What Sort of Surveillance Tools Do Police Use?

What Sort of Surveillance Tools Do Police Use?

Editor’s note: People who confront the destruction of the planet find a legal system that prioritizes corporations and not uncommonly become the targets of police surveillance. Unless we take precautions, police surveillance tools can uncover our plans and organizational structures—and can contribute to a culture of paranoia that discourages action.

This training, from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, consists of interactive materials for learning what sort of tools law enforcement agencies use against journalists, but the material is practically applicable for organizers as well. We encourage our readers to study this material and consider appropriate countermeasures.


by Freedom of the Press Foundation

The Digital Security Training team at Freedom of the Press Foundation works with news organizations to better protect themselves, their colleagues, and sources by upgrading their security posture. In an environment where journalists are increasingly under attack, experiencing targeted hacking, harassment, and worse, we want to see systemic change in the way news organizations learn about and address their digital security concerns. While journalists come from many professional backgrounds, one place we can most reliably address this need for digital security education systemically is within journalism schools, where students are already learning many of the skills they will need in a contemporary newsroom. We know many programs feel underprepared for education of this kind, so we built this curriculum to better support J-schools’ goals for digital security education.

Below, we have created modules responsive to a variety of digital security topics. We intend for this resource to be used by journalism professors and educators looking for a starting point for digital security education. Ultimately, it’s our hope that by tinkering with these materials, you might take advantage of the parts most useful or inspiring to you, and make this curriculum your own.

Police Surveillance Tools Training

This section on surveillance tools used by law enforcement is discussion focused, and intends to get students to think critically about the relationship between surveillance, privacy, and transparency. It begins with lecture canvassing a variety of law enforcement surveillance technology, based on research from from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Afterward, the module opens into an activity to investigate surveillance technology used in a location of their choice, followed by a discussion of their interpretation of law enforcement surveillance technologies they’ve discovered.

Prerequisites

Threat modeling
Legal requests in the U.S.

Estimated time

60-70 minutes

Objectives

  • Upon successful completion of this lesson, students will be able to distinguish between technology commonly used by law enforcement to conduct surveillance in physical spaces.
  • Students will be able to identify which of these tools are used in a specific physical location, based on publicly-accessible reporting tools.

Why this matters

The technical capabilities of law enforcement actors may affect journalists’ threat models when conducting work in risky situations. For example, when meeting a sensitive source their location may be tracked through a constellation of surveillance equipment, or their phone numbers and current call or text data may be scooped up when covering protests.

Homework

(Before class)

Sample slides

Credit to Dave Maass and the Electronic Frontier Foundation for these slides, with minor modifications.

Law enforcement surveillance tech (Google Slides)

Activities

Have students open up Atlas of Surveillance and report back for the group with surveillance technology used in a location where they’ve lived in the U.S. (e.g., where their hometown is; the campus).

Questions for discussion

  • In terms of their ability to compromise journalistic work, which one of these technical law enforcement capabilities is most concerning to you? What makes it concerning?
  • If that’s not especially concerning, why is that?
  • Out of respect for peoples’ privacy, are there any issues you think should be “off the table” for journalistic coverage? If so, what are those issues, and why do you think they should be off the table?
  • We often talk about privacy for people, but transparency for institutions. Why the distinction? Are there times when individual actions demand transparency, and when institutions have a meaningful claim to privacy?

This article was first published by the Freedom of the Press Foundation. It is republished under the CC-BY-NC 2.0 license. Banner image: Police training using bodycams via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Totalitarianism of Today — Part II

The Totalitarianism of Today — Part II

In this piece, Matej Kudláčik describes how a system that appears democratic, participatory, and free can actually conceal a profound totalitarianism.

His argument has similarities to Sheldon Wolin’s conception of “inverted totalitarianism,” which Wolin described as being “all politics all of the time but politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.”

We’ve included a video in this post that discusses the concept of inverted totalitarianism in some detail. Part I of this essay can be found here.


By Matej Kudláčik

“The bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe. Under the democratic-authoritarian social contract, each member of the community may claim every material advantage, every intellectual and emotional stimulus he may desire, in quantities hardly available hitherto even for a restricted minority … Once one opts for the system no further choice remains.”Lewis Mumford

It is no great secret that freedom and capitalism are incompatible and that we’re dancing painfully on the line between complete societal insanity and dreadful mental slavery, the enslavement of consumerism. In other words, we are more dependent on the will of corporations than on our own. Therefore we’re in a state where no freedom is possible.¹

False well-being

Consumerism is based on tricking individuals into affirmation of pleasure, all while imposing a false image of the well-being of this world through apparent individual plenitude. This tool works against solidarity with the living and non-living. Solidarity requires a certain amount of renunciation of pleasure. It requires modesty and humility, so that the suffering of the world can be considered equal to the suffering of oneself. When one finds himself in constant “comfort” and no struggle², he hardly relates to the ones who are slowly dying. Without this realization, he lacks not only empathy and love, he lacks his humanity and he sees trenches and barricades in places where they are not.

He may ask: “And how does the extinct species concern us, if it is no use for us?”, because all of his material needs are fulfilled and thus, he’s unable to sympathize with horrors which don’t directly concern him and many times he does not even believe they really are. What he fails to see is that all life concerns him and what consumerism manages to do is to make him addicted to cheap pleasure which he will refuse to give up and may even defend; an addict won’t resist.

Consumerism makes us puppets of cheap pleasure

Yes, consumerism leads to pleasure but specifically only a certain amount of pleasure because this way, a person will always want more. As opposed to providing a person with a great amount of pleasure which would make the person realize the futility of such joy, similar to teasing a dog with a treat, systematically giving him services and trumperies so that he becomes obedient. A mere puppet of cheap pleasure. Overconsumption is a sickness of the spirit and ruthless spit in the face of nature and its resources.

Solidarity, reason, empathy, care and love can’t function solely on their own and each needs the help of others in order to thrive and create a human. Just as a symphony requires attendance of all the instruments and when only one violinist stops playing, the melody loses its magnificence. To an inexperienced ear, it may seem otherwise at first, but listen closely and the gap can’t be unheard. If you dismantle just one of these virtues, you dismantle a person, his humanity. For human isn’t a construction of temporal flesh. Unassailable parts of one’s humanity are his virtues and what’s beyond them. This exploitation of humanity makes capitalism a dehumanizing system. Socialism clearly exploited humanity in great extent, too, since freedom of artistic and intellectual expression are majestic human virtues and every system denying them deserves to die. The method and speed of this dehumanization differs, but both are vicious.

We could argue: it’s only exploitation when one allows his humanity to be exploited and it’s only manipulation when one allows himself to be manipulated — but here comes the problem of masses.

Opiates of the masses

Masses have and always will have a negative character – collective opinion is an error. The dismal reality of people gathering together is that they become subservient to prevalent trends, no matter how ridiculous and absurd they are. Moreover, masses love getting drunk by their leaders, masses enjoy being thrown around, for the majority finds comfort in sloth. Prevalent culture will always seem pleasing to them because it’s easier to be conforming and safer than to fight a hard fight. Because of this, only individuals and small groups are capable of making a difference and proper decisions. As an example, compare any great patriarchal civilization with any small matriarchal community. Furthermore, compare any true revolutionary and his impact with any democratic so-called change voted for by the majority. Or at any rate, compare the greatest true thinkers of history with countless followers of today’s popular world-views. The masses hold uncountable torches, yet never shine light:

The individual and small groups hold just one, yet are capable of enlightening; “Man is distinguished from other animals not only by the advantages which are commonly enumerated, but qualitatively by the fact that the individual is more than the species.” – Søren Kierkegaard

Ceasing from the masses and industrial civilization is the real solution to the catastrophes caused by man. No minor socio-political change as “regulated capitalism” or “socialism” can be sufficient to fix what is broken for this long. All political systems will fail and malevolent tendencies of man will always appear. Thus, the Big Brother has always been present, yet wore a different mask each time and acted with small modifications. Catholic Europe in Middle Ages, where the propaganda had been the word of God and every nonconformity led to burnt bodies at the stake. Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had gulags, concentration camps, propaganda, persecution. But the main thing that connects them is distortion of knowledge, truth, love, understanding and solidarity. It’s absurd to serve the interests of the government and leaders. These interests are not the interests of life. They oppose solidarity, they oppose love – it is their nature. And here we are again, wonderfully cloaked: utopistic flyers, posters, advertisement, and distortion of concepts as happiness, love and truth. You are welcome to define happiness as you wish but you are not likely to assume that it is equal to consuming and wealth. In fact, try all the pleasures of this world and see that nothing will make you happy;

“Happiness is not easy to find. It’s very difficult to find it in yourself — and impossible to find anywhere else.” – Nicolas Chamfort

The moral heart

Love is not limited to one species, rather it is a deep connection with all that is living. Implications are being made that economy stands above everything else, including life of animals and breath of trees.
So, to the ill minds, it seems that it doesn’t matter how many species go extinct as long as the financial gain keeps going. That might sound appealing to ill minds, but that’s not love, that’s self-centred greed.

