Chapter 13

Why Can't We Connect?


The effect of being exposed to the world after a period of enforced sensory deprivation is intense; vivid colours, sharp, deep odours, rich sound textures – like being reborn, or taking your first gasps of air having been underwater for far too long. For a while you can enjoy being connected with the world…until you are forcibly held down and the mask of deprivation is slipped on you again.

Things would never be the same for the thousands of people who had their connected lives taken from them during the Clearances: a systematic and economically motivated period of Scottish history that began in the middle of the 18th century. Prior to the events that overcame huge swathes of Scotland, displacing and ravaging its inhabitants, the majority of people lived in communal townships, or bailes of up to a hundred individuals. Sometimes they were forced to scratch a living during bad weather; sometimes the men had to drop their tools and fight in Clan battles[i]; but in the main, this runrig form of life was peaceful and – by the mere fact of being totally dependent on the forces and materials provided by it – very close to nature. In the eyes of the newly industrialising upper and middle classes of Britain, and the government which they had total authority over, this was an unacceptable situation: the cities needed food and raw materials, and the Highlands had to be “improved”.

Immediately after May term day [in 1812], and about two months after they had received summonses of removal, a commencement was made to pull down and set fire to the houses over their heads! The able-bodied men were away at their cattle or otherwise engaged at a distance; so that the old people, women and children began to try to preserve the timber, which they were entitled to consider as their own. But the devastators proceeded with the greatest celerity, demolishing all before them, and when they had overthrown the houses in a large tract of land, they ultimately set fire to the wreck. Timber, furniture, and every other article that could not be instantly removed was consumed by fire or otherwise utterly destroyed.[ii]

We are in a constant state of enforced sensory deprivation; kept in that state in order that we can be willing participants of Industrial Civilization. The fear among those that keep us in that state is tangible – every time a new connection is made a new mask has to be placed upon us. If we connect with the real world permanently then the spell will be broken: we will no longer be “viewers”, “customers”, “consumers”, “voters”, “citizens”, we will just be us. Remember: failure to connect is the reason humanity is pulling the plug on its life-support machine.

Who are these people that want to keep us disconnected and why are they doing it? I am going to tell you soon; but first, I think it’s time you were told about the various methods, processes and techniques that are being actively used, right now, to keep us disconnected – the Tools of Disconnection...


How To Keep People Disconnected  

One: Reward Us For Being Good Consumers

The rewards of life are manifold: love, a feeling of belonging, happiness and pleasure, a sense of wellbeing having done good things – all of these are rewards in themselves and, ultimately, as I showed in Part Two, such rewards are the reason we do things, for better or worse. After the biological need to reproduce, our main aim, as a human being, is to gain rewards such as those mentioned above. It seems obvious, then, why people try to earn money or take part in lotteries, or even carry out robberies – so that they can use this money to buy things that give them a sense of well being.

Which, of course – as I also showed in Part Two – is a complete fallacy.

The “happiness” that comes from holding a new piece of technical wizardry in your hands is something created by the system that needs you to feel happy in buying that piece of technical wizardry; because if you didn’t feel happy then you wouldn’t want to buy it. The sad fact is that there are few real rewards to be had from following the consumer dream, apart from the initial flush of excitement that raises our endorphin levels – the same hormones that make childbirth more bearable – and thus leave you with a chemically-induced sense of happiness or wellbeing. This then leads you to associate buying things (or taking part in other artificial “experiences” for that matter) with good times, so you do it again, and again, and again. If all this sounds like a circular argument, then you have spotted the exact point I am making  – you, the consumer, are stuck in a positive feedback loop which is growing increasingly urgent: “Buy now, while stocks last!” “Hurry, closing down sale!” “Limited edition!” “Special offer!” And all the while the economy keeps growing, and the amount of carbon dioxide being thrown into the atmosphere keeps going up.

Victor Lebow, a leading retail analyst, encapsulated the desires of the consumer economy – the economy that most of you reading this book are a part of – in a startlingly candid manner, and one that is so much more relevant today than it was back in 1955:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, or prestige, is now to be found in our consumption patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives is today expressed in consumption terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats…these commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever increasing pace.[iii]

Your reward for being a good consumer is the ability to consume more, and feed the economy so it can keep growing. That’s it. And yet, we keep doing it because we continue to believe it makes us happier, more content and better people.


Two: Make Us Feel Good For Doing Trivial Things

Last year I reduced the amount of energy I consume in my home by around a quarter: that made me feel good because I knew that by doing this I had reduced the amount of carbon dioxide I put into the atmosphere. I had to do the “feeling good” for myself because no one else was going to do it. No, what I would have had to have done in order to be told I was a good person was lots of recycling: certainly my local council like to tell residents that they are good people because they are recycling more than they were last year, but when I called them up to ask whether they would tell people to stop buying goods, so that the council would have to collect less rubbish overall, I was met with cold silence. The reason was simple: if you buy less stuff then you will stop the economy growing; whereas, you can recycle with abandon while still buying more and more things. In fact, the more you buy, the more you will be able to recycle – result!

“Doing Your Bit”, is the clarion call for a new light green generation. We can all do our bit and make a positive difference for the environment – apparently. Turn your thermostat down (for heating) or up (for air conditioning) a degree; change a conventional light bulb for a compact fluorescent one; buy organic vegetables rather than non-organic…deep breath, I want you to read this list produced by the car manufacturer Lexus[iv]:

·     When remodeling, consider sustainable materials like bamboo flooring.

·     Instead of sending someone cut flowers, give them a plant.

·     When redecorating, use latex paint instead of one that’s oil-based.

·     Keep your tires properly inflated. You’ll get better gas mileage.

·     Next time you have a dinner party, use cloth napkins.

·     Don’t toss out your old cell phone; donate it to a charity.  

·     Keep a canvas bag in your car so you’ll have it handy when you go grocery shopping.

…and so on. None of these things are bad, as such, but they are trivial: nowhere in the list do Lexus suggest that you should get rid of your car, or even drive less, which is not surprising because the idea of the list is to make the Lexus owner feel good about their purchase. The Internet abounds with lists like this; some produced by businesses, some by local authorities and governments, some by well meaning environmental organisations that are naively regurgitating the same ideas as the businesses and the politicians. The whole point of praising people for carrying out trivial activities, however worthy they may be, is so that those people carry on living in almost exactly the same manner as they did before: you have to expend only a little effort in order to feel better, while the businesses and politicians that depend on a vibrant economy for their existence can continue to carry on operating in almost exactly the same manner as they did before.


Three: Give Us Selected Freedom

What is meant by freedom? The most obvious answer would seem to be, “the right to live your life in whatever way you choose, whilst not interfering with the right of anyone else to live in the way that they choose.” This is fraught with problems, not least because – taken to extremes – you would have to account for the impact of all of your actions, however trivial, on everyone else. The biggest problem with this definition, though, is that not all rights are equal: should I choose to live a life without electricity in order to help prevent climate change, then I would be denying the employees of the electricity company their rights to a job. Again, taken to extremes; should I choose not to take crack cocaine then I would be denying the crack dealer their right to earn a living. The crack dealer is currently suffering as a result of my non-existent drug habit.

