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March 21, 2013

Bulletin #166:

  • Public Discussion in Santa Fe, March 28, 2013
  • Join us at the World Headquarters for tea and talk, weekdays at 4 pm (call first)
  • We will be hosting our first international Fellow(s) this summer
  • Forget the rest
  • There are many ways to help advance our work, or join it.

Dear friends –

On Thursday, March 28 in Santa Fe, the Study Group is hosting a reception, talk and discussion entitled “Decrescit Eundo?  Rebellion, Resilience, and Stewardship in a Time of Radical Change[1],” which will begin at 5:30 pm at the Santa Fe Women’s Club, 1616 Old Pecos Trail.

There will be a reception with light refreshments at 5:30 followed by a 40 minute talk by me and a 80 minute discussion led by Peter Neils, our president.  We’ll finish at 8:00 pm.  There is a suggested donation of $10.00 to cover our costs but we will not turn anyone away.

We think you will find this event challenging and energizing.  You may (or may not) be shocked at some of the conclusions drawn, but that's part of the point (see “Enraging Desert”).  We'll have slides and a handout with key on-line references, which we will also post.

The reason we are giving this talk is because we need to create a space, temporary though it be, where we can address some of the deeper adumbrations of the work many of us are doing in these times – cross-cutting aspects which are insufficiently appreciated, though urgent.  Mainstream and official discourses ban them from discussion entirely.  We won’t get too far in the time allotted but we can hopefully refresh or establish relationships with some of you in which we can work together and go a farther politically – much farther, through the work of the Study Group and that of other organizations with which you may be working.

I am not asking you to come to this (or any) talk and discussion because I am a nuclear policy expert with deep background in environmental policy and science, and engineering.  The typical “leading expert” is right about as often as a chimpanzee.   Long ago, Lewis Mumford characterized typical scientific experts as a “closet full of left shoes;” Henry Kissinger famously said an expert is one who could “articulate the consensus of power.”  Nowhere is this truer than in the nuclear weapons field, where virtually all discourse is founded on clichés, unexamined assumptions – and in the nonprofit community, on the talking points delivered in top-down conference calls from secretive foundation boardrooms, which often have little relationship to reality (or last year's "positions").

I am – this time and always – asking you to come because of what my colleagues and I don’t know, which is really much more interesting.  I want us to look at the frame.

Albert Einstein once said that if he had a problem to solve in just one hour, and it was terribly difficult, and his life depended upon it, he would spend the first 55 minutes framing the problem.  [This version is from Owen Gaffney of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.]

All discourse aside, the truths we seek in politics are embodied truths.  If you aren’t “there” in one way or another, what is discussed won’t be true for you.  And your part will be missing for the rest of us.  The world is indeed run by the people who show up.

As you have heard from me before, considerable (but not complete) nuclear disarmament is now “baked in the cake” for the U.S. – although of course there will be creative push-back from the usual suspects, until the hammer of scarcity and related domestic crises truly begins to fall.  We will see some details of that push-back on April 8 when the President’s budget is released and a very large increase (masked by program shuffling) is requested for Weapons Activities.  It will include the design and eventual production of more than one new nuclear explosive.  But, as the nuclear hawks have learned to their fury and dismay, there are many slips twixt the cup and the lip.

The nuclear establishment has the resources to fight the inevitable for a long time, but not forever.  It can end history, but unless it does so it is increasingly on the wrong side of it.

Superficially, the problems and consequent debates in Congress about the nuclear weapons complex are mostly about management (“too much,” “not enough,” or “not the right kind”) and money (there never seems to be enough).  But these problems have deeper causes, which affect all of us.  The big changes coming to the nuclear weapons industry (whatever they turn out to be in detail) are a small but important part of a huge historical tipping point that is already affecting each of us and everything we do and hope to do.  Whether we can “make the trends our friends” and put all our weight on the right side of history will determine a great deal about what happens to us and our children, for good or ill.   We are at the end of an age, without guarantee of another.

Next Thursday, I will briefly provide an outline of why “peak everything” is upon us: peak oil, climate, water, capital, prosperity, biodiversity and people.  Have two centuries of economic growth ended and industrial devolution begun?  Aren’t there major business and economic opportunities in that transition, regardless?  Yes of course.  What the business and political community does not yet grasp is that, in the big scheme of things, on the scale of a U.S. state or a developed country like the U.S., there are really no other major macroeconomic opportunities.  There is nothing else big enough to offset the losses we are incurring that is also compatible with survival.

