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A Reality Check From the Brink of Extinction

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Posted on Oct 18, 2009
Greenland melting
AP / John McConnico

With polar ice caps melting at a record rate, the Arctic is expected to be an open sea during summers within a decade.

By Chris Hedges

We can join Bill McKibben on Oct. 24 in nationwide protests over rising carbon emissions. We can cut our consumption of fossil fuels. We can use less water. We can banish plastic bags. We can install compact fluorescent light bulbs. We can compost in our backyard. But unless we dismantle the corporate state, all those actions will be just as ineffective as the Ghost Dance shirts donned by native American warriors to protect themselves from the bullets of white soldiers at Wounded Knee.

“If we all wait for the great, glorious revolution there won’t be anything left,” author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen told me when I interviewed him in a phone call to his home in California. “If all we do is reform work, this culture will grind away. This work is necessary, but not sufficient. We need to use whatever means are necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet. We need to target and take down the industrial infrastructure that is systematically dismembering the planet. Industrial civilization is functionally incompatible with life on the planet, and is murdering the planet. We need to do whatever is necessary to stop this.”

The oil and natural gas industry, the coal industry, arms and weapons manufacturers, industrial farms, deforestation industries, the automotive industry and chemical plants will not willingly accept their own extinction. They are indifferent to the looming human catastrophe. We will not significantly reduce carbon emissions by drying our laundry in the backyard and naively trusting the power elite. The corporations will continue to cannibalize the planet for the sake of money. They must be halted by organized and militant forms of resistance. The crisis of global heating is a social problem. It requires a social response.

The United States, after rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, went on to increase its carbon emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels. The European Union countries during the same period reduced their emissions by 2 percent. But the recent climate negotiations in Bangkok, designed to lead to a deal in Copenhagen in December, have scuttled even the tepid response of Kyoto. Kyoto is dead. The EU, like the United States, will no longer abide by binding targets for emission reductions. Countries will unilaterally decide how much to cut. They will submit their plans to international monitoring. And while Kyoto put the burden of responsibility on the industrialized nations that created the climate crisis, the new plan treats all countries the same. It is a huge step backward.

“All of the so-called solutions to global warming take industrial capitalism as a given,” said Jensen, who wrote “Endgame” and “The Culture of Make Believe.” “The natural world is supposed to conform to industrial capitalism. This is insane. It is out of touch with physical reality. What’s real is real. Any social system—it does not matter if we are talking about industrial capitalism or an indigenous Tolowa people—their way of life, is dependent upon a real, physical world. Without a real, physical world you don’t have anything. When you separate yourself from the real world you start to hallucinate. You believe the machines are more real than real life. How many machines are within 10 feet of you and how many wild animals are within a hundred yards? How many machines do you have a daily relationship with? We have forgotten what is real.” 

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The latest studies show polar ice caps are melting at a record rate and that within a decade the Arctic will be an open sea during summers. This does not give us much time. White ice and snow reflect 80 percent of sunlight back to space, while dark water reflects only 20 percent, absorbing a much larger heat load. Scientists warn that the loss of the ice will dramatically change winds and sea currents around the world. And the rapidly melting permafrost is unleashing methane chimneys from the ocean floor along the Russian coastline. Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more toxic than carbon dioxide, and some scientists have speculated that the release of huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere could asphyxiate the human species. The rising sea levels, which will swallow countries such as Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands and turn cities like New Orleans into a new Atlantis, will combine with severe droughts, horrific storms and flooding to eventually dislocate over a billion people. The effects will be suffering, disease and death on a scale unseen in human history.

We can save groves of trees, protect endangered species and clean up rivers, all of which is good, but to leave the corporations unchallenged would mean our efforts would be wasted. These personal adjustments and environmental crusades can too easily become a badge of moral purity, an excuse for inaction. They can absolve us from the harder task of confronting the power of corporations. 

The damage to the environment by human households is minuscule next to the damage done by corporations. Municipalities and individuals use 10 percent of the nation’s water while the other 90 percent is consumed by agriculture and industry. Individual consumption of energy accounts for about a quarter of all energy consumption; the other 75 percent is consumed by corporations. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States. We can, and should, live more simply, but it will not be enough if we do not radically transform the economic structure of the industrial world.

