Thursday, July 27, 2006

In the Absence of the Sacred

[overheard at Orcinus weblog]

Last time the Building Industry Association engaged in domestic terrorism against its political opponents, eight anti-environmentalist/anti-Indian militiamen went to federal prison for manufacturing bombs to murder their perceived enemies. The prelude to this lethal politics, organized and supported financially by the Building Industry, included electoral, legislative, and administrative subversion, beginning with a statewide propaganda campaign scapegoating environmentalists and treaty protection activists who were--as you note--trying to improve the planet's health.

One of the basic tenets of psychological warfare is not to repeat your enemy's talking points, because repetition sinks in, especially to a highly misinformed audience. If your main point is that we need to either change our ways or lose everything we value that cannot be measured in dollars, then say that.

I know you care about these things, but please do not marginalize those who also value all life as sacred. The right wing will be happy to attack them for their spirituality--no need to add fuel to their fire.
Spartacus O'Neal Homepage 07.26.06 - 9:27 am #
One of the basic tenets of psychological warfare is not to repeat your enemy's talking points

Not necessarily. Repeating them in order to reframe them can be a very effective form of rhetorical aikido. How about something like this: "Those people of faith may be very sincere, but you're right, no one has any business forcing their morality on the rest of us. This is a very important issue, and we need to keep ideology out of it. Now, let's look at the facts." Redirecting resentment at deep enviornmentalists away from violence and toward dismissal would not only discourage the sort of violence you described, it would move the conversation back toward an honest discussion of the issues, which is exactly what enviornmentalist-haters are trying to avoid.

In any case, David wasn't marginalizing these people; he was simply telling the truth about them. It's not always pleasent, but it's what reality-based people do.
Beth 07.26.06 - 11:00 am #
I don't really have a problem with Gaia followers and assorted animal psychics and people with all kinds of beliefs about bonding with nature. My own experiences and beliefs, in fact, tend to make me quite sympathetic to them; getting back to wild places is like going to church for me, especially in the spiritual sustenance it gives. And I share their perspective that the natural world is the real world.

But I don't think these beliefs have any ground for being taken seriously in public-policy discussions, largely because I think spirituality at its core is profoundly personal. For credibility, I think, we have to turn to science and the "common sense" approach of the conservationists.

Recall that, a couple of years ago, the right briefly flirted with the idea of absconding with the meaning of "conservationist". Problem is, hardly anyone who calls themselves a "conservationist" currently would even consider condoning the conservative-movement's rape-and-pillage agenda -- and the Newspeak never took root.
David Neiwert Homepage 07.26.06 - 11:32 am #
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For an example of beliefs we would be wise to take seriously in public policy discussions, I recommend listening to an informative interview of Dr. Richard Atleo, a First Nations scholar, author, and professor from the Vancouver Island Nootka people who previously cared for the orca called Luna.

For a primer on the principles of psychological warfare, I suggest reading either Psychological Warfare by Linebarger, or the Science of Coercion by Simpson. We are not in negotiation with the right wing, we are at war with them. The war begins with ideas about reality, including spiritual relationships. To pretend otherwise is fatal.
Spartacus O'Neal Homepage 07.26.06 - 1:19 pm #
My fear with this is that the use of "conservationist" as opposed to supposedly-extreme "environmentalists" risks being the same kind of "marginalize your allies" tactic that hasn't worked out so well for the broader left overall, even though it's easy. On the other hand, I'd certainly like to get conservative conservationists back on board.

But "deep ecology" isn't a crackpot idea to be contrasted with nice, safe, sensible conservationism. Suggesting that 90% of the population of the world should just die, that's a crackpot idea, but that's not implicit in deep ecology, which at heart is just the idea that there is an intrinsic value to the ecosphere beyond its utilitarian value to humans.

Me, I'm much more concerned, overall, with the humans. But I'd still call myself an environmentalist, even if that isn't the primary political label I'd identify with. Sure, a conservationist too, but that's implied.
Jacob Davies 07.26.06 - 3:03 pm #
Spartacus, Spirituality is a wonderful, powerful thing. So is sex, but if someone tries to force it on somebady else, I call that rape. It's one thing to share, teach, and encourage spiritual principles, but quite another to impose them through force of law.

