporations within the TPP zone to challenge regulations imposed by member governments in a binding international court. For instance, a company could protest against health and safety regulations if it felt they restricted its business. (Here’s a blistering critique of the ISDS clause from Sen. Elizabeth Warren.) Two foreign companies—Brazil’s JBS and China’s Shuanghui—now control nearly half of US pork production. Neither Brazil nor China is in the TPP, but nothing’s stopping either from opening a subsidiary in, say, Australia or Japan, and then filing an Investor-State Dispute Settlement suit to stifle some state regulation on factory-scale livestock farming, says Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of international strategies for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

“The few tools that impacted communities have remaining to protect themselves from CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operations] pollution could be in jeopardy if those regulations are seen as a barrier to trade with the potential to impact corporate profits,” Kimbirauskas adds.

Hansen-Kuhn also notes that the US trade representative’s summary of the TPP contains this line: The “TPP Parties have also agreed to increased transparency and cooperation on certain activities related to agricultural biotechnology”—another way of saying genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. That’s vague language, and the TPP’s full criteria for GMOs has not been spelled out. But it certainly appears to place pressure on TPP countries that have opted not to use them, like Japan and Peru.

Why Resistance Is Not Only Fertile, It’s Essential Thu, 08 Oct 2015 02:35:59 +0000

‘Hands up everyone who believes that their leg is a part of themselves?’

With the exception of one man who was cheerfully waving his prosthetic limb at me, shouting ‘mine’s not!’, most hands in the audience went up, the others presumably thinking they were too smart for such an esoteric trick. Though the relevance of the question at this point seemed quite unclear, it was one I would regularly ask at the start of talks I gave about my life without money, and the reasons behind why I chose that path. I reassured the crowd that with the exception of our one-legged friend, their legs were, for all intents and purposes, part of themselves. The process of breaking down the modern conception of self, however, was only beginning.

I decided to take it one degree deeper. ‘So what about the bacteria in your gut, life-forms that are entities in and of themselves but which are also a crucial component of your digestive system – are they part of you, or not?’ Chins were scratched, and brows furrowed. Hmm. This time only half the hands went up, and even those were a little less bold than the first time.

‘Not so clear-cut, right?’

‘Okay, what about the water in a stream that you stand beside and from which you’re contemplating drinking – do you see this as part of you, or not?’ The hands raised were now becoming increasingly marginal.

‘No? What about that moment where you have cupped the water in your hands and it’s at the point where it’s just touching your lips and about to enter your mouth? Anyone?’ Some go up and some go down, but I can now count the people who think so.

‘What about the moment the water from the stream enters your body and is absorbed by it? Is it now part of you?’ Suddenly lots of hands start waving enthusiastically again.

‘If not it ought to be, considering the fact that a large percentage of your physical being – you – is made up of, and replenished by, this water.’ Having established that almost everyone considered the water from the stream to be part of their egocentric selves at this point, I continued on the journey towards establishing a more scientifically sound, holistic sense of self.

‘Why, then, did you not consider it to be a part of you in that split second before it passed your lips and entered into what Alan Watts called ‘the skin-encapsulated ego’, that skin-bag of blood and bones that we normally think of as our selves? How is it that the stream suddenly becomes you when it passes the invisible boundary of your open mouth, even though you may have often drunk from that same stream innumerable times before?’

My point was this: the boundaries of our sense of self are delusional and a product of an age-old but incremental journey away from a deep sense of oneness with the rest of life, and towards a sense of individualistic separation from it all. We think of ourselves as a discrete ‘object’, bounded by our skin, but it’s a perspective that is both scientifically and experientially hard to justify when even the skin itself is constantly exchanging atoms and energy with the universe it is a part of. Instead of the fleshy egos floating around in a Cartesian universe that Charles Darwin, Adam Smith and others have taught us is inherently hostile towards us (a worldview seemingly immune to the fact that the same universe freely supplies us with everything we need to live healthy lives), the reality is that we are part of a flow of life – energy, food, water, minerals, radiation and so on – constantly passing in, out and through us, much of which has no respect for the boundary of the skin at all.

We are no more a bounded ‘object’ than a wave on the ocean is. Like a wave, we are a form through which many objects are passing. As Alan Watts lucidly notes, ‘you and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean’. We are not, as contemporary culture would fool us into believing, glorious beings sep-arate from the savagery of Nature, but instead glorious beings inherently part of glorious Nature. We are as much Nature as the grand oak or the humble chickweed is. Therefore the yet-to-be-drunk spring water is as much a part of the ‘I’ as the flesh, blood and bones that you more obviously consist of at any exact moment.

At a fundamental particle level we are all one and the same: different assortments of the same basic elements (oxygen, carbon and nitrogen and so on). On the basis of this, should our sense of self, at the very least, not stretch to the landscapes – the streams, springs, trees, wildlife, plants and atmosphere – on which our lives inextricably depend? It is a sentiment Albert Einstein once alluded to when he said that …

… a human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Our notion of self plays an entirely underestimated, though central, role in the types of economic systems we create. Our current monetary economic system – at odds with the culture of gift economics which humanity has used in various forms to meet its needs for the overwhelming majority of our time on Earth – was born out of our delusional sense of self. For if we dropped the illusory veil of separation, and accepted that we are part of a world constantly exchanging energy with itself, a world with no respect for boundaries such as the skin (which is as arbitrary as the border between Luxumbourg and Belgium, France and Germany)*, then ‘my self’ charging ‘you’ for the gifts I manifest in the world (gifts, remember, that we have all been given freely) is no less absurd than me charging a tree for the nitrogen in my urine when I pee under it, and it then invoicing me for the oxygen it produces and generously supplies to my lungs. As Daniel Suelo, a man who has lived without money for over a decade in the U.S. once suggested, it would be no less ludicrous than for my hand to charge my face for scratching it.

As I have explained more thoroughly in The Moneyless Manifesto, money is both chicken and egg in relation to this incomplete sense of self. Whilst money originated as a mere symptom of the illusion of separation between ourselves and all other life, along with concepts such as debt and credit (which do not exist outside of the human mind) that stem from that, it has in turn perpetuated and greatly intensified the extent to which we feel disconnected from the rest of life. It does this primarily by increasing the degrees of separation between us and what we consume. Without a technology such as money, we would have to live within a localised economy, where we meet our needs through a direct and intimate relationship with the land under our feet and the people in our communities. Money enables us to trade with far-away people whose eyes we’ll never meet, often by using supply chains which – due to the lack of visibility involved – rely on gruesome and violent practices that we would be hard pushed to witness if we were directly exposed to them and their consequences.