“If your food comes from the grocery store and your water from a tap you will defend to the death the system that brings these to you because your life depends on it,” said Jensen, who is holding workshops around the country called Deep Green Resistance [click here and here] to build a militant resistance movement. “If your food comes from a land base and if your water comes from a river you will defend to the death these systems. In any abusive system, whether we are talking about an abusive man against his partner or the larger abusive system, you force your victims to become dependent upon you. We believe that industrial capitalism is more important than life.”

Those who run our corporate state have fought environmental regulation as tenaciously as they have fought financial regulation. They are responsible for our personal impoverishment as well as the impoverishment of our ecosystem. We remain addicted, courtesy of the oil, gas and automobile industries and a corporate-controlled government, to fossil fuels. Species are vanishing. Fish stocks are depleted. The great human migration from coastlines and deserts has begun. And as temperatures continue to rise, huge parts of the globe will become uninhabitable. NASA climate scientist James Hansen has demonstrated that any concentration of carbon dioxide greater than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere is not compatible with maintenance of the biosphere on the “planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” He has determined that the world must stop burning coal by 2030—and the industrialized world well before that—if we are to have any hope of ever getting the planet back down below that 350 number. Coal supplies half of our electricity in the United States.

“We need to separate ourselves from the corporate government that is killing the planet,” Jensen said. “We need to get really serious. We are talking about life on the planet. We need to shut down the oil infrastructure. I don’t care, and the trees don’t care, if we do this through lawsuits, mass boycotts or sabotage. I asked Dahr Jamail how long a bridge would last in Iraq that was not defended. He said probably six to 12 hours. We need to make the economic system, which is the engine for so much destruction, unmanageable. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has been able to reduce Nigerian oil output by 20 percent. We need to stop the oil economy.” 

The reason the ecosystem is dying is not because we still have a dryer in our basement. It is because corporations look at everything, from human beings to the natural environment, as exploitable commodities. It is because consumption is the engine of corporate profits. We have allowed the corporate state to sell the environmental crisis as a matter of personal choice when actually there is a need for profound social and economic reform. We are left powerless.

Alexander Herzen, speaking a century ago to a group of Russian anarchists working to topple the czar, reminded his followers that they were not there to rescue the system. 

“We think we are the doctors,” Herzen said. “We are the disease.”


New and Improved Comments

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, October 19, 2009 at 10:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is too late to do anything about global warming.
Humanity will survive but in much smaller numbers and
in very different conditions and circumstances. 
People focus on warming but that is only one of the
environmental problems we face.  Air and water
pollution will kill us if global warming doesn’t. 
108 species are becoming extinct every year.  What
can be expected from Americans who have an attention
span of about 10 minutes?  Shopping can’t become
extinct can it?  Can it?

Report this

By stcfarms, October 19, 2009 at 10:39 am Link to this comment

If we can get enough people to homestead the sea we might avoid some of
these problems. Doing nothing ensures that eventually a Mad Max type
scenario will become normal.

By ChaoticGood, October 19 at 1:35 pm #

On this depressing subject, I am very pessimistic.

I do feel that the really likely scenario(s) surrounding the collapse of the
ecosystem are not being discussed.

I believe that when huge numbers of humans are displaced from their homes
due to climate change and migrate to safer areas, the residents of the safer
areas will fight that migration with force of arms. First small arms then larger
and larger until nuclear confrontations and mass exterminations will be the
only option.

We really don’t have to worry about long-term ecosystem collapse because the
fragile human political structures will collapse quickly and mass food and
water wars will consume billions of lives.

Report this

By stcfarms, October 19, 2009 at 10:36 am Link to this comment

Great, Osco is 19 miles ESE of Rock Island Illinois and you can start when you
get here. We are 720’ above sea level at Lat/Lon: 41.4° N 90.3° W.

By de profundis clamavi, October 19 at 1:02 pm #

So where are you and when can I come and start working? I even have money
and property so I could buy and contribute some land to the the cooperative.

I hope you’re located at least 100 feet above sea level, and at latitude above
40 degrees, so the land isn’t going to get inundated or turn into desert.

