Monday, December 21, 2015

The Fantasy of Life in a Fact Free World

Adapted from Chapter# 14, Living in the Future Tense

The End of Truth:
The Fantasy of Life in a Fact Free World
Edward Renner

We know from archeology that whole societies have collapsed in the past. Then, they had the excuse of not knowing any better; that is no longer true. The paradox is that the more we know, the less knowingly we are living our lives. How can the Information Age also be the Age of Stupid?

In the past, a societal collapse was sometimes initiated by a lifestyle that overused the natural resources necessary to sustain their population as in Easter Island. At other times it was due to an external catastrophe such as the role of drought in the Maya collapse, or a conflict between people that could not be resolved politically as in Nordic Greenland. Regardless of the initial cause they all shared a common factor of an entrenched belief system that failed to see the warning signs. By ignoring truth tellers the societies became the author of their own misfortune. 

The most difficult part of human change is letting go of the security of existing beliefs and values to embrace the uncertainty of a different future. The result is often the loss of the capacity to see, hear or speak the truth.

We have not yet learned that lesson. The challenge of our time is how to live sustainably and peacefully on a crowded planet in the 21st Century. This will require alternative economic, social and political process. Instead, we are persisting in pursuing the fantasy of narrow, single-minded ideologies based on economic growth, consumption and nationalism.

Yet, we know the planet cannot support the energy intense lifestyle of the developed countries and also fulfill the comparable aspirations of developing nations, in particular those of China, India and Brazil. As emerging markets, they are essential for the survival of free-market capitalism in the developed countries, and in particular for the United States. The developing countries cannot give up using coal if they are to emerge as consumers, and the developed countries cannot give up growth if they are to maintain their current lifestyle.

The dilemma of the necessity to embrace the uncertainties of a global community without the capacity to change is a prescription for either mutual environmental collapse or internal civic disruption and external conflict between nations and regions over who will be forced to abandon their aspirations and accept harsh austerities.

We need a global energy initiative and an alternative sustainable global economy, not ideological wars in Washington over global warming and, in the Middle East, over securing Western influence and the New American Century. Our invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring did not bring democracy to the Middle East; indeed, just the opposite.

The Iraq war has spread into a regional conflict and growing sectarian divide. The Islamic State (ISIS) now controls large areas of both Iraq and Syria. The US and its Gulf allies are providing arms to the rebel forces in Syria while Russian and Iran are supporting the Government of Assad. In Syria alone, 12 million people have been displaced, 300,000 killed and 4 million have fled the country creating a world-wide refugee crisis.

Three trillion dollars later, and still counting, the war without end continues. The national debt has soared without – for the first time in the history of the US – a war tax increase to pay the cost. Instead, the debt has been thoughtlessly passed on to our children who will have no realistic way to deal with it. The physical infrastructure required to be competitive in a global economy has been allowed to decay, and the social programs necessary for a strong functional democracy – education, health, economic security and poverty assistance – are collapsing. The nation is divided with racial and ethnic tension while the level of poverty is increasing.

 “The public backlash against the Dixie Chicks for speaking their mind about the war was vindictive.  Country station stopped playing their music. The Dixie Chicks did not back down; they answered their critics with a cover picture on Entertainment Weekly.  A picture that then Managing Editor Rick Tetzeli (2002-2009) regards as his favorite cover – an endorsement of the right – indeed the necessity -- to speak to truth.

In the end, they were proved to be right. But, their career was over for saying they were ashamed the President was from Texas!

What has gone wrong in our country?

Speaking the truth has lost its currency, politically, economically and socially. Political Action Committees (PACs) have reduced civics to marketing and politicians to puppets. Eleven million VW cars world-wide lie about their emissions and those who perpetrated the financial crisis of 2008 knowingly said to each other at the time: “You will be gone and I’ll be gone.” To complete the circle, wealth and income inequality have placed power in the hands of the super wealthy who own the PACs which serve their own private, not public, interests.