These new impersonal relationships, devoid of the sense of trust and friendship that local economies draw upon, rely on contracts and the armies, police forces and courtrooms required to enforce them. Therefore, to the psychological and emotional discomfort of pacifistsadvocates of non-violence who love using the World Wide Web and who do not want to give it up, the reality is that they cannot have high technologies such as servers and fibre-optic cables without the very things they rail against: armies, prisons and police forces, not to mention the global factory system that is injurious not only to the human soul, but to the entire biosphere.

As much of a shock as this might come to us in the powerful, overdeveloped nations, people like the Ogoni1 do not want their lands destroyed so that we can feed our insatiable desire for tat, no matter how much money we offer them. Unfortunately for them and countless others who have been unlucky enough to live over ‘valuable’ resources, if The Machine can’t buy you with its gold it will destroy you with its weapons. Nowhere is left in peace. For as Derrick Jensen poignantly noted in A Language Older Than Words, ‘Throw a dart at a map of the world, and no matter the territory it strikes, you will find the story of cruelty and genocide perpetrated by our culture’.2

Seeing Ourselves as Nature

This institutionalised separation only serves to create an even stronger delusion, and that is where our problems really intensify. This constricted sense of self – manufactured in stages over millennia by the incursions of language, numerical systems, agriculture, money, indus-trialisation and global-scale technologies into our lives – has critical implications for the way we treat the Earth and its inhabitants. For if we do not see ourselves as connected to, or dependent on, our human and non-human communities, why would we bother respecting them? If we do not see ourselves as connected to, or dependent on Nature – or more precisely, as Nature – why would we defend it (ourselves) from the forces of The Machine which, though born out of Nature also, is an entity more analogous to a cancer which has taken over an organism whose vitality has been dangerously compromised?

Industrial civilisation has developed and encouraged a sense of self which implicitly denies these integral connections and dependencies – implicitly denies oneness – and the results of this have never been clearer: homogenisation of once diverse cultures; the Holocene mass extinction of species and languages; air, soil and water toxification; the rapid growth of cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and obesity rates; rapidly increasing incidents of mental illness, suicide and depression; cults of celebrity, obsessions with physical beauty and a fear of death. All of this makes up an epoch which Charles Eisenstein refers to as the ‘Age of Separation’.3

Beans now come from a tin can, not the soil. Water comes from a tap, complete with chloride or fluoride, and not the spring or the stream. Our furniture comes from a supermarket and not the woods around us. We no longer navigate our way around our habitat by way of the stars, but by gadgets with SatNav. We meet our needs by understanding how to use a piece of software instead of the age-old knowledge of plants, and their qualities, which were once abundant around us. Medicine comes neatly packaged in plastic containers from the pharmaceutical indus-try, and not direct from the world of plants like it still does for some indigenous peoples.

We have become the prison inmate who has been inside so long that he, on regaining his freedom, re-offends immediately, simply because he is dependent on the prison service – his chains have become normal. We are the slave who has become loyal to his ‘owner’, the hostage suffering from Stockholm syndrome, the battered wife who continues to stick up for her abusive husband, the cow who refuses to – or no longer remembers how to – run when the iron gates of her small concrete barn are opened. We have sworn our allegiance to The Machine instead of the Earth.

Resistance is Essential

Jensen argues that, ‘If your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, then you are going to defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on them. If your experience, however, is that your food comes from a landbase and that your water comes from a stream, well, then you will defend to the death that landbase and that stream.’4 Until a time where we understand that our own well-being is dependent on the health of The Whole, we will not adequately resist a culture that seems hell-bent on pillaging every square inch of the planet, polluting our air, soil and waterways along the way. Unfortunately, nothing stops us from understanding our interdependency with our land better than the troika of industrialism, capitalism and monetary economics. It is yet another chicken-and-egg mess we seem to have gotten ourselves into.

To those of us who are deluded to such an extent that we act as if our lives are dependent on supermarkets, some of this may seem a touch abstract or theoretical. To those – such as the Pirahã, an indigenous hunter-gatherer people of the Brazilian Amazon – whose cultures have thus far resisted The Machine and who have retained a deep understanding of their connection to The Great Web of Life, the idea that human well-being is dependent on the health of the land, the air and the waterways is basic common sense, even if they have no need to intellectualise it.

To toxify their rivers would be to, quite literally, poison themselves. To annihilate the flora and fauna on which their own lives are intricately reliant, would be to annihilate themselves. To pollute their air would be to pollute their lungs, to erode their topsoil would be to directly diminish the vitamins and minerals that make up their own flesh and bones. Native, land-based peoples usually understand (or more commonly now, understood) this to a much deeper degree than those whose lives have been mechanised by industrial civilisation. This is why they are less afraid to defend their lands with everything they’ve got when they come under attack from the incursions of The Machine. They certainly do not bother to constrain themselves with civilised ethics that don’t hold up to even the most gentle investigation.

Age of Separation to Age of Reunion

Despite the obvious truth that if we destroy or toxify that on which our lives depend then we will die with it, we (supposedly) intellectually superior civilised people persist in restricting the inalienable right to an appropriate defence of the things we think we own, and not the things we are, and which are us. If we are to have any chance of survival we need to take this natural right out of the Age of Separation and plant it firmly in the Age of Reunion, a new epoch in which we no longer delude ourselves with such clear distinctions of ‘I’ and ‘other’ and within which we can recreate our systems of economics, medicine, education, science and technology through a lens that ‘seeks not the control or transcendence of nature, but our fuller participation in nature’.5

We need to defend the Earth with the same ferocity we would evoke if it were our home, because it is. We need to defend its inhabitants with the same passion as if they were our family members, because they are. We need to defend our lands, communities and cultures as if our lives depended on it, because they do.

While this more holistic sense of self is something that is becoming more widely acknowledged in both scientific and philosophical circles, my own route to this perspective was an experiential one. Through my adventures living without money, as futile as it was from a political perspective, I learned many lessons. I learnt that if I did not return nutrients to the soil, by means that were not detrimental to far-off places, I would eventually not be able to eat. I gained the understanding that if I cut down all the trees in my habitat to fuel my woodburner at all hours of the day, I would no longer have anything left to use, and the birds who woke me up every morning with their indefatigable, exquisite song would no longer have a place to call home. For the first time in my life I became aware that the fate of myself, the ash tree, the robin, the spring, the stream, the bees, the owl, the badger, the trout and the stag were all one and the same – if they were wiped out or destroyed, myself and my kind would not be long after them. What was true for my little realm, is also true for the planet at large.

Life Gives Life to Itself

I am the land, I am the salmon, I am the holly tree, I am the swallow, I am the earthworm, I am the pigeon, I am the hen, I am the fox, I am the ramson, I am the bluebell. When the robin eats the worm and shits onto the soil from which I eat, it is not violence, but Life giving life onto itself. Likewise, when I die I want to go out with humility (whose linguistic roots are in ‘humus’, the Earth). I want to be devoured by buzzards or, if they hadn’t been exterminated from my landscape, a pack of wolves. It seems only fair.