Jacob, I'm not suggesting that spiritually based enviornmentalists be marginalized, and I don't believe David is either. What I am suggesting is that making laws based on religious or spiritual beliefs alone is often bad strategy and almost always bad principle. That doesn't mean excluding spiritually motivated activists. It just means we should design and present policies with a firm rational basis. Whatever other principles may be involved, let's not forget the principles of liberal democracy under which good laws benefit the majority without doing undue harm to the minority. If we can pass those kinds of laws on that basis, we'll not only have decent enviornmental protection, but a better political climate as well.

Hume's Ghost, But if we made an issue of it every time Bush's actions were antithetical to his trumpeted beliefs, we'd never have time for anything else.
Beth 07.26.06 - 4:15 pm #
I'm intrigued by the question from Mrs. Robinson:"All that's needed now is a really savvy marketing group to yank that memetic line, like the Rainforest Alliance did back in the early 90s. Is there anybody out there putting this kind of thing together, Dave?"Can you elaborate a little on what you mean by "yank that memetic line?" We are an ngo called Orca Network,, on Whidbey Island in orca habitat north of Seattle, with the express purpose of providing education and advocacy to helping people understand orcas better and helping the orcas survive people.

You can find our response to the builders' suit here: ...s.html#builders. We have a large list of orca fans and can reach many more through media. Our focus is the astounding natural history of the species along with daily reports of their whereabouts, and the unique culture of the Southern resident orcas, and the onslaughts to their habitat as outlined by Dave and today's WaPost article. We're open to ideas for how to frame the meme, so to speak.

That beautiful shot at the top of Dave's blog goes a long way to evoking heartfelt care and concern for the orcas. On June 24 the Seattle Times ran a front page, huge side to side shot of a mom and baby that must have melted hearts from here to Spokane.
HGarrett Homepage 07.26.06 - 4:55 pm #
The assumption that rational values are superior to spiritual values is what landed us in this situation in the first place. Asking you to show respect toward those who hold values you do not understand is not forcing you to do anything. It is merely asking you to become a humble human being, something noticeably absent in both liberal and conservative divisions of the dominant society.

Using demeaning terms to describe others while describing yourself as reality-based exposes an arrogance and ignorance that perpetuates the destructive aspects of our society.
Spartacus O'Neal Homepage 07.26.06 - 5:25 pm #

Sure...though I'm pretty sure quite a few people are going to absolutely hate what I have in mind.

Rainforest Alliance got cool like the Prius is cool, like PETA's been cool, like few groups anywhere get cool. Which is to say: they got some big celebrities involved (in this case, the Grateful Dead), who used their platform to promote the cause -- and rode that glamour as far as it would take them (which was a very long way indeed).

The presence of celebrities puts your cause in the spotlight like nothing else. The money does roll in. The media will follow everything you do with the same interest that, well, orcas follow salmon. And where they go, incredible political leverage follows -- and things can be made to happen very quickly, as long as you can keep control of events.

And the marketing opportunties expand to the far horizon. Children's books, stuffed animals, Sundance documentaries, ultra-expensive fundraising cruises and tours, charity can go all day with this stuff (or at least as long as your stomach holds out) creating a revenue stream that will allow you to dream as big as you dare. RA developed a large marketplace in indigenous rainforest crafts, evolving products that both supported an intact rainforest economy and also gave RA itself a sturdy revenue stream for its work.

In the media rush, the developers and other cranky types will automatically be written in as the Bad Guys...probably without you saying so much as a word. After all, every story needs a villian - and since we've all seen Free Willy, this narrative writes itself. The moral absurdity of valuing money over the ecosystem comes into the kind of Hollywood-scale dramatic relief that technicolor demands.

Politically, once this happens, there's a lot that gets easier, at least until the backlash hits. And that's a day that can be put off for a very long time if you're living right -- certainly long enough to win the most necessary battles.
There are some real downsides to this, to be sure. You end up with a lot of synchophants and people with their own agendas. The glory is fleeting, unless you play your cards perfectly. The money is addictive, and distracting. If you're not very careful, earnest and heartfelt people may find the glitz a little disconcerting, and avoid you; but this is avoidable if you're careful with your street cred.

You sound like you've done some amazing groundwork, both in terms of science and ground-level publicity, in getting your ideas out there. Strong personalities like Luna, coupled with images of scenery as gorgeous as ours, are assets beyond value to this kind of marketing campaign. That Boston Legal episode on salmon farming last year suggests you could line up the spokespeople of your choice with no problem at all. In short, you appear to have an excellent foundation for a world-class Save the Orcas campaign -- if you decide that's what you want.