Report this

By ChaoticGood, October 19, 2009 at 10:35 am Link to this comment

On this depressing subject, I am very pessimistic.

I do feel that the really likely scenario(s) surrounding the collapse of the ecosystem are not being discussed.

I believe that when huge numbers of humans are displaced from their homes due to climate change and migrate to safer areas, the residents of the safer areas will fight that migration with force of arms. First small arms then larger and larger until nuclear confrontations and mass exterminations will be the only option.

We really don’t have to worry about long-term ecosystem collapse because the fragile human political structures will collapse quickly and mass food and water wars will consume billions of lives.

Report this

By stcfarms, October 19, 2009 at 10:15 am Link to this comment

I am near Osco, Illinois. I have the tools and a shop near the Mississippi river
where I am building an island that will be self sufficient in food water and
energy. I need labor and materials and together we can build a factory island
capable of producing self sufficient homesteads.

By eye, October 19 at 12:29 pm #
(Unregistered commenter)

Where are the Co-operatists? When will those, who can, come to the public
and offer Real Value in exchange for Real Value, such as co-housing,
revolutionary lifestyle collaboration, and shared sustainable enterprises?  I
think many MANY are ready to invest time, talent, and labor for the “biological
age”. They need opportunities that enhance their efforts and those of others,
so that they stand a chance of actually succeeding off the corporate grid.
Where are the Co-operatists?

Report this

By leftyrite, October 19, 2009 at 10:09 am Link to this comment

I read Chris every week and enjoy doing so. Truly, he is the John Brown of our age.
But when I neared the end of his Empire of Illusion, in which he decried the
inequalities of our education system, he used as an example the fact that he and
his wife spent thousands of dollars on tutors to raise his son’s standardized test
scores—and it worked.

Yeah, alright. Could you just stop bullshitting about radical change just a little bit?

Report this

By stcfarms, October 19, 2009 at 10:05 am Link to this comment

I have been crazy all my life but I have never been stupid. The problem is that
most of society has been stupid all their lives but they have never been crazy.
Thinking outside the box is not a disease, the box only exists in tiny minds.
What we can do is either build my islands or become extinct. We have less
than ten years to cool the polar regions before the methane reaches the
tipping point. There is one other way to reverse global warming, irrigate the
deserts with the melt water from the poles and glaciers.

By hark, October 19 at 12:03 pm #
(Unregistered commenter)

Really, what can we do?  Anyone who writes about this impending disaster is
considered a crackpot.  Nobody listens, nobody believes it.  The media cover
“balloon boy” non stories, not what human beings are doing to this planet.

Report this
de profundis clamavi's avatar

By de profundis clamavi, October 19, 2009 at 10:02 am Link to this comment

By stcfarms, October 19 at 12:49 pm #


You can do it the way that we have done it for millennia, by growing our own
food. You can follow the corporate lemmings off the cliff or join with other
people, buy farmland and form co-ops. If you have enough grit you can come
and work with me.

* * * * *

So where are you and when can I come and start working? I even have money and property so I could buy and contribute some land to the the cooperative.

I hope you’re located at least 100 feet above sea level, and at latitude above 40 degrees, so the land isn’t going to get inundated or turn into desert.

Report this

By stcfarms, October 19, 2009 at 9:55 am Link to this comment

What it will take is for people to quit talking the problem to death, get off
their lazy asses and start doing things that will reverse the problem. It is not
as if we need more studies, we know what the problem is and how to solve it.

By de profundis clamavi, October 19 at 11:32 am #

What would it take to bring about the kind of profound change that appears to
be necessary to save the Earth’s climate and preserve it as a suitable habitat
for people, among many other species?

Report this

By stcfarms, October 19, 2009 at 9:49 am Link to this comment

You can do it the way that we have done it for millennia, by growing our own
food. You can follow the corporate lemmings off the cliff or join with other
people, buy farmland and form co-ops. If you have enough grit you can come
and work with me.

lattomilitant, October 19 at 11:14 am #
(Unregistered commenter)

stcfarms,

how can you avoid GM food?