This is an extract from Mark Boyle’s latest book, Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi, published by Permanent Publications available now. Order it direct from us and help supprt independent, permaculture publishing.

Mark Boyle lived completely without money for three years, and is author of the best-selling books, The Moneyless Man and The Moneyless Manifesto. He is a director of Streetbank, a charity that enables people across the world to share skills and resources with neighbours. Mark contributes to publications, international radio and television, and has been featured by CNN, The Telegraph, BBC, The Huffington Post, ABC and Metro. He lives on a permaculture smallholding in Ireland.



2 Jensen, Derrick (2004). A Language Older Than Words. pp.33-34.

3 Eisenstein, Charles (2007). The Ascent of Humanity. Panenthea.

4 Jensen, Derrick (2006). Endgame Volume 1: The Problem of Civilisation. Seven Stories Press.

5 Eisenstein, Charles (2007). The Ascent of Humanity. Panenthea.

Further resources

Also from Mark:

The Moneyless Manifesto

The Moneyless Man

Permaculture and politics

The world of threats to the US is an illusion Thu, 16 Apr 2015 23:28:17 +0000

By Stephen Kinzer

When Americans look out at the world, we see a swarm of threats. China seems resurgent and ambitious. Russia is aggressive. Iran menaces our allies. Middle East nations we once relied on are collapsing in flames. Latin American leaders sound steadily more anti-Yankee. Terror groups capture territory and commit horrific atrocities. We fight Ebola with one hand while fending off Central American children with the other.

In fact, this world of threats is an illusion. The United States has no potent enemies. We are not only safe, but safer than any big power has been in all of modern history.

Geography is our greatest protector. Wide oceans separate us from potential aggressors. Our vast homeland is rich and productive. No other power on earth is blessed with this security.

Our other asset is the weakness of potential rivals. It will be generations before China is able to pose a serious challenge to the United States — and there is little evidence it wishes to do so. Russia is weak and in deep economic trouble — not always a friendly neighbor but no threat to the United States. Heart-rending violence in the Middle East has no serious implication for American security. As for domestic terrorism, the risk for Americans is modest: You have more chance of being struck by lightning on your birthday than of dying in a terror attack.

Promoting the image of a world full of enemies creates a “security psychosis” that misshapes our view of the world. It tempts us to interpret defensive steps taken by other countries as threatening. In extreme cases, it pushes us into wars aimed at preempting threats that do not actually exist.

Arms manufacturers profit from the security psychosis even more directly than militarists. Americans take our staggeringly large defense budget almost for granted, and lament continuously that other countries do not build as many exotic weapons systems as we do. Finding new threats is always good business for someone.

With the United State so dominant in global politics, it’s time to secure this low-threat world. Our strategic goal should be to keep our country as safe as it is now. That means bringing troublemaking countries out of their isolation. Ignoring their interests, or seeking “full-spectrum dominance” to assure that they cannot rise, provokes reactions that will be bad for us in the long run.

Last year, after Russia began encouraging upheaval in Ukraine, NATO decided to “suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation” with Russia. Moments of crisis, however, are precisely the times when contact is most urgent. We took advantage of Russia when it was powerless a quarter-century ago. Future peace requires taking its security concerns seriously rather than treating the country as an enemy that is always seeking to best us.

Our policy toward China is less aggressive, but beneath its surface is often a presumption that one day there must be a showdown between our two countries. The recent deal between Western nations and Iran is being sold as the taming of an enemy — although Iran is not our enemy. Neither is Cuba, despite the warnings of revanchists in Washington and elsewhere. Nor are most of the enemies-for-a-day that we eagerly seek, from Sandinistas in Nicaragua to Houthis in Yemen.

I recently asked a United States Navy officer what threats he believed the United States might confront in the future. To my astonishment, he answered, “Venezuela.” The South American country is in political crisis and careening toward bankruptcy. Its combat navy counts six frigates and two submarines, none of them seaworthy. Yet last month President Obama designated Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to US national security.” The search for enemies can lead to odd places.

This impulse is not peculiarly American. Feeling threatened strengthens group solidarity. Some thinkers have gone so far as to suggest that since societies become more united and resolute in the face of enemies, those that have none should find some.

“It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love,” Freud wrote, “so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.” Nietzsche believed the nation-state’s “profound appreciation of the value of having enemies” produced a “spiritualization of hostility.” A young country especially, he said, “needs enemies more than friends: in opposition alone does it feel itself necessary.”

When Americans see threats everywhere, we fall into this trap. Believing we are besieged is strangely comforting. To recognize how safe we are would require a change of national mindset that we seem reluctant to make.

Stephen Kinzer is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.

Are You Suffering From Empathy Deficit Disorder? Mon, 13 Apr 2015 00:43:19 +0000

By Douglas LaBier Ph.D

It’s possible that you’re among the large number of people who suffer from EDD. No, that isn’t a typo — I don’t mean ADD or ED. It’s EDD, which stands for “Empathy Deficit Disorder.”

I made it up, so you won’t find it listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Normal variations of mood and temperament are increasingly redefined as new “disorders,” so I’m hesitant to suggest a new one. But this one’s real, and it’s becoming more pronounced in today’s world.

I’ve identified it from my decades of experience as a business psychologist, psychotherapist and researcher (link is external) into adult development. From that triple vantage point I’ve concluded that Empathy Deficit Disorder is a pervasive but overlooked condition.  In fact, our increasingly polarized social and political culture of the past few years reveals that EDD is more severe than ever.  It has profound consequences for the mental health of both individuals and society. Yet it’s ignored as a psychological disturbance by most of my colleagues in the mental health professions.

First, some explanation of what I mean by EDD: When you suffer from it you’re unable to step outside yourself and tune in to what other people experience, especially those who feel, think and believe differently from yourself. That makes it a source of personal conflicts, of communication breakdown in intimate relationships, and of adversarial attitudes – including hatred – towards groups of people who differ in their beliefs, traditions or ways of life from your own.

Take the man who told me that his wife always complained that he didn’t spend enough time with their children; that she had most of the burden despite having a career of her own. “Yeah, I see her point,” he said in a neutral voice, “but I need time for my sports activities on the weekends. I’m not going to give that up. And at night I’m tired, I want to veg out.” As we talked further, it became clear to me that he simply didn’t experience what his wife’s world was like for her, on the inside. His own reality – his own needs – were his only reality.