In fact, freedom is one of those things that has to be taken in perspective. Going all the way back to Chapter Seven, we see the idea of the Greatest Good coming into play – the idea that we should strive towards something that benefits the greatest number of people in the most effective way – alongside a number of rights that no human should do without: clean air, fresh water, shelter, food and a basic level of mental and physical stimulation. No one can reasonably deny anyone those rights. The sum of the Greatest Good along with these basic human rights actually leads to a mutual respect and care for the natural environment. The millions of people breathing in the rancid, choking air of Mexico City, Beijing, and countless other towns and cities around the world have had their rights curtailed; as have those people who drink polluted, toxic water; as have those people who had their native food sources taken away from them by mining companies; as have those people whose homes were destroyed to clear space for agriculture and commercial expansion. This is not freedom.

What we are actually given are those “freedoms” selected in order to ensure minimum disruption to the continued business of making money: voting is a perfect example. I am often struck by the sheer brilliance of the phrase, “If voting changed anything, it would be illegal.” This is often attributed to the social reformer and anarchist, Emma Goldman, who may not have said these exact words, but most certainly railed against the pretence that voting was something worth doing; and in doing so made herself extremely unpopular amongst those who were fighting at the time for the right of women to vote. As I write, the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, is still refusing to reveal the outcome of the presidential election after two weeks of waiting. The opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai won the election, which is why the result is being withheld, and there is nothing the voting public can do about it within the laws that Robert Mugabe put in place – they have cast their votes, they have expressed their democratic right, and a dictator remains. Think about your options in the country in which you live – how much change can you really make by casting a vote, while all the time the millions of people around you cast theirs?

Forget the politicians – they’re an irrelevance. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice.[v]

The next Presidential election in the USA will be won by either a Democrat or a Republican, and nothing will change beyond a little tinkering around the edges and the type of rhetoric being spouted by the new President. It is sobering to note that before George W. Bush came to power, Al Gore – joint Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the poster boy for the new light-green generation – had already terminally weakened the Kyoto Protocol that Bush subsequently refused to sign. As Vice-President, Al Gore realised that not including poor countries in the Protocol would be a vote loser, and thus ensured – through his influence on the negotiating table – that rich countries would be able to, by trading their emissions with poor countries, buy their way out of any potential punishment when the emissions were added up.[vi] Funny, the difference a bit of power makes to people.

So, go and protest, make some noise, wave some banners, sign a petition: just make sure you stay within the law.  I mean it – protest of some form or another is permitted in most nations, but the severity and the type of protest allowed depends on the legislation that is in place; both standing legislation and the widely used “state of emergency” which, in fact is simply an extension of the existing laws. As the Zimbabweans ponder their electoral fate, the Mugabe regime has imposed “emergency” laws to prevent any form of gathering that may threaten the government. What the Mugabe regime knows only too well is that in Zimbabwe, as with many other African, South American and Asian states, protest often takes an entirely different form to the type of protest the people of the industrial West have become accustomed too. The Mugabe regime know that real protest is capable of overthrowing governments; whereas in the USA, for instance, it almost goes without saying that protest will lead to nothing more than a warm feeling in the hearts of those taking part:

One will find hundreds, sometimes thousands, assembled in an orderly fashion, listening to selected speakers calling for an end to this or that aspect of lethal state activity, carrying signs “demanding” the same thing…and – typically – the whole thing is quietly disbanded with exhortations to the assembled to “keep working” on the matter and to please sign a petition.

Throughout the whole charade it will be noticed that the state is represented by a uniformed police presence keeping a discreet distance and not interfering with the activities. And why should they? The organizers will have gone through “proper channels” to obtain permits. Surrounding the larger mass of demonstrators can be seen others…their function is to ensure the demonstrators remain “responsible,” not deviating from the state-sanctioned plan of protest.[vii]

Laughable, isn’t it, that such a well controlled event – and this is the way every official rally I have ever been on works – should be considered a “protest” by the organisers? The laws in each country are tailored to suit the appetite of the population for change: a country full of people that want to fight for change needs to be kept tightly controlled; a country full of catatonic, drip-fed consumers can march all they like, be given a well-controlled soapbox on TV – and the voltage on the tasers can be turned right down.

That is, unless someone decides to break the law.


Four: Pretend We Have A Choice

When you accept the label of “consumer”, you accept that you have become a financial object, willing to be manipulated by whatever marketing tricks abound. Consumer choice would be far better entitled “Conchoice”, a term describing the true level of choice that individuals are provided with, should they find themselves within the consumer culture. Benjamin R. Barber puts it like this: “The apparent widening of individual consumer choices actually shrinks the field of social choices…For example, the American’s freedom to choose among scores of automobile brands was secured by sacrificing the liberty to choose between private and public transportation. This politics of commodity…offers the feel of freedom while diminishing the range of options and the power to affect the larger world.”[viii] The individual is being conned: there is no choice.

Step outside the business districts of most cities in the Western world, and your ability to move around is dramatically curtailed. I tried to advise an ecologist friend of mine how to travel the 1300 miles to Boston from a town in Iowa without using car or aircraft – it was just about possible using a combination of suburban and cross country buses, along with three different trains running on three different rail networks and a couple of taxi journeys along the way. Her journey would have taken around 31 hours, not including the waits between the various legs of her journey. Her “choice”, in reality, was one fold: a car to the airport, and a plane to Boston – about seven hours in all.

America is a very large country, but even in small countries the way people travel is limited by whatever economic policies the government of the time decide best serve the thinking of the time. The 1960s nearly dealt the railway system in Britain a fatal blow: had the recommendations of Dr Richard Beeching – a transport adviser working for the British government – been fully carried through, the UK would have been left with just 3,000 miles of trunk route rather than the 12,000 miles that exists today.

As it was, a third of the stations and a third of the track was shut down in the space of two years. It turns out, that Doctor Beeching was only doing what he was told; as Charles Loft writes: “[Transport Minister] Ernest Marples was a self-made man who owned a road-construction company. He was required to sell his stake in the business on becoming Minister of Transport in October 1959, but was slow to do so…it was easy to attribute ulterior motives to the Minister's apparent enthusiasm for closures, particularly as he also presided over a shift in investment from rail to road…With both road freight and the motor-car industry now essential sectors of the British economy, with restrictions on motoring a political impossibility and congestion a growing problem, the case for more and better roads seemed clear.”[ix] There is little doubt that the British government, under severe pressure from the car industry, had tried – and partially succeeded – to kill off the railways, and entirely remove one genuine choice.

Look at the way you are currently living: you can “choose” between plasma, LCD, cathode ray tube or Internet TV, but not having a television is inconceivable to most people in the consumer culture; you can “choose” between shopping at Walmart, Aldi, Tesco, Carrefour or any other supermarket, but not using a supermarket is impossible for hundreds of millions of people who need to buy food and have no way of growing it themselves. Some “choices” are even more blatantly false:

An off-camera interviewer asks a woman, “What would you rather have: a car or a cleaner environment?”

The woman pauses, seemingly thoughtfully, before at last saying, “I can’t imagine me without my car. Of course I’d rather have a clean environment, but I think that that compromise is very hard to make where we are.”

The ad ends with a voiceover saying what BP is doing to make the world a better place.