Report this

By eye, October 19, 2009 at 9:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Where are the Co-operatists? When will those, who can, come to the public and offer Real Value in exchange for Real Value, such as co-housing, revolutionary lifestyle collaboration, and shared sustainable enterprises?  I think many MANY are ready to invest time, talent, and labor for the “biological age”. They need opportunities that enhance their efforts and those of others, so that they stand a chance of actually succeeding off the corporate grid. Where are the Co-operatists?

Report this

By johannes, October 19, 2009 at 9:12 am Link to this comment

Yes it is my feeling as well, we cannot stop this situation, people are fucking up their own future, well maby its te nicest way to come to our end, and this planet Earth will be nicer and the bether for it without this so called humans.

Report this

By hark, October 19, 2009 at 9:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Really, what can we do?  Anyone who writes about this impending disaster is considered a crackpot.  Nobody listens, nobody believes it.  The media cover “balloon boy” non stories, not what human beings are doing to this planet.

The more passionate we become, the crazier we are in the eyes of mainstream society.  They see all the comforts and toys that their corporate masters bring them, but not the sell-out as good paying jobs go elsewhere, as the environment deteriorates, as global warming bakes and suffocates the planet, as precious, limited resources are exhausted, and as overpopulation threatens to starve us all.

Really, what can we do about it?  Do we have to wait until there are unmistakable, irreversible signs that disaster has overtaken us before people will listen?

Report this
de profundis clamavi's avatar

By de profundis clamavi, October 19, 2009 at 8:32 am Link to this comment

Reading Chris Hedges’ columns, and books, is illuminating but extremely depressing.

What would it take to bring about the kind of profound change that appears to be necessary to save the Earth’s climate and preserve it as a suitable habitat for people, among many other species?

I think the lust of a few for power, the will of a few to dominate, the craving of all but a few to preserve what they have and to live with some sense of security (however false), and the willingness of all but a few to submit and find their place in hierarchical social structures, all of this spells our inevitble demise.

We can’t instantly dismantle the “civilization” capitalism has built without instantly throwing billions of people into abject poverty and starvation, and countries into violent disorder.

We can’t change the nature of ruling elites - they say (via “news” a.k.a. propaganda) and do (“law enforcement” a.k.a. violence) whatever is necessary to pacify the population and thus maintain themselves in their position of wealth, power and privilege. When a society is growing and prospering, it is because the interest of that society’s ruling elite coincides, for a time, with the interests of the society as a whole. When the society goes into decline, it is because what is in the interest of the elite is destructive to society. That is, in a nutshell, the state of America today.

We can’t overthrow the corporate elite because too few of us see the need to do so. But even if we could, and did, overthrow them, we would only replace them with another ruling elite which would, within a generation, start behaving in exactly the same way. The only thing that changes is the rhetoric.

The only thing that will make the vast majority of people see the need for radical change to counter global warming is seeing and experiencing the effects of global warming for themselves. By the time that happens, it will be too late to do anything about it, and the desperate competition for survival among those affected by catastrophic climate change will make cooperation impossible. People will fight each other for the remaining food, resources and habitable territories, with all available weapons. Everybody knows what that means. 

Maybe some humans will survive the catastrophe that is coming, and maybe none will.

Either way, the catastrophe is already happening, and will accelerate and intensify. That is and will be our fault as a species, because our selfish individual motivations, both as leaders and as followers,  neutralize our capacity for constructive collective thinking and action.

If but a few humans survive, let’s hope that if in another millennium or two or three, they have managed to reconstruct some degree of civilization, they will have undergone some kind of psychological and perhaps even spiritual transformation that will enable them to address serious problems collectively and constructively, instead of selfishly and competitively, and thus manage to do better than we have done.

If none survive, who will there be to mourn our passing?

In the meantime, you might as well party before the bar closes for good.

Report this

By mulattomilitant, October 19, 2009 at 8:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

stcfarms,

how can you avoid GM food if your government doesn’t force companies to label what is and isn’t GM? G.Anderson is right, and most of the posters are naive, there’s little we can do individually (and, of course, it’s heretical to speak of what we’re allowed to do collectively).

http://www.hulu.com/watch/67878/the-future-of-food

Report this

By stcfarms, October 19, 2009 at 7:58 am Link to this comment

Floating islands on the ocean could be made from the trash in our landfills
and used to grow crops, collect rainwater, generate energy from wind, solar
and wave energy while providing homesteads for refugees and the homeless.
Richard Sowa is building an island from plastic bottles in Mexico, the Flying
Neutrinos are building ocean going rafts from styrofoam and I am building a
raft factory on the Mississippi river using plastic barrels.