Or the computer executive who prided himself on having a stable family life, then casually told me that, even though he recognized the environmental threats posed by worldwide climate change (link is external), he couldn’t care less. “I’ll be long gone when New York is under water,” he said. And when I asked him whether he cared about the consequences for his kids or grandkids, he replied with a grin: “Hey, that’s their problem.”

Then there’s the woman who works in the financial industry, who told me she’s indifferent to how American Muslims might feel in today’s environment, or to being profiled (link is external) when boarding airplanes: “I think they’re all terrorists,” she said, “and would like to kill us all, anyway.”

These may sound like extreme examples, but I hear variations of those themes all the time. EDD keeps you locked inside a self-centered world, and that breeds emotional isolation, disconnection and polarization. That’s highly dangerous in today’s interconnected, globalized world, and it plays out in ways both small and large:

For example, you see it in troubled intimate relationships – when partners become locked into adversarial and oppositional positions. In warfare between groups with different beliefs – like the current polarization over political and social issues. And in current global threats – Tribal and religious groups killing each other; Palestinians and Israelis locked into a death-grip. Not to mention looming worldwide disasters or continued depletion of the resources and health of the only planet we have.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

Empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy reflects understanding another person’s situation – but viewed through your own lens. That is, it’s based on your version of what the other person is dealing with. (“Yeah, I can sympathize with your problem with your elderly mother, because I have my own problems with mine …”). The narcissist can be sympathetic in this way.

That self-centered focus is similar to what some people think love is when they’re really enthralled with their own feeling of being “in love,” rather than in love with the reality of who their partner is, as I wrote about in a previous post.

In contrast, empathy is what you feel only when you can step outside of yourself and enter the internal world of the other person. There, without abandoning or losing your own perspective, you can experience the other’s emotions, conflicts, or aspirations from within the vantage point of that person’s world. That’s not telepathy – it’s a hard-wired capacity in all of us, as I explain below. And that kind of connection builds healthy, mutual relationships – an essential part of mental health.

How Do You Develop EDD?

Most people are socially conditioned into believing that acquiring and achieving things are “normal” – even “healthy” – ways to live. EDD grows when people focus too much on acquiring power, status, and money for themselves. Nearly every day we hear or read about more extreme examples: people who go over the edge in their pursuit of money, power or recognition, and end up resigning their jobs, in rehab or behind bars.

But many of the people I see everyday, whether in psychotherapy or executive consulting, struggle with their own versions of the same thing through too much emphasis on acquiring – both things and people. That’s going to promote vanity and self-importance. Then, you become increasingly alienated from your own heart, and equate what you have with who you are.

And that’s a killer for empathy, because then you’re ripe for the delusion that you’re completely independent and self-sufficient. You lose touch with the true reality, that all humans are interconnected and interdependent – all organs of the same body, so to speak. Your sense of being a part of the larger interwoven community – which is absolutely necessary for survival in today’s world – fades away. And so does your awareness that we have to sink or swim together, help each other, and sustain the planet we inhabit – or else we’re all in deep trouble.

The net result of this social conditioning is the decline of empathy for other human beings who are on the same boat you are. You don’t recognize that we’re all one, bound together. You only see yourself. And I think that’s a bona fide emotional disorder in our times.

Sometimes, a person’s sudden awakening of interconnection jump-starts their empathy. At such times, people automatically respond from the heart. For example, look at the response of citizens to the massive earthquake in Haiti, or to Hurricane Katrina. Or what I witnessed recently when some passers-by stopped to help the victims of an auto accident.

When empathy is aroused, you let go of your usual attachment to yourself and you want to help; connect in some way. I often suggest to people to think of this, as an example: When you cut your finger, you don’t say, “That’s my finger’s problem, not mine.” Nor do you do a cost-benefit analysis before deciding whether to take action. You respond immediately because you feel the pain. It’s part of you.

Empathy Is Hard-Wired

Overcoming EDD is easier than you may think. In fact, considerable research shows that the capacity to feel what another person feels is “hard-wired” through what are called “mirror neurons (link is external).” Functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) shows that regions of the brain involving both emotions and physical sensations light up in someone who observes or becomes aware of another person’s pain or distress. Literally, you do feel another’s pain or other emotions. Similar research (link is external) shows that generosity and altruistic behavior light up pleasure centers of the brain usually associated with food or sex.

Just as you can develop EDD by too much self-absorption, you can also overcome EDD by “retraining” your brain. That is, research also shows that your brain is capable of being trained and physically modified through conscious practices. This is known as neuroplasticity (link is external). You can “grow” specific emotions and create new brain patterns that reinforce them. As you redirect and refocus your thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the direction you desire, the brain regions associated with them are reinforced. What’s more, changing your brain activity reinforces the changes you’re making in your thoughts and emotions. The result is a self-reinforcing loop between your conscious attitudes, your behavior and your brain activity.

This may sound like science fiction, yet such studies show that you can learn to “reprogram” your brain. In effect, what you think and feel is what you become. And it means you can learn to grow empathy and overcome EDD.

Practices For Building Empathy

The writer Jeremy Rifkin’s recent major book, The Empathic Civilization (link is external), provides a strong argument for an emerging empathic civilization in human consciousness. He presents evidence that counters the usual assumption that self-interest and greed are dominant forces among humans. In light of all the new research, here are a few practices you can do to help overcome your EDD in everyday life – whether with your intimate partner, friends, strangers…or enemies:

Empathy For Your Intimate Partner:

  • Envision a characteristic or behavior of yours that you know your partner dislikes. Imagine shifting your consciousness into your partner’s perspective and mentality, even though you may disagree with that perspective or are convinced it’s “wrong.”
  • Immerse yourself in your partner’s perceptions of you. Try to experience them fully. At the same time, hold on to your own views. Don’t let either negate the other.
  • Then, try to understand your partner’s feelings or attitudes as a reflection of who he or she is, based on all the forces and influences and choices that have shaped him or her. Don’t judge.

Empathy For Someone You Dislike:

It’s especially challenging to generate empathy towards someone you flat-out dislike – maybe even hate. Or, with whom you’ve had big-time conflicts: perhaps an ex-spouse, or someone at work. But you can do it by extending the above practice.

  • Tell yourself how or why that person might have developed negative attitudes or feelings about you. Imagine what the conflict feels like from within his or her perspective.
  • Entertain the idea that you are only partially right; perhaps wrong altogether.
  • Next, open yourself to seeing yourself through the eyes of that person. Just observe, without judging him or her, defending yourself, or agreeing with any of it.

Empathy For Strangers You Encounter:

You can expand your capacity for empathy by practicing it towards people you don’t even know:

  • Identify a situation or encounter with someone who’s a stranger, especially one who may be very different from yourself. Try to put yourself within the consciousness of that stranger. The checkout person at the grocery store could be an example.
  • Think of ways that he or she is probably like you – someone who desires love, who’s probably experienced some kind of loss or disappointment along the way, or who has aspirations he or she hopes to fulfill.
  • Focus on those commonalities that show you how this person is much like yourself – beneath the surface differences.

