USA: Moti Nissani says “possible but unlikely”
Moti Nissani, Professor Emeritus (Biology), Wayne State University, discusses his new free online book Eight Billion Cheers for Direct Democracy: Direct Democracy is Humanity’s Last Best and Only Hope. Nissani argues that today’s most pressing problems—looming nuclear war, runaway technology, and eco-catastrophe—could be solved by creating and expanding real democracy (as opposed to US/Western oligarchy) borrowing ideas from ancient Athens and modern Switzerland, Iceland, and Berlin (the Philharmonic, not the Bundestag). His sad conclusion: “It is heart-breaking then, to know that in real democracy is the salvation of the world, and yet to suspect that real democracy is a pipe dream.”
Below is the first chapter of Eight Billion Cheers for Direct Democracy.
–Kevin Barrett, Veterans Today Editor
Eight Billion Cheers for Direct Democracy
Chapter 1: The World is So Wrong
We’ve got a system that is systematically inflating the wealth of the elite, rapidly suffocating everybody else, and . . . destroying the planet. . . . It’s so absurd — psychopathic, in fact. — Russell Brand, 201410
Electoral representative systems will fail to bring about responsive or good outcomes. — Alexander A. Guerrero11
This chapter highlights the central paradox of contemporary civilization. On the one hand, humanity lives in an upside-down world of perpetual wars, tyranny, wage-slavery, injustice, materialism, selfishness, starvation, monstrous income inequalities, and ever-growing prospects of human extinction.
On the other hand, a far better world was inarguably within reach at least as far back as 1981:
It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry. . . . This is not an opinion or a hope — it is an engineeringly demonstrable fact. This can be done using only the already proven technology and with the already mined, refined, and in-recirculating physical resources. This will be an inherently sustainable physical success for all humanity and all its generations to come. It can be accomplished not only within ten years but with the phasing out forever of all use of fossil fuels and atomic energy.12
Indeed, “we live on a planet well able to provide a decent life for every soul on it, which is all ninety-nine of a hundred human beings ask. Why in the world can’t we have it?”13
Thomas Jefferson’s obvious answer: “How soon the labor of men would make a paradise of the earth were it not for misgovernment.”
This chapter shows that we do indeed live in an upside-down world because we are misgoverned. Succeeding chapters will show that all it would take to “make a paradise of the earth” is adopting a superior, tried and proven, political system.
Reign of Oligarchs and Dictators
In most countries in the world, misgovernment is traceable to oligarchic or dictatorial rule (for a fuller discussion, see Chapter 5). Real power is concentrated in a few or single hands. The best guess is that, at the very top of the worldwide pyramid of power and riches, there are a few low- profile banking families dedicated to an inter-generational project of enslaving humanity.14 It is also conceivable that these bankers are allied with other power centers, e.g., the British royalty or the Vatican.
There are major variations of oligarchic rule. Thus, in 2023, Qatar and Ukraine are pure oligarchies, known for their utter corruption, ruthlessness, and subservience to foreign masters. The Iranian theocracy shares the first two characteristics, but its policies are dictated by local oligarchs, not foreign ones. By comparison, citizens of the Anglosphere (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States) are freer, but their remaining freedoms are insidiously being taken away from them. The government of the People’s Republic of China curtails freedom and fosters conformity to an even larger extent than its English-speaking counterparts. But China’s oligarchs often serve the national interest, e.g., lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, fighting corruption, or launching massive infrastructure and reforestation projects. Finally, a few oligarchies in northern and central Europe often strike a compromise between the interests of foreign and home-grown oligarchs on the one hand and the public interest on the other. Consequently, these few are among the happiest, freest, and most environmentally responsible countries on Earth.
It is easy enough for Western Europeans, English-speaking North Americans, Indians, or Japanese to see behind the democratic façade of countries like Honduras or South Africa. They find it harder to see that they themselves are ruled by a small clique of oligarchs that is at times referred to as the Invisible Government, the Deep State, or, following Huxley’s Brave New World, simply the Controllers. Yet, meticulous, painstaking research clearly shows that this is so.15
Moreover, the real truth can sometimes be gleaned from widely-available sources. For example, an article in one of the oligarchs’ chief propaganda organs clearly underscores who is really in charge of the U.K.:
Governed either by or on behalf of the people who fleece us, we cannot be surprised to discover that all public services are being re-engineered for the benefit of private capital. . . . The financial sector exploits an astonishing political privilege: the City of London [London’s financial district, whose most prominent members are the Rothchilds] is the only jurisdiction in the UK not fully subject to the authority of parliament. In fact, the relationship seems to work the other way. Behind the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons sits the Remembrancer, whose job is to ensure that the interests of the City of London are recognised by the elected members.16
Similarly, the British royals are falsely presented to the world as powerless and benign, a mere symbol of national unity. To begin with, this family belongs to the handful of the wealthiest clans in the world, and wealth is power. Moreover, like the Rothschild and Rockefeller trillionaires, the royals are powerful enough to conceal their true wealth. In their case, they were actually able to pressure parliament to grant them exemption from the country’s wealth transparency laws.17
And then of course there is the oddity of the Royals’ consent to legislation, which is presented to the world as a mere formality. The reality is vastly different:
The anti-democratic potential of the consent process is obvious: it gives the Queen [or King] a possible veto, to be exercised in secret, over proposed laws. . . . All correspondence containing requests for consent, replies and the documentation of any related discussions have always been shrouded in absolute privacy. . . . It is now clear this process is far from merely symbolic. The documents uncovered . . . provide remarkable evidence that this process accords the Queen’s advisers a genuine opportunity to negotiate with the government over changes in proposed laws, that they do sometimes secure such changes before giving consent, and that they are even prepared to threaten to withhold consent to secure their policy preferences. . . . There is no place for this process in the working of a 21st-century democracy.18
All this applies to Britain, which is widely viewed as a jewel of contemporary democracy. Needless to say then, all countries, with only a smattering of partial exceptions, are ruled by a small, privileged, minority.
A good society must promote actions that serve the public interest and suppress actions that undermine it. History shows, however, that oligarchs tend to serve their own narrow short-term interests — not the interests of society. For most of them, the sanctity of human life, the idea that we are all brothers and sisters, the wonders and mysteries of life and human existence, mean little.
Eduardo Galeano argues19 that we live in a looking-glass world in which justice has been “frozen in an upside-down position.” Elsewhere he whimsically captures the essence of contemporary “democracies:”
The other day, I heard about a cook who organized a meeting of birds — chickens, geese, turkeys, pheasants, and ducks. And I heard what the cook told them. The cook asked them with what sauce they would like to be cooked. One of the birds, I think it was a humble chicken, said: “We don’t want to be cooked in whichever way.” And the cook explained that “this topic was not on the agenda.” It seems to me interesting, that meeting, for it is a metaphor for the world. The world is organized in such a way that we have the right to choose the sauce in which we shall be eaten.”20
The Oligarchic Mindset
Oligarchs can be roughly divided into two groups. Some have been raised in an oligarchic setting and have conveniently and unquestionably adopted its values — in the same manner that most followers of organized religions internalize their parents’ belief system. Other oligarchs are self- made individuals who were perfectly willing to do a lot of compromising on the way to their horizon of riches and power. “In order to get power and retain it,” says Lev Tolstoy, “it is necessary to love power; but love of power is not connected with goodness but with qualities that are the opposite of goodness, such as pride, cunning and cruelty.”
Apart from a few exceptions, what do oligarchs want? What drives the five Anglosphere nations to live by the sword, incessantly risk nuclear war, and spend more on war-related activities than all other countries combined? Why do Iran and Afghanistan viciously oppress women and peaceful dissidents? Why does Israel oppress Palestinians? Why is the free marketplace of ideas dead almost everywhere on Earth? Why did Canada force people to vaccinate themselves against Covid- 19, even though there is no “discernible relationship between percentage of population fully vaccinated and new Covid-19 cases”?21 Why is humanity on a suicidal collision course with nature?
Similar questions can be raised about the past. Why did Athenian oligarchs murder the democratic reformer Ephialtes? Why did Spartan oligarchs make the lives of almost everyone in their own country and empire a living hell? Why did Caligula make his horse a Senator? Why did the U.K. kill 165 million Indians from 1881 to 1920?22 Why did the U.K. place thousands of South-Africans of Dutch descent in concentration camps, slowly killing in the process over 20,000 women and children? What drove Alexander, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, or Joe Biden’s handlers to invade and decimate faraway lands? What drives Russian and Chinese billionaires, who already have more money than they could use in 100 lifetimes, to accumulate more, and more, and more money?