The islands are cheap to build and are virtually unsinkable. When I transfer my
island to the ocean I intend to form it into an ever expanding ring with an
open Sargasso Sea type environment in the center. The seaweed would remove
atmospheric carbon, cool the sea beneath it and provide a refuge for marine
life.

The key to stopping the polluters is to sell good food, pure water and green
energy cheaper than the polluters can produce them. The islands are ideal for
farming as no pests or weeds live on the ocean so pesticides and herbicides
are not needed. There is never a shortage of water as we can make all of the
pure water we need. As the islands can produce trees as easily as they can
produce crops there would be less profit in cutting down the rain forests.

  The islands can be built quickly at low cost by the poor and will increase the
amount of vegetation that removes excess carbon from the atmosphere. On
this chart http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/carbonlevels/ you can see that
the problem can be solved by increasing the area for plant growth. The wind
and the rain would provide energy and pure water for irrigation. The sea would
be cooled under the islands and this will help marine life.

The ocean is the last frontier on earth and this is the way to protect it from
governments and corporations. Real wealth is not the fiat money, real wealth
is food, water, energy and freedom. Self sufficient people do not need to beg
for a corporate job or a government to steal oil for them. I have a group http:/
/groups.yahoo.com/group/riverats/ where I will post plans and photos,
distribute them as you see fit.

Report this
G.Anderson's avatar

By G.Anderson, October 19, 2009 at 7:26 am Link to this comment

Actually Mr. Hedges article is based on a faulty assumption, namely that it is we who govern the corporations, rather the the corporations who govern us.

And really that’s it. It’s the corporations that are in power here, not government. Government and the people have become subsurvient to the corporations, and only serve their needs.

Yes there will be lots of outraged words about the end of the planet and us along with it, lots of pissing contests, and committe meetings at various governments. But in the end it will all boil down to the nada.

Earths ecosystem has a giant inertia, but once that interia begins to move there’s no stopping it, until it’s done. It’s moving now in a direction that doesn’t support human life.

According to James Lovelock, even with immediate and drastic actions it’s too late, the earths population is going to crash from billions to millions, that’s just the way it is.

Report this

By stcfarms, October 19, 2009 at 6:51 am Link to this comment

Profit is the key to stopping the corporations, once you can supply non GM
food, pure water and clean energy at prices where corporations cannot
compete they will collapse. It will not be enough to merely stop adding carbon
to the atmosphere, to survive we must remove the excess carbon already in
the atmosphere.

Report this

By johannes, October 19, 2009 at 4:37 am Link to this comment

Hé think about this, we are not more or less, than slaves, so don’t geth any idea or stupid thought in you head, or you kill your master or you keep your mouth closed, their are no other oppotunitys as you have seen in our history of the humanity.

Report this
thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, October 19, 2009 at 4:22 am Link to this comment

“When you separate yourself from the real world you start to hallucinate.”
I wonder if that axiom applies to Mr. Hedges Christian faith? There is no doubt that multinational corporatism brings havoc to the ecosystem. But what Mr. Hedges seems to gloss over is that the exploitation of, and abuse of natural resources has been a behavioral pattern of humans for a very long time (was it a single corporation who decimated the buffalo population in North America?). Also, Mr. Hedges quoting a NASA climate scientist seems a bit strange. NASA? I guess he can separate himself from the reality of the space agency’s collusion with the pentagon, and all that industrial infrastructure.

Report this
Ouroborus's avatar

By Ouroborus, October 19, 2009 at 4:17 am Link to this comment

montanawildhack, October 19 at 5:53 am #

...I’m setting my time machine for October 1492,
packing my machine gun…
=========================================

Oh great; Christopher fucking Columbus packing an
Uzi…
Uh, somebody else posted the exact same comment here a
couple of years ago, hmmm…

Report this

By C.Curtis.Dillon, October 19, 2009 at 3:58 am Link to this comment

Unfortunately for all of us, the rape of our world is a global phenomena which will not be moderated by moving away from a major pollution source to somewhere pristine.  Soon there will be no safe places.  Quite literally, we are all in this boat together and will sink or swim as one.