How would the ad run if we changed the question to, “What would you rather have, a planet that is not being made filthy and in fact destroyed by automobiles and other effects of civilization, or your car?”[x]

How much of your life was simply picked off the shelves of the Conchoice Mall, and how much of it came out of a conscious decision to live in that particular way? Have a think about that question for a while.


Five: Sell Us A Dream

On 1 April 2007, the Brazilian city of São Paolo officially became billboard free. The tide of advertising that had swamped every physical dimension of the city had become intolerable, even to the local authorities; such was the scale of the problem. The law that demanded the removal of all billboards was – incredibly – passed by a huge majority, with the only “no” voter being an advertising executive on the council. People are happy, except the advertisers, who made their position clear after the law was proposed:

Border, the Brazilian Association of Advertisers, was up in arms over the move. In a statement released on 2 October, the date on which law PL 379/06 was formally approved by the city council, Border called the new laws "unreal, ineffective and fascist". It pointed to the tens of thousands of small businesses that would have to bear the burden of altering their shop fronts under regulations "unknown in their virulence in any other city in the world".[xi]

We’re all smart enough to see through the rhetoric of these comments: “unreal, ineffective and fascist” are perfect descriptors for the synthetic, disconnected, material world that advertising has forced upon humanity – a world that is swamped with branding, corporate “messages”, sponsorship, flyers, free sheets, popups and numerous other forms of corporate propaganda. São Paolo may have lost its billboards, but the advertisers can still feed their messages to the public through newspapers, magazines, television, radio; even schools, into which corporations don’t so much sneak advertising, as blatantly trumpet the goodness of their products and services. Almost every school in the UK collects Tesco and Sainsburys supermarket tokens, through which they can acquire computers and books. Every token handed over by every child is a graphic advertisement for competing brands that want their cut of the family shopping budget, and the future loyalty of the children who carry these little pieces of paper into the classroom. North America has it far worse: “It is never enough to tag the schools with a few logos. Having gained a foothold, the brand managers are now doing what they have done in music, sports and journalism outside the schools: trying to overwhelm their host. They are fighting for their brands to become not the add-on but the subject of education.”[xii] As you have seen, the individual is not offered real choice in this culture of consumption – simply “Conchoice”. The real choice has already been lost in favour of corporations that have sold entire populations down the commercial river: the individual’s ultimate dream is no longer a response to “what can I achieve in my life?” but “what can I buy?”

This goes back further than you can imagine. Long before mass advertising and competition between corporations, commerce was the prime motivator in the foreign policies of the imperial powers of Europe and, later on, the USA. The events in Haiti over the last 500 years reflect this perfectly. Like countless tribal peoples prior to European settlement, the Taíno[xiii] people lived a connected life with the land, the sea and the sky that drove much of their mythology. Then Christopher Columbus landed at Hispaniola in 1492 – the island that would become Haiti and the Dominican Republic – and irreversibly changed things:

It took no time at all for the [people] who first greeted Christopher Columbus to be all but erased from the face of the earth…less than 30 years after Columbus' three ocean-crossing ships dropped anchor off the island of Hispaniola, the Taíno would be destroyed by Spanish weaponry, forced labor and European diseases.[xiv]

Those that survived lived at the behest of the invaders, and somehow managed to hold on to a semblance of their ancestry. The commercial advantage such a fertile environment provided to invaders in terms of crops, slave labour (both local and imported) and trading routes made Haiti the subject of continued negotiation and conflict ever since; but it was the specific words that were used with reference to Haiti that reveals so much. In 1833, in relation to the Haitian people but, no doubt, a view that could be applied across the entire British Empire, a British parliamentarian observed: “To make them labour, and give them a taste for luxuries and comforts, they must be gradually taught to desire those objects which could be attained by human labour. There was a regular progress from the possession of necessaries to the desire of luxuries; and what once were luxuries, gradually be necessaries. This was the sort of progress the negroes had to go through, and this was the sort of education to which they ought to be subject in their period of probation.”[xv] In a striking parallel to this, Arthur Millspaugh, an advisor to the occupying USA government wrote in 1929: “The peasants, living lives which to us seem indolent and shiftless, are envariably (sic.) carefree and contented; but, if they are to be citizens of an independent self-governing nation, they must acquire…a new set of wants.”[xvi] In other words: the commercial Americanization of a culture.

Quite what the people of Haiti did to deserve such a long period of turmoil, especially considering their “carefree and contented” existence in the past, is difficult to understand at first glance. The more you look at the history of commerce though – the ravenous British East India Company; the endemic slavery to feed the coffee, cotton and sugar industries; the limitless ambition of Coca-Cola and McDonalds – the more you realise that this is just par for the course. The reason you are surrounded by logos, adverts and brands, and the reason entire cultures are being cut up into bite-sized pieces and swallowed is because commerce needs to constantly sell a dream of a new reality in order to survive.


Six: Exploit Our Trust

If I were to tell you to hit someone, just because I wanted them hurt, you would almost certainly refuse, and probably report me to the authorities for suggesting such a thing – and quite right, too. If I were to don a white coat, welcome you into a laboratory and explain that you were to take part in an experiment, and that the person on the other side of the screen who you were about to apply extremely painful electric shocks too was a willing volunteer, you would probably say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Or would you?

The groundbreaking experimental work of Stanley Milgram[xvii] simply reinforced what he already knew – that individuals, when exposed to an authority figure in a pressure situation will obey the authority figure far more readily, and to a greater extent, than would have been possible in other circumstances. The reason Milgram already knew the power of authority – although he was, himself, surprised at the level of obedience in his experiments – was historical. In 1961, when the experiments were first conducted, World War II was fresh in the minds of every adult living in the parts of the world where the conflict had taken place. The hierarchy of authority within the Axis Forces had been carefully designed to ensure maximum obedience: from Hitler, the master orator and “saviour” of the German people; through to the SS guards and local enforcers operating on behalf of the Third Reich; the weight of power upon ordinary citizens and soldiers was irresistible. But, even given such a level of authority, it is still shocking to read of the ease in which people were coerced to carry out appalling acts:

Judicial interrogations of some 125 of the [reserve police battalion] men indicated that, while no one had to participate…the great majority stayed in ranks and later killed whoever was brought to them out of loyalty to those ranks, and to maintain their standing in their units. Thus the men chose to become murderers rather than look bad in the eyes of the other men.

Over time, as the battalion participated in more and more mass murders, it became far more relaxed and efficient in its deadly operations. These ordinary men got used to killing thousands of people at close range as part of their day’s work. By the time their part of the “Final Solution” was completed in Poland, the battalion had shot at least 38,000 Jews to death.[xviii]

You might think that you would behave differently to these ordinary people caught up in the rigors of war, and that you would refuse to obey the requests of those in authority.  In fact, only about 20 percent of those ordered to kill Jewish prisoners, without fear of repercussions if they refused, did refuse[xix]. The chances are that if you were put in this same situation, you would not refuse and would, yourself, become a murderer. It is a chilling thought that the simple act of being in a controlled situation where there is a hierarchy of authority pushing down on you can turn people into something that would otherwise be unthinkable to them – but that is the power of authority. In effect, it is our good nature, our trust of other people that allows us to be manipulated in such a dramatic way; and not even the threat of certain death can change that.