Greed, envy, and ignorance of the higher aims of human existence certainly play a part. But the best guess is that humanity’s overlords are just as sick as the fictional Eddorians:
While not essentially bloodthirsty — that is, not loving bloodshed for its own sweet sake — they were no more averse to blood-letting than they were in favor of it. Any amount of killing which would or which might advance an Eddorian toward his goal was commendable; useless slaughter was frowned upon, not because it was slaughter, but because it was useless — and hence inefficient. And, instead of the multiplicity of goals sought by the various entities of any race of Civilization, each and every Eddorian had only one. The same one: power. Power! P-O-W-E-R!!23
A rare insight into the oligarchic mindset is provided by filmmaker and freedom champion Aaron Russo, shortly before his suspicious death:
So I had a friend, Nick Rockefeller, who was one of the Rockefeller family. . . . And one of the things that we used to talk about . . . the goals of the banking industry — not just the Federal Reserve System but the private banks in Germany, and England, all over Italy, all over the world — they all work together, they’re all central banks. . . . And so, the ultimate goal that these people have in mind is the goal to create a one-world government, run by the banking industry . . . there’ll be no more cash. . . . And I used to say to him that . . . As much as I like you, Nick, your way isn’t my way, we’re on the opposite side of the fence. I don’t believe in enslaving people.
[Rockefeller said something like]:
What do you care about them? What do you care about those people? What difference does it make to you? Take care of your own life. Do the best you can for you and your family. What do the rest of the people mean to you? They don’t mean anything to you. They’re just serfs, they’re just people.” It was just a lack of caring. And that’s just not who I was. It was just sort of cold.24
The rest of this chapter provides a few illustrations of the topsy-turvy world that the oligarchs wrought.
The Human Experiment is Probably Coming to an End
Love the earth and sun and the animals. — Walt Whitman25
No one knows whether the cessation of the waste radiation of atomic energy exploitation or the cessation of coal and shale conversion into fluid fuel will occur in time to permit the physical continuance of humans on planet Earth. — R. Buckminster Fuller26
Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year might be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years. — Stephen Hawking27
This section briefly explores numerous tipping points. It argues — given humanity’s reckless record of fouling its own nest, its propensity to employ any profitable or militarily expedient technology regardless of its destructiveness, and the speed at which new technologies are implemented — that the probability of human extinction within the next 200 hundred years exceeds 90%. If so, everything — even freedom, justice, peace, space conquest, search for truth, or spirituality — pales into insignificance.
Warnings of Extinction are Growing in Number and Shrillness
In 1962, Rachel Carson warned:
The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one “less traveled by” — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.28
In 1981, R. Buckminster Fuller wrote:
All of humanity is in peril of extinction . . . At the present cosmic moment, muscle, cunning, fear, and selfishness are in powerful control of human affairs.29
In 1992, some 1,700 of the world’s leading scholars, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, warned that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.”30
According to a 2011 United Nations’ report, “humanity is on the verge of breaching planetary sustainability boundaries” and heading towards “a major planetary catastrophe.”31
By now, awareness of impending doom is capturing the popular imagination. In 2021, a teary-eyed actor, upon returning from space, noted: “The realization once again – the fragility of this planet, the coming catastrophic event, and we all have to clean this act up now.”32
As with all other challenges described in this chapter, the threat is traceable to an inherently vicious political system.
A Multi-Pronged Approach
Many scholars base their predictions of an environmental holocaust on a single technology. Some experts, for instance, just considering climate change, believe that it’s already game over for humanity. Other scholars, only looking at the prospects of an all-out nuclear war, are convinced that it is precisely such a war that might spell our doom.
But one ought to look at our environmental predicament as a whole. What happens when we combine the probabilities of all potential extinction events? To be sure, the biosphere is extremely complex, resilient, and hence unpredictable. Still, such an integrative perspective is best suited to shed conjectural light on the human prospect.
Before starting, we should perhaps note that population growth partially undergirds all other environmental problems. For every person alive in 1800, there were eight in 2023. The more people on Earth, all things being equal, the graver the dangers posed by some of the environmental problems listed below. We have been warned about overpopulation but have failed to act — with the dubious exception, for a few notable decades, of authoritarian China. Likewise, in the last few decades, some countries have inadvertently achieved zero or negative population growth. Unfortunately, many scholars outside the ecological community, and most nations and organized religions, still preach the false doctrine of “be fruitful and multiply.” Likewise, poverty and lack of social safety nets serve as an inducement to poor people to have many children. Consequently, by early 2023, it is still the case that every year the world’s population grows by some 80 million.
The Tsiolkosvki (or Fermi) Paradox
There are, in all likelihood, millions or more planets in the universe capable of sustaining life. On some of these planets, life probably emerged as it did in ours. On some of these alien worlds, technological civilizations must have come into being long before ours. It seems reasonable to suppose that such ancient civilizations would have solved the problem of interstellar travel, or at least would have developed means of communicating over the vast distances of the cosmos. And yet, as best as we can tell, the universe is silent. Why?33
Here we need to mention just one of the many plausible solutions to this paradox. Perhaps intelligence — as a product of blind natural selection — is capable of creating dangerous technologies but is incapable of controlling them.
It is possible that intelligence is a self-limiting property. Perhaps as soon as a species develops a sufficiently high technology, it destroys itself — as we, with our mounting stores of nuclear weapons and our penchant for overpopulating and for destroying the environment, seem to be doing.34
In 2022, there were some 440 existing nuclear power plants and more than 50 under construction.35 Nuclear reactors are also used by the armed forces of the world, notably in ships and submarines. China, Russia, and some other countries plan to build dozens of additional reactors. We’ve already had three major disasters (Kyshtym, Chernobyl, and Fukushima), causing permanent loss of previously-habitable lands, increased radiation everywhere, and deaths. Extremely corrupt countries are particularly accident-prone; topping that list in 2023 was Ukraine with its 15 active reactors. Nuclear power reactors can also be targeted in times of war or civil strife. For instance, during the 2022-23 Russo-Ukrainian war, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the Russian-controlled area of Ukraine has been repeatedly bombed.
Indeed, many independent experts believe that nuclear power “is neither clean, safe, or smart; but a very complex technology with the potential to cause significant harm.”36 So we can confidently expect many more disasters. Will we survive 10 more Fukushimas? Will we survive 50?
At the moment, we have no idea where and how to store the ever-growing piles of radioactive waste products. What happens when they eventually find their way to the environment?
Let us be conservative and make an educated guess that the probability of human extinction caused by multiple nuclear power catastrophes is 4%.
Since 1945, American and English oligarchs have been trying to achieve the age-old dream of former empires: Subjugating the entire world and controlling its people and resources.37
The 1947-50 [American oligarchs’] decision to start a World War III had two objectives: (1) to keep capitalism in business, and (2) to prevent the Russians from employing their industrial productivity to produce a higher standard of living for their own people than that demonstrated in the U.S.A. The oligarchs’ decision to start World War III inaugurated history’s greatest game of poker, with the U.S.S.R. as a very reluctant player.38
Brinkmanship still rules American policies:
If the United States continues its high-risk policy of military brinkmanship with Russia and China, the outcome, however unthinkable, might be an Armageddon.39
[An all-out war with China] is not the intent. The danger is miscalculation . . . Washington thinks only in terms of coercion because that is the only thing they are capable of – and because winner-takes-all is the only strategic concept they are mentally capable of understanding.40
How long can the U.S./U.K. continue playing nuclear chicken41 before these bombs are unleashed accidentally, through miscalculation, or on purpose? Nuclear war, in turn, some experts feel, could spell human extinction. Moreover, the probability of such a war in 2023 is greater than it has ever been.42
One guess of an all-out nuclear war taking place and causing human extinction: 10%.
Now we can only wait till the day, wait and apportion our shame.
These are the dykes our fathers left, but we would not look to the same. Time and again were we warned of the dykes, time and again we delayed: Now, it may fall, we have slain our sons, as our fathers we have betrayed. —Rudyard Kipling44
“The critical criterion of definitive global warming is the atmospheric concentration of [carbon dioxide], rising from 280 to 419 ppm . . . Other parameters of climate change, such as the level of methane and nitrous oxide, have risen about 3-fold.”45 In particular there is the risk of a runaway thawing in northern latitudes and release of vast amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. This in turn could heat the atmosphere to levels that might even fry the world’s ruling oligarchs in their underground hideouts.
Estimates of climate-caused extinction range from zero all the way to 100%.46 Here we shall choose a middle ground and assign it a probability of 20%.