“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

And how could a culture in which the lives of animals mean less than money be moral? Industrial civilization cannot coalesce with life, nor with humanity. Today, we witness similar totalitarian patterns, yet with a different face and more hidden: one of the points of every totalitarian regime is to infect the individual so that even the mind restricts itself, whether in speech, art, work, or even thoughts. Therefore, totalitarianism chains the mind, infects it and imposes such infection precisely when one cannot really defend oneself or overcome such a folly, usually during his childhood. Dependence on technology and consumerism chain the mind, numb it and since they’re imposed by the regime, they are totalitarian techniques. By regime, I don’t mean government, for the government is only a puppet of the richest. No law restricting the richest could be ever approved and everything the government does is constructed in a way in which the corporations don’t get harmed.³

Consumerism is a totalitarian technique, imposed in a way that it’s unnoticed, by the highest leaders, imposed at the most vulnerable period of one’s life. Distorting one’s perception of important concepts and exploiting his humanity.

Modern capitalism is totalitarianism perfected

Never have the malevolent and destructive tendencies been so hidden as in capitalism – to protect an unhealthy economy, we burn forests and let ourselves be dependent on over-consumption. Capitalism is the ultimate totalitarian regime, closest to perfection [editor’s note: see Sheldon Wolin’s Inverted Totalitarianism]. That’s because it managed to soothe and blind the population with so-called liberty and freedom so that it’s completely unaware of all mental exploitation and chains. Other totalitarian systems weren’t better, less cruel, or more humane. All of them deserve to be eradicated, dismantled, burned down. But capitalism managed to put a fancy theatre in front of its audience, that’s why it will be supported and praised even by its victims. That is why a revolutionary will have to fight the masses as well as the system. Even when the facts are too obvious. What a great screenplay!

To cease from industrial civilization is to cease from this enslavement. Of course, a man will struggle with himself anyway, and utopistic concepts such as a “just and free society” should not be considered as the absolute goal.⁴ This does not mean that a biophilic and loving society is pure fiction, rather that modern civilization cannot convert to biophilia. There cannot be any real freedom in this civilization, for it necessarily implies dependence on the will of another and that another is based on selfish greed and destructiveness. It’s clear that we have to be dependent on another in some extent and thus only a life spent in complete solitude can be called “truly free”. Being dependent on another is in itself not detrimental and is even required. However, it’s also clear that spending a life dependent on a destructive another is extremely similar to a prison cell. On another who burns, murders and enslaves even you.

The fact that industrial civilization cannot coalesce with life does not mean that you cannot coalesce with life. It does not matter as much that you have built a wall between the birds and trees and
yourself: what matters more is that you must destroy it. Coalesce with life once again. Preserve love by preserving what you love. By preserving what you love, you show that the screams of burning trees strike your heart and make it weep, thus you can’t just hear  but you must listen.


Notes

1 Purely in the context of society. So, this is not a place for denying the truthfulness of optimistic views as “an individual can reach freedom by finding it within himself and overcoming his environment” and neither
pessimistic views as “an individual can never be truly free, for he is jailed by his own desires and inner struggle”.

2 Which is impossible because all are struggling with something, but consumerism has the ability to blind an individual – apparent plenitude; “we have everything we need and even more, so what’s your problem with this system? Never have we been so rich!” Yes, but you can’t have both material wealth and spiritual wealth – these two are incompatible: that’s one of the main reasons why religions like Buddhism and Christianity (religions, not churches) and many great philosophical systems put renunciation of earthly pleasures in their core for the sake of spirit and intellect.

3 Look at the COVID-19 restrictions and see that the richest got even richer during lockdown, while small businessmen went out of business.

4 Post-Soviet countries can tell you why.


Banner Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash.

Paths Forward: In Defense of “Utopian” Creativity (Part 1 of 2)

Paths Forward: In Defense of “Utopian” Creativity (Part 1 of 2)

This story was first published in Learning Earthways.

By George R. Price

The oral traditions and origin stories of many Indigenous peoples, worldwide, include some stories of the endings of previous worlds. In such stories, the end of one world usually coincides with the beginning of a new world. Typically, the end of one world is the end of a grave error, the end of a world gone wrong. The life-endangering wrong way had to end for life to continue anew.[1] To have a fresh start, venturing into many unknowns, might be somewhat scary, but it is really a wonderful gift.

In the early winter months of 2014, in Missoula, Montana, I was part of a coalition of climate activists and Indigenous Earth and water protectors who were trying to stop, or at least discourage, the transport of enormous pieces of mining equipment to the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, where it would be used in the largest and dirtiest oil extraction project on our planet. The equipment was so large that the companies that owned those things could only move them through cities in the middle of the night, at the time of least traffic use (around 2:00 a.m.). They could not transport these monstrosities on the freeways because they were too tall—even lying down on trucks—to go under the overpasses. We called them the “megaloads.” On four cold winter nights, in January through March, we walked out onto the largest street in Missoula as soon as we saw a megaload and its entourage of pilot cars and police vehicles approaching. We sang and round-danced in the middle of the street, carrying signs, and sometimes our crowd was big enough to make a circle that fit from curb to curb across the whole street. The police allowed us to continue for a short while (the longest time was 22 minutes), then they cleared us off the road. A handful of our people intentionally got arrested, but most did not.

Sometime after the fourth megaload blockade, the oil and equipment transport companies decided to refabricate the equipment for transport on the freeways. We had caused them a minor inconvenience and a little negative publicity regarding the tar sands industry and its impacts on the Canadian boreal forests, rivers, the health of humans and other species, and global warming. So they began transporting their destructive devices in smaller pieces, to be reassembled upon arrival in Alberta. That change in operations cost three companies (Exxon Mobil, Imperial Oil, and transport company, Mammoet) about two billion dollars altogether, or about one quarter’s profits (at that time, just before oil prices dropped and tar sands extracting became a little less profitable). When taking government subsidies and tax breaks given to oil corporations into account, they probably hardly even felt a pinch from our annoying actions and were actually able to expand their tar sands operations and increase their profits for a few years after the blockades. Our blockade coalition held together for a few months longer, waiting for the next megaload to come through Missoula, which never came.

During those weeks and months after the last megaload blockade, I spent a good amount of time analyzing and reassessing the value and effectiveness of street blockades and similar actions on the big picture. The big question on my mind, and in the minds of some of my friends, was, “What did we accomplish and what good did we do for protecting the Earth through our actions in the street?” We also wondered who even noticed what we did (most citizens of Missoula are asleep at 2:00 a.m. and we didn’t get much media coverage) and, for those that noticed, did anybody who wasn’t already in agreement with our views on protecting the natural world change their minds and decide to take action on behalf of natural life? How about the megaload transport workers, security guards and police, whom we forced to stop their work and sit there watching us for 15 or 20 minutes, reading our signs, and listening to our round dance songs and our vocal pleas for the end of fossil fuel use? Did any of them change their thinking or quit their jobs? Well, we never heard back from any of them on that, as far as I know, seven years later.

One thing that seemed pretty certain to me then, and I’m even more sure about now, is that humans who live in monetary-based economies (capitalist or socialist) will very rarely choose to cease engaging in activities that assure them that they will be rewarded with that most essential material tool: money. That includes fossil fuel workers, the corporate bosses who own their labor, and just about everybody else who lives within the constraints of modern industrial societies. Most people would not knowingly engage in toxic, life-destroying activities if they were not getting paid for it or benefitting from it in some other way, or if they did not feel that they had no choice other than to make money doing such things. As long as people are rewarded for destroying life on Earth, they will continue to destroy life on Earth. Just about a week before the first megaload blockade, in January, I had written an essay about how money and beliefs about money are at the root of all of the activities, systems, and structural devices that are destroying natural life on Earth, titled, “The Problem with Money.” In the months after the last blockade, I revised that essay into a new one, titled, The End of Money: The Need for Alternative, Sustainable, Non-monetary Local Economies , and began to bring the ideas therein into many public forums, mostly attended by other self-professed “environmental activists.” That essay is a combination of critique of the status quo and suggestions for alternative, EarthLife-centered, local economies and societal structures. At that point in time, I had come to the conclusion that it was futile to continue attempting to change the prevailing large-scale societies (nation states and corporate-controlled empires), working through the usual channels, and settling for the small increments and ineffective gestures toward change allowed by the systemic authorities.[2] As I was learning more about the science regarding Earth’s bio-system tipping points and feedback cycles, I could see that we most likely do not have the time to move at such a snail’s pace, “barking up the wrong trees,” and make the types of major changes in human activities and social systems necessary for stopping the destruction of our interconnected Life on Earth and preventing more mass extinctions and ecosystem collapses. It had become clear to me then, and it is even clearer now, that the actual function of our political and economic systems is to perpetuate and protect the productive and consumptive mechanisms and so-called “way of life” that is destroying life on Earth, regardless of any official statements of purpose or intent to the contrary. The response that I received from most people to all of that was disappointing, but also enlightening. For a variety of understandable reasons, many people feel an immediate need to dismiss and block out not only the essay, but my entire perspective on necessary responses to our current crisis as “utopian dreaming,” or some similarly dismissive label.