The daily grind of work exposes billions of people to some form of authority, but only in a minority of cases do people ever think to question the tasks they are given. To be sure, many of the people carrying out their work are in a very difficult situation: however mundane and soul-destroying, the completion of these tasks is simply the only way they can foresee earning the money necessary to buy food to keep themselves alive. The sweatshops of South East Asia and Central America starkly bear testament to that reality. There are people, though, who carry out work that is utterly destructive; yet because of the deep disconnection between what that person is doing and the impact of that work on the environment, and humanity in general, they continue to do it – and authority serves to deepen that disconnection.

The person operating the feller-buncher in Chapter Six knows, quite clearly that he is removing trees, destroying habitat and leaving behind bare earth which will be washed away in the next rainstorm. He also knows – despite the efforts of those who have tried to suppress this information – that the removal of trees contributes to the greenhouse effect, which is heating up the planet and threatening to bring on a catastrophic cycle of events at all scales of life. He know all these things and yet he continues[xx]. The CEO of the forestry company, say Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark or Asian Pulp And Paper, knows the impact of his company’s activities; as do the directors, upon whom the pressure to meet financial targets is imposed by their CEO; as do the managers, upon whom the pressure to improve output is imposed by their directors; as do the operators of the feller-bunchers, who have been clearly told that they are doing an important job, and they have to process a set tonnage of timber every day otherwise the contract will be lost. The hierarchy imposes authority, and the destruction continues.

As you will see later, the threat of financial loss is most definitely a factor in the continuation of highly destructive activities; but, as Stanley Milgram demonstrated all those years ago, we don’t really need those threats: we just do what we are told.


Seven: Lie To Us

It seems so obvious, especially after reading to this point, that in order to thrive as a species humanity is dependent on a fully functioning, healthy and diverse global ecology. When you turn on the television news, listen to the radio or read a newspaper, the state of the global ecology is shown clearly as improving or reducing in quality overall, with x number of species having been created or become extinct, and certain trophic levels becoming more or less dominant. Or rather, this is what we should be seeing and hearing: instead, we learn about the state of the global economy, whether the markets are rising or falling; how many jobs have been gained or lost; which companies are taking over others, and which sectors of the economy are thriving or failing. The economy is king; the ecology is a footnote.

It is impossible to create something out of nothing. National economies or, in microcosm, the finances of individual companies cannot grow unless they take something from somewhere else: this can either be in the form of market-share from other nations or companies, or by creating product from a resource like oil, metal ore, limestone (for cement) or the ecological complexity of a natural habitat, such as an ancient forest[xxi]. The global economy cannot take market share from another planet; it can only grow by using additional resources taken from this planet.

Taken like that, it is obvious that economic growth is ultimately unsustainable – especially given the narrow, capital based definition used to define the term “economy” in the industrial world – yet, we continue to be fobbed off by the message that we must have economic growth in order to progress or develop as humans. Of course, if we judge development or progress in terms of the number of televisions, computers and cars we have, the size of home we have or the amount of energy we use; then economic growth most certainly does lead to a more “developed” human race. If we judge development or progress on rather more esoteric (and, quite frankly, more important) measures such as clean water and air, physical and mental health, freedom of expression, and having a future that our descendants will be able to thrive in; then economic growth is failing on almost all of these counts. Humans in every place touched by the rank hand of industrialisation are told that development based upon economic growth, is good. When you think about it, though, the only true form of development is that which moves us into balance with our natural environment – in effect a reversal of what we are now doing. You do not have to be financially prosperous in order for your water to be clean – you just need a basic level of hygiene, sensible water management techniques and, most of all, a lack of toxic muck being poured into the water supply by industrial processes.

Economic growth as a necessity is the biggest lie that humanity has ever been sold; yet we are lapping it up because the lie is repeated day after day by every information source we are unfortunate enough to be subjected to.

*   *   *

In a rather wonderful chapter of his book “Heat”, George Monbiot describes how the vested interests of climate change – the corporations, agencies and individuals whose existence depends on producing greenhouse gases – have colluded for decades to ensure the public, you and me, are kept confused and ill-informed. The methods now used for denying that humans are changing the climate are the same methods used by the tobacco industry throughout the late decades of the twentieth century[xxii]: corporate funded articles and press-releases that specialise in misinformation and pseudo-science; faux public interest groups known as “Astroturfs”; a host of media representatives funded by industry; and an unhealthy dose of greenwash[xxiii], specifically designed to make companies look environmentally sustainable, when they are nothing of the sort. This is a pet hate of mine, so much so that, at the start of 2008, I set up an anti-greenwashing website called The Unsuitablog. In one article, regarding the mining company BHP Billiton, I wrote:

Like all destructive companies, BHP Billiton are engaging in some striking greenwash: in fact they have just agreed a new Climate Change Policy, which is not surprising considering their operations emit nearly 52 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere every year (that’s about the same as Denmark - yes, the entire country!) It’s a pity they have entirely failed to commit to any reductions in greenhouse gases at all. Exactly what kind of Climate Change Policy is this?[xxiv]

Corporations, in particular, take advantage of the innate trust we have in authority figures, often hiring scientists (in the spirit of Stanley Milgram’s electric shock experiments) to speak to the media, apparently on their own behalf while, in fact, ensuring that the information put across is precisely the information the corporations want the public to hear. The damage that has been caused by the continuous stream of lies and denial is impossible to quantify: certainly it has put back public awareness of the climate situation by a decade, at least. When you consider that most environmental damage has been caused in countries whose governments support the biggest lie of all – the “need” for economic growth – it is clear that the greenwashing corporations are in very good company indeed.


Eight: Scare Us

We live in times of fear: fear of the impact of terrorism on our ability to live in safety; fear of the results of economic collapse on our future financial security; fear of what strangers and paedophiles might do to our children. Some of us are even afraid of climate change. Industrial Civilization instils us with a succession of fears not only because we may be genuinely afraid of a particular thing happening but also because we live in a state of comparative ignorance. Few people have a good understanding of the nature of risk so, for instance, a person might tell you that she drives her child to school in order to protect them from “stranger danger”, and in doing so exposes the child to the far greater risk of being the potential victim of a vehicle crash. This is simple ignorance: the type of fear I want to tell you about preys on our poor understanding of risk, and is propagated on purpose in order to keep us in check.

Anyone who grew up in the United States in the 1950s will be familiar with the fear of Communism, and the many lists that Senator McCarthy threatened to release in order to expose those people who were threatening the stability of the USA with their left-leaning political ideals. What most people in the United States don’t realise, is that “McCarthyism”, as the specific attitude came to be known as, had as much to do with Communism as the type of politics being espoused in the Soviet Union had to do with genuine Communism. A certain suspension of belief is required when you consider that last sentence – especially if you grew up in either the USA or the USSR during the Cold War – because it completely denies two articles of faith that were in place at the time. Firstly, Senator McCarthy, along with the entire state hierarchy (with a couple of exceptions), helped to spin a web of fear in order to encourage patriotism amongst the American people, and ensure everyone was kept “on side”. The author Bill Bryson, who grew up in 1950s America writes:

Thanks to our overweening preoccupation with Communism at home and abroad America became the first nation in modern history to build a war economy in peacetime. Defence spending in the Fifties ranged between $40 billion and $53 billion a year – or more than the total government spending on everything at the dawn of the decade.[xxv]

History repeats itself, as always; so it was that 50 years later George Bush Jr., along with his cadre of high-ranking political colleagues (all of whom had financial interests in either the arms industry, the oil industry or both) used the threat of global terrorism on the USA to ease through military spending bills totalling more than $3 trillion dollars since September 2001. The 2008 Pentagon budget alone is expected to be a shade under $600 billion – nearly a thousand times the amount of money spent on diplomatic relations.[xxvi] It was the threat of terrorism that ensured Americans meekly accepted the Patriot Act, and its even more intrusive successor, Patriot Act II. It was the threat of terrorism that ensured that the torture of hundreds of innocent people in Guantanamo Bay, and thousands more in Iraq and Afghanistan was tolerated by the majority of people in Western Industrial Civilization. It was the threat of terrorism that ensured that, since 2001, every conference of the richest industrial nations had “national security” at, or near, the top of its agenda – pushing climate change prevention conveniently down the list. Since September 11, 2001, not a single American has died on US soil as a result of a terrorist attack; yet, in that same period at least 300,000 people in the USA have died as a result of motor vehicle incidents[xxvii]. How many times do you hear your political leaders urging you to be afraid of cars?