As for the corporations and big banks, they will continue to ignore and discount any threat to our planet until they are living in special habitats and humanity is dying by the billions.  They will only lament the ongoing decrease in their gross sales and net income but will never take the steps needed to correct the problem because that direction would spell their end.  As long as they can make a buck, the rape will continue.  The holy shareholder will always triumph no matter how much pain and suffering it causes.

Perhaps the greatest concern I have is a question: will the masses slit their own throats to save the planet?  By that, I mean will workers sabotage the machines that generate their incomes in order to protect the life-sustaining air, water and food that they need to survive?  Something tells me they will not.  They will continue to buy the crap their corporate overlords shovel until it is too late to correct.

Unfortunately, the current system will fight with every weapon it can to keep its ill-gotten gains.  We saw this at the G20 meeting and the violence will only increase as the stakes grow higher.  But we have no other choice, do we?  Our future hangs in the balance.  It is either do or die ...

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By Tim Kelly, October 19, 2009 at 3:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

From Mr. Jensen’s language, I would infer he believes violence is an acceptable means to achieve his end.  The means invalidate the end.  We have all heard the phrase “whatever means are necessary” before.  It does not bode well.

Report this
knobcreekfarmer's avatar

By knobcreekfarmer, October 19, 2009 at 3:06 am Link to this comment

The Flight Attendant says: “Put your own oxygen mask on first. Then help others.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t reach out to help our fellow man but most are compliant in
the corporate control as they are brain dead TV zombies that have allowed this to
happen.

Those of us that get it need to band together and prepare.  Get out of debt. Find a
place as far off the beaten path as you can or dig in where you are. Realities thrust
upon us are inevitable.

Remember:
“GDP actually mesures the rate at which the economy is extracts useful natural
resources running them through the econmic system and deposing of them as toxic
waste in our air water and soil.” - David Korten

Report this

By montanawildhack, October 19, 2009 at 2:53 am Link to this comment

Kudos to Mr. Hedges for reading my columns and taking my advice…  Remember a few weeks ago I ranted about Hedges not giving credit to Derrick Jensen whose ideas I believed he was ripping off??  And there are people out there that want to ban my posts!! Shame…  Seriously, read Jensen’s ” a language older than words.” It will blow your mind…

I honestly do not know what the answer is when it comes to “saving the planet.”  I do know that if They turn off the power grid it would take only 2 weeks or so and it would be cats and dogs living together… Total and complete chaos!!!!!  Disease, starvation, slow death….  Admit it friends.  When the power goes out we’re all helpless as newborn puppies… 

So good luck suckers… I’m setting my time machine for October 1492, packing my machine gun, ammunition and flame thrower and splitting this scene… Next stop San Salvador…. Adios!!

Report this

By Litl Bludot, October 19, 2009 at 2:29 am Link to this comment

It’s all there. Thank you Mr. Hedges. I agree with you about capitalism, corporations, and the real world being destroyed by the insanity of capitalism.

However,I would suggest that you next address what happens to those good souls who peacefully, (much less militantly, as you suggest we do) protest against the continuing destruction of this planet.

Look what happened to the peaceful protesters at the G20 summit.  People get gassed, peppered, deafened, beaten, arrested, put on lists, spied on and more.  In short, they get tortured and they’re lives ruined.  They lose their jobs and homes because of fines levied as a result of a multitude of trumped up charges.

All our police and military are now used as mercenaries by the corporations. Citizens pay taxes for their own subjugation.  The authorities are using terrorism laws to arrest people communicating on their computers about protests. The persecuted are then ignored by the media and crucified.

Perhaps you should take part in some demonstrations, if you want, militant ones, and see what happens to you.  Then perhaps, you will have the credentials to urge others on.

I greatly admire your writing. Your world view is accurate. But the people are being beaten down and you need to address that as well.

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