When people read that essay or hear me say things like the economic and political structure of modern industrial societies is fundamentally wrong and that these societies must end most of their ways of being before they destroy most life on Earth, there are two responses that I hear most frequently, from the very few people who bother to talk with me about these ideas at all. Here are those responses:

“You are throwing out the baby with the bath water!”

“You are making the perfect the enemy of the good.”

My succinct reply to that first dismissive accusation can be found in the very short essay on this blog titled, “Who is the Baby?” That reply basically goes along the lines of asking people which baby they want to save, industrial civilization and their modern conveniences, or natural biological life on Earth, because we cannot save both. That is all I will say about that one now, as the point has also been made in my book review of Bright Green Lies, even better in the Bright Green Lies book itself, and by many others, including more and more climate-related scientists. (I will elaborate on this further, below). In this present essay, I would like to focus on that second dismissive accusation, which was actually the primary impetus for me to write this essay in the first place, along with my love for natural life.

There are many important questions to probe about the assumedly “perfect” and the allegedly “good.” Why do most people believe that utopian thinking is a quest for “perfection?” How did that claim originate? Whose interest does the claim that all utopian thinkers are unrealistic, irrational perfectionists serve? What is the difference between an imaginary, unattainable, “perfect” society and an ideal society? Are the societies that we (residents of all modern industrial nation states) live in now something that we can justifiably call “good?” When we call societies like these “good,” do we really mean that they are “lesser evils?” Very often, when people are told that their society is not good, or is unjust and harmful to life, they respond by comparing it to some other countries that they consider to be much worse. Is “good” and “lesser evil” truly the same thing? What should be the essential, required elements for a truly good or ideal society, especially in light of the current and near-future global crises? I would like to productively address all of the above questions in this essay and, by doing so, hopefully open up some possibilities for future interaction and deeper engagement with these core issues. Ultimately, I would like to persuade people that utopian thinking and actual creativity really is a useful, vital and even absolutely necessary exercise for us to engage in now, in order to be able to proactively and successfully deal with the challenges presented to us by the current and future, multi-pronged crises facing both Earth’s biosphere and the prevailing human societal frameworks.

Obviously, answering these questions will require some clarification of the definitions of several terms, especially “utopian.” So, in the interest of getting right to the point, let’s begin with that word. The word, “utopia,” was invented by Thomas More (Sir or Saint Thomas More, if you think that we should use one of those two titles that were bestowed upon him by the recognized authorities, when speaking of him), for his 1516 novel, “A little, true book, not less beneficial than enjoyable, about how things should be in a state and about the new island Utopia.” That was the original, long title (but in English, instead of the original Latin). There are six slightly different shorter titles used in some of the various English translations of the book, as follows:

  • On the Best State of a Republic and on the New Island of Utopia
  • Concerning the Highest State of the Republic and the New Island Utopia
  • On the Best State of a Commonwealth and on the New Island of Utopia
  • Concerning the Best Condition of the Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia
  • On the Best Kind of a Republic and About the New Island of Utopia
  • About the Best State of a Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia

Why was it important for me to show you More’s actual original title of the book and the six commonly-used titles? Because none of the titles describe the fictional island nation called Utopia as “perfect” and the book is not a discussion of perfect societies at all, but rather of best or most optimal societies. More uses the word “perfect” six times in the book, but never as a descriptive term for Utopia. [3] Rather than calling Utopia perfect or flawless, More preferred words like “best” or “good.” In his original title, More suggests that Utopia is an example of “how things should be in a state,” or, in other words, an ideal—but not perfect—state. The word “best,” in the 16th century as well as now, is a relative term, defined as “better than all other examples of a certain type or class of thing.” Under that general definition, the thing referred to as best is also understood to be the best so far, or best that we know of, until something better of its type is either found, accomplished, or created. In no way is the best considered to be permanently best, flawless, without room for improvement, or perfect.

The meaning of the word “best” in the various English titles of the book, as outlined above, becomes even clearer when we consider the structure and style of this frame narrative novel. The book is divided into two parts, the first part being a discussion between More and a couple of fictional characters about both the flaws and the best aspects of European societies, including England, and the second part is a descriptive narrative by one of More’s fictional friends about a fictional island somewhere off the coast of South America called “Utopia.” [4] Much of the social structure, politics, economics (i.e., no private property in Utopia), beliefs and customs of Utopia are compared to those in Europe and found by More’s friend to be ideal, or at least better than those in Europe.  But, not only does no character in the story assert that Utopia is perfect, More himself, as a character in his own novel, states in conclusion at the end of the book that, when listening to his friend describe Utopia, “many things occurred to me, both concerning the manners and laws of that people [the Utopians], that seemed very absurd,” and, after listing some of those disagreeable aspects of Utopian society, he says in his final sentence, “however, there are many things in the Commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.”[5] The literary device that More uses here, in which he places himself in conversation with the fictional characters that he created (his “imaginary friends?”), allows him to express ideas that might have been dangerous for him to propose directly, in his own voice, while representing himself as somewhat oppositional to the radical social ideas advocated for by the character who describes Utopia, Raphael Hythlodaye. This technique also allowed More to be somewhat mysterious, or publicly ambivalent, regarding his actual views about ideal societies (“plausible deniability”?), as he was considering finding employment in the court of King Henry VIII at the time when he was writing “Utopia.”[6]

For the record, and to be absolutely clear, as I see it, and I think most of my readers would agree, Thomas More’s Utopia is no utopia or ideal society.

For the record, and to be absolutely clear, as I see it, and I think most of my readers would agree, Thomas More’s Utopia is no utopia or ideal society. Even though the Utopians have an economic system that is somewhat ideal and closely resembles the non-monetary, use value (rather than market or commodity value), need-based distribution, gift economy type of economic system that I and others have long advocated for,[7] much of the rest of Utopia’s social order is abominable. For example, it is a patriarchal society with all of the political leaders being males, and the Utopians allow for and excuse colonialism and slavery (not race-based, but for convicts and prisoners of war). While they seem to keep their population within the carrying capacity of their island most of the time, when their population gets a little too large for that, they form temporary colonies on the neighboring mainland, with or without the permission of the people already living there, on lands that they call “waste land,” because the land is uncultivated or “undeveloped” by humans (a familiar excuse used frequently by European colonialists of the western hemisphere, in More’s time and long after). That perspective and practice also illustrates the crucial missing element of the Utopian economic system, which (if it actually existed) would doom it to unsustainability and failure: it is anthropocentric, or centered on human needs and desires only, and not on the needs and sustainable, regenerative order of their local ecosystems, including all species of Life. That has been the most significant flaw of most utopian communal experiments in western, Euro-based societies for centuries (a point that I will elaborate upon further, below).

One reason for the common claim that the Utopia in More’s book, or any proposed utopian society, is intended to be perfect and therefore can never actually exist, can be found in the debate over More’s intended meaning of the name. Thomas More invented the name, Utopia, based on one of two possible Greek prefixes. (The suffix is “topos,” which means “place,” and there is no debate regarding that.) The debatable possible prefixes are “ou” (pronounced “oo,” as in “boo” or “goo”), which means “no,” or “none,” and “eu” (pronounced like “you”), which means “good.” Depending upon which Greek prefix one thinks More incorporated for the name of his fictional society, Utopia can either mean “No place,” if the prefix came from ou, or “good place,” if it came from eu. The U in the word Utopia has long been pronounced like the Greek eu, which suggests that More possibly used that prefix to form the name, but, since we have no audio recordings of how utopia was pronounced by More and other early 16th century English speakers, we don’t know with any certainty that they pronounced it in the same way that we do now. The text of Utopia itself, was originally written in Latin by More (who left it to later, posthumous publishers to produce English translations), not Greek, so there is no assurance there as to which Greek prefix he meant. “Utopia” is the Latin spelling of the name. For some reason, possibly related to his personal career ambitions and even his personal safety (in a society in which people often unexpectedly or capriciously “lost their heads”), More left the question about the meaning of “Utopia”—no place or a good place—open to debate. There is a contextual clue on page 171 of the second English translation, but it does not definitively resolve the question. [8]

So, now we can leave that question of the origin and meaning of the word behind us and get to the more important question of why most people believe that utopian thinking is a futile, foolish quest for “perfection.” The short, most direct, and most likely answer is because that is what they have always been told. But, if that is not how the inventor of the word defined it, who decided to give us this other story, and why? Follow the interest and the benefit (not just the money). The powerful and wealthy, the rulers of the vast majority of human societies, find it in their interest to discourage their subject people from imagining or creating alternative societies that are no longer subject to their domain and no longer contribute toward generating enormous, disproportionate amounts of material wealth for themselves. Ever since human beings began to depart from living in local, indigenous, eco-centered, life-regenerating communities and started creating unsustainable mega-societies like nation states and empires, about 7,000 years ago, the rulers have worked hard (or hired and forced others to work hard) at producing and perpetuating many lies for the purpose of deluding or frightening their subjects into remaining submissive to their systemic power, wealth and control. Over this long span of time, the rulers became very adept at persuading people what to think and what not to think, and with the electronic technologies invented over the last hundred or so years,[9] the subjected general public has been constantly bombarded with such messages. Commercial advertising, mandatory public schooling, peer pressure, parental love, fear of poverty, and the quest for equality, along with many other things, have all been used successfully by the ruling class as mechanisms for keeping people submissive and keeping wealth and power in the hands of a select social minority.

