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Culture Change

Had enough?  Want better?
The masses: a cornered animal

by Jan Lundberg

There are two essential truths that most of us don't want to face:  

(1) The whole system is killing us all.  From environmental degradation, to exploitation of workers, to driving over the cliff of petroleum dependence, we are just beginning to get clobbered — fatally.

(2) We have to get organized.  We have to abandon our roles as isolated consumers.  Now.  Moreover, we need to take collective action and approach this as if we are in a war.  We are in a war, but it wasn't declared.  That's where the greedmongers, despoilers and corporate spinmeisters tricked us.  But, as noted in this column's previous essay (The Curse of the Well Informed), it doesn't take a majority to change the world in such a way to dump the old guard.

At this point, however, many domesticated citizens of the affluent U.S. would appear to have to be "dragged kicking and screaming" to protect their own lives.  As crazy as that may sound, we must keep in mind that masses of well-fed citizens (albeit with contaminated food) are to a degree brainwashed and cowed into keeping their heads down, thankful they are not like the folks living on the streets or in Iraq.

Time is running out.  This has been known all along, and in the mid 1990s it was publicized by leaders in science, letters and the arts.  But the pace of destruction is accelerating and we are destined to splatter below the cliff.  So, to save ourselves we need to focus on the big picture and then grab a branch during our descent off the cliff which has begun.  Another way to put it is that we can effect a softer landing the sooner we act. 

There comes a time when the weight of evidence makes our central nervous system snap awake.  A cornered animal will appear for the longest time docile or fearful, obedient, sad, and incapable of saving itself.  Then, suddenly, extra wide awake, it fights back — to the death if necessary.

Every day the truth comes closer to hitting home, though it is suppressed by both the corporate state and by "free" consumers:  The cancer epidemic is going to claim you or your close family members, as toxins in the food chain will be moving up for many years even if their production were ceased now.  Before the cancer trend goes to its "logical conclusion" (as in an animal about to be cornered or slaughtered?), those who are healthy enough will sooner or later find their voice and act in outrage.  The rebellion will include switching power blocs, but only as a part of changing everything currently being done to our lives and environment.  The importance of the next election begins to matter less and less when we ponder the fundamental impulses and changes that people will grapple with.  Once the wrath of the people awakens, it will have to be channeled in a positive fashion in community, if we are to foster mutual survival.

A difficult dilemma is overpopulation and what we can do about it.  The public has noticed for decades that almost nothing is being done about population growth, and this frustration adds to the rage brewing among conscious people worried about our common future.

Pollution factories will be closed down, probably "after the horse has left the barn" because the economy may have simultaneously melted down and/or suffered an unprecedented petroleum shortage.  Bureaucrats and politicians approving the wholesale loss of natural habitat and our clean air and water will pay the price of being physically removed from their offices.  This will all be done with a minimum of violence, so that we do not end up aping the incompetent blunderers in need of replacement.

This will mark the beginning of a cultural revolution.  When people talk about the range of changes necessary to stanch the damage and get on a path to sustainable living — to enjoy their birthright of ample, healthy food, shelter and freedom — they will explore many an option.  Some options will be the only ones possible, as the race accelerates to save our species from extinction and save our biosphere and climate.  The historic change in consciousness will put the history of civilization to date, i.e., expansion, behind us.  The technological and artificial constructs of today's modern living, with their endless manufactured objects — harming us and remaining as trash-testaments to a wrong turn in humanity's evolutionary term on Earth — are soon to be regrettable artifacts.  This is what we will discover from the kind of conservation we will soon be forced into by the new reality we are creating right now, even as we watch Iraq writhe under the uneasy colossus of petroleum empire.

Provoking the masses does not seem to let up, as long as they take it.  Consider the voter fraud in Florida in 2000 that, along with U.S. Supreme Court complicity, allowed another Bush into the White House.  If that were an anomaly, it would be forgotten and forgiven by many.  But stories about more such abuse keep coming, such as Thom Hartmann's recent syndicated essay "Now your vote is the property of a private corporation."  Or Online Journal's report "Computerized voting systems cannot be made secure". 