The world’s ruling oligarchs and their compartmentalized Drs. Strangeloves are already unleashing all kinds of minute particles (around a millionth part of a millimeter or less than 10 millionth part of an inch) with strange and powerful properties. Like sentient computers and genetically modified organisms, nanotechnology often involves self-replicating entities. No one knows how that experiment is going to end,47 yet many doomsday projections can be imagined. For instance:
“Plants” with “leaves” no more efficient than today’s solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with inedible foliage. Tough omnivorous “bacteria” could out-compete real bacteria: They could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. Dangerous replicators could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop — at least if we make no preparation. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies.48
Such projections could stem from a “simple laboratory accident,” military research, or intentional malevolence.
Let us say that nanotechnology only poses a 1% likelihood of human extinction.
An Awake Computer
Sophisticated computers are already problematic. For instance, they have, since their invention, significantly refined our capacity to kill each other. Also, such computers have engendered an “unprecedented level of surveillance across the globe by state and private actors” — a gross infringement of privacy and human rights.49
The worst, perhaps, is yet to come. Some experts suspect that we’re nearing the point where a computer or an interconnected computer network could become sentient. Such a singular event, which might or might not come to pass, could be humanity’s only lasting legacy. We’re talking here, of course, about Karel Capek’s R.U.R. scenario of revolting self-aware computers. Here, for instance, is Stephen Hawking:
The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded. If a superior alien civilization sent us a message saying, “We’ll arrive in a few decades,” would we just reply, “OK, call us when you get here — we’ll leave the lights on’”? Probably not — but this is more or less what is happening with artificial intelligence.50
Let us assign such an extinction event a mere 3% likelihood.
Chemical Contamination of Soils, Air, Waters, and Living Organisms
“Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons?” — Rachel Carson51
“The fundamental problem, in most countries of the world, is lack of democratic control over the economy. One example is the use of cancer-causing pesticides. In a genuine democracy, where people are well-informed and in charge, such poisons would be banned. After all, who wants to die of cancer?” – R. Buckminster Fuller52
“Today there are 100,000 to 350,000 commercially available chemicals. Shockingly, only about 1% of these chemicals have been tested to assess their impact on human health and the environment.”53 Tap water in the USA provides one example:
For too many Americans, turning on their faucets for a glass of water is like pouring a cocktail of chemicals. Lead, arsenic, the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS and many other substances are often found in drinking water at potentially unsafe levels, particularly in low-income and underserved communities. . . . when some Americans drink a glass of tap water, they’re also potentially getting a dose of industrial or agricultural contaminants linked to cancer, brain and nervous system damage, fertility problems, hormone disruption and other health harms.54
Some small parts of the oceans are already dead while much of the seafood is polluted. The topsoil, water, and air in most places are not as healthy as they used to be. Our bodies are loaded with a concoction of poisons – and this is just the beginning. How long till the point of no return? No one knows, but the possibilities are endless.
Two random illustrations capture the heartlessness and ineptness of the world’s ruling oligarchs.
I. Some of the chemicals in our environment might have already caused a significant reduction in the quality and quantity of human sperm and children’s sexual development. What’s in store for us if, one day, these declines reach critical levels?55 One leading epidemiologist, for instance, warns that falling sperm counts are “threatening human survival” and pose risks that are comparable to the climate crisis.56
II. The next example involves America’s public schools.
Quietly, over the past decade, a national epidemic of obesity and diabetes has appeared in children as young as five. The connections between food, lack of exercise, and these twin plagues have been recognized for a long time. Diabetes is the principal cause of blindness and amputations in the US, and obesity is the leading cause of heart disease and self-loathing. In the face of these sobering facts, that thousands of schools still serve familiar fast food — and also non-proprietary fatty foods like liverwurst and bologna as nutrition — should have already caused you to realize that school is literally a risk to the mental and physical health of the young. Coupled with the curious legal tradition which makes serious lawsuits against school-generated human damage impossible, I hope you will try to convince yourself that behind the daily noise and squalor, a game is afoot in this institution which has little to do with popular myth. Standardizing minds is a big part of that game.
We must also remind ourselves that there are numerous untested chemicals out there. So thousands more will find their way to the environment, plants, animals, and our bodies without the slightest regard for their potential consequences.
Let’s be conservative and say that the probability of chemically-induced extinction is 20%.
Some governments and companies are busily creating chimeras that never existed on Earth. How long can this go on before unleashing an extinction event?
The transformation of plant genetics is being accelerated from the measured pace of biological evolution to the speed of next quarter’s earnings report. Such haste makes it impossible to foresee and forestall: Unintended consequences appear only later, when they may not be fixable, because novel lifeforms aren’t recallable.57
The precautionary principle (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (affecting general health or the environment globally), the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety. . . . Genetically Modified Organisms . . . fall squarely under the PP because of their systemic risk . . . A rational consumer should say: We do not wish to pay — or have our descendants pay — for errors made by executives of Monsanto, who are financially incentivized to focus on quarterly profits rather than long term global impacts.58
Let us give a 5% probability to extinction caused by existing and yet-to-be-unleashed engineered, self-replicating, life forms.
Biodiversity and Ecosystem Degradation
On the banks of the Volga in 1921 a refugee community was visited by an American newspaper correspondent who had come to write about the Russian famine. Almost half the people in this community were already dead of starvation. The death rate was rising. Those still surviving had no real prospect of prolonged longevity. In an adjacent field, a lone soldier was guarding a huge mound of sacks full of grain. The American newsman asked the white-bearded leader of the community why his people did not overpower this one guard, take over the grain, and relieve their hunger. The dignified old Russian explained that the sacks contained seed to be planted for the next growing season. “We do not steal from the future,” he said. – William R. Catton59
Besides busily creating new life forms, we are rapidly destroying old ones. Let us ignore aesthetics, morality, and potential future benefits of existing species, and just zero in on extinction projections. According to one study:
Globally — biodiversity intactness, which represents the proportion of the original number of [remaining] species in an area . . . and their abundance — is measured at 75%. This is significantly below the 90% average set as the ‘safe limit’ to maintain the ecological processes such as pollination and nutrient cycling that are vital to our survival. . . . Governments possess the power — economic, political and legal — to address the planetary emergency, and there may still be time, but they must act now.60
We have no way of knowing for sure whether a certain level of biodiversity is a precondition of our own survival, and if so, what particular species are indispensable. Nor do we know the biodiversity threshold.
So let us give species extinction a mere 1% probability of triggering human extinction.
Biological and Chemical Weapons
In Kurt Vonnegut’s prescient novel, Cat’s Cradle, the U.S. Marines wished to avoid wading in water and mud. So, at their request, a scientist develops ice-nine, a new substance that instantly freezes any body of water it comes in touch with — and any living organism — at any temperature below 54°C (130°F). Eventually, ice-nine finds its way to the environment, causing the extinction of almost all living organisms.
Unlike the genetically-modified organisms scenarios above, the stated goal of weapons is to do harm. Such weapons have been used in the past and research in this area is continuing apace, employing thousands of scientists in many corners of the world. This raises the question: How long until an ice-nine is invented? And once developed, what is the probability that it would accidentally or deliberately escape the laboratory and bring human life to an end?
Let us give such a catastrophic result a mere 1% probability.
Stratospheric Ozone Layer Depletion
This particular threat is receding, thanks to delayed but meaningful action — perhaps the only collective action humanity has ever taken to stave off a possible cataclysm.
But we cannot declare total victory yet, so let’s assign this an extinction probability of 1%.
Other Known Risks
For the sake of brevity, the list above omitted other worrisome technologies. Let’s say that all other suspected risks, e.g., pollution;61 lower oxygen levels and acidification of the oceans; wholesale destruction of aquatic systems;62 or alterations of the biosphere’s biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus;63 carry a combined human extinction risk of 3%.
Unsuspected Existing Risks
Another grave threat to our existence lies in extant threats that we are not yet aware of. It took a long time, for instance, for scientists to be aware of anthropogenic threats to the ozone layer, and one can imagine that there are other lurking, yet unknown, threats out there.
Let’s give this a 1% extinction-causing probability.
New Technological Breakthroughs
Almost all the hazardous technologies listed above have come into being in the last century or so. There is every reason to believe that newer innovations are in store for our species, and that — barring the overthrow of the oligarchs — they would be rapidly adopted regardless of risks.
Let’s assume that such unknown and future risks pose a 24% joint probability of causing humanity to perish.
We are Playing Russian Roulette for no Reason Whatsoever (Except Giving more Profits and Power to Oligarchs)
We can collectively decide not to develop artificial intelligence, or at least take extreme precautions before doing so. We can, if we wish, stop deforestation in its tracks. We can use natural materials to wrap our food and drive our cars, and we can build everything so that when it’s discarded, all its components can be easily recycled. We can, and we should, apply the precautionary principle to any existing and yet-to-be-discovered technologies.