One of the saddest things that I have ever seen is children being taught to censor themselves from asking legitimate, important, and even vital questions, especially the big questions about the often illogical, counterintuitive and clearly unjust societal structure and traditions.

Not only are we told what to think, but also which topics to never think about seriously and which questions are too dangerous to ever ask. One of the saddest things that I have ever seen is children being taught to censor themselves from asking legitimate, important, and even vital questions, especially the big questions about the often illogical, counterintuitive and clearly unjust societal structure and traditions. The topics that the rulers would like to see eliminated from our thoughts and plans the most are those that threaten to end their power, wealth and social control. Thoughts, plans, and especially actions, for creating ideal, utopian societies must therefore be suppressed and eliminated, and the most effective mechanism used for that purpose, so far, has been to convince people that utopian societies can never exist because utopia means “perfect” and we all know that humans are not, have never been, and will never be, perfect. But, it is much harder for the rulers to convince us that we can’t become something much better than we are now, not just individually, but collectively, as a society, and therefore they cannot allow “utopian” to be defined as “better” or “best possible,” as the title and discourse in Thomas More’s book seems to suggest.

The more that subject people are rewarded, praised, honored, and awarded for their submission and service to the rulers and the system, the more difficult it becomes for them to question and resist the status quo. When the status quo systems are completely accepted as at least inevitable (“the only game in town”), if not unquestionable, and people are convinced that any apparent flaws in the system will eventually be corrected by the system, utopian creativity becomes unnecessary, dismissed, and considered a foolish waste of time and energy. Thoughts about reform—improving the system through the allegedly self-correcting mechanisms available within the system—are about as far as people are encouraged to reach in pursuit of social change. But the system, which is really a conjoined political, cultural and economic system, is primarily designed to self-preserve, not self-correct. What the system preserves most is the power of the wealthiest persons in the society, who control or strongly influence the politicians by use of lobbyists, bribery and threats to the politicians’ continued luxurious lifestyles or their actual safety. This happens at all levels of government, but is most structurally effective and most firmly established at the federal level. In the United States (and in other nations, as well to somewhat lesser degrees), the “revolving door” phenomenon, in which congresspersons who leave Congress are then hired by corporations to serve as lobbyists to their former colleagues in government, and sometimes later return to politics in higher public offices (such as presidential cabinet positions), is a prime example of this type of political corruption. A 2005 report by the non-profit consumer rights advocacy organization, Public Citizen, found that between 1998 and 2004, 43% of the congresspersons who left their government positions registered to work as lobbyists. Other reports show that another approximately 25% work as lobbyists without officially registering by becoming corporate “consultants” or lawyers.[10] Besides the lobbying aspect of the system—If you need more evidence of the depth of the systems’ corruption and why it will most likely continue to self-preserve for the perpetuation of the mechanisms causing Earth’s biosphere collapse instead of self-correcting to the substantial degree now necessary to prevent such collapse—do some research and analysis on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” decision and on the “pay to play” system which all U.S. congressperson’s (of both political parties) must go through in order to get significant positions on law-writing committees or gain financial support from their party for their next re-election campaign. I could go on and on about the system’s corruption and its likely trajectory, but this is an essay about ideal paths forward and new possible systems, not so much about dystopia. I will only describe enough here about the current dystopian society and its contribution to the global crises to illuminate the need to abandon it and turn towards “utopian” creativity.

While much has been researched and written about the political and economic elements of the conjoined system, not as much has been dealt with regarding the cultural element, which is as much at the heart of the problem as the other two. One study that deals well with that cultural and ethical element, “The Ethics of Lobbying: Organized Interests, Political Power, and the Common Good”, by the Woodstock Theological Center (Georgetown University Press 2002), provides us with a very telling short quote from a corporate lobbyist they interviewed, who chose to speak anonymously: “I know what my client wants; no one knows what the common good is.” For utopian and alternative society thinkers and creators, it is this issue of the common good (which I expand further, below, to include the common well-being of all Life in Earth, not just humans), which the modern industrial political systems seem to have lost sight of, that matters most. A culture in which personal, individual self-interest, most often manifest in personal material accumulation and consumption, is the greatest concern for the vast majority of people, will consequently produce the types of political systems that we are subject to today. If one is familiar with and understands that type of culture, combined with the fact that getting elected to a political office now requires amounts of money that are inaccessible to the vast majority of aspirants to political office, then it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of politicians are more concerned with securing the financial assistance needed to keep their political power than they are with whatever may be the common good.[11]

While it is true that utopian thinking has taken on all sorts of forms over the centuries—from moderately restructured or reformed societies that closely resemble the societies that their creators criticize or reject, to societies that are only different due to the invention and application of phenomenal new technologies or wonders of human innovation, to those societies which are completely, radically different from the status quo systems and culture that their creators have come to reject and refuse to perpetuate—when I think of the type of utopian societies that are needed today, I think of that latter type, not reformism or techno-fixes. I know that pursuing such a path could meet with much opposition and can be dangerous if our opponents ever think that we could actually succeed at creating enough independent, ideal societies to cause the prevailing system to become abandoned and defunct. Suggestions for abolishing and replacing the system with a new way of living that ends the usual limits on the distribution of power and wealth are discouraged, punished (through various social mechanisms, legal and illegal), and sometimes labeled as “treasonous,” a capital offense, which can provide legal justification for a government to end a person’s life. This has long been the case with empires and nation states, whether capitalist or socialist, so why is it so relevant and urgent to risk going in such a direction now? This is a time like no other before it, in which there has never been a greater need for widespread utopian creative thinking and action. If we carefully examine the likelihood of extreme danger for all life on Earth that would result from continuing with the same social, cultural, technological, political and economic systems, according to all of the best available science to date, it becomes clear that we must create and learn to live within some very different types or ways of social life, in order for life on Earth to continue and to minimize the number of extinctions of species that are already set to soon occur, under the present system and its current trajectory. It is a matter of likely consequences and unacceptable risks, like leaving a bunch of matches and highly flammable materials in a room of unmonitored, naturally adventurous little children—but on a much larger, global scale.

Before most people can seriously consider what follows in the rest of this essay, they probably need some more persuasive reasons why such drastic changes to their customary and comfortable “way of life” are necessary. Such reasons can be found within the scientific case for the futility and/or impossibility of successfully resolving the current and near future biosphere crises through current social, political and economic structures or with the use of any actual or imagined technological “fixes.” That case has already been made, increasingly, by numerous experts, in a growing number of scientific reports and publications, so, rather than repeat all of that here, I will just insert some links to some of the best sources for that information for your reference, examination and further evaluation. It is difficult to summarize the essential root of our predicament in just one or two sentences, but as a sort of hint as to what a thorough investigation would find, I will offer you this “nutshell” illustration: capitalist industrial manufacturers seek the most powerful fuel and engines to run their large-scale, earth-moving, industrial equipment as quickly and efficiently as possible, in order to successfully compete, attain or maintain a competitive edge, and maximize their profits. So far, no electric battery powered machinery comes anywhere close to providing the power that they get from fossil fuels. That includes the heavy equipment used to mine and manufacture so-called “green” technologies. The links and a little more information are in the following endnote: [12]

Right now, at the end of 2021, we are still emitting C02 in the same upward trajectory pictured in this 2017 chart. This picture clearly illustrates the need for an abrupt end to modern society’s structural norms.[13]

Although having a solid grasp on the latest scientific findings on our predicament is essential to determining our most effective response, many social scientists and psychologists say that the real barrier preventing most people from considering the scientific facts regarding the dire circumstances facing biological life on Earth, and the need for radical societal change, is what people are willing to accept and resign themselves to, instead of making such changes. What are people willing to settle for as “good enough?” That question brings us back to the discussion of how people define “good.” If the type of creative thinking that is now required of us does not mean that we have to come up with something “perfect,” will those who now protest that we utopian creativity advocates are “making the perfect the enemy of the good” switch their accusation to “making the best (or the better) the enemy of the good?” If so, I would still have to ask them, “How do you define ‘good’? How would you define a good society?” Can any society that was built on a foundation of colonialism, slavery, the predatory exploitation of all of the material natural world (including other humans), patriarchy, anthropocentrism, racism, sexism, justified greed, and many other life-destructive perspectives and practices actually become a good society through attempts at reform, especially when the people in power oppose and block nearly all necessary substantial reforms? In the history of the United States, the foundational flaws listed above were not just unfortunate, unintended by-products of a basically just and well-intended government, but, in actuality, the necessary elements for achieving its intended purpose: dominion over all of the human and non-human inhabitants of their illicitly-acquired lands and over any other lands that they might eventually take in the future. Has that fundamental intended purpose of the U.S. (and other human empires) disappeared or ever been relinquished?