Two tales of the sea

I was talking with a Eureka restaurateur who owns and runs (along with his wife) perhaps the finest organic Japanese food establishment in North America.  He said that after learning from fishermen who really know fish, he buys only smaller fish now.  Why?  Too much mercury, PCBs, and other toxic poisons have accumulated in the larger, older fish.  Tests confirm it, he said, and the public is reminded of it in frequent news reports.  We are not talking about the coastal waters off Los Angeles.  We're referring to Humboldt County, which has its own form of civilization-cost: poison flowing to the sea from herbicide-drenched mountainsides clearcut and burned with diesel.  He pointed out that we humans are accumulating the same toxins.

There comes a point when we ask, "how can we live this way?"  Won't we succumb to this massive, growing contamination of our bodies?  Are our bodies not sacrosanct?  Who convinced us a little poison won't hurt?  (see Brain Control of the Masses via Pollutants, Culture Change Letter #45)

Synthetic Sea may be the saddest movie anyone can see.  This documentary by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation is the second tale of the sea that sent me raging and howling in the echoing canyons of my troubled mind.  A statistic: in the North Pacific Gyre, a place bigger than North America, the accumulation of polluted plastic particles is six times the weight of plankton (a ratio of 6:1) in a given volume of water.  Some of the plastic is nurdles, or unformed raw material used to make and shape larger plastic objects.  The nurdles (see photo) resemble fish eggs.  Also, red plastic caps, for example, are most attractive to many sea birds.  The amount of plastic filling the bellies of millions of sea birds and fish are starving the animals to death.  Plastic breaks down from solar radiation into every conceivable prey shape there is, so that it is eaten by everything in the ocean.   Moreover, the surface area of some plastics adheres liquid poisons such that these plastics concentrate toxics up to a million times their level in the surrounding seawater.  This information comes to you from Algalita's founder, Captain Charles Moore, who like this writer had ties to the petroleum industry.

Many of us see how fish fit into the big picture and related issues, even if we don't eat fish.  An internet activist known simply as Ecopilgrim has sent these comments to his audience at the end of 2003:

"As for seafood and fish, I have eliminated (eating) these for not only are the world’s fisheries 80% over-fished to the point where reproduction is dramatically decreasing, much of the fish caught is contaminated with mercury.  The following is an interesting article as it links mercury contamination to coal burning furnaces. and suggests that it would be better for health purposes to turn to renewable energy sources.

"One serving of ice cream may contain as much as 1,500 times the amount of dioxin, one of the deadliest chemicals known to humankind, as is considered safe to be dumped as industrial waste. This relates to all fatty tissue as toxins congregate there, as for example, in cheese, milk, cream, beef fat, etc. While vegetables and fruits contain toxins, eating organically grown ones reduces intake of toxins somewhat.  The other factor is that vegetables and fruits contain antioxidants which appear to counteract toxins and become disease preventers and healers."

Do we have a right to do this to ourselves and to future generations, I ask as I use a plastic pen filled with petroleum ink?  Some say no, but what have we done to eliminate petroleum dependence?

This is a time when people may recognize that our fate as humans is tied to the fish and the birds that have had their fill of toxins and plastic junk.  By the way, plastic does not ever go away.  It just breaks down into smaller and smaller particles as it degrades, but this only makes it easier to be ingested.

The dying race

Cancer touching your life is related to your allowing in your life paint and painting, pavement and paving, growing and eating non-organic food, and a host of other factors including too much stress.  Drinking water from the typical, tainted municipal source is stressful on a subconscious level because you know this is not the good clean water almost all your ancestors enjoyed free all the time.

Lying to ourselves and to others, such as when we smile for the television cameras or we sit and consume that medium's drivel, is an example of suppressing healthy, stressful reaction against something very wrong.  Our compromises with ourselves as civilized, modern consumers who do not even govern ourselves freely have turned us into a dying race.


2004 may be a time for the last necessary piece of evidence to land on the average citizen's head, to loudly proclaim: The system of greed and exploitation is killing us and we have to get organized to stop it in its tracks now.  That statement would be by someone who has figured out that there is nowhere to run to and hide.

This viewpoint sounds alarmist to the comfortably passive, but not to the concerned animal in some of us.  Today it may be only a few people sensing the dangers and supreme folly of apathy and procrastination.  But many more are on the verge of realizing that modern society is in so many respects a sham.  Changing the heads will not do it; we will all participate in new and old ways that necessarily dispense with petroleum.  A critical mass will come together on many levels to address the current insanity of our ways, such that enough people will put a stop to genetic engineering for profit, to slave labor, to unnecessary non-renewable energy waste, etc.