The second denial of an article of faith I make is that the USSR under Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, was never a Communist country. Communism implies “commune” and “community” – it does not imply centralised control of all assets with an elite minority benefiting greatly from the labours of the poor majority. But, just like in the USA and every other industrialised nation since the start of the Agricultural Revolution, the Soviet Union practiced a deliberately bastardised form of Communism designed to funnel economic wealth to a rich and powerful minority. As with the USA, the people of the Soviet Union were kept in a state of fear by their government. This excerpt from a 1941 Marxist document illustrates what had already happened to the Communist Dream:

The Soviet Union can be best understood as a great trade union fallen into the hands of corrupt and degenerate leaders. Our struggle against Stalinism is a struggle within the labor movement. The Soviet Union is a Workers’ State…degenerated because of Stalinist rule.[xxviii]

Essentially, two governments were creating a state of fear within their respective borders in order to control the people, and that state of fear was an almost total fabrication of the truth. The Cold War was simply two imperialist, hierarchical states trying to gain global power by force. If only the majority of people in those states had known that at the time.

*   *   *

Fear doesn’t only have to be an extension of a real, if muted, threat though. Cast your mind back to the Tree Huggers of northern India, and the native West Papuans, who were prepared to challenge government and business in order to protect their ways of life. It is now standard practice amongst certain vested interests to refer to such people as “eco terrorists” or the “green mafia”: anything that creates a sense of fear is a vital weapon in ensuring the public at large see environmental action as a negative thing. For many business-friendly politicians, the doyen of “green mafia” writing is Michael Crichton, whose dramatic, but ultimately fictional book about eco terrorism, “State Of Fear” launched a thousand spin-offs and a great many newly converted climate sceptics. In fact, the eco terrorism argument goes far deeper than the books of fiction writers – however much they manage to scare people. Senator James Inhofe, former chairman of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is a self-confessed climate change sceptic who used the fear agenda in the most direct way possible – by comparing environmentalists to Nazis:

"It kind of reminds . . . I could use the Third Reich, the big lie," Inhofe said.

"You say something over and over and over and over again, and people will believe it, and that's their strategy."[xxix]

Which, of course, is exactly how governments all around the world advance the message that economic growth is necessary; along with the message that people of different colours, religions or political beliefs are a constant threat to the security of the people those governments rule over. In Brazil, such ideas flow freely from the keyboards of many journalists and politicians. A plan by WWF – one of the most conservative of the big environmental NGOs[xxx] – to set up a large wildlife reserve in the Amazon rainforest was met with typical contempt:

“This is a new form of colonialism, an open conspiracy in which economic and financial interests act through nongovernmental organizations,” said Lorenzo Carrasco, editor and co-author of “The Green Mafia,” a widely circulated anti-environmentalist polemic. “It is evident these interests want to block the development of Brazil and the Amazon region by creating and controlling these reserves, which are full of minerals and other valuable natural resources.”[xxxi]

When you don’t have the fear of Communism or terrorism to fall back on, then it’s time to roll out those old staples, “preventing development” and “blocking economic growth”. There is most certainly a pattern emerging here. Sadly, though, I have to now leave behind the mere threat of loss and move on to the reality – the execution, as it were – and I don’t even have to change countries to find the first example.


Nine: Abuse Us

Just another day in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest: the dank, humid air hangs like lianas, the moisture dripping from leaf to branch and down onto the shady litter-strewn soil; insects feed on plant matter, and themselves are preyed upon by birds – the tumult they create being heard for miles across the deep, dense jungle; chainsaws buzz and scream as they carve up massive trunks, leaving behind acid, infertile soil that may never again be fertilised by the tree canopy; Dorothy Stang, an American nun, defending the same area of forest she had defended for 20 years, is shot six times – murdered in cold blood by a hit man hired by a cattle rancher, determined to ensure that this swath of forest can be cleared and grazed for a healthy profit.

The men directly responsible for Dorothy Stang’s murder in 2005 were eventually prosecuted and sentenced, but it took another two years for the cattle rancher, who “owned” (or rather, took from the native inhabitants) the land, to be prosecuted. In fact, despite nearly eight hundred people being killed in the heavily forested Para region of Brazil in land disputes, only four people have ever been convicted: “Intimidation by loggers and land-grabbers, corrupt local authorities and a lack of law enforcement resources mean that many of these cases go uninvestigated and unsolved. Meanwhile, the decimation of the Amazon continues at alarmingly high rates.”[xxxii] What you will never see is the conviction of anyone higher up the ladder than the rancher – the chain of responsibility ends where it connects to those who have a significant part to play in the global economy: these people will never be held to account. The simple fact is, corporate leaders invest in wholesale human misery and, where required, they will initiate and then ignore the slaughter that is invariably the outcome of their activities – euphemistically known as “turning a blind eye”. This slaughter is not necessarily the pernicious, gradual type either – the roasting of the planet, or the toxification of the land and the oceans – some forms of corporate slaughter are very much in the open and visible to all. These most visible forms of corporate slaughter have almost always been state sanctioned.

The British colonial slave trade, and the use of slaves as a form of cheap (free) labour, which persisted throughout the 18th and 19th century in order to provide a ready supply of exotic foods for the public, and vast financial rewards for the companies involved, was readily sanctioned and overseen by the British government. The brutality of the West Indian plantations, which were the source of the British companies riches (and not just companies, the Church of England were the landowners of one of the most notorious plantations, at Codrington in Barbados[xxxiii]), led to a death toll that we would now call genocide:

When slavery ended in the United States, less than half a million slaves had grown to a population of four million. When it ended in the British West Indies, total slave imports of well over two million left a surviving slave population of only about 670,000…The Caribbean was a slaughterhouse.[xxxiv]

If you are under any illusions that such corporate and state-sanctioned atrocities are no more, think again. The mining companies’ destruction of the native West Papuans’ forest – their means of survival – was, as discussed in Chapter Eleven, ably assisted by the Suharto government of Indonesia. The continued, senseless slaughter of thousands of Sudanese in the oil-rich Darfur region is regarded by both the Sudanese government (who are gaining tremendous wealth from oil sales) and the Chinese government (who have an insatiable thirst for oil) as an unavoidable consequence of economic activity[xxxv]. Arms companies throughout the USA have benefited tremendously from the purchase of billions of dollars worth of weapons by the US military for the second Gulf War in Iraq – which, incidentally, tops up the GDP of the country in which the weapons are manufactured. The war has been responsible for at least 80,000 civilian deaths[xxxvi] since 2003.