Empathy For People From Foreign Cultures Or Whose Way Of Life Is Alien To Your Own:

One way is to establish a direct personal connection with someone through a charity that links you with a specific recipient of your contribution (e.g., Alternative Gifts International (link is external) or World Vision’s Must Have Gifts (link is external)); or a microfinance organization that provides small business loans to specific individuals in developing countries who cannot otherwise qualify (e.g. Kiva (link is external); Microplace (link is external))

Empathy Fuels Your Mental Health

From empathy, tolerance grows. Tolerance of differences is one of the most essential elements of psychological health. By developing empathy, you can deepen your understanding and acceptance of how and why people do what they do, and build greater respect for others.

This doesn’t mean whitewashing the differences you have with other people, or letting them walk over you. Rather, empathy gives you a stronger, wiser base for resolving conflicts when you have them. You’re able to bridge differences more effectively and with less destructiveness.

And beyond that, empathy makes you mindful of your commonality and connection with fellow humans – people who suffer and struggle with life in many of the same ways you do. It trumps self-centered, knee-jerk reactions to surface differences like religion, race, or ideology. That’s a path towards a healthy life and a healthy world.

My personal blog: Progressive Impact (link is external)
Web site: Center for Progressive Development (link is external)

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Oceans Facing Carbon Rates Which Spurred Mass Die-Off 250 Million Years Ago Sat, 11 Apr 2015 01:23:53 +0000

By Sarah Lazare

In case you weren’t already worried about the current and rapid acidification of the world’s oceans, a new report by leading scientists finds that this very phenomenon is to blame for the worst mass extinction event the planet earth has ever seen—approximately 252 million years ago.

The findings, published this week in the journal Science by University of Edinburgh researchers, raise serious concerns about the implications of present-day acidification, driven by human-made climate change.

“Scientists have long suspected that an ocean acidification event occurred during the greatest mass extinction of all time, but direct evidence has been lacking until now,” said lead author Dr. Matthew Clarkson in a statement. “This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions.”

The paper looks at the culprit behind the Permo-Triassic Boundary mass extinction, which wiped out more than 90 percent of marine species and two-thirds of land animals, making it even more severe than the die-off of the dinosaurs.

The scientists evaluated rocks in the United Arab Emirates that, 250 million years ago, were on the bottom of the ocean. Researchers then employed a climate model to determine what drove the extinction.

A summary of the researchers’ findings explains the mass die-off “happened when Earth’s oceans absorbed huge amounts of carbon dioxide from volcanic eruptions. This changed the chemical composition of the oceans—making them more acidic—with catastrophic consequences for life on Earth.”

The kicker? The carbon that drove this process during the Permian-Triassic Boundary extinction was “released at a rate similar to modern emissions,” the report summary concludes. “This fast rate of release was a critical factor driving ocean acidification.”

Over the past 200 years alone, international oceans have become dramatically more acidic, putting coral reefs and sea life at risk, and even, in some cases, causing snails’ shells to dissolve.

As Dr. Rachel Wood of the University of Edinburgh told the Independent, “The important take-home message of this [report] is that the rate of increase of CO2 during the Permian mass extinction is about the same rate as the one to which we are exposing the ocean to today.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


Permaculture and Food Forests: Leaving an Awesome Trace Wed, 08 Apr 2015 23:49:29 +0000

By Wesley Thoricatha

“Leave No Trace” is one of Burning Man’s oft-quoted ten principles, and its greatest gift is that it inspires a broad and lasting sense of environmental and social responsibility in many of the festival’s participants – Black Rock Solar and Burners Without Borders being stellar examples. Having discovered both Permaculture and burn events at the same time in my life, I immediately recognized the implications of Leave No Trace and thought of ways to take it further. The conclusion that I and others have reached is that in our permanent home, the planet that houses both the playa and the default world, leaving no trace is not enough. We need to leave an awesome trace.

Permaculture is the ideal tool for such a project, being a design system that can be applied anywhere to address human and environmental needs in the most resilient and efficient way possible. Just as Burning Man resurrects ancient social rituals of personal transformation, Permaculture reintroduces ancient methods of agriculture that transform the environment in incredible ways. The best example of this is the food forest, a low-maintenance, high-yield, self-maintaining system that provides food, fuel, animal habitat, soil regeneration, water retention, and a litany of other benefits. To nurture both people and the earth, the food forest is about the most awesome trace we can leave.

What is a Food Forest?

Food forests are beautiful, diverse, and abundant forest gardens based on observing and mimicking nature with adjustments made to meet human needs. They provide local organic food, which is the most healthy and environmentally friendly way to eat. They yield timber for building structures, and wood for energy and heat needs. The trees and plants in a food forest also regenerate and protect the land via soil creation, erosion protection, and wind buffering that provides stability in extreme weather. They even assist the air and climate with CO2 sequestration, oxygen production, and microclimate creation. It’s hard to overstate how beneficial these perennial systems are, but a good way to sum it up is that we know how to create the garden of Eden, and we can do it everywhere. Let that sink in for a minute. What does the earth need more than environmental regeneration, food security, renewable resources, and beauty? That sounds like Radical Self-reliance and leaving an awesome trace to me.

Forest Layers

Let’s delve into one of the key design elements that allows food forests to produce such a high yield – the understanding of forest layers. Almost every mature forest that you find in nature will have the following layers represented: the rhizosphere or root layer, the ground cover layer, the herb layer, the shrub layer, the small tree layer, the canopy tree layer, and the layer of vines and vertical climbers. In food forest designs, all of these layers include either edible or helpful plants, allowing a huge amount of output in a small area. Next time you are in or near a forest, take a look and see if you can spot all of the different plants that are inhabiting these various layers. Then imagine if each plant, tree, and flower was edible or helpful to you in some way. The bounty achievable by these systems is simply staggering, and there is no reason we cannot implement them all over the globe.

Taking it to the Streets and Beyond

Excitingly, food forest implementation is starting to gain traction and recognition in certain areas of the world. The Beacon Food Forest is a great example, the US’s first large scale public food forest in the heart of Seattle that will be open for anyone to enjoy and eat from. A more mature example is a site like Village Homes in Davis, California, 70-acre subdivision where edible landscaping is featured throughout the community alongside the houses and streets, providing ripe fruit and nuts year-round to the residents. One of the most extreme examples is Permaculture visionary Geoff Lawton’s site in the Middle East, which he describes in his famous Greening the Desert short film. In one of the most arid areas on earth, he was able to turn salty, dead soil into a small forest of figs and other fruit trees, using zero chemical fertilizers or pesticides and a fraction of the water that industrial growers normally use.