Instead, we do the opposite. Here are several examples of the irrationality of our environmental policies.
We often hear — from journalists and intellectuals at the pay of oligarchs or who are disciples of koalemos — that we are on a collision course with nature because we have no choice. We must, they say, use pesticides and other poisons to feed everyone on Earth (as if oligarchs care about feeding anyone but themselves, see the “prisoners of starvation” section below). This is a lie: Organic farming, from an economic standpoint alone — and not talking about such externalities as soil degradation, decline in insect populations, cancer, or Parkinson’s disease — can be just as profitable as Earth- and health-destroying agricultural practices.64
Genetically-modified crops, which are often accompanied by the massive use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, are unhealthy. They are often soaked with poisons or they themselves produce poisons, they are one cause of rampant farmer suicides in India, and they pose health and financial risks to growers, consumers, livestock, and wildlife. They are permitted to exist because, to varying degrees, the political system of most countries in the world is dysfunctional.
The next example involves built-in obsolescence. We can alleviate environmental decline by making sure that our flashlights, computers, refrigerators, or cars are long-lasting. And yet, in a world ruled by profiteers, shoddy products are deliberately manufactured because they increase profit margins — even though this entails greater costs to consumers and the biosphere. Here is one example:
In the late 1960s the “Big Three” automobile companies of America found that their distributors were disenchanted with decreasing financial returns and with frequent bankruptcy. To hold their distributors G.M., Ford and Chrysler deliberately manufactured a few of their mechanically well-designed parts with inferior materials that were guaranteed to deteriorate electrolytically or otherwise. The replacement of these parts guaranteed that all the distributors’ car buyers would have to return to them for service on a high-frequency basis, at which time the distributor would replace the parts catalogue-priced so high that the distributor was guaranteed a profitable business. This continuing deceit of the customers — we the people — was the beginning of the end of the American automobile business and the once-great world esteem for Uncle Sam. U.S.A. discreditation has been brought about without the U.S.A. people’s knowledge of the money-maker-world’s invisible cheating.65
The dust bowl provides another illustration of our collective irrationality and callousness.66
Another illustration of heartlessness and irrationality involves climate disruptions. Oligarchs are averse to letting anyone cook their fossil fuels goose. So they bribed or brainwashed everyone influential — politicians, judges, academics, journalists — to deny, for decades, the existence of this threat.67 Now, a few decades later, when it is harder to downplay that threat, they are working out financial schemes of making billions while pretending to do something about the possible spectre of approaching cataclysm.
Only a few experts were courageous enough to tell the world’s people that all along there existed painless solutions. By the early 1990s, people like Amory Lovins and organizations like the U.S. National Academy of Sciences68 clearly showed that the USA alone could minimize those threats through conservation. Conservation could have in turn saved Americans between $56 to $200 billion a year and vastly improved their health and quality of life. Worldwide, the saving would have been much greater. We could and still can, to give just one example of conservation measures, quadruple or perhaps octuple gas mileage of the global fleet of cars, saving money, protecting our health, and meaningfully beginning to address possibly catastrophic climate disruptions.
So why don’t we do it? Simple, the bankers who own the fossil-fuel companies are not content with the trillions and power they already have. If we increase gas mileage, oil price would go down to slightly above the cost of production. Here is a 1996 academic essay:
For argument’s sake, a conservative and arbitrary estimate is adopted, assuming that the chances of adverse greenhouse consequences within the next century are 10%; of a cataclysm, 1%. Such chances, this review then conclusively shows, should not be taken, because there is no conceivable reason for taking them: The steps that will eliminate the greenhouse threat will also save money and cut pollution, accrue many other beneficial consequences, and only entail negligible negative consequences. Thus, a holistic review leads to the surprising conclusion that humanity is risking its future for less than nothing. Claims that the greenhouse controversy is legitimate, that it involves hard choices, that it is value-laden, or that it cannot be resolved by disinterested analysis, are tragically mistaken.69
Here are Amory and Hunter Lovins, writing in 1991:
Global warming is not a natural result of normal, optimal economic activity. Rather, it is an artifact of the economically inefficient use of resources, especially energy. Advanced technologies for resource efficiency, and proven ways to implement them, can now support present or greatly expanded worldwide economic activity while stabilizing global climate — and saving money. New resource-saving techniques — chiefly for energy, farming, and forestry — generally work better and cost less than present methods that destabilize the Earth’s climate.70
Summing up: What are the Chances of Human Extinction?
It’s extremely difficult to make predictions about a system that is as complex as the biosphere. So all these probabilities are nothing more than educated guesses. Each one could be non-existent, lower, on the mark, or higher. Still, if we settle for the conservative estimates above and sum them up, we arrive at a frightening conclusion: Unless we learn at long last to cherish and respect the biosphere, the probability that human beings (and most other life forms) will vanish from Earth within the next couple of centuries or so could be as high as 94%.71
Extinction: Parting Words
It takes a novelist to fully grasp the irony and hopelessness of our plight.
In Karel Capek’s humorously pessimistic War with the Newts, sentient and prolific salamanders are encountered in some far-off bay. At first, their discoverers offer them knives and protection from sharks in exchange for pearls. Gradually, however, many of the world’s nations avail themselves of these sentient creatures for other purposes, including war. In a few years, the salamanders run out of living space. To accommodate their growing numbers, they flood countries, one at a time. To do this, they need supplies from other countries and from merchants of the soon-to-be ravaged country itself. Needless to say, the salamanders have no trouble securing everything they need. At the end, humanity is on the verge of sinking and drowning; not so much by the newts, but by the greed, shortsightedness, and colossal stupidity of its rulers.
You get freedom by letting your enemy know that you’ll do anything to get your freedom.
— Malcolm X72
Worldwide, freedom and human dignity are under attack. The quotes below highlight that decline in the USA, a country that is still freer than most.
All of those freedoms we cherish — the ones enshrined in the Constitution, the ones that affirm our right to free speech and assembly, due process, privacy, bodily integrity, the right to not have police seize our property without a warrant, or search and detain us without probable cause — amount to nothing when the government and its agents are allowed to disregard those prohibitions on government overreach at will. This is the grim reality of life in the American police state. In fact, in the face of the government’s ongoing power grabs, our so-called rights have been reduced to mere technicalities, privileges that can be granted and taken away, all with the general blessing of the courts. This is what one would call a slow death by a thousand cuts, only it’s the Constitution being inexorably bled to death by the very institution (the judicial branch of government) that is supposed to be protecting it (and us) from government abuse. . . . As a result, the police and other government agents have been generally empowered to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance. . . . When such instances of abuse are continually validated by a judicial system that kowtows to every police demand, no matter how unjust, no matter how in opposition to the Constitution, one can only conclude that the system is rigged. . . . A review of critical court rulings over the past several decades, including rulings affirming qualified immunity protections for government agents by the U.S. Supreme Court, reveals a startling and steady trend towards pro-police state rulings by an institution concerned more with establishing order, protecting the ruling class, and insulating government agents from charges of wrongdoing than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution. . . . The American dream of freedom and justice for all has turned into a living nightmare.73
All across the country . . . men and women . . . are being terminated for daring to believe that they . . . should not be forced, against their conscience or better judgment, to choose between individual liberty and economic survival; and that they — and not the government . . . have dominion over their bodies. . . . This is how freedom falls and tyranny rises. . . . More than terrorism, more than domestic extremism, more than gun violence and organized crime, the U.S. government has become a greater menace to the life, liberty and property of its citizens.74
Surveillance cameras, biosensors, scanners, and face recognition technologies track our movements. When a government watches you twenty-four hours a day you cannot use the word “liberty.” This is the relationship between a master and a slave. Full surveillance, as political philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote, is not a means to discover or prevent crimes, but a device to have “on hand when the government decides to arrest a certain category of the population.”
Only when ruling elites become worried about survival do they react. Appealing to the better nature of the powerful is useless. They don’t have one. Our prison-industrial complex, which holds 2.3 million prisoners — 22 percent of the world’s prison population — makes money by keeping prisons full.
Prisoners are charged for visits to the infirmary and the dentist. Prisoners must pay the state for a fifteen-minute deathbed visit to an immediate family member, or for a fifteen- minute visit to a funeral home to view the deceased. New Jersey, like most other states, forces a prisoner to reimburse the system for overtime wages paid to the two guards who accompany him or her to the visit or viewing, plus mileage cost. The charge can be as high as $945.04 in New Jersey. It can take years to pay off a visit with a dying father or mother when you make less than $30 a month.
If a prisoner who is fined $10,000 at sentencing relies solely on a prison salary, he or she will owe about $4,000 after making monthly payments for twenty-five years. Prisoners often leave prison in debt to the state. And if they cannot continue to make regular payments — difficult because of high unemployment among ex-felons — they are sent back to prison. High recidivism is part of the design.