Such abuse of people and power may seem, on the surface, to be unrelated to the environmental disconnection humanity has had foisted upon it; but this would be ignoring the subtext. The driver for this abuse is primarily to gain wealth for a privileged few. The unwritten reason for using abusive tactics, as with using fear, is to ease people into a state of denial. Denial of a situation, however terrifying, is the standard human response to prolonged abuse of all types; whether parent-child abuse, employer-employee abuse or state-civilian abuse. Riane Eisler, president of the Center for Partnership Studies in the USA, writes:

In a top-down, authoritarian family that relies on fear and force, children often learn to be in denial about their parents’ behaviour since they depend on them for survival. This makes it easy to later be in denial about “strong” leaders who abuse power, and to identify with them. People’s willingness to countenance the erosion of democratic safeguards…and their support for the preemptive Iraq War, even though it was justified by false information, are also largely due to early habits of obedience to authority figures coupled with denial that “strong” leaders can be wrong.[xxxvii]

The various tools and methods used in order to disconnect us from the real world and accept the way that the world is being run on our behalf – the way that the planet is being trashed for economic gain – accumulate over time, from birth to death, to create an almost insurmountable personal barrier. We willingly disconnect because, eventually, we see it as the only option.

That said, there is one final method that I need to tell you about: one that almost everyone on Earth is a party to, and one that feels so natural to accept that it couldn’t possibly be to our disadvantage – or so you would think.


Ten: Give Us Hope

Not all hope is bad. There is the simple type; the benign wish or blessing, that shows you care: “I hope you have a good day”, “Hope to see you again soon”, “I hope you pass your exam.” In isolation, and as merely a gesture, then this kind of hope can make someone feel wanted and rather special. This kind of hope is nice – it is harmless.[xxxviii]

There is a second kind of hope that is not harmless; it is the kind of hope that implies more than benign wishes. This kind of hope is, essentially, prayer – religious or otherwise. Religious prayer, we all know about and, as we saw in Chapter Ten, a large proportion of the world’s population use prayer of one sort or another. Even when not religious, “secular prayer” bears all of the hallmarks of its religious namesake, and carries the same dangers that are faced when someone’s future is entrusted to it.

Like it or not there appears to be no empirical evidence showing that prayer works. The Religious Tolerance web site[xxxix] has carefully broken down the methods and results in, and reaction to, all of the recent major studies carried out on the effectiveness of prayer; and the conclusion you have to reach is that prayer alone simply does not have any recordable effect. The reactions that that this kind of statement invokes are often furious, but also more specifically along the lines that God must not be tested. As one theologist put it : "You're going to do your best to limit the prayer some people get so that you can measure the benefits for those who receive a lot of prayer? Do you think that's how God intended prayer to be used?"[xl]

So that appears to be that. Except that when you look deeper into the research, you find something very interesting. A widely cited and carefully controlled study[xli] into the relative effects of prayer on post-operative coronary recovery found no significant difference in recovery rates between those who received prayer unknowingly and those who did not receive prayer at all. But here’s the interesting bit: the group of patients who knowingly received prayer had a 15 to 20 percent worse recovery rate than the other two groups. Some commentators suggested this was because of the increased pressure of knowing you were expected to respond to prayer, but I believe the cause to be down to something different.


You see, when you hope for something to happen – not the benign good wishes, but the deep, heartfelt hope that aches for an outcome of your choosing – then something happens to you: your motivation to work for the desired outcome actually decreases. Like the detached worker who can’t accept their responsibility for the destructive outcome of the process they are part of, by entrusting an outcome to the ethereal entity that is “hope” then you are passing on responsibility to something that is out of your control. This is what you are doing when you pray: you pass on the responsibility for the outcome of your prayers, meditations and deepest wishes to an external force.

A positive state of mind is often a vital attribute in recovering from illness, whether mental or physical, and also other conditions such as addiction. Quite how this works is uncertain, but more studies than not show that maintaining positivity is beneficial. Knowing that someone cares about you enough to pray for you is one thing, though; thinking that the job of getting you better has passed from you to something you have no control over is another thing entirely.

*   *   *

Every day, in all sorts of ways, we hand over the responsibility of our actions to other parties. We entrust religious leaders to act as proxy supreme beings, to give us blessings and pray for the delivery of our souls and, as is becoming more common, the protection of the natural environment. We entrust politicians to justly run districts, states, countries, the whole planet, on our behalf, and deliver whatever is in their jurisdiction from whatever evils we have asked them to deal with. We ask the heads of corporations to use profits wisely, to provide fair wages, allow union representation and listen to their staff and respond appropriately – we ask them not to destroy the planet. We ask environmental organisations to look after the planet on our behalf, to lobby fiercely and petition prudently, to give us a world worth living in.

We are guilty of a mass dereliction of responsibility.

When we vote we hope the politicians will do the right thing after they have been elected. When we buy a product from a company, we hope that company are acting in the best interests of everyone and every thing they impact. When we sign a petition, go on a protest march or write a letter, we hope that it will change things for the better. But it is never that simple.

Voters vote for different things: your hope that a politician will increase pollution controls will be running counter to the hope of another voter that pollution controls will be weakened. Your entrustment of a company that they will act ethically runs contrary to the basic needs of a shareholder in that same company, that demands an increase in profits, which requires poorer labour standards, increased use of natural resources, corner cutting and cost slashing across the board. Your petition or protest march may give you hope that something will change when in fact you have simply channelled your anger and concern into a symbolic action that threatens not a single media executive, company director or head of state. You innocently believed that right would out simply because you placed your demands on the wings of dear hope.

When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free – truly free – to honestly start working to thoroughly resolve it. When hope dies, action begins.[xlii]

*   *   *

The Highland Clearances were just part of the Agricultural Revolution – the starting point for the disconnection which the newly dominant Western culture turned into an art form. From this point onwards a gash was cleaved between people and the real world that has been growing wider and wider ever since. This was, and is, entirely intentional. It is now time to identify the culprits and try to explain why they are doing what they do.


Who Is Responsible?

It is far easier to blame others for something than to blame ourselves. There is something alluring in pinning the woes of our situation on forces that are “out there” – stupendous, unreachable forces that chart our every move and guide our hands to do their bidding. Somewhere, in the minds of the disenchanted, there is a room in which the most powerful people in the world sit and decide the fate of entire continents, political systems, religions and the Earth itself. What wouldn’t you give to walk into that room and take out every one of those people; walk back out brushing your hands together proclaiming, “Everything is going to be all right.” Oh, what wouldn’t you give for that chance?

And, yes, there are rooms in which far-reaching decisions are made by extremely wealthy and powerful people: The G8, The Bilderberg Group, The World Economic Forum, NATO, The United Nations Security Council, The World Trade Organization…but they aren’t in charge. They are just fulfilling an obligation to something far more powerful: the belief that this is the way it has to be. You won’t get anywhere near the people on the top tables of these groups, anyway, because they are being protected by those who believe that they must be protected; who would probably give their lives to keep the system in good health. But they aren’t in charge either. They are just fulfilling an obligation to the belief that this is the way it has to be. And even if you do get near, and manage to dispatch the protectors and the protected, it won’t change things, because the people in the shops, the people in their cars, the people in their offices, the people at home watching the news on the television and the people protesting on the streets are simply fulfilling an obligation to the belief that this is the way it has to be.