So now that we know of such a brilliant way to regenerate, reshape, and harvest from the world around us, what are we waiting for? Let’s not just party responsibly in the desert, let’s green the desert. But really let’s do both, because at the heart of both movements is taking an evolutionary leap in human culture.

Wesley Thoricatha is a lifelong creator and student of the Universe, whose exploits include graphic design, visionary art installation, Permaculture studies, founding a spiritual/educational nonprofit, running a small eco-village, and organizing the world’s first flow arts and sustainability festival.

Are Americans a Broken People? Why We’ve Stopped Fighting Back Against the Forces of Oppression Mon, 06 Apr 2015 21:33:31 +0000

By Bruce E. Levine

Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not “set them free” but instead further demoralize them? Has such a demoralization happened in the United States?

Do some totalitarians actually want us to hear how we have been screwed because they know that humiliating passivity in the face of obvious oppression will demoralize us even further?

What forces have created a demoralized, passive, dis-couraged U.S. population?

Can anything be done to turn this around?

Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not “set them free” but instead further demoralize them?

Yes. It is called the “abuse syndrome.” How do abusive pimps, spouses, bosses, corporations, and governments stay in control? They shove lies, emotional and physical abuses, and injustices in their victims’ faces, and when victims are afraid to exit from these relationships, they get weaker. So the abuser then makes their victims eat even more lies, abuses, and injustices, resulting in victims even weaker as they remain in these relationships.

Does knowing the truth of their abuse set people free when they are deep in these abuse syndromes?

No. For victims of the abuse syndrome, the truth of their passive submission to humiliating oppression is more than embarrassing; it can feel shameful — and there is nothing more painful than shame. When one already feels beaten down and demoralized, the likely response to the pain of shame is not constructive action, but more attempts to shut down or divert oneself from this pain. It is not likely that the truth of one’s humiliating oppression is going to energize one to constructive actions.

Has such a demoralization happened in the U.S.?

In the United States, 47 million people are without health insurance, and many millions more are underinsured or a job layoff away from losing their coverage. But despite the current sellout by their elected officials to the insurance industry, there is no outpouring of millions of U.S. citizens on the streets of Washington, D.C., protesting this betrayal.

Polls show that the majority of Americans oppose U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the taxpayer bailout of the financial industry, yet only a handful of U.S. citizens have protested these circumstances.

Remember the 2000 U.S. presidential election? That’s the one in which Al Gore received 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush. That’s also the one that the Florida Supreme Court’s order for a recount of the disputed Florida vote was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in a politicized 5-4 decision, of which dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens remarked: “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” Yet, even this provoked few demonstrators.

When people become broken, they cannot act on truths of injustice. Furthermore, when people have become broken, more truths about how they have been victimized can lead to shame about how they have allowed it. And shame, like fear, is one more way we become even more psychologically broken.

U.S. citizens do not actively protest obvious injustices for the same reasons that people cannot leave their abusive spouses: They feel helpless to effect change. The more we don’t act, the weaker we get. And ultimately to deal with the painful humiliation over inaction in the face of an oppressor, we move to shut-down mode and use escape strategies such as depression, substance abuse, and other diversions, which further keep us from acting. This is the vicious cycle of all abuse syndromes.

Do some totalitarians actually want us to hear how we have been screwed because they know that humiliating passivity in the face of obvious oppression will demoralize us even further?


Shortly before the 2000 U.S. presidential election, millions of Americans saw a clip of George W. Bush joking to a wealthy group of people, “What a crowd tonight: the haves and the haves-more. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base.” Yet, even with these kind of inflammatory remarks, the tens of millions of U.S. citizens who had come to despise Bush and his arrogance remained passive in the face of the 2000 non-democratic presidential elections.

Perhaps the “political genius” of the Bush-Cheney regime was in their full realization that Americans were so broken that the regime could get away with damn near anything. And the more people did nothing about the boot slamming on their faces, the weaker people became.

What forces have created a demoralized, passive, dis-couraged U.S. population?

The U.S. government-corporate partnership has used its share of guns and terror to break Native Americans, labor union organizers, and other dissidents and activists. But today, most U.S. citizens are broken by financial fears. There is potential legal debt if we speak out against a powerful authority, and all kinds of other debt if we do not comply on the job. Young people are broken by college-loan debts and fear of having no health insurance.

The U.S. population is increasingly broken by the social isolation created by corporate-governmental policies. A 2006 American Sociological Review study (“Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades”) reported that, in 2004, 25 percent of Americans did not have a single confidant. (In 1985, 10 percent of Americans reported not having a single confidant.) Sociologist Robert Putnam, in his 2000 book, Bowling Alone, describes how social connectedness is disappearing in virtually every aspect of U.S. life. For example, there has been a significant decrease in face-to-face contact with neighbors and friends due to suburbanization, commuting, electronic entertainment, time and money pressures and other variables created by governmental-corporate policies. And union activities and other formal or informal ways that people give each other the support necessary to resist oppression have also decreased.

We are also broken by a corporate-government partnership that has rendered most of us out of control when it comes to the basic necessities of life, including our food supply. And we, like many other people in the world, are broken by socializing institutions that alienate us from our basic humanity. A few examples:

Schools and Universities: Do most schools teach young people to be action-oriented — or to be passive? Do most schools teach young people that they can affect their surroundings — or not to bother? Do schools provide examples of democratic institutions — or examples of authoritarian ones?

A long list of school critics from Henry David Thoreau to John Dewey, John Holt, Paul Goodman, Jonathan Kozol, Alfie Kohn, Ivan Illich, and John Taylor Gatto have pointed out that a school is nothing less than a miniature society: what young people experience in schools is the chief means of creating our future society. Schools are routinely places where kids — through fear — learn to comply to authorities for whom they often have no respect, and to regurgitate material they often find meaningless. These are great ways of breaking someone.

Today, U.S. colleges and universities have increasingly become places where young people are merely acquiring degree credentials — badges of compliance for corporate employers — in exchange for learning to accept bureaucratic domination and enslaving debt.

Mental Health Institutions: Aldous Huxley predicted today’s pharmaceutical society “[I]t seems to me perfectly in the cards,” he said, “that there will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude.”

Today, increasing numbers of people in the U.S. who do not comply with authority are being diagnosed with mental illnesses and medicated with psychiatric drugs that make them less pained about their boredom, resentments, and other negative emotions, thus rendering them more compliant and manageable.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is an increasingly popular diagnosis for children and teenagers. The official symptoms of ODD include, “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” and “often argues with adults.” An even more common reaction to oppressive authorities than the overt defiance of ODD is some type of passive defiance — for example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Studies show that virtually all children diagnosed with ADHD will pay attention to activities that they actually enjoy or that they have chosen. In other words, when ADHD-labeled kids are having a good time and in control, the “disease” goes away.