The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700
percent . . . Private prisons account for nearly all newly built prisons.75
Or take Russia:
A man believed to be an inmate at the tuberculosis facility can be seen lying strapped to a bed and screaming while staff repeatedly violate him with a stick in a horrifying minutes-long ordeal. Other clips . . . show prisoners being urinated on and forced to perform sexual acts in front of the camera.76
Massacres and Genocides
Massacres and genocides are depressingly common in human history.77 Historian Michael Parenti describes a few, with a special focus on the U.S.:
Through much of history the abnormal has been the norm. This is a paradox to which we should attend. Aberrations, so plentiful as to form a terrible normality of their own, descend upon us with frightful consistency.
The number of massacres in history, for instance, is almost more than we can record. There was the New World holocaust, consisting of the extermination of indigenous Native American peoples throughout the western hemisphere, extending over four centuries or more, continuing into recent times in the Amazon region. . . .
There was the slaughter of more than half a million socialistic or democratic nationalist Indonesians by the U.S.-supported Indonesian military in 1965, eventually followed by the extermination of 100,000 East Timorese by that same U.S.-backed military.
Consider the 78-days of NATO’s aerial destruction of Yugoslavia complete with depleted uranium, and the bombings and invasion of Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Western Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now the devastating war of attrition brokered against Syria. And as I write [early 2013], the U.S.-sponsored sanctions against Iran are seeding severe hardship for the civilian population of that country. . . .
The world’s dreadful aberrations are so commonplace and unrelenting that they lose their edge and we become inured to the horror of it all. ‘Who today remembers the Armenians?’ Hitler is quoted as having said while plotting his ‘final solution’ for the Jews. Who today remembers the Iraqis and the death and destruction done to them on a grand scale by the U.S. invasion of their lands? William Blum reminds us that more than half the Iraq population is either dead, wounded, traumatized, imprisoned, displaced, or exiled, while their environment is saturated with depleted uranium (from U.S. weaponry) inflicting horrific birth defects.
What is to be made of all this? First, we must not ascribe these aberrations to happenstance, innocent confusion, and unintended consequences. Nor should we believe the usual rationales about spreading democracy, fighting terrorism, providing humanitarian rescue, protecting U.S. national interests and other such rallying cries promulgated by ruling elites and their mouthpieces.
The repetitious patterns of atrocity and violence are so persistent as to invite the suspicion that they usually serve real interests; they are structural not incidental. [my italics] All this destruction and slaughter has greatly profited those plutocrats who pursue economic expansion, resource acquisition, territorial dominion, and financial accumulation.78
Prisoners of Starvation
Is it a just a world when, every minute, three million dollars are wasted on the military, while at the same time fifteen children perish from hunger or curable disease? Against whom is the so-called international community armed to the teeth? Against poverty or against the poor? — Eduardo Galeano79
When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist. — Archbishop Hélder Câmara80
All the organizations, scholars, and governments who are interested in the subject agree on one fact: Earth produces enough food to feed all its inhabitants — and even four or five billion more. — Martín Caparrós81
Jose Guadalupe Posada’s (1852 – 1913) artwork mocks, and his life (including frequent jail stays) proves, the topsy-turviness of our world: “Because this gifted and hardworking man was perennially out of official favor, he died . . . as poor as he had been born. He was buried in a sixth class grave (the lowest category) in the Do- lores Cemetery. Since nobody claimed the remains, they were thrown out seven years after his death.”82
Since ancient times, oligarchic rule has often been accompanied by a deliberate policy of food deprivation. Chronically-hungry people are too weak physically and mentally, too willing to work for starvation wages, too preoccupied by their bodily needs, and too helpless, to revolt against an unjust system. Apart from such obvious benefits, some oligarchs might be simply indifferent to the suffering of others, while others might derive pleasure knowing that they have so much while their fellow passengers to the grave have so little.
British oligarchs — who still wield enormous power in the international pecking order — are especially fond of the starvation strategy. Their centuries-long pursuits of enclosures provides one early illustration.
Enclosure in Britain involved a massive and brutal dispossession program. It entailed the fencing off or hedging of more than half of all British land83 and evicting the poor farmers who until then depended on this land for their subsistence. Often, entire villages were forcibly expelled from land their families had worked on for centuries. Thanks to enclosures, oligarchs could make more
money from raising sheep in the newly closed-off fields than from rents received from their tenant
The dispossessed often revolted and rioted, but their rebellions failed, in part because they lacked appropriate revolutionary strategies. Many emigrated. Many others moved to city slums, where they suffered from extreme poverty, hunger, and premature death.
Around 1516, Thomas More described the depravity of British oligarchs and the horrors of enclosures:
Wherever it is found that the sheep of any soil yield a softer and richer wool than ordinary, there the nobility and gentry, and even those holy men, the abbots! not contented with the old rents which their farms yielded, nor thinking it enough that they, living at their ease, do no good to the public, resolve to do it hurt instead of good. They stop the course of agriculture, destroying houses and towns. . . . for when an insatiable wretch, who is a plague to his country, resolves to enclose many thousand acres of ground, the owners, as well as tenants, are turned out of their possessions by trick or by main force, or, being wearied out by ill usage, they are forced to sell them; by which means those miserable people, both men and women, married and unmarried, old and young, with their poor but numerous families (since country business requires many hands), are all forced to change their seats, not knowing whither to go . . . What else is to be concluded from this but that you first make thieves and then punish them?84
The poet Robert Crowley, writing in 1549, said that British oligarchs were
men without conscience. . . . Men that would have all in their own hands; men that would leave nothing for others. . . . men that be never satisfied. . . . men that would eat up men, women, & children. . . . They take our houses over our heads . . . they enclose our commons! No custom, no law or statute can keep them from oppressing us in such sort, that we know not which way to turn so as to live.85
Thus did British oligarchs set in motion the blueprints of their particular brand of the starvation strategy, a strategy that still decimates Britain,86 the USA, and the world at large.
The Irish holocaust provides another early illustration: A country ravaged by hunger yet exporting massive quantities of food.87 The colonized Irish were heartlessly butchered:
The slaughter of Irishmen was looked upon as literally the slaughter of wild beasts. Not only the men, but even the women and children who fell into the hands of the English, were deliberately and systematically butchered. Bands of soldiers traversed great tracts of the country, slaying every living thing they met.88
The survivors were deprived of their lands, which were handed over to British oligarchs and their subordinates. The dispossessed Irish had to cultivate marginal lands and to subsist for the most part on an inadequate potato diet. When the potato crop failed in 1845-1850, British colonizers had a choice: Enrich themselves further by continuing to export grain, beef, and mutton to England, or feed their starving neighbors. Greed and callousness won, causing anguish and suffering to most residents of that Emerald Isle, the needless deaths of a million, and the emigration of yet another million.89
British oligarchs likewise colonized India, starved millions, thwarted the rise of the life-saving Gandhian ideology, and so left behind them two feuding countries and the current, utterly corrupt, Indian, Pakistani (and later Bangladeshi too) oligarchies. These colonial leftovers follow the exploitative policies of their former masters. India, for example,
is constant proof that those who govern don’t give a damn about those who don’t. The filth, the decay, the state of the roads and streets, the neglect of all public spaces and services, of all sanitation — it’s glaringly obvious that those who have no choice don’t matter in the least to those who run things and can avoid the grime and chaos of the streets if they so choose . . . “There’s no scarcity of food. There is usually, each year, a surplus of about fifty or sixty million tons, which gets exported, while two hundred and fifty million go hungry. The Indian situation is incredible: we have the hungry, we have the food, but the problem isn’t being addressed. It’s shameful. How can we be a major exporter of food and have the largest number of malnourished people in the world?” . . . It’s pretty obvious that nobody is interested in ending hunger. Or, more accurately: many are interested in keeping people hungry, because a hungry person is someone you can exploit. It’s more difficult to exploit someone with a full belly.90
Argentina provides another example: “How can a country that produces enough food for 300 million people not manage to feed its own 40 million citizens?”