The question may not be "how do we organize" but "when."  There are many skilled organizers who follow proven methods to increase support for a cause.  However, their talents cannot make up for today's insufficient emptiness in the bellies of the masses who will not yet respond to the crisis.  By the same token, a song that could otherwise move the masses cannot due so at a premature point in history.  This does not mean organizing and song writing, along with direct action to fight pollution, are not appropriate and timely now.

At present, there exists almost no social climate for taking on en masse any of the threats growing around us.  Not one — nuclear weapons/waste, dioxin production, clearcutting the last ancient trees — galvanizes a large part of the population in its own interest as yet.  The truth, however, does gain a slightly larger foothold in the passive person's heart and mind, day by day.

Sanity and peace have taken such a long  holiday that their absence is considered not only normal but acceptable.  In a socioeconomic system where human values have been abandoned or turned upside down — for short-term, individualist gain — it is the rare person inclined to actually live differently (e.g., non-materialistically and in non-cooperation with militaristic domination).  He or she is even more unusual than the average peace- or environmental-organizer if the person is a reformer living as a low-income consumer, even if the organizer is working to change how humanity treats itself and the Earth.

It can be argued that the problem is not humanity but the modern dominant culture.  To some, the concept of challenging society as it has "evolved" is beyond comprehension.  Going even deeper, then, is harder when one might consider rejecting today's globalized commercial culture.  For this may mean parting company with one's own family if there are divisions on a host of issues such as eating factory farm meat, tolerating corporate wrongdoing, and owning excessive property.  Generations have faced off and gone for long periods of time not speaking to each other over disputes such as whether one should recycle.  It is from these indications that we can detect the formation of the next status quo: a sustainable culture.

One need only to be a mere reformist, failing to see root causes, to be ostracized from the company of citizens refusing to question their government and the myths and lies they grew up believing from church and public school.

Therefore, in the present political climate, it is no surprise that even millions of people cannot derail a heedless, shameful war of aggression as happened in 2003 with the U.S./UK attack on Iraq.  Those who opposed this misadventure are doing little now other than talking up the news of the failure of the Iraq puppet government to now lead, or they may speculate on a change in the occupancy of the White House in January 2005.  

Yet, as unlikely as it seems for an all-out movement for survival to rapidly gather millions of adherents, we know that a number of forces are moving in a direction suggesting basic sudden change.  The Zeitgeist that peace activist Brian Willson (see Culture Change Letter #38) senses may be forming is being fed by conditions and events such as the alarming rise in suicide in the U.S. army today.

However, until steps are taken by a noticeable portion of the population to do such things as renounce car use, the nascent movement is still in a low-key building mode whereby the shape and timing of things to come remain for now unclear.  Until we sense discernible clarity, and people across society are consciously fed up with institutionalized fear, greed, exploitation and oppression, we will unfortunately continue to witness population growth (U.S. and UK, in the industrial world) and other negative aspects of the whole system turning us inside out.

The needless suffering of hundreds of millions of people today is not a accident or "the price of progress," as the big-money elite and its minions would have everyone believe.  The majority of the world's population is not starving or dying of cancer — yet — so "why should I care" still prevails individually.  But when it hits home to "what, me?!" widely enough, we will all witness, and many of us will take part in, a fast remaking of society.  Pruning a severely diseased tee cannot be carried out properly if only the tips of branches are removed.

Anticipating complete social change is as yet the day-dreaming of a disaffected but visionary small minority.  When people now in denial of the extent of modern society's overall failure admit to the pointlessness of supporting their own destruction and the obliteration of future generations' chances for survival, our differences will fall away.  Spontaneous organizing and leadership will emerge.  Society is endlessly complex, but this much is pretty basic: we put a stop to pollution on its present global scale.  Happy 2004.  


January 1, 2004  Humboldt County, northern California


Algalita Marine Research Foundation
Overpopulation Resources
Culture Change's coverage of Brian Willson and his website
Brain control of the masses via pollutants 

Back to Home Page

Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing:


Articles of interest:
Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results.  WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California. Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)



Culture Change/Sustainable Energy Institute mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change (Trademarked) is published by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) California non-stock corporation. Contributions are tax-deductible.