When human beings feel too terrified and broken to actively protest, they may stage a “passive-aggressive revolution” by simply getting depressed, staying drunk, and not doing anything — this is one reason why the Soviet empire crumbled. However, the diseasing/medicalizing of rebellion and drug “treatments” have weakened the power of even this passive-aggressive revolution.

Television: In his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (1978), Jerry Mander (after reviewing totalitarian critics such as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Jacques Ellul, and Ivan Illich) compiled a list of the “Eight Ideal Conditions for the Flowering of Autocracy.”

Mander claimed that television helps create all eight conditions for breaking a population. Television, he explained, (1) occupies people so that they don’t know themselves — and what a human being is; (2) separates people from one another;  (3) creates sensory deprivation; (4) occupies the mind and fills the brain with prearranged experience and thought; (5) encourages drug use to dampen dissatisfaction (while TV itself produces a drug-like effect, this was compounded in 1997 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxing the rules of prescription-drug advertising); (6) centralizes knowledge and information; (7) eliminates or “museumize” other cultures to eliminate comparisons; and (8) redefines happiness and the meaning of life.

Commericalism of Damn Near Everything: While spirituality, music, and cinema can be revolutionary forces, the gross commercialization of all of these has deadened their capacity to energize rebellion. So now, damn near everything – not just organized religion — has become “opiates of the masses.”

The primary societal role of U.S. citizens is no longer that of “citizen” but that of “consumer.” While citizens know that buying and selling within community strengthens that community and that this strengthens democracy, consumers care only about the best deal. While citizens understand that dependency on an impersonal creditor is a kind of slavery, consumers get excited with credit cards that offer a temporarily low APR.

Consumerism breaks people by devaluing human connectedness, socializing self-absorption, obliterating self-reliance, alienating people from normal human emotional reactions, and by selling the idea that purchased products — not themselves and their community — are their salvation.

Can anything be done to turn this around?

When people get caught up in humiliating abuse syndromes, more truths about their oppressive humiliations don’t set them free. What sets them free is morale.

What gives people morale? Encouragement. Small victories. Models of courageous behaviors. And anything that helps them break out of the vicious cycle of pain, shut down, immobilization, shame over immobilization, more pain, and more shut down.

The last people I would turn to for help in remobilizing a demoralized population are mental health professionals — at least those who have not rebelled against their professional socialization. Much of the craft of relighting the pilot light requires talents that mental health professionals simply are not selected for nor are they trained in. Specifically, the talents required are a fearlessness around image, spontaneity, and definitely anti-authoritarianism. But these are not the traits that medical schools or graduate schools select for or encourage.

Mental health professionals’ focus on symptoms and feelings often create patients who take themselves and their moods far too seriously. In contrast, people talented in the craft of maintaining morale resist this kind of self-absorption. For example, in the question-and-answer session that followed a Noam Chomsky talk (reported in Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, 2002), a somewhat demoralized man in the audience asked Chomsky if he too ever went through a phase of hopelessness. Chomsky responded, “Yeah, every evening . . .”

If you want to feel hopeless, there are a lot of things you could feel hopeless about. If you want to sort of work out objectively what’s the chance that the human species will survive for another century, probably not very high. But I mean, what’s the point? . . . First of all, those predictions don’t mean anything — they’re more just a reflection of your mood or your personality than anything else. And if you act on that assumption, then you’re guaranteeing that’ll happen. If you act on the assumption that things can change, well, maybe they will. Okay, the only rational choice, given those alternatives, is to forget pessimism.”

A major component of the craft of maintaining morale is not taking the advertised reality too seriously. In the early 1960s, when the overwhelming majority in the U.S. supported military intervention in Vietnam, Chomsky was one of a minority of U.S. citizens actively opposing it. Looking back at this era, Chomsky reflected, “When I got involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement, it seemed to me impossible that we would ever have any effect. . . So looking back, I think my evaluation of the ‘hope’ was much too pessimistic: it was based on a complete misunderstanding. I was sort of believing what I read.”

An elitist assumption is that people don’t change because they are either ignorant of their problems or ignorant of solutions. Elitist “helpers” think they have done something useful by informing overweight people that they are obese and that they must reduce their caloric intake and increase exercise. An elitist who has never been broken by his or her circumstances does not know that people who have become demoralized do not need analyses and pontifications. Rather the immobilized need a shot of morale.

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and his latest book is Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007). His Web site is

Sprinklers Off, Still Homeless Sun, 05 Apr 2015 06:17:58 +0000

By Lesley Haddock

Recently, my Facebook newsfeed exploded with outraged posts about a Catholic Cathedral in San Francisco that had installed an automatic sprinkler system to dump water on homeless people who tried to sleep in the church’s doorway. All over the country people were scandalized by the hypocrisy of the church, by the inhumanity of risking the health of the poorest people in the city. Worse, they’ve installed this system during a drought!

Within the week the church announced it will take down the sprinklers and stop dousing the homeless.

Congratulations outraged Facebook friends; we fixed it. You can now go back to your routine of looking the other way when you see your neighbors asking for money on your front steps.

Reading through all the hype, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit bitter. Yes, I’m bitter at the church for installing such an outrageously heartless sprinkler system. But really what bothers me is that this is just one particularly headline-worthy example of a bigger system that targets poor people in both mundane and shocking ways on a daily basis. And now that this sprinkler system is gone, we can all go back to pretending the other system doesn’t exist.

But in reality, there is a war against homeless people going on right now that extends from the church steps in San Francisco across the Atlantic to London storefronts, where the local government has installed concrete spikes to prevent people from sleeping in front of businesses. It’s happening in Shandong, China, which has installed “pay-per-minute” benches that surprise you with protruding spikes if you overstay your welcome. It’s happening to Los Angeles, where city politicians are fighting to prevent people from feeding the homeless.

In my own town of Berkeley, just across the bay from San Francisco, the city council, rallied by our Downtown Business Association, is working to pass a set of ordinances that would prohibit sleeping on public sidewalks, asking for spare change, using blankets and setting down belongings in our downtown area. In a city with significantly more homeless people than shelter beds available, this amounts to criminalizing behaviors that people engage in to survive.

These laws are passed explicitly to allow local police to target poor people, and homeless people and those with disabilities, and displaced communities of color will bear the brunt of the attacks.

And things are only getting worse.