Millions of Argentinians or Indians — and millions in other countries — are starving mostly because their countries “were colonies and their owners designed them for their own benefit.”91
The oligarchs’ starvation strategy is still in force in many other countries besides Britain, India, and Argentina. According to one source, “Today, nearly 2.5 billion people — almost one-third of the world’s population — have some level of hunger.”92 “More than a billion people, mostly in the developing world, lack regular access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food. . . . A quarter of the world’s children are malnourished and thousands of children die each day simply because they do not have enough food to eat.”93
In 2011, the U.N.’s Jean Ziegler wrote:
The destruction, every year, of dozens of millions of men, women, and children through hunger constitutes the scandal of our century. Every five seconds a child under ten years old dies of hunger on a planet that is overflowing with riches. In its present state, world agriculture could feed twelve billion human beings . . . A child who dies of hunger is a murdered child.94
Besides deaths, chronically hungry children are often sickly, acutely underweight, and shorter than they would otherwise be. They are often physically and cognitively impaired. Their immune system is compromised and they often die of infections that well-nourished children can readily fend off. “At present, approximately 150 million children, roughly a quarter of all children under five in the developing world, are stunted.” The effects of such early food deprivation are often irreversible.95
More recently, owing to the Covid-19 lockdown, the number of additional hunger-related deaths probably exceeded the total number, worldwide, of Covid-19 related deaths.96
One typical result of chronic hunger is iron-deficiency anemia, a condition that affects some 1.6 billion.97 Another consequence is vitamin A deficiency, which
is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children worldwide. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year because of vitamin A deficiency. Half of these children die within a year of losing their sight. In pregnant women, vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness and may contribute to maternal mortality. Vitamin A deficiency also harms the immune system (the body’s ability to fight disease). This increases the chance of death from malaria, measles and diarrhea.98
That global tragedy could be solved by providing vitamin A capsules to these 500,000 children twice a year, at an approximate total annual cost of $500,00099 — at this writing, a quarter of the price of a single Lamborghini Centenario Coupe, and less than 1/600 the cost of a single F-35 Pentagon boondoggle.100
The underlying cause of chronic hunger and malnutrition bears repeating: For the most part, millions fall ill, starve, and die because they don’t have enough land to grow their own food and because they are too poor to buy food and nutritional supplements. For instance, just “three dollars of food and conventional medicines to each new mother could prevent five million child deaths annually.”101 Clearly, it is oligarchic apathy and wealth inequality that is blinding, stunting, wasting, sickening, and killing poor people. Wars, demographic pressures, climate change, and environmental degradation (see below) play a more limited role in this ongoing holocaust of starvation.
Poverty is the primary cause of chronic hunger and malnutrition most everywhere in the world. While food might be available in local markets, it is often beyond the reach of the poorest households. In fact, hunger and malnutrition frequently exist within the context of food surpluses. Not only do the poor struggle to purchase sufficient food, but they rarely have the land, water, seeds, tools, technology, and other resources needed to grow food for themselves and their families. The food that is consumed is generally of lower quality and lacks the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients needed to maintain good health. Because poor communities spend a larger portion of their income on food than wealthy communities, price increases have a more adverse and destabilizing impact. Poverty and hunger are mutually reinforcing outcomes: poverty causes hunger by depriving people of the means to buy or produce sufficient food while hunger causes poverty by limiting the ability of people to work to their fullest potential.102
[There are] 1.4 billion poor people . . . men and women the globalized system doesn’t need but must tolerate because quick genocides don’t look good on TV, and might give nightmares to the weak of heart. Hence, without risking exaggeration: this is the world that US capitalism and democracy have produced. The poverty and hunger of those millions is the consequence of that world — not its mistake.103
Causes of Hunger
This in turn raises the question: How do the oligarchs manage to deprive one-third of the human race of sufficient food in a world that could comfortably feed 12 billion? Why are so many people landless and poor?
I. Regime-Change Operations. Often, leaders appear in some poor ex-colony, intent on fighting endemic corruption, oppression, and hunger. At times, they understand that their country should produce its own food, not cash crops, for exports. They believe that the natural resources and agricultural productivity of their country belong to their fellow citizens. They want their people to be literate, long-lived, and healthy. They consequently propose cutting the profit margins of foreign corporations and striking a more independent agricultural and foreign policy courses.
Sadly, such leaders are almost always deposed, incarcerated for “corruption,” or murdered. They are then replaced, once again, with scoundrels willing to enrich and empower themselves by serving their foreign masters. The end result of almost all such interventions is always the same: Corruption, fascism, racism, increased poverty, hunger, desperation, and death.
The most often reiterated strand insists that the governments in poor countries are corrupt and divert the aid that should go to feed their citizens. It’s true: they are corrupt, and they do steal money. . . . Those corrupt governments stay in power with the support of those same Western governments and organizations that complain about their venality; they need them to obtain raw materials and military advantages.104
The USA, for instance, has waged war on the people of Nicaragua for over a century, installing, whenever it could, a blood-curdling fascist dictatorship (President Franklin Roosevelt cynically captured the reality of American policy, remarking that the American-installed corrupt ruler of that country might be a scoundrel, “but he is our son of a bitch”). In Chile, democracy and social justice were put on hold with the murder of democratically-elected Salvador Allende, his replacement with the fascist Pinochet, and the murder of thousands. In Indonesia, somewhere between one to three million people lost their lives after the U.S. and U.K. installed Suharto, a man who, besides massacres, specialized in enriching himself (to the tune of some $25 billion),105 his cronies, and his CIA/MI6 masters.
In Bolivia under Evo Morales, the first indigenous president in the Americas, “extreme poverty fell from 38.2% to 15.2% in 13 years. Life expectancy increased by 9 years. The minimum wage rose from $60 to $310. . . . Bolivia was declared a territory free of illiteracy in 2008. School dropout rate fell from 4.5% to 1.5% between 2005 and 2018,” and infant mortality fell by 56%.106 Although American oligarchs frequently lie about their motives for the restoration of fascism in so many countries, one of their number was refreshingly candid about the removal of Morales, who just barely escaped with his life. When asked about the propriety of “the US government organizing a coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia so this oligarch could obtain lithium,” the oligarch responded: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”107
It is no accident that in 2020, Afghanistan, the country suffering from the highest level of chronic hunger in the world (93%), was also the recipient of half a century U.S./U.K. of destabilization efforts, nor that similarly destabilized South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen were among the top 12 hungriest countries.108
Hundreds of such regime-change operations have taken place all over the globe since the rise of Britain and the USA to world power. These operations in turn provide a partial explanation for world hunger: Influential patriots who embark on hunger-elimination projects are deposed or murdered and replaced by fascist marionettes who aid and abet their overlords’ starvation strategy.
II. Debt. Another dagger in the starvation arsenal involves debt. The U.S./U.K. coerce or bribe their overseas puppets to take loans from such oligarchic outfits as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Such odious loans are in turn deployed by the local puppets and their IMF’s corporate sponsors to enrich themselves. The goal is not to help people, but to sink them into a quagmire. Targeted countries are then forced to hand over water, land, and other national resources to the foreign oligarchs, to discontinue public projects, to further impoverish the majority, to cease to protect workers and the environment, to evict people from their land, and to starve them.
For countries with large external debts, simply making annual interest payments can absorb a significant percentage of foreign exchange earnings. Resources that could have been used for social protection programs or investments in agrarian development are absorbed by these interest payments. Moreover, the governments of highly indebted countries often expand export agriculture, lease agricultural land and territorial waters to foreign interests, and exploit fragile natural resources in order to generate the foreign exchange needed to service their debts. Each of these measures increases food insecurity at home.109
III. Land theft. Theft is another, related, tentacle of the starvation octopus. Agrarian reforms — unlike charity — could readily solve the starvation scandal. Give the poor of the world enough land to grow their own food and raise their animals, and the nightmare of starvation would partially vanish. But today, as during the enclosure centuries in Britain (and as in the ongoing British privatization drive), the oligarchs are carrying out the opposite strategy: Robbing the poor of the little land they have.
If land grabbing is a form of colonialism, it is, like all forms, taking advantage of the weakness of the states they are colonizing. No corporation, public or private, could obtain thousands of acres of land in a country whose government had the means and the will to keep it for their citizens. . . . Governments then make sure to vacate the land they are giving over to their new benefactors, thereby displacing entire populations; sometimes this is done under the guise of improving living conditions. But, to cite just one example, the multimillion dollar contract the Ethiopian government signed with Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi, an Indian mogul, says very clearly that the land must be turned over empty, and that the government “shall ensure during the period of the lease, the lessee shall enjoy peaceful and trouble-free possession of the premises [with] adequate security free of cost . . . against any riot, disturbance or other turbulent time as and when requested by the lessee.110
Thus, foreign and local oligarchs bribe or coerce local politicians to push their own citizens off land they and their ancestors cultivated sustainably for generations. These oligarchs, in turn, are “less likely to adequately preserve the land and local ecosystems. Areas where large-scale land acquisitions have taken place are marked by increased topsoil erosion, aquifer depletion, water pollution, deforestation, and biodiversity loss.”111
IV. Environmental Crimes. For most oligarchs, their fellow passengers to the grave and the planet itself are nothing more than a mere externality, a means to an end. Their policies undermine the life-support system of Earth, causing climate disruptions, more frequent heat waves and storms, drying up of mountain glaciers, desertification, deforestation, loss of pollinators and other useful life forms, droughts, floods, growing scarcity of fresh water, destruction of fisheries, and degradation of soil, water, and air quality. So, in some places, people who could once feed themselves can no longer do so — thanks to the oligarchs’ philosophy of profit and power über alles.