And if you do, let me know. Because I know one or two amazingly high-integrity people who could make all this happen in a matter of weeks.
Mrs. Robinson 07.26.06 - 5:46 pm #
Spartacus, I'm not sure there is such a thing as "rational values". Rationality has to have values to build on before it can be of any use in that realm. When I talked about having a "rational" basis for laws, I meant simply something that doesn't require a particular set of beliefs to appreciate. Saying we should protects orcas because whalewatching brings in money is a rational basis. Saying we should protect orcas because they're our spiritual brothers is not. That's not to suggest that money is more important than brotherhood, or that it's better to protect whales out of greed than a sense of connection. It's just that the first is something most people can appreciate, while the second is not.

There are a couple of principles involved here. One is separation of church and state which says that no one gets to use the government to impose spiritual/religious values. The other is democracy, which says that people get to decide the laws of their land and they're not likely to support laws that are based solely on values they don't share.

Asking you to show respect toward those who hold values you do not understand is not forcing you to do anything.

I agree, as long as showing you respect doesn't mean letting you decide the laws under which we all must live. When you say, "My values forbid X; therefore I'm going to make it illegal for you do it," then you're forcing me to [not] do something. That was all I meant when I talked about imposing one's morality on others.

Using demeaning terms to describe others while describing yourself as reality-based ....

I don't think I've used demeaning terms to describe anybody on this thread (though I admit to being pretty disrespectful toward Bush). If I used an offensive term, I apologize. If you'll tell me what it was, I'll avoid using it in the future.

I described what Dave wrote as reality-based, because the only thing I could see there that could have been offensive to enviornmentalists was that they can be off-putting to the general public and many are "fairly radical in their belief systems." I certainly wouldn't want to hear the former about myself and I'm not certain about the latter, but I'm sure it wasn't Dave's intention to insult or marginalize anybody. It seems to me, he was simply stating objective facts for the purpose of developing better political tactics.

For what it's worth I have a great respect for spiritual people and spiritual matters (my background is in zen). I don't have such a deep understanding or appreciation for all types of practice, but I've found a lot of things of value that I didn't initially understand, so I try to be respectful of all sincere beliefs and practices, just in case.
Beth 07.26.06 - 6:45 pm #
Nice piece, and it seems it is a bit of semantics and political/cultural perspective concerning environmentalism and conservationism if ones motive is to differentiate them. To villanize one and condone the other defies rational thought. I really like to read the Deep Ecology folks, they seem to be the evolved end game representing several schools of thought that had resurfaced or were created during that expansive decade the, 1960’s. On the other hand incorporating those philosophies in a working manner into the day to day of your life style requires strident effort. Duly pointed out in some of the writings, if one cannot manage one’s reform, nature eventually will do it for us. And, human concerns may not be a priority at that point. So does the true argument lay in biocentrism vs. anthropocentrism?

Your Orcas being an apex/umbrella species certainly do hold the answer to the future of those bio regional systems. You have a great writer in the NW, he has written a few very interesting books on some of what you convey. My favorite is: “The End of Evolution” On mass Extinctions and the preservation of Biodiversity… by Peter Ward. He brings some interesting data to light concerning recorded information of the earth’s prior extinction events. I may have stated this before, but it could stand repeating in light of your general tack.
Ben Merc 07.26.06 - 7:07 pm #
Who said anything about imposing religious beliefs through the powers of the state?

What I remarked on was the misguided progressive practice of repeating business and industry's demeaning characterizations of environmentalists or indigenous peoples' beliefs as part of a conservationist public relations campaign. In making this remark, I was not concerned with our host or anyone else's intentions, but rather with the consequences of violating one of the basic principles of the well-established science of psychological warfare.

Our enemies in business and industry and government are able to use the tools of psychological warfare so effectively precisely because they appreciate these weapons and liberals do not. Treating warfare as a marketing task might be profitable for capitalist activists, but the dangers of such reckless behavior can be quite serious, as I noted in my opening recounting of the history surrounding the Building Industry Association.

In the end, rationality will have little to do with the outcome of the battle. With both political parties in its pocket, the Building Industry and its business associates will accomplish with fear what you will never accomplish with reason.

As for intelligence, there is more than one kind, science and reason being but one, but it can never endure a well-executed assault without a strong spiritual foundation. Belief in rationality rather than morality as the ultimate arbiter of decision-making is a form of faith that has betrayed us over and over again.
Breaking the cycle of spectacle--liberal and conservative--is a first step.
Spartacus O'Neal Homepage 07.26.06 - 8:21 pm
This is America. Spectacle -- usually based on emotional rather than rational appeals (though a rational basis helps, and the spiritual underpinning is essential) -- is what moves power.