As new tech companies pop up all over the Bay Area, rents are skyrocketing. One woman in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights just saw her rent increase 400 percent, from $2,145 per month to $8,900 a month. The city is bearing the brunt of this wave of gentrification, but its ripple effects are deeply felt in Oakland and Berkeley, in Richmond, in Vallejo and farther. As more and more wealthy tech workers move to San Francisco, people are being forced from their communities, from their cities, to places they can afford. For those who can no longer afford rent, this means moving into a car or onto the street.

For those on the streets, gentrification means intensified policing and a rising threat of incarceration. UC Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Center recently reported a dramatic increase in “anti­-vagrancy” laws that further criminalize the already marginalized homeless population, pushing people into jails, out of sight and out of mind. San Francisco is currently pushing to build a new jail in the city – I guess to provide housing for people displaced by these measures.

When the Catholic Church dumps water on a homeless person, that person spends the whole day cold and wet. But when the city government makes it illegal to be homeless, that person lives in constant fear of being brought to jail for sleeping in public or asking for money.

I’m bitter because I don’t want to see any more Facebook posts with sensationalist headlines until I see those in my community who are still able to afford rent fighting the evictions that are putting our neighbors out on the streets; until I see hundreds of people in the streets fighting the criminalization of our houseless neighbors; and until we stop turning our heads and refusing to acknowledge the humanity of the homeless people suffering on our doorsteps.

I’m glad the sprinkler system is shut down. Now let’s go confront the capitalist system that started it all.

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Proponents of Raw Milk Are No Better Than Anti-Vaccine Advocates Tue, 31 Mar 2015 03:02:37 +0000

By James McWilliams

On March 10 West Virginia’s legislature passed a bill authorizing the consumption of raw milk. Republicans supported the measure on the basis of “farm-food freedom” and “consumer choice.” Democrats, soberly noting that unpasteurized milk can contain high levels of deadly bacteria, opposed it on the grounds that “it’s unwise and unsafe,” as one opponent said.

There’s good reason to fear raw milk. The same day that West Virginia passed its bill, a long-awaited study from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland reported that raw milk consumption significantly increased the risk of foodborne illness. Detection rates of Listeria and Campylobacter—two common food-related bacteria—were seven percent and three percent, respectively, in raw milk samples. More alarmingly, rates of these dangerous bacteria rose to 20 percent and 22 percent in the milk filters used to remove specks of feces from the milk (cows’ tails frequently brush feces samples into milk containers while they’re being milked).

Dr. Wayne Anderson, director of FSAI, wrote: “While the market for raw milk is small, it remains a serious concern given the well-documented public health risks posed by the presence of pathogens in raw milk. We are therefore recommending that raw milk should be avoided by consumers.” His message reflects what the United States Food and Drug Administration has long noted: that “unpasteurized milk can pose a serious health threat.”

The effort among a vocal cult of consumers to reject wholesale pasteurization highlights how, when it comes to reforming the industrial food system, aesthetics easily trump reason—not to mention public safety. Not unlike the movement among anti-vaccine advocates, proponents of raw milk allow shallow idealizations of purity and free choice to undermine the quest for a food system that can provide safe and healthy food for all consumers all the time.

Raw milk advocacy is warped by a particularly insidious kind of agrarian nostalgia. It evokes a supposedly simpler era when farming families consumed the food they produced. As such, many raw milk supporters see their product as a wholesome emblem of a pre-industrial, all-natural diet. “Raw milk,” one proponent writes, “is almost exclusively produced by local farmers.” One should therefore drink it because “a growing segment of the population is choosing to support local, family farms and businesses over multi-national conglomerates.” In this respect, raw milk plays nicely into the growing emphasis on whole foods, health, and small farms.

But while we should by all means support the family farm—as well as healthy whole food—there’s no need to put our lives at risk in the process. What’s missing from this rosy portrayal of raw milk is the fact that, before pasteurization, when mom was milking the family cow for breakfast, people (mostly children) were routinely dying from raw milk.

Common milk-borne diseases included typhoid, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. Even today, disease outbreaks from milk most commonly happen when children visit dairy farms where they sample raw milk. When Louis Pasteur invented pasteurization—heating liquids to kill harmful and deadly pathogens—in 1864, he pioneered a technique (a “natural” one, assuming that heat is natural) that would save untold millions of lives. To reverse that accomplishment in a bid to support the local farmer, or to promote raw milk as a romantic paean to a lost way of eating, is nothing short of perverse.

Equally troubling is the anti-scientific implication in the decision to reject pasteurization. Much in the way that the anti-vaccine folks circulate various crackpot theories through social media to counter the scientific legitimacy of vaccines, so it goes with pasteurization. Sites with a whiff of legitimacy unabashedly link pasteurization with cancer and heart disease, claim that pasteurization causes constipation and “nervous troubles,” and conclude that, in general, pasteurization is “dangerous for your health.” It’s perfectly fine to criticize industrial agriculture. But to reject scientific breakthroughs simply because they also happen to have helped foster industrialism is to allow ideology to cloud common sense. It would be like blaming cells for melanoma.

Another concern raised by raw milk is its association with a retrograde kind of culinary libertarianism. Writing in Slate, Deborah Blum notes that, “Raw milk … has become a poster child of the food rights movement,” adding that “it’s in this carnation that … the raw milk idea becomes dangerous.” Call it food freedom run amok.

What culinary libertarianism forgets is that open societies are about more than free choice. They also entrust a representative government to minimize consumer danger while promoting the health of its citizenry—something that requires us to sacrifice some choices in the name of the common good. The desire to make pasteurization optional derives from the same impulse to deregulate weaponry or eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency—moves that favor individual over collective freedom while compromising our safety, which raw milk assuredly does.

Given that many raw milk supporters—those from the “food movement”—are often advocates of “nanny state”-type measures such as the soda tax and a National Food Policy, the anti-pasteurization push becomes that much more confusing. Can you be pro-raw milk and pro-soda tax at the same time? No way.

Finally, why do raw milkers believe raw milk to be so “pure” and “natural”? From where does this aesthetic judgment derive and why is its appeal so powerful? Given that humans have been around for about 250,000 years, and given that it was only about 7,000 years ago that we began to steal the milk of another species away from its children, it’s difficult to see anything “natural” about cow’s milk. In many ways, our reference point is so skewed toward hyper-industrialization (with pasteurization being just one manifestation of that industrialization), that any move away from the industrial model ipso facto appears to be “natural,” despite the fact that domestication itself could easily be portrayed as one of humanity’s most artificial creations. Even the Paleo people sort of get that.

Raw milk, for all these reasons, is more of an aesthetic than a rational decision. It’s yet another case of the “narcissism of small differences” posing as food reform. Supporters routinely shroud it in the rhetoric of choice and freedom, but raw milk, no matter how wholesome and fresh, is a raw deal.