One reason why transformational reform towards real justice, equality, and regenerative environmental sustainability is continuously prevented from occurring is that the social mechanisms deemed necessary to perpetuate an empire or large nation-state, including formal education, indoctrination (both religious and secular), economic bondage, and social peer pressure (leveraging the human need to belong), are used by the ruling class in such societies to promote patriotism and widespread belief in the righteousness of the nation’s foundation. It is completely understandable that people want to feel good about their ancestors, their society, and their culture, have a sense of innocence about it all, and not be burdened with a sense of guilt over what the vast majority feel is normal and unquestionable. Such widespread beliefs and comfort zones make it even harder for people to admit that their societies are fundamentally flawed. Even when social beliefs about right and wrong change, over the long span of time, and large numbers of people begin to recognize and assess the errors of their nation’s founders, there remains a need for the ruling class and their loyal subjects to either justify or deny those foundational errors. One of many examples of this practice in the U.S. is the attempt to justify the slaveholding practiced by founders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington by referring to them as “simply men of their time,” while denying (or completely unaware of the fact) that 98% of the “men of their time” in the new nation did not hold any of their fellow humans in slavery and the majority of states in the new nation outlawed slavery in their original state constitutions.[14] Another example, used to justify colonialism and the aggressive, often genocidal, separation of Indigenous peoples from their homelands, is the lie that the North American continent was mostly an uninhabited, unused by humans, “virgin wilderness wasteland, ripe for the taking,” at all of the various times and places in which European or Euro-descended people first arrived. For over a century, American academic anthropologists, in service to the ruling class, grossly underestimated the population numbers of Indigenous societies originally in the land now called the U.S., in order to perpetuate that lie.[15] Such institutional social mechanisms stifle and obstruct any imagined or actual significant correctional mechanisms that people believe are built into the system. People who have been effectively taught that their societal system is designed to repair its own flaws (no matter how foundational or essential those “flaws” and outright atrocities are to its existence) through its authorized “proper channels,” that such processes for correction must take lengthy amounts of time (perhaps even generations, for major flaws), and that creating new societies built on better foundations is unnecessary, impossible, and maybe even “treasonous,” tend to accept the common assumption that their society is either “good,” “better than other countries,” or, at least something we can call a “lesser evil.” We have also been effectively conditioned to accept lesser evils in nearly every political election campaign, especially at the national level, and every time that we must transport ourselves somewhere that is too far away to walk or bike to, even when we would prefer not to use fossil fuels or toxically-mined and produced lithium at all. Is a “lesser evil” the same thing as “good?”

Is a society that is so destructive to life that the best rating that it could give itself on environmental sustainability is “lesser evil” actually a dystopia?

Unfortunately, it seems that most subject peoples of modern industrial nations have come to define “good” and “lesser evil” as basically the same thing. Maybe the two-word phrase that most people would use to define the state of our current societies and our assumed-as-necessary daily compromises with evil is “good enough.” To that statement of submissive resignation I just have to ask, “good enough for what?” Good enough to keep a sufficient roof over your head and food on your table, at least for this month? Good enough to put enough gas in your tank so that you can continue to drive to that job of yours that just barely pays you a “living wage?” For those who have been a little more fortunate, a little more submissive, compromising, and “well-adjusted”—and, therefore, better-rewarded—does “good enough” mean “at least I get to have all of these great toys and continue to consume way beyond what I really need?” Good enough to keep you binging and streaming your life away? To those who do not define a “good enough” society based solely on its material benefits to themselves, and think more about the well-being of all members of the society (or, what used to be called the “common weal,” or, “common good”), does a society where 5% of its members own 67% of the wealth have a “good enough” economic system?[16] Is a society that is continuously engaged in illegal wars fought only for the purpose of generating financial profits for the owners of various industries “good enough?” Is a society of human beings whose minds are so twisted by the colonialist concept called “race” that they actually have no idea what a human being really is “good enough?” For those who care about preserving Earth’s natural systems that keep us alive, is a society in which the majority of its citizens are so out of touch with and alienated from the natural world that they do not realize that they need those interconnected natural systems (much more than they “need” money) in order to remain alive “good enough?” When confronted with the painful and repulsive fact that their society’s way of life is actually destroying life on Earth and bringing many species, including their own, rapidly towards extinction, some people reply, in attempted self-defense, that there are other nations which are doing more harm to the natural world than their own country is. Is a society that is so destructive to life that the best rating that it could give itself on environmental sustainability is “lesser evil” actually a dystopia? I think that any society that destroys their natural source of biological life simply by carrying out their normal processes of living, within the laws, customs, and ordered structures or systems of that society, and cannot bring themselves to stop doing so, is a dystopian society. Is living in a dystopian society “good enough?” But, again, let’s not get bogged down with endless examples of social dystopia. The only reason I am writing about dystopia here is to point out the need to move towards new (and some old) utopian, or actually ideal, ways of living. So, let’s proceed now in that direction.

What really is the “normal” way of human life in Earth, over the broad span of human history? The reason that I inserted the image above is to give everybody a sense of what is possible for the human species on this planet, and to de-normalize the ways we have been living for the last 5 to 7 thousand years, or 2.5% of our existence.[17] Before we began to go the wrong way, disrespecting and exceeding the carrying capacity of our ancient ancestral homelands (and/or other people’s homelands, taken through conquest or colonialism), all of our various Indigenous ancestors[18] practiced ways of life that were guided by local ecosystems and all of our interconnected and related fellow living beings. Those were harmonious, regenerative, sustainable, and (though not “perfect”) probably mostly joyful, peaceful, thankful and abundant ways of life.[19] We are still that same species and this is still the same planet, even when we take into account all that has changed, and all the vital knowledge that most of our people lost long ago. We will not know what is possible, regarding a return to at least some aspects of the old normal, until we make our best attempts to do so.

Banner image: The Kogi village and tribal community of Tairona, in northern Colombia.

Part II follows tomorrow.


George Price (descendant of the Assonet band of the Wampanoag tribal nation of Massachusetts) has been living with his family on their five-acre organic, polyculture farm on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana since the summer of 1985. He retired from a 33-year teaching career in 2018, which included teaching Native American Studies, American History, and African American Studies at the University of Montana for 20 years. Since he is no longer working “through the system,” he is devoting the remainder of his life to Earth/Water protecting, organic farming, food sovereignty, constructive communicating, and replacing industrial technophile capitalism with local, eco-harmonious, EarthLife-centric, cooperative, alternative communities.

[1] Beck, Peggy V., and Anna Lee Walters, The Sacred: Ways of Knowledge, Sources of Life, Navajo Community College Press, Tsaile, Arizona, 1992. Clark, Ella E., Indian Legends From the Northern Rockies, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1966, 1977.

[2] The recent COP 26 debacle, which intentionally excluded participation by many Indigenous and other heavily-impacted peoples from the global south, and the infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Congress that same week provided us with fresh examples of that futility, which many of us have long realized is the case.

[3] To be clear and fair, the word, “perfect,” in 16th century English, usually meant “complete” or “absolute,” although in certain contexts could be interpreted as “flawless” or something more like the way we define “perfect” today.

[4] Raphael Hythlodaye, Thomas More’s fictional friend who tells the story of his time in Utopia, is said to have gone there with Amerigo (a.k.a., “Alberico”) Vespucci. More’s Utopia: The English Translation thereof by Raphe Robynson, printed from the second edition, 1556, page viii.

[5] Utopia, pp. 164 and 165.

[6] As you may already know, More did eventually serve Henry VIII as a counselor, until Henry had him beheaded for refusing to publicly agree with him on the topic of divorce and remarriage.

[7] See, Anitra Nelson and Frans Timmerman, eds., Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies, London, Pluto Press, 2011.

[8] More’s Utopia: The English Translation thereof by Raphe Robynson, printed from the second edition, 1556, page 171. One of the minor characters in the book writes a poem speaking on behalf of the nation of Utopia personified, saying, “Wherfore not Utopie, but rather rightely my name is Eutopie, a place of felicitie.”

[9] Beginning with the radio.

[10] Thomas B. Edsall. “The Trouble With That Revolving Door”New York Times, December 18, 2011. That and 176 other reference citations, along with an extensive list of “further readings” on the topic, can be found in the excellent Wikipedia entry, “Lobbying in the United States,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobbying_in_the_United_States

[11] Perhaps the only way that the politicians of today would prioritize the needs of the people whom they allegedly represent, over the will of the corporations who lobby them, would be if the people could form their own “Lobby for the Common Good” and that lobby was funded well enough to surpass the enormous dollar amounts in bribery of all of the corporate lobbyists combined. But, increased corruption of the electoral process (gerrymandering, artificially-constructed “gridlock” through the invincible two-party system, “divide and conquer,” etc.) is also making the people’s voice and will less relevant to the concerns of politicians.