Hopeless, isn’t it?

But, of course, you’re not going to hope, are you? Hope is one of the ways in which we are disconnected from the real world, just like everyone caught up in this accursed culture – “The Culture of Maximum Harm”, as Daniel Quinn accurately describes it[xliii]. The ten Tools of Disconnection I have spent pages of exhaustive analysis showing you, are real.  They are, more or less, the essence of Industrial Civilization: they are what make it what it is. We all accept this because we cannot think of anything else – because we are so disconnected from the real world and attached to this way of being that any other way of life seems impossible.

But stop! Can you imagine what would happen if you walked up to a group of people outside of this culture and said, “This is how you are going to live from now on: instead of looking after the land, water and air on which you utterly depend – without which you will die – you are going to wreck it. Instead of taking only what you need to survive, you are going to take far more – stockpile it and call it wealth. Instead of enjoying the lives you have, the interaction you have with the world and the rich, intense stimulation that it provides you with, you are going to withdraw from it, provide yourselves with artificial stimulation and pay others – with the wealth you have accumulated – to entertain you. Instead of being happy with what you have, you are going to live in a state of constant anxiety and restlessness, craving more and more things that you are told are necessary. Instead of thinking for yourselves, you are going to be told how to think, and you will learn to see this as the only way to think.”

Can you imagine what the response would be?

We are in the terminal stages of the greatest addiction humanity has ever seen. We live in a constant disconnected haze; drip-fed a cocktail of proto-choice, dreams, lies, fear, abuse and hope. We are users of this culture, and it makes us feel good – until we need another dose. We are also players in this culture. Whatever your social status; whatever your “class”; whatever your level of wealth or influence, you are likely to be taking part in the process of disconnection just because of the job you do or position you hold.

I’m going to repeat the Tools of Disconnection, adding just a few example roles to each: if you are in one of these roles, or anything remotely similar, then you are probably a party to that method, whether you like it or not.

·        One: Reward Us For Being Good Consumers – store managers, marketing executives, investment bankers;

·        Two: Make Us Feel Good For Doing Trivial Things – local politicians, writers, therapists;

·        Three: Give Us Selected Freedom – national politicians, judges, dictators;

·        Four: Pretend We Have A Choice – vehicle salespeople, travel agents, shop assistants;

·        Five: Sell Us A Dream – advertisers, educators, missionaries;

·        Six: Exploit Our Trust – scientists, military officers, office managers;

·        Seven: Lie To Us – economists, government ministers, public relations officers;

·        Eight: Scare Us – journalists, broadcasters, customs officers;

·        Nine: Abuse Us – soldiers, police officers, property developers;

·        Ten: Give Us Hope – religious and spiritual leaders, company directors, environmentalists.

There is a whole web of integrated and interdependent interests whose primary goal is to ensure that every single member of this culture, including themselves, is kept dosed up with the same heady, addictive cocktail. So completely are the different interests immersed in their roles that it is no longer possible to establish individual responsibility. This web of interests is, to put it simply, the system itself:

It is not merely individuals acting in accord with their perceived needs and acquired desires, but the global treadmill of production itself that has become the main culprit in the ecocidal endgame. This treadmill has been churning for some time, creating predicament that is at odds with the ecological health of this planet.[xliv]

Of course, there are some who would appear to benefit far more than others. The “Elites”, the people who have more influence, and more material and financial wealth than the rest of us have played the system as far as it is possible to play it. History shows these Elites’ influence stretching across oceans, commanding armies, shipping fleets and masses of slaves in a giant imperial game of Risk. One false move and entire empires could collapse: and so they did, through carelessness or the greater power of other empires, commanded by their own Elites. What is unique about this new civilization – the most pervasive in history – is that pure power is no longer desirable: with power comes tremendous responsibility, and tremendous risk. What is far more desirable now is wealth. Wealth can be accumulated; it can provide status symbols; it can provide a lifestyle that completely cuts the holder off from any disruptive influences – as if that is a desirable state to be in. This adoration of wealth propagates from the top to the bottom, by influence, generating a mad clamour for a particular lifestyle: “I can be like him! I can have a big car; a big house; fly to exotic places and eat exotic food – and even if I can’t, I can aspire to live such a life (such a lie). I can surround myself with goods and read about the rich and famous, while imagining what it would be like.”

We buy into the trappings of this lifestyle because it makes us feel like we are taking a step up the ladder. What also happens is that the profit that is generated from our purchases and activities goes back upwards, giving a little cut to everyone involved; right up to the Elites, who can create for themselves an even more luxuriant, disconnected lifestyle.

*   *   *

Unless you are born into it, sheer wealth does not come easily: it takes time to build up capital, and most often a great deal of effort; in fact, it almost always requires the holder to also be in a position of power, whether that be as the head of a media organisation, an oil company, an agricultural conglomerate, a retail chain, or as the despotic leader of a nation. The truly powerful are the wealthy; and the truly wealthy are the powerful.

The problem for them, and for us, is that humans are simply not evolved to cope with such power and wealth – we have evolved as connected beings who must work together, and with nature, in order to survive. Cooperation is an essential part of life: a plethora of ancient tribes survived for many thousands of years because of the close cooperation of their members and, of course, their close connection to nature. Unlike civilizations that have come and gone in sudden urgent spikes of activity, ancient tribal societies gradually developed to reach a state of balance with their environments – they were not intending to go anywhere soon. Were it not for the activities of those people, at all levels of Industrial Civilization, who have helped to displace, disenfranchise, infect and slaughter tribal people, then we would still have many of these ancient tribes; but, sadly, there are precious few remaining.

Despite the close level of cooperation within tribes, loose hierarchies and leaders do exist – leadership is essential for a wide range of tasks. Unlike Industrial Civilization, leadership is always based on ability:

Among the most primitive societies, i.e. the hunters and the food gatherers, authority is exercised by the person who is generally regarded as being competent for the task. What qualities this competence rests on depends much on the specific circumstances; generally they would include experience, wisdom, generosity, skill, “presence”, courage. No permanent authority exists in most of these tribes, but an authority emerges in the case of need. When the qualities on which the authority rests disappear or weaken, the authority itself ends.[xlv]

This is known as a meritocracy: you earn your place in society by virtue of your usefulness to the group as a whole – you are not born into any position of privilege; you cannot fight or buy your way to the top. Furthermore, as Daniel Quinn writes: “Tribes have leaders, and sometimes very strong leaders, but leadership carries little or nothing in the way of special benefits that are denied to other members of the tribe.”[xlvi] Our ancestral background has not prepared the Elites for their position in society: nothing can prepare the human mind for the incredible rush of power that comes to those at the very top. The outcome is megalomania; pathological, terrible, megalomania that makes those people feel that this really is the life; the only life that is possible, and so others must think like them: “You are not going to think for yourselves; you are going to be told how to think, and you will learn to see this as the only way to think.”

I feel sorry for them.