V. Civil Strife and Wars. Another way of controlling poor (and rich) countries involves the divide and rule strategy: Fostering strife among people of different classes, ideologies, ethnicities, and religions. That is one reason the U.S./U.K. alone spend more on their military than all other countries of the world combined. That is one reason they have 945+ overseas bases all over the world. That is why they maintain the largest undercover assassination and special operations forces the world has ever known.112 One real but undeclared aim of this military overkill is to destabilize and weaken poor countries so that they cannot resist the encroachments of foreign corporations.
VI. Sanctions, Economic strangulation, and Theft of Overseas Assets of such defiant countries as Syria, Venezuela, or Iran, cause hunger and death too.
VII. Invasions. If everything fails and the country still sticks to its pro-people stance, an outright invasion can be arranged by Western powers themselves or by such proxies as paid mercenaries, Cuban oligarchs, Ukrainian fascists, Wahhabi fanatics, or Nicaraguan soldiers of fortune. Such invasions are often accompanied by genocides, instability, environmental catastrophes, sky-high corruption, millions of displaced persons, and starvation. Recent examples include Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan,
VIII. Food Waste. Minimizing food waste could, by itself, feed all the world’s starving people.113
IX. Deliberate Food Destruction. The logic of supply and demand often leads to the deliberate destruction of food which could be consumed instead by the starving millions of the world. For instance, as I am writing this, Australian farmers are solving the “problem” of avocado glut in a hungry world by composting or running over with tractors tons of avocados.114
X. Overpopulation. In some cases, “a country’s natural resources, especially its land, water, forests, and fisheries, may be insufficient to meet the nutritional needs of a rapidly expanding population.”115
Three Bright Spots
Before concluding this sordid tale of needless anguish, poverty, hunger, vitamin deficiencies, miscarriages, stunted growth, and premature deaths, we must recall three bright spots.
The first is that, apart from oligarchs, most well-fed people would probably be in favor of eradicating hunger — once they understood its extent and the availability of painless solutions.
Another bright spot is the many thousands of idealists, all over the world, who are doing everything they can, often at a great cost to themselves, to bring starvation to an end.
Above all, we must mention the Chinese miracle. Poverty-stricken Chinese were once just as numerous and famished as their Nepali and Indian neighbors to the south. Then one day, China’s rulers declared that the enemies of the Chinese nation were not the poor and the hungry, but poverty and hunger. Here is what followed, once that political decision had been made:
China has reduced the number of poor people by close to 800 million since 1980. Whatever the specific numbers, China’s poverty reduction is a remarkable achievement. . . . Following the eradication of absolute poverty, China has set the year 2035 as the target date to achieve common prosperity. This is understood as providing the opportunity for a decent standard of living to all Chinese citizens. Ensuring equal access to education, health care, and other services.116
In particular, by 2020, extreme poverty had been nearly eliminated in China:
The successful implementation of China’s targeted poverty alleviation program, culminating this year  in lifting out of poverty the last of the 89.6 million rural poor identified in 2014, is a remarkable accomplishment. Many of them were living in the most remote regions of the country, cut off by distance and arduous topography from the benefits of the rapid economic growth that helped reduce poverty elsewhere in the country.117
China’s achievement thus provides one more empirical proof to the main point of this section: Starvation is over, if you want it.
The Mystery of Mass Compliance
Why do decent people everywhere, people who are justifiably horrified by the senseless murder of one child or by the cruel treatment of one dog, fail to react to the agonizing, readily preventable, death of millions? And even when people of good will do react, why do they run around aimlessly, like ewes whose lambs have been taken to slaughter, never planning a counter-attack that might possibly work?
The passivity of the victims themselves — who have little to lose but their hunger pains — is even harder to explain. Martín Caparrós:
I have spent — I spend — a lot of time in poor places, with very poor people. What surprises me most, every time, over and over again, is that they don’t react; that each one of them, that so many millions allow themselves to be starved or be abused or lied to or mistreated in the most diverse ways and they don’t react as I believe, some believe, they should.118
Martín Caparrós writes:
The main questions remain the same: how can we live in a world that, despite its capacity to feed all of its inhabitants, cannot provide millions of people with enough food to live and live healthfully? Why does hunger, humankind’s oldest problem, remain its biggest problem? Why have we not solved an epidemic that kills more people than malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS combined? If we have made advances toward containing and eradicating those afflictions, why do we struggle to do so for world hunger?119
The answer to these questions is exceedingly simple. Hunger is traceable to a rotten, heartless, political system.
It is true that authoritarian regimes and representative democracies do at times make remarkable progress on the starvation front, but such advances are occasionally driven by fear that the people at long last would revolt, especially once they become aware of the Chinese miracle. Such advances can also be undone at any moment and often involve oppressive political systems. We shall see later that hunger and other scourges will only be permanently eliminated from the face of the Earth when all current political systems are replaced by direct democracies. It is only direct democracies in the prey countries that can successfully resist the depredations of foreign oligarchs. And it is only direct democracies in the predator countries that can prevent obscene income inequalities and the rise of conscience-less oligarchs to positions of power.
War on Drug Addicts and Users
We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. — Ursula K. Le Guin120
The worldwide war on drugs — just like the profit-motivated Prohibition in the USA — serves the political purposes of some oligarchs, but miserably fails to accomplish its stated goals. You could certainly achieve better overall results by educating people about the dangers of drugs like heroin than by locking them up or killing them. This is clear on theoretical, empirical, and philosophical grounds.121 This is further confirmed by the experience of countries like Portugal, which mostly decriminalized drugs.122 And yet, in most of the world, the war on drugs continues, often leading to chaos and deaths, prolonged incarcerations and, in countries like China or Iran, executions.
In the last 14 years or so, the official number of homeless people in the USA alone, including children, hovered around 600,000.123 In 2020, there were 17,000,000 vacant homes in that country and the USA was spending over a trillion dollars on its military-industrial complex, with a sizable portion of that money being wasted on boondoggles and corruption. Over the years too, policies of the Central Bank and the government have deliberately endowed billionaires with trillions of dollars. So it’s not lack of physical or economic resources, but lack of political will, that accounts for the homelessness tragedy. In rich countries like the USA, the problem could be solved in a matter of days. A similar situation prevails in other rich countries that could also easily solve the problem, e.g., France, the Netherlands.
During the first half of the twentieth century, as the productivity of the labor force rose, and as the Soviet Union challenged capitalist ideology, the workweek in many countries was considerably shortened. Since then, productivity increased by leaps and bounds and a larger fraction of women entered the workforce, and yet the workweek stagnated. Consequently, many people suffer the deprivations of unemployment while others are working too many hours. Why can’t we shorten the workweek everywhere, to the point where no one is unemployed and everyone enjoys more leisure? Why did Russia raise the retirement age in 2019, instead of lowering it?124
At this point in history, the capacity to doubt, to criticize, and to disobey may be all that stands between a future for mankind and the end of civilization. — Erich Fromm125
Sexual abuse of children is rampant. As long as the perpetrators are members in good standing of the oligarchy, they can break the law and harm thousands of young lives with impunity.126
It would take an encyclopedia to document all the overlooked cases of pedophilia in oligarchic circles. Here we shall cite the finding of a commission, set up by the Catholic Church of France. The commission
had uncovered between 2,900 and 3,200 pedophile priests and other church members who operated since 1950 . . . [this] was “a minimum estimate.”The most terrible thing . . . was to see the most absolute of evils — an attack on the physical and mental integrity of children — which is to say a work of death perpetrated by people whose mission was to bring life and salvation. . . . Between the 1950s and the 1970s, the church was completely indifferent to the victims. They didn’t exist, the suffering of children was ignored” . . . Clerics were greatly interested in protecting the church and retaining offenders in the priesthood. . . . the estimated number of potential victims mentioned in the report will be well over 100,000.127
Conclusion: Is This the Best We Can Do?
By showing, through a few representative illustrations, that humanity is injudiciously, scandalously, and heartlessly governed, this chapter provides the rationale for the main theme of this book: A search for a free, sustainable, just, and peaceful system of governance.