The commercial consolidation of the media and journalism, and the commodification of higher education, is silencing the last frontier of truth telling. Each episode of terrorism increases our willingness to accept more intrusive surveillance and limits to privacy as a necessary sacrifice for keeping freedom and democracy safe.

Those who speak to truth are not answered with substance, but are labeled as dangerous. Chelsea Manning is imprisoned, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are living in exile as criminals for revealing failures of public trust by the very government whose essential function in a democracy is the keeping of that trust. We are withdrawing into the fantasy of living in a fact free world, where repeating ideological myths of greed, patriotism and hate have displaced civic political discourse.

When societies have collapsed in the past it was because they silenced truth tellers by holding on to the false security of ideologies until it was too late for change. This time, it not just the collapse of the US that is at stake, but of the planet itself. And, it all started back in 2003 when we stood by in silence and watched while the Dixie Chicks were sacrificed to the patriotic fantasy of the exceptionalism of the new American Century.

Maybe it is time for a Dixie Chick reunion concert. We owe them one.

Edward Renner is a retired university professor who writes on the modern human challenge of how to live sustainably and peacefully on a crowded planet in the 21st Century. A prepublication draft copy of his most recent book is available at He may be reached at

Friday, December 18, 2015

The War on Terror

National Security
Edward Renner

The number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War Two era exceeded 50 million people.
United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2014

Following the San Bernardino shootings by a Muslim couple there has been an increase in popular and political support for stronger and more effective armed attacks on Muslim extremists.

The current foreign policy assumption is that a military response (the war on terror) can significantly reduce the number of terrorist incidents and thereby promote greater political stability, protect our national security and contain the increasing number of refugees, stateless and displaced persons.

Since 9/11, when the United States declared the war on terror, the special war funding authorizations by the US Congress reached $1.7 trillion by 2015. These are direct war costs which are budgeted separately; they do not include base-line funding for the Pentagon, nor the costs for airport security, surveillance and other activities of homeland security. In total, the military receives about 60% annually of the US discretionary budget. During this period the number of terrorists incidents, organizations, and the geographic areas controlled by terrorists, have increased substantially since 9/11.

Sources: UN High Commission for Refugees, US Congressional Research Service
And the Global Terrorist Data Base  

Clearly, the War on Terror is not having its intended effect. The concurrent increase in refugees, financial costs and number of incidents does not establish which ones are causes or effects, or whether other factors are causing all three. Their joint upward trend, however, should raise the question of whether our heavy military presence in the Middle East is contributing to the very problem for which it is the intended solution.

Policy makers should consider whether our heavy
military presence in the Middle East, and the $1.7
trillion allocated in war funding since 9/11, have
 created more problems than they have eliminated.  
The principle alternative to the current military assumption is that climate change (drought, migration), economic globalization (poverty, inequalities) and political instabilities (statelessness, oppression and warfare) have increased the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people. Desperate and hopeless people resort to violence, provoking counterproductive military responses that actually increase the number of refugees while incurring huge financial costs.

The implications of this alternative assumption is that if the war costs were redirected to deal with the underlying causes of migration, poverty and oppression, terrorism would be declining, not increasing.

Since we must choose how to best protect our national security, what are the ways to do so? Clearly there is not a simple answer, nor necessarily an either or choice, between military and economic, political and social strategies.

Reasonable people of good will can recognize and respect the perspective of others, and try to find common ground for rational solutions. Such choices should be based on information and knowledge as much as possible. Now, is not the time for dogmatic ideological beliefs and values to dominate thoughtful debate over two conflicting perspectives and their implicit policies.

_________________________________________________________________________________Edward Renner is a retired university professor who writes on the modern human challenge of how to live sustainably and peacefully on a crowded planet in the 21st Century. This essay is adapted from Chapter 8 of his forthcoming book; a prepublication working copy is available at He may be reached at