Is that such a bizarre statement to make? Well, let’s put it this way: there are leaders; they do have immense wealth and power over large parts of humanity and – through their leadership and the way they manipulate the system to their own ends – over the fate of the Earth; but they are still following the same toxic dream as the rest of us. We are all playing our part in the toxic dream. It seems terribly simplistic to say, “Society is to blame”, but it does eventually come down to that. The Industrial Civilization we live in has taken on a life of its own, and we are all swimming around in its effluent trying to grab hold of whatever solids are floating by. Those at the top merely sit on a larger pile of excrement than the rest of us – disconnected and completely at odds with the way we need to live in order to give us a future.

A friend wrote to me recently. She said: “When I watch documentaries or read books about indigenous tribes, I can see the ancient wisdom in their eyes, the experiences of life with the land etched on their faces, and I envy them their beautiful fulfilled lives – and mourn the lost lives we will never live: growing up free and learning from our elders the real skills of life; not algebra or humanities, but how to live with the land”. I don’t know if we deserve another chance, but I think that if there is a way of reclaiming those lost lives then it has to be worth a try.


The Beginning

If, by now, I haven’t managed to convince you that Industrial Civilization has to end then you are probably not ready to be part of the solution. Most people who have been brought up in this Culture of Maximum Harm still believe that this is the only way to live – the forces that have stopped you thinking for yourself and making the connection between the fate of this planet (on the brink of catastrophe) and the primary motivation for being human (to survive) are immensely powerful.

But, if you do want to take up the challenge, and ensure the survival of those you care about, then read on: there is a lot to do, and a great adventure to be had…

[Continue to Part 4]


[i] “Baile Gean”, Highland Folk Museum, (accessed 15 April, 2008)

[ii] Ed. Douglas MacGowan, “The Stonemason: Donald Macleod's Chronicle of Scotland's Highland Clearances”, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

[iii] Victor Lebow, “Price Competition in 1955”, Journal Of Retailing (31), 1955.

[iv] Lexus, “Hybrid Living Is Easy. Just Follow These Tips.” (accessed 16 April, 2008)

[v] George Carlin, taken from HBO special, “Life is Worth Losing”, available to hear at (accessed 23 June, 2008).

[vi] George Monbiot, “Hurray! We’re Going Backwards!”  (accessed 20 April, 2008).

[vii] Ward Churchill, “Pacifism As Pathology”, AK Press, 2007.

[viii] Benjamin J. Barber, “Jihad vs. McWorld”, Corgi Books, 2003.

[ix] Charles Loft, “The Beeching Myth: Forty Years On”, History Today (53), 2003.

[x] Derrick Jensen, “Endgame Volume II: Resistance”, Seven Stories Press, 2006.

[xi] Patrick Burgoyne, “São Paulo: The City That Said No To Advertising”, Business Week, (accessed 17 April, 2008)

[xii] Naomi Klein, “No Logo”, Flamingo, 2001.

[xiii] “Taíno” was the name given by the native island people to Christopher Columbus on being asked who they were: it means “good” or “noble” and is prefixed by the name of the island on which each tribe lives.

[xiv] Michael D. Lemonick. “Before Columbus Destroyed almost overnight by Spanish invaders, the culture of the gentle Taino is finally coming to light”, Archeology (152), 1998.

[xv] Quoted in Noam Chomsky, “Year 501: The Conquest Continues”, Verso, 1993. This book is available in full, online at (accessed 17 April, 2008)

[xvi] Quoted in Hans Schmidt, “The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934”, Rutgers University Press, 1995.

[xvii] Milgram’s work is described in detail in Stanley Milgram, “Obedience To Authority: An Experimental View”, HarperCollins, 1974.

[xviii] Bob Altemayer, “The Authoritarians”, University of Winnipeg, 2006. This important book can be downloaded or read online at (accessed 26 June, 2008).

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] I’m assuming the operator is male – there may be female feller-buncher operators and lumberjacks, but they are very few and far between. For the sake of readability, sometimes you have to make assumptions.

[xxi] I accept that it is possible to use renewable resources such as wind, solar power, some forms of biomass or wave power, but these are in a tiny minority and do not constitute the majority of raw materials from which Industrial Civilization is constructed.

[xxii] George Monbiot, “Heat: How To Stop The Planet Burning”, Penguin, 2006.

[xxiii] “Greenwash” is a combination of the words Green and Whitewash, and is often used to describe all forms of pretend environmental activity.

[xxiv] Keith Farnish, “BHP Billiton: Olympic Sponsors - Toxic Tyrants”, The Unsuitablog, (accessed 21 April, 2008)

[xxv] Bill Bryson, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid”, Doubleday, 2007.

[xxvi] Dan Glaister, “Bush unveils record $3.1 trillion budget”, The Guardian, (accessed 22 April, 2008)

[xxvii] Conservatively extrapolated from Centers for Disease Control statistics: (accessed 22 April, 2008)

[xxviii] “Defend the Soviet Union: Manifesto of the Socialist Workers Party”, 1941, reprinted in The Encyclopedia of Trotskyism, (accessed 22 April, 2008)

[xxix] Jim Myers, “Heat wave has senator sticking to beliefs”, Tulsa World, (accessed 22 April, 2008)

[xxx] Non-Governmental Organisation: essentially an organisation performing a public service without government involvement. There is nothing to stop an NGO having corporate involvement, and WWF are sadly all too wiling to allow corporations – regardless of reputation – to carry their logo for a fee, so long as they carry out some trivial environmental activity.

[xxxi] Larry Rohter, “In the Amazon: Conservation or Colonialism?” New York Times, (accessed 22 April, 2008)

[xxxii] Conor Foley, “Sister Dorothy can rest in peace”, The Guardian, (accessed 23 April, 2008)

[xxxiii] Adam Hochschild, “Bury The Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery”, Pan Books, 2005.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Human Rights Watch, “Sudan: Events Of 2007”, (accessed 23 April, 2008)

[xxxvi] Figures from Iraq Body Count ( as of 23 April, 2008. These are relatively conservative figures: in 2004, the British Medical Journal produced a civilian death figure in excess of 100,000 after just eighteen months of conflict, based on anecdotal evidence: (accessed 23 April, 2008)

[xxxvii] Riane Eisler, “The Real Wealth Of Nations”, Berrett Koehler, 2007.

[xxxviii] This section is partly re-edited from Keith Farnish, “The Problem With…Hope”, The Earth Blog, (accessed 24 April, 2008)

[xxxix] B. A. Robertson, “Effectiveness of ‘distant healing’ prayer used in addition to medical treatment”, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, (accessed 24 April, 2008)

[xl] Donal P. O'Mathuna, “Prayer Research: What Are We Measuring?” Journal of Christian Nursing (16), 1999.

[xli] Herbert Benson et al, “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer”, American Heart Journal (151), 2006.

[xlii] Derrick Jensen, “Endgame Volume I: The Problem Of Civilization”, Seven Stories Press, 2006.

[xliii] Daniel Quinn, “Beyond Civilization”, Three Rivers Press, 1999.

[xliv] Franz J. Broswimmer, “Ecocide”, Pluto Press, 2003.

[xlv] Erich Fromm, “To Have Or To Be?” Abacus, 1976.

[xlvi] Daniel Quinn, Ibid.


A Matter Of Scale by Keith Farnish is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 3.0 Unported License.


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