Read the rest of the book at https://drnissani.net/mnissani/DirectDemocracy.pdf
11 Guerrero, Alexander A., 2014, “Against elections: the lottocratic alternative,” Philosophy & Public Affairs,
15 Referring to the USA, President Theodore Roosevelt observed: “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of today.” President Lincoln: “The money power preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, and more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces as public enemies all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at my rear is my greatest foe.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt remarked that “a financial element in the large centers has owned the government ever since the days of Andrew Jackson.” See also: Sinclair, Upton, 1919, The Brass Check; Page, Benjamin I. & Gilens, Martin, 2017. Democracy In America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do about It, Fuller, Roslyn, 2015, Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost its Purpose.
16 Monbiot, George, 2015, “The City’s stranglehold makes Britain look like an oh-so-civilised mafia state,” The Guardian.
17 Pegg, David & Evans, Rob, 2021, “Revealed: Queen lobbied for change in law to hide her private wealth,” The Guardian.
18 Tucker, Adam, 2021, “Now we know that the mysterious ‘Queen’s consent’ is more than just a procedural formality, it must be scrapped,” The Guardian.
19 Galeano, Eduardo, 2009, “I hate to bother you,” CounterPunch.
20 Galeano, Eduardo,”Las aves, el cocinero, y el mundo” (The birds, the cook, and the world).
21 Martensen, Chris, 2021, “’No discernable relationship between vaccines and cases: we’ve been had.”
22 Sullivan, Dylan & Hickel, Jason, 2022, “How British colonialism killed 100 million Indians in 40 years,” Al
24 Russo, Aaron, 2009, “Reflections and warnings.”
27 Cited in: Shukman, David, 2016, “Hawking: humans at risk of lethal ‘own goal,’” BBC.
31 2011, “New industrial revolution needed to avert ‘planetary catastrophe’ — UN report,” UN News.
32 William Shatner, cited in: 2021, “World alert: the coming catastrophic event,” Before It’s News; See also,
Parson, Paul, 2018, “A brief history of climate change warnings,” History Extra.
33 There are, however, claims of alien encounters on Earth; see, for instance, Coulthart, Ross, 2021, In Plain Sight. Despite such claims, no solid evidence for contact with extraterrestrials yet exists. Moreover, the
point of this section is not contact with aliens. The point is the obvious self-destructiveness of humanity,
the only technological civilization in the universe that we know of.
35 Corbett, Jessica, 2022, “Experts say nuclear energy as climate solution is total ‘fiction,’” Common
40 Brenner, Michael, 2021, in an interview with Finian Cunningham, “Veering to the abyss… U.S. and allies
are intellectually comatose, Strategic Culture Foundation.
43 Russell, Bertrand & Einstein, Albert, 1955, “Russell-Einstein Manifesto.”
44 Kipling, Rudyard, 1902, “The Dykes.” The “threat” the reactionary Kipling was warning about in this
poem was, I suspect, a move towards a slightly less imperialistic and caste-ridden Britain. But it so
happens that this great poem can also serve as a more tangible metaphor for climate disruptions.
45 Glikson,Andrew,2021,“Thedilemmaofclimatescientists,”ArcticNews.46 McPherson,Guy,Naturebatslast.
47 2014, “The elusive risks of nano-medicine,” Paris Tech Review.
49 2021, “Urgent action needed over artificial intelligence risks to human rights,” UN News.
50 Cited in: Luckerson, Victor, 2014, “5 very smart people who think artificial intelligence could bring the
53 Landos, M. et al., 2021, “Aquatic Pollutants in Oceans and Fisheries,” International Pollutants Elimination
55 Gammon, Katharine, 2012, “Sperm quality & quantity declining, mounting evidence suggests,” Live
56 Bryant, Miranda, 2021, “Falling sperm counts ‘threaten human survival,’ expert warns,” The Guardian.
57 2000, “A tale of two botanies,” Wired.
58 Taleb, Nassim N., et al., “The precautionary principle (with application to the genetic modification of
60 Ashworth, James, 2021, “Analysis warns global biodiversity is below ‘safe limit’ ahead of COP 15,”
Natural History Museum.
61 2021, “Garbage patches: how gyres take our trash out to sea,” National Ocean Service.
62 Landos, M. et al., 2021, “Aquatic pollutants in oceans and fisheries,” International Pollutants Elimination
63 2015, “The nine planetary boundaries,” Stockholm Resilience Centre.
67 Nissani, M., 1999, “Media coverage of the greenhouse effect,” Population and Environment: a Journal of
Interdisciplinary Studies 21:27-43.
68 Both cited in: Nissani, M., 1996, “The greenhouse effect: an interdisciplinary perspective,” Population
and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 17:459.
71 Nothing will make me happier than finding out that I’m mistaken, and that the probability of human
extinction is where it ought to be: close to zero.
73 Whitehead, John W. & Whitehead, Nisha, 2021, “The police state’s reign of terror continues . . . with
help from the Supreme Court,” The Rutherford Institute.
74 Whitehead, John W., & Whitehead, Nisha. 2021, “The empire of lies breaks down: Ugly truths the Deep
State wants to keep hidden,” The Rutherford Institute.
76 Gavin, Gabriel, 2021, “Barbarism behind bars: rape & torture in Russia’s prisons laid bare by thousands
of leaked videos, human rights activists tell RT,” RT.
79 Galeano, Eduardo, 2009, “I hate to bother you,” CounterPunch.
82 Tuck, Jim, “Mexico’s Daumier: Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913),” MexConnect.
88 William Lecky, cited in: Losurdo, Domenico, 2015, War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century.
89 Fogarty, Chris, 2018, Ireland 1845-1850: the Perfect Holocaust, and Who Kept It “Perfect.” See also: Swift, Jonathan, 1729, “A modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people from being a burthen to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick.”
92 Cooper, Matt et al., 2020, “Are we on track to end global hunger?” Brookings.
96 Durden, Tyler, 2021, “Tracking global hunger & food insecurity,” ZeroHedge.
98 Boyd, Kierstan, 2020, “What is vitamin A deficiency?” American Academy of Ophthalmology.
99 Francis, Jason, 2008, “Aiming to cure blindness,” Share International.100 Marchand, Ross, 2021, “End the F-35 boondoggle,” Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
101 Kennedy, Robert F. Jr., 2021, The Real Anthony Fauci.
102 Adams, Francis, 2021, The Right to Food: the Global Campaign to End Hunger and Malnutrition.
103 Caparrós, Martín, 2019, Hunger: the Oldest Problem.
104 Caparrós, ibid.
105 2021, “British propaganda campaign incited mass slaughter of communists in Indonesia in 1960s, declassified papers reveal,” RT.
106 Lendman, Stephen, 2019, “Why the Trump regime toppled Bolivia’s Evo Morales. ‘He wasn’t our guy,’” Global Research.
107 2020, “‘We will coup whoever we want:’ Elon Musk sparks online riot with quip about overthrow of Bolivia’s Evo Morales,” RT.
108 Venditti, Bruno, 2021, “Interactive map: tracking world hunger and food insecurity,” Visual Capitalist.
109 Adams, Francis, 2021, The Right to Food: the Global Campaign to End Hunger and Malnutrition.
110 Caparrós, Martín, 2019, Hunger: the Oldest Problem
111 Adams, Francis, 2021, The Right to Food: the Global Campaign to End Hunger and Malnutrition.
112 Arkin, William M., 2021, “Inside the military’s secret undercover army,” Newsweek.
113 Durden, Tyler, 2021, “Tracking global hunger & food insecurity,” ZeroHedge.
114 Miller, Michael E., 2021,“Avocado glut leaves Australian farmers crushed as prices hit guac bottom,” TheWashington Post.
115 Caparrós, Martín, 2019, Hunger.
116 Lugo, Maria Ana et al., 2021, “What’s next for poverty reduction policies in China?” Brookings.
117 2020, “Ending poverty on road to a better future,” United Nations Development Programme in China. 118 Caparrós, Martín, 2019, Hunger.
119 Caparrós, ibid.
120 2014, “Ursula K Le Guin’s speech at National Book Awards: ‘books aren’t just commodities,’” The Guardian.
121 Packer, Herbert, L., 1968, The Limits of the Criminal Sanction.
122 “Countries that have decriminalized drugs,” World Atlas.
123 “State of Homelessness: 2021 edition,” National Alliance to End Homelessness.
124 Leontief, Wassily W., 1982, “The distribution of work and income,” Scientific American, 247: 188-204.
125 Extract from: Fromm, Eric, 2009, “On conscience as disobedience,” Philosophical Investigations.
126 One typical example: 2021, “U.K. police won’t act against Prince Andrew over abuse claim,” Washington latest.
127 2021, ‘Most absolute of evils’: investigation estimates up to 3,200 pedophile priests in French Catholic Church since 1950, RT.
by Kevin Barett
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