Those who are afraid of making a spectacle of themselves only move power accidentally. In a democracy, if you want the mob to go your way, there's nothing like a big sparkly parade ending in a three-ring circus to get them there.

The so-called "capitalist activists" have always known this. Lobbyists and lawyers cost a hell of a lot of money. The opposition has it. Getting it in ways that don't violate your own principles is an ongoing struggle; but there are groups that have done it and done it well -- with imagination and verve and quality, and having a whole lot of fun along the way.

This particular battle is rich with IP that any corporation would pay tens of millions for the rights to -- beautiful creatures, amazing landscapes, colorful characters, the last pieces of the mythic West. There's spiritual inspiration, and moral authority, and a happy ending just waiting to happen. Everything you ask for -- it's all sitting there, waiting to be deployed in a media effort that will shame the developers and polluters right out of the conversation.

Spartacus is right: in the end, rationality will have little to do with the outcome of the battle. And we cannot defeat them with reason. But we can defeat them with an emotional and spiritual appeal that can, if packaged properly, transcend party and religion.

The right wing has had the monopoly on the Wurlitzer long enough. Time to push 'em off the bench and play a few tunes of our own.
Mrs. Robinson 07.26.06 - 8:52 pm #
OK, so you're going to go toe-to-toe with the Building Industry Association of Washington, the Association of Washington Business, the Farm Bureau, and the Washington Realtors Association, just to name a few of the heavies undoubtedly already building a warchest and hiring professional propagandists, field agents, and agent provocateurs. Who's running your research department? Who's conducting intelligence operations to cover your blind spots?

Have you studied the methods of warfare this cabal used against Growth Mangement? Against enforcing treaty obligations? How about their means of financing anti-democratic terrorism? The laws they regularly break when fighting environmentalists? Which local, state, and federal politicians do they already own?

How about the methods of media support for their attacks? Their ways of coopting or threatening your allies? Basic security practices for those of you who become public figures in the battle or support those who do?

As David once remarked, the Building Industry is out to defeat you by any means necessary. Are you prepared for that?
Spartacus O'Neal Homepage 07.26.06 - 9:24 pm #
In my state, way back in the early 80’s each county was required to construct a growth management plan, for the most part that would preserver and cause the least impact on our most valuable natural habitats, our wetlands. They had to have it completed in a set time period, submit it for state review and approval, and compared to the present regulations, fairly restrictive state measures of compliance in protecting the wetlands were required.

At the time there were many environmental movements and concerns that were popular with the general public, some hardnosed environmental restrictions were written into many plans, a couple of counties even tried building moratoriums which eventually were removed by litigation and court orders. Never the less the fight continued, and was very bitter . In the end the only game that worked was land acquisition, and thankfully some of the more progressives with real foresight made a move back in the late 80’s early 90’s before land values skyrocketed. And of course before the “Republican Revolution” of the mid-nineties… cause much of the monies were public and were processed through state water management districts and those bastards would never had allowed it.

Of course the counties that were regressive missed out altogether because the state only worked with municipal groups that would form the initial “acquisition group”Point is, all the rules, laws, plans etc. eventually were ignored and illegally or legally circumnavigated by business people and their political lap dogs. The land must be taken away from the private sector, and even then it must be watched closely.
Ben Merc 07.27.06 - 4:10 am #
One of the goons hired by the Building Industry Association in Washington state bragged to a reporter once that there were only two things he needed to know: who to threaten, and who to bribe. When pandemonium reigned as a result of the BIA's covert criminal enterprise, Governor Lowry backed down after receiving threats, and his successor in office, Governor Locke, took the bribe.

The irony in all this is that the Building Industry Association of Washington is funded by public insurance monies that they are only able to keep because they make kickbacks to the legislative campaigns of both Democrat and Republican lawmakers. The legislators in turn make sure the Public Disclosure Commission never prosecutes the Building Industry for illegal electoral donations and money-laundering by threatening to slash the Commission's budget if they even think about enforcing the law.

This would all be ripe for a federal investigation into organized crime and racketeering, but with the present state of the US Department of Justice, that's about as likely as a legitimate prosecution of Florida's governor for tampering with federal elections in 2000.
Spartacus O'Neal Homepage 07.27.06 - 8:07 am


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