[12] The first scholar to clearly demonstrate the inadequacies of so-called “100% green energy” technologies for replacing fossil fuel energy at present scale (and much less adequate at future expanded scales) was Ozzie Zehner, an engineering professor at UC Berkeley, in his excellent 2012 book, Green Illusions: the dirty secrets of clean energy and the future of environmentalism, (University of Nebraska Press). In their 2021 book, Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It, Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert echoed much of what Zehner had previously shown while updating the case and adding many more examples and reasons why the so-called green technologies are not nearly green enough to resolve our dire predicament, taking into account all of the fossil fuel energy, mining pollution, and CO2 emissions required to manufacture, transport, install and maintain those “green” technologies at the scale needed to continue with the industrial capitalist high-tech consumer societies. In their 2011 book, TechNo-fix : why technology won’t save us or the environment, Michael Huesemann and Joyce Huesemann describe in great detail the shortcomings and pitfalls of human technological “ingenuity,” including environmental pollution, the many harmful by-products and unintended consequences of many technologies, and the need to fix harm done by many techno fixes. The authors make a very strong argument against the notion that technology and “human innovation” can fix any problem or predicament. A very informative and well-researched study published by three science journalists earlier this year (2021) on exactly what it would take to run the current and growing industrial technological U.S. economy by switching from fossil fuel energy to solar and wind power apparently led to conclusions that were not nearly as rosy or optimistic as the authors had hoped for. The Race to Zero: can America reach net-zero emissions by 2050?, by Oliver Milman, Alvin Chang and Rashida Kamal, The Guardian, March 15, 2021, delivers some startling facts about how much environmentally degrading infrastructure that feat would require, including the need to cover 10% of the surface area of the continental U.S. with solar and wind farms, just to supply the electricity, not to mention all of the other energy productions now done using fossil fuels. We would also need “enough new transmission lines to wrap around Earth 19 times.” That article can be read at this link: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/15/race-to-zero-america-emissions-climate-crisis?utm_term=75ea2afeff5d052feec5683cc23a9e8f&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUS&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=GTUS_email&fbclid=IwAR2Y1IXwzzEzviZY_u8hJ6gcW0ffBiIucDHfbRkjNzDAr5v0mH2vRNGl2oE

Another good, recent scientific article about the inadequacy of “green energy” technologies for resolving our biosphere crises is found here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-delusion-of-infinite-economic-growth/  Earth system scientists are experts at the big picture of our planet’s condition and trajectory of changes over the broad span of time. One of the best (at least most clearly explained, although there was a little wifi connection fuzziness) presentations on the reality of Earth system collapse was made in an interview with Earth system scientist, Joe Brewer, back in December of 2020. Here is the link for that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2L_JD2nxbE  OK, that’s enough for one footnote—more, later. Of course, all of these cited items contain references to further sources of good information.

[13] Global CO2 emissions went down briefly, from March to May of 2020, during the big international shutdown of commercial and industrial activity at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but have gone back up again continuously since then. Stats on emissions for 2021 should be published in February or March of 2022.

[14] See, Nash, Gary B., The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, New York, Penguin Press, 2005, and Lynd, Staughton, Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution: Ten Essays, Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill,1967.

[15] See, Thornton, Russell, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1987. Also, Mann, Charles C., 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

[16] For this and many more statistics on economic inequality in the U.S. and the rest of the world, visit the Inequality.org website. https://inequality.org/facts/wealth-inequality/

[17] The time frame for the starting point of homo sapiens sapiens, or modern humans in their present form, ranges from 150,000 to 400,000 years ago, depending upon whom you ask. The longer ago that starting point was, the smaller the percentage of our existence that has been spent in unsustainable, life-destructive societies.

[18] All humans have ancestors who were, at some point in the past, indigenous to a particular place.

[19] In contrast to the negative, racist portrayals of all Indigenous peoples made by the ruling class colonialists.

Indigenous community saves Colombia’s poison dart frog from coca and logging

Indigenous community saves Colombia’s poison dart frog from coca and logging

This story first appeared in Mongabay.

Editor’s note: This is what environmental justice looks like. Not NGOs dictating what lands will be set aside for 30×30, which is just greenwashing colonialism. It is the people whose land it is making those decisions and the governments enforcing them.

By

  • An Indigenous community in southwest Colombia established a protected reserve in the face of illegal logging, mining and coca cultivation being carried out by criminal groups.
  • The Eperãra Siapidaarã peoples are especially interested in protecting the extremely poisonous golden dart frog, which they historically used in their darts while hunting.
  • Despite establishing the reserve, the community has more work to do to fend off violent non-state armed groups.

One of the most poisonous animals on earth, the golden dart frog carries enough toxins in its body to kill 10 people. If it enters the blood stream, the toxin paralyzes the nervous system and, in only a few minutes, stops the heart from beating.

The golden dart frog (Phyllobates terribilis) is found only in southwest Colombia, where mountains and rainforest meet the mangroves of the Pacific coast. For centuries, the Indigenous communities there harvested the toxin for their hunting darts. But in recent years, as criminal activity has spread through the area, some communities have begun to worry that the frog might disappear.

“The advancing agricultural frontier, mining and the expansion of illicit coca crops impinge on the life of the frog because it’s endemic to that one area,” said Luis Ortega, director of the environmental group Fundación Ecohabitats. “All the time, there’s less and less habitat for them.”

For some Indigenous peoples in the area, such as the Eperãra Siapidaarã of Timbiqui, the golden dart frog is more than a hunting tool. It’s also a central figure in their culture, and the reason their ancestors were able to survive after being relocated to the coast during Spanish colonization.

During that time, the frog’s poison helped save the community by giving it an easy way to hunt. Now, it was the community’s turn to help save the frog.

The best way to do this, the Eperãra Siapidaarã decided, was to establish a natural reserve that they would protect and maintain themselves.

“We have the working spirit to defend this territory,” community leader Carlos Quiro told Mongabay.

Quiro and the Eperãra Siapidaarã had already worked with the Colombian government on land titling issues in their territory as well as to help preserve mangroves and other local ecosystems. But these measures weren’t stopping the habitat destruction.

Non-state armed groups, including paramilitaries and guerrillas, have been deforesting the Chocó Biogeographical Region for decades. In recent years, they have pushed into Eperãra Siapidaarã territory to plant coca for drug production, sometimes leading to violent land disputes between rival groups.

In 2009, Colombia recognized the Eperãra Siapidaarã as one of the Indigenous peoples at risk of extinction due to the country’s ongoing armed conflict.

“They threaten leaders,” Quiro said. “We lose biodiversity and our culture.”

There are also three legal gold and silver mining operations upstream from Eperãra Siapidaarã territory, which satellite data suggest have advanced well beyond their concessions, according to Fundación Ecohabitats. Some residents noticed that the fish pulled from local rivers were becoming smaller and scarcer than in previous years, likely as a result of the pollution.

The makings of a reserve

In 2017, community leaders started meeting with Fundación Ecohabitats, the Cauca department government and the Ministry of Interior about developing a protected area for the golden dart frog. It would not require demarcating new land, they proposed, but instead absorb more than half of the community’s existing territory.

With funding from the Rainforest Trust, meetings were held for the next two years to discuss where the community wanted to establish the reserve and what conservation initiatives they should prioritize. In addition to protecting the golden dart frog’s habitat, residents were interested in stewarding the area’s many watersheds and developing a land use plan that would allow them to continue harvesting forest resources for their cultural, medicinal and spiritual practices.

Younger members of the community were trained in geographic information systems to assist with mapping the boundaries of the new reserve and carrying out patrols, while others studied tourism and business in hopes of turning their artisanal forestry practices into a sustainable source of income.

In September 2019, after years of work, the community officially announced the establishment of the 11,641-hectare (28,765-acre) K´õk´õi Eujã Traditional Natural Reserve — Territory of the Golden Dart Frog.

So far, it hasn’t stopped non-state armed groups from engaging in violent confrontations over control of coca production near Eperãra Siapidaarã territory. It also can’t do anything to prevent pollution from the illegal mining operations upstream. But with the newly established reserve, residents say they feel they have more of a fighting chance.

“There are areas abundant with plants for medicinal use,” Quiro said, “and there is also another area, another mountain range, where there are many trees that are useful for families, so we are benefiting from that. They are very important to the Eperãra Siapidaarã.”

The reserve contains 41 plant species and 11 bird species endemic to Colombia, according to the community’s preliminary research. It is also home to dozens of rare and threatened species, including the night scented orchid (Epidendrum nocturnum) and Licania velata.

The community is still training its rangers in data collection that will help it better understand how these different species are faring in the reserve. Right now, there isn’t hard data on the golden dart frog population or whether it has improved since the reserve was founded. Empirical evidence suggests that it has rebounded, community members say, but they want to know for certain.

One of the Eperãra Siapidaarã’s next goals is to collaborate with biologists and the local government on scientific research projects that will strengthen their understanding of the forest ecosystem, and then to use that work to make better decisions as a community.

In October and November, for example, the golden dart frog begins reproducing. Quiro said he wants to learn more about that process and what can be done to ensure it isn’t interrupted.

“It interests me a lot,” he said. “To understand that experience and, equally important, to share it with the younger generations.”

Banner image: Golden dart frog source (CC BY 2.0)

Making the connections: resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, climate change, and human rights

Making the connections: resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, climate change, and human rights

Editor’s note: This article has been published in The International Journal of Human Rights. Unfortunaltly we don’t have the rights to publish the whole article which is behind a paywall, but we are publishing the extract and some quotes.

Featured image: The surface mine storage place, mining minerals and brown coal in different colours. View from above. Photo by Curioso Photography on Unsplash

ABSTRACT
This article describes the connections between resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, and climate change. Although resource extraction and prostitution have been viewed as separate phenomena, this article suggests that they are related harms that result in multiple violations of women’s human rights. The businesses of resource extraction and prostitution adversely impact women’s lives, especially those who are poor, ethnically or racially marginalised, and young. The article clarifies associations between prostitution and climate change on the one hand, and poverty, choicelessness, and the appearance of consent on the other. We discuss human rights conventions that are relevant to mitigation of the harms caused by extreme poverty, homelessness, resource extraction, climate change, and prostitution. These include anti-slavery conventions and women’s sex-based rights conventions.

Farley writes: “In this article we offer some conceptual and empirical connections between prostitution, resource extraction, poverty, and climate change.1 These associations are clarified by Seiya Morita’s visual diagram, in Figure 1.2 In the short term, resource extraction leads to a sudden increase in the sex trade, as shown by the arrow on the left side of the diagram. In the long term, resource extraction causes climate change as indicated by the right arrow. Climate change then leads to crises in peoples’ ability to survive extreme events such as drought, floods, or agricultural collapse. These climate change catastrophes result in poverty which then mediates and channels women into the sex trade. The arrow on the bottom of Figure 1 illustrates this process.

The initial phase of resource extraction launches and expands prostitution
“At first, colonists and their descendants subordinate indigenous people who live on lands rich in natural resources. Historically, extraction industries have exploited young, poor men who are paid well to perform jobs that no one else wants because the jobs are unplea- sant and dangerous. This initial phase of resource extraction temporarily results in a boom economy with cash-rich but lonely working-class men. In order to pacify the workers and enrich the pimps, women and girls who are under pimp control are delivered to workers in these boom/sacrifice zones such as the Bakken oil fields in USA and Canada, gold mines in South Africa, coltan mining regions in Colombia, and logging regions in Brazil.3 This movement of trafficked women increases prostitution both in the boom town and in neigh- bouring communities. Following is an example of this process.

“The Bakken oil fields of Montana/North Dakota/Saskatchewan/Manitoba are located in lands where the Dakota Access Pipeline causes physical, psychological, and cultural damage to the community, and ecocidal harm to the land and the water.4 In 2008, large numbers of pipeline workers moved into the Bakken region’s barracks-style housing which were named man camps. Sexual assaults, domestic violence, and sex trafficking tripled in communities adjacent to the oilfield sacrifice zones,5 with especially high rates of sexual violence toward Native women.6 Adverse consequences of living near extractive projects include increased rates of sexually transmitted infections and still- births; general deterioration in health; ecological degradation and climate change; threats to food security; and political corruption – all of which severely impact women.7 When resource extraction is terminated, for example when coltan mining was halted in Congo because of environmental protests, the newly expanding sex trade remains in operation, an enduring legacy of colonisation. Belgium’s domination of Congo gradually shifted from state to corporate colonisation.8 The Belgian colonists’ commodification of the nation diminished the people’s social and political power, leaving them poorer, with fewer resources, and often desperate for a means of survival even before the later phase of climate change occurred. This sequence happens wherever resources are commodified. Initially, a boom economy based on resource extraction creates short-term job opportunities and wealth previously unknown. Prostitution is established both to pacify the workers and to generate money for pimps and traffickers. When the boom economy goes bust, men’s continued demand for paid sexual access, combined with women’s need for survival – drive the institution of prostitution, which remains even after the extraction industry has ended.”

Melissa Farley (2021): Making the connections: resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, climate change, and human rights, The International Journal of Human Rights, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2021.1997999

The whole article is accessible here: https://doi.org/10.1080/13642987.2021.1997999

Melissa Farley
Melissa Farley is a research and clinical psychologist who has authored many articles and 2 books on the topic of prostitution, pimping/trafficking, and pornography. She is the executive director of Prostitution Research & Education, a nonprofit research institute that conducts original research on the sex trade and provides a library of information for survivors, advocates, policymakers, and the public. Access to the free library is at www.prostitutionresearch.com.

Chris Hedges: American Satyricon

Chris Hedges: American Satyricon

This story first appeared in ScheerPost.

By Chris Hedges

The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell which began last week in Manhattan will not hold to account the powerful and wealthy men who are also complicit in the sexual assaults of girls as young as twelve Maxwell allegedly procured for billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, hedge-fund billionaire Glenn Dubin, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Secretary of the Treasury and former president of Harvard Larry Summers, Stephen Pinker, Prince Andrew, Alan Dershowitz, billionaire Victoria’s Secret CEO Les Wexner, the, J.P Morgan banker Jes Staley, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barack, real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, former Maine senator George Mitchell, Harvey Weinstein and many others who were at least present and most likely participated in Epstein’s perpetual Bacchanalia, are not in court. The law firms and high-priced attorneys, federal and state prosecutors, private investigators, personal assistants, publicists, servants, drivers and numerous other procurers, sometimes women, who made Epstein’s crimes possible are not being investigated. Those in the media, the political arena and the entertainment industry who aggressively and often viciously shut down and discredited the few voices, including those of a handful of intrepid reporters, who sought to shine a light on the crimes committed by Epstein and his circle of accomplices are not on trial. The videos that Epstein apparently collected of his guests engaged in their sexual escapades with teenage and underage girls from the cameras he had installed in his opulent residences and on his private island have mysteriously disappeared, most probably into the black hole of the FBI, along with other crucial evidence. Epstein’s death in a New York jail cell, while officially ruled a suicide, is in the eyes of many credible investigators a murder. With Epstein dead, and Maxwell sacrificed, the ruling oligarchs will once again escape justice.

The Epstein case is important because, however much is being covered up, it is a window into the scourge of male violence that explodes in decayed cultures, fueled by widening income disparities, the collapse of the social contract and the grotesque entitlement that comes with celebrity, political power, and wealth. When a ruling elite perverts all institutions, including the courts, into instruments that serve the exclusive interests of the entitled, when it willfully neglects and abandons larger and larger segments of the population, girls and women always suffer disproportionally. The struggle for equal pay, equal distribution of wealth and resources, access to welfare, legal aid that offers adequate protection under the law, social services, job training, healthcare, and education services, have been so degraded they barely exist for the poor, especially poor girls and women.

Women, traditionally burdened with the care of children, the elderly and the sick, stripped of control over their own bodies in states that seek to deny reproductive rights, are cornered, unable to make a living and secure legal protection. This is always the goal of patriarchy. And in this degraded world girls and women are easy prey for pimps, pedophiles, and rapists such as Epstein and his accomplices. These men look at their victims not as children or young women in distress but as human trash, no more worthy of consideration than a slave, which in fact many of these girls and women become.

A licentious, money-drenched, morally bankrupt and intellectually vacuous ruling class, accountable to no one and free to plunder and prey on the weak like human vultures, rise to power in societies in terminal decline. This class of parasites was savagely parodied in the first-century satirical novel “Satyricon” by Gaius Petronius, written during the reign of Nero. Epstein and his cohorts for years engaged in sexual perversions of Petronian proportions, as Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie Brown, whose dogged reporting was largely responsible for reopening the federal investigation in Epstein and Maxwell, documents in her book “Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story.”

As Brown writes, in 2016 an anonymous woman, using the pseudonym “Kate Johnson,” filed a civil complaint in federal court in California alleging she was raped by Trump and Epstein when she was thirteen over a four-month period from June to September 1994. “I loudly pleaded with Trump to stop,” she said in the lawsuit about being raped by Trump. “Trump responded to my pleas by violently striking me in the face with his open hand and screaming that he could do whatever he wanted.” Brown writes:

Johnson said that Epstein invited her to a series of “underage sex parties” at his New York mansion where she met Trump. Enticed by promises of money and modeling opportunities, Johnson said she was forced to have sex with Trump several times, including once with another girl, twelve years old, whom she labeled “Marie Doe.”

Trump demanded oral sex, the lawsuit said, and afterward he “pushed both minors away while angrily berating them for the ‘poor’ quality of the sexual performance,” according to the lawsuit, filed April 26 in U.S. District Court in Central California.

Afterward, when Epstein learned that Trump had taken Johnson’s virginity, Epstein allegedly “attempted to strike her about the head with his closed fists,” angry he had not been the one to take her virginity. Johnson claimed that both men threatened to harm her, and her family if she ever revealed what had happened.

The lawsuit states that Trump did not take part in Epstein’s orgies but liked to watch, often while the thirteen-year-old “Kate Johnson” gave him a hand job. It appears Trump was able to quash the lawsuit by buying her silence. She has since disappeared.

These mediocrities, drunk with their own self-importance, equate celebrity, power and wealth with wisdom. Petronius’ Trimalchio, the archetypal self-made millionaire whose vulgarity and stupidity make him one of great comic buffoons of literature, was more than matched by Epstein who organized pretentious dinners for those in his secret billionaires club, which included Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Salar Kamangar and Jeff Bezos. Epstein and his guests, as in Petronius’s chapter “Dinner with Trimalchio,” dreamed up bizarre schemes of social engineering, including Epstein’s plan to seed the human species with his own DNA by creating a baby compound at his sprawling estate in New Mexico. “Epstein was also obsessed with cryonics, the transhumanist philosophy whose followers believe that people can be replicated or brought back to life after they are frozen,” Brown writes. “Epstein apparently told some of the members of his scientific circle that he wanted to inseminate women with his sperm for them to give birth to his babies, and that he wanted his head and his penis frozen.”

Epstein, who regularly entertained and funded the work of Harvard faculty, was made a visiting fellow in Harvard’s Department of Psychology, although he had no academic qualifications that made him eligible for the position. He was given a key card and pass code, as well as an office, in the building that housed Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. He referred to himself in his press releases as “Science Philanthropist Jeffrey Epstein,” “Education activist Jeffrey Epstein,” “Evolutionary Jeffrey Epstein,” “Science patron Jeffrey Epstein” and “Maverick hedge funder Jeffrey Epstein.”

The judicial system, for years, worked to protect Epstein. The legal anomalies, including the disappearance of massive amounts of evidence incriminating Epstein, saw Epstein avoid federal sex-trafficking charges in 2007 when his attorneys negotiated a secret deal with Alex Acosta in the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami to plead guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution.

The prominent men accused of also engaging in Epstein’s carnival of pedophilia, including the attorney and former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, brazenly lie and threaten anyone daring to call them out. Dershowitz, for example, claims that an investigation, which he has refused to make public, by the former FBI director Louis Freeh proves he had never had sex with one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre. He has sent repeated threats to Brown and her editors at the Miami Herald. Brown continues:

[Dershowitz] kept referring to information that was contained in sealed documents. He accused the newspaper of not reporting “facts” that he said were in those sealed documents. The truth is, I tried to explain, newspapers just can’t write about things because Alan Dershowitz says they exist. We need to see them. We need to verify them. Then, because I said “show me the material,” he publicly accused me of committing a criminal act by asking him to produce documents that were under court seal.

This is the way Dershowitz operates.

What disturbs me the most about Dershowitz is the way that the media, with few exceptions, fails to critically challenge him. Journalists fact-checked Donald Trump and others in his administration almost every day, yet, for the most part, the media seems to give Dershowitz a pass on the Epstein story.

In 2015, when Giuffre’s allegations first became public, Dershowitz went on every television program imaginable swearing, among other things, that Epstein’s plane logs would exonerate him. “How do you know that?” he was asked.

He replied that he was never on Epstein’s plane during the time that Virginia was involved with Epstein.

But if the media had checked, they could have learned that he was indeed a passenger on the plane during that time period, according to the logs.

Then he testified, in a sworn deposition, that he never went on any plane trips without his wife. But he was listed on those passage manifests as traveling multiple times without his wife. During at least one trip, he was on the plane with a model named Tatiana.

The ability of the powerful to ignore the law raises important and different questions for girls and women about the role of government, police and the law. Defunding the police is not a solution. Demilitarizing the police is. Women need legal protection and need police that function as police, as a sanction with severe consequences against male violence. They need social support. They need robust institutions, including the courts, which prevent them from being blackmailed, bullied, and abused. To challenge sexual violence, to challenge objectification, to challenge the cultural hypersexualization of women, is to be subject to vicious character assassination, threatened, including the threat of rape, and at times killed. To stand up to protect water, to assist a truth-teller, if you are a woman, is to face potential economic destitution. To stand up and name your abuser, as many of the courageous women who have come forward in the Epstein case have done, is to have high-priced teams of attorneys and private investigators pursue every avenue to demonize, discredit and destroy you financially and psychologically. The resources available to the powerful, and the dearth of resources available to the powerless, skews this fight in favor of the predators. This is by design.

The struggle for liberation and justice by women is central to the struggle for liberation and justice for everyone. We will not resist the radical evil before us without women, if we are denied access to the ideas and leadership of women, and in particular women of color. So, while we must decry violence and exploitation against all of the oppressed, we must also recognize that male violence against women – including prostitution and its promoter, pornography – is an especially insidious form of violence. It is a tool of corporate domination and capitalism. It is engrained in the racism and exploitation of imperialism and colonialism. But it also exists outside the structures of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism. More women have been killed by their domestic partners since 2001 than all the Americans killed on September 11, and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Predatory male power infects the left as well as the right, the anti-capitalists as well as the capitalists, the anti-imperialists as well as the imperialists and the anti-racists as well as the racists. It is its own evil. And if it is not defeated there will be no justice for women or for anyone else.

The predators know that desperation forces girls and women, with no alternatives left, to trade sex for the most basic staples of life, including food and shelter. In every conflict I covered as a war correspondent there was an explosion of prostituted girls and women. And as we are burdened with greater and greater numbers of environmental migrants — over a billion by 2050, by one prediction — fleeing droughts, rising sea levels, flooding, wildfires and declining crop yields these exchanges of sex for the most basic elements need to survive will become more common. The scourge of male violence is growing, not decreasing.

George Bernard Shaw got it right. Poverty is:

“[T]he worst of crimes. All the other crimes are virtues beside it; all the other dishonors are chivalry itself by comparison. Poverty blights whole cities, spreads horrible pestilences, strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound, or smell of it. What you call crime is nothing: a murder here and a theft there, a blow now and a curse then. What do they matter? They are only the accidents and illnesses of life; there are not fifty genuine professional criminals in London. But there are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill-fed, ill-clothed people. They poison us morally and physically; they kill the happiness of society; they force us to do away with our own liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us down into their abyss. Only fools fear crime; we all fear poverty.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said of society that “some are guilty, but all are responsible.” The crime of poverty is a communal crime. Our failure, as the richest nation on earth, to provide safe and healthy communities, ones where all children have enough to eat and a future, is a communal crime. Our failure to provide everyone, and especially the poor, with a good education and housing is a communal crime. Our failure to make health care a human right, forcing parents, burdened with astronomical medical bills, to bankrupt themselves to save their sick sons or daughters, is a communal crime. Our failure to provide meaningful work — in short, the possibility of hope — is a communal crime. Our decision to militarize police forces and build prisons, rather than invest in people, is a communal crime. Our failure to protect girls and women is a communal crime. The misguided belief in charity and philanthropy rather than justice is a communal crime. “You Christians have a vested interest in unjust structures which produce victims to whom you then can pour out your hearts in charity,” Karl Marx said, chastising a group of church leaders.

If we do not work to eliminate the causes of poverty, the greatest of all crimes, the institutional structures that keep the poor poor, then we are responsible. There are issues of personal morality, and they are important, but they mean nothing without a commitment to social morality. Only those who have been there truly understand. Only those with integrity and courage speak the truth. And at the forefront of this fight are women.

Sexual sadism is fed by the entitlement of the powerful and a pornography industry that eroticizes images of girls and women being physically abused. It is not accidental that many of the Abu Ghraib images resemble stills from porn films. There is a shot of a naked man kneeling in front of another man as if performing oral sex. There is a photo of a naked man on a leash held by a female American soldier. There are photos of naked men in chains. There are photos of naked men stacked one on top of the other in a pile on the floor. And there are hundreds more classified photos that purportedly show forced masturbation by Iraqi prisoners and the rape of prisoners, including young boys, by U.S. soldiers, many of whom were schooled in these torture techniques in our vast system of mass incarceration.

The list of suspected abusers around Epstein was not segregated by the left or the right. It included Republicans, like Trump, and Democrats such as Clinton. It included philanthropists such as Gates, the former prime minister of Israel, and Harvard academics. It included celebrities, such as David Copperfield, and the titans of finance and business. The common denominator was not politics or ideology, but that they were powerful and wealthy men.

The feminist Andrea Dworkin understood. She excoriated the left, who railed against the excesses of capitalism, while ignoring the capitalist exploitation of girls and women. She wrote:

Capitalism is not wicked or cruel when the commodity is the whore; profit is not wicked or cruel when the alienated worker is a female piece of meat; corporate bloodsucking is not wicked or cruel when the corporations in question, organized crime syndicates, sell cunt; racism is not wicked or cruel when the black cunt or yellow cunt or red cunt or Hispanic cunt or Jewish cunt has her legs splayed for any man’s pleasure; poverty is not wicked or cruel when it is the poverty of dispossessed women who have only themselves to sell; violence by the powerful against the powerless is not wicked or cruel when it is called sex; slavery is not wicked or cruel when it is sexual slavery; torture is not wicked or cruel when the tormented are women, whores, cunts. The new pornography is left-wing; and the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die. The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too.

The Earth, and all forms of life on this planet, must be revered, and protected if we are to endure as a species. This means inculcating a different vision of human society. It means building a world where domination and ceaseless exploitation, in all its forms, are condemned, where empathy, especially for the weak and for the vulnerable is held up as the highest virtue. It means recovering the capacity for awe and reverence for the sacred sources that sustain life. It means that girls and women must be empowered to control their own fates. Once we stand up for this ethic of life, once we include all people, including girls and women, as an integral part of this ethic, we can build a successful resistance movement that can challenge the radical evil before us. But we can’t do it unless half of the human population, girls and women, are at our side. Their fight is our fight. Their justice is our justice. Once they are free, we can all be free.

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Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. His books include American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on AmericaDeath of the Liberal Class, and War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, a collaboration with comics artist and journalist Joe Sacco.