Also on Thursday I will suggest that New Mexico has begun a process of inexorable environmental, economic, and social, and political decline which cannot be avoided under any of the “business as usual” strategies being discussed by our leaders today.  Many are beginning to glimpse this (e.g. “What’s the matter with New Mexico?”, High Country News; “Lagging economy tests N.M. leaders,” New Mexican).  There is no coherent vision, let alone plan or program, being articulated by any of our political leaders or nonprofits, even those concerned with social justice.

How might we respond to these trends personally?  Will existing “activist” structures and “progressive” roles be adequate?  (No.)  Are some promising roles being overlooked?

I will also claim that to win we are going to have to adopt a much more critical and engaged stance toward faux protest ("fauxtest") and faux democratic engagement in their various forms, which are now extremely common and which occupy the place in our civic life of real reform – without actually generating or being that reform.  These faux reforms and actions do so under many familiar names and slogans, from “Forward on Climate” (the logo of which is a near-copy of the Obama campaign logo) to the groups which carry the White-House-approved banner of “a nuclear weapons free world.”  We need to think hard about the arts being used to contain and distract resistance and harness it to serve instead the political status quo and the careers within it, especially in the two main political parties.  Is the “progressive” movement, in effect, being “paid to lose,” as many (not just John Stauber) have suggested?  Citizens who want to do something effective are simply deluged with entreaties to join organizations that fraudulently offer social and political change, and always on the cheap (you too can sign a petition to whomever).  Our purpose is not to criticize but to liberate.  We need rebellion and “sustained outrage,” as Molly Ivins said: real, respectful, knowledgeable engagement with power and lives of service and heroism that are capable of generating joy amid the grief we are pushing onto our young people by our terrible passivity – not political pabulum and ersatz reform.

Please join us on Thursday, March 28th.

Meanwhile, join us at the World Headquarters for tea and talk, weekdays at 4 pm (call first)

Our offices in Albuquerque are now open every day at 4:00 pm for tea, snacks, and discussion.  The address is 2901 Summit Place NE.  There is decent parking and plenty of room for your bicycle.  Feel free to drop by then for any reason – that’s usually the best time.  It’s a good way to get to know Trish and I and others who may be here.  Call first to be sure we are in the office.

We will be hosting our first international Fellow(s) this summer

I thought you’d want to know this, and share our excitement.  The program will start in May.  Stay tuned.

Blog: forget the rest

This blog, the bones of which are still under construction, is a kind of experiment to see if we could efficiently share information and commentary with a wider group of people.  We do so with trepidation because sharing information and opinions is hardly important unless it draws us closer to you and inspires you to take actions and find words you could not, or did not, take or find before. We hope you in turn will inspire and amaze us.

Our electronic media separate as well as connect us.  We can hardly communicate without them, but they also seductively draw people away from the world we must build and the person-to-person interactions we most need to do that.  We prefer the first and second grammatical persons to the third.

There's always a tension between quantity, promptness, and quality, and it is difficult to know how to strike the right balance or if that is possible. S o we will make all sorts of mistakes.

We want to be as clear as possible, which at times will mean being firm, but we hope not to lose our humility thereby.

For a time this blog was called "Enraging Desert," not so much for the fine image of the lion roaring at the enraging desert in Wallace Stevens' poem but for the political and psychological use which James Hillman made of it.

"Forget the rest" refers of course to the Einstein-Russell Manifesto of 1955 against nuclear armaments and war.  The admonition to "[r]emember your humanity" is more commonly recalled, but too many people who promote weapons of mass destruction think they are doing that already.

"Forget the rest" points to a much larger cultural challenge, one that is inescapable at this historical moment when two centuries of economic growth are ending.  It is as well an existential challenge that each of us faces when we are forced to choose, as we must.  "Let all that's inane/Be swept away as vain" (Faust).

Comments are moderated.  We will get to them as we can.

There are many ways to help advance our work, or join it.

But the ones that matter most will involve some form of commitment on your part.  It could be financial, it could be professional, or it could be personal.  Small things can make a big difference in the life of a small organization.  If you live nearby, I suggest coming to the discussion in Santa Fe next Thursday and/or to tea here in the Albuquerque office to learn more.

You can donate to support our work in any of the usual ways.  In addition, many of you know potential donors, volunteers, and research fellows, and foundation officers, and you will have your own ways to help.

Yesterday I received a request for help on nuclear weapons issues – a sweeping request – from a person in a critical spot in the federal government.  I will answer over the weekend, as there is a tight deadline.  The point being, many doors are open, yet people think they do not have the wherewithal to enter, like the man in Kafka’s story “Before the Law.”  That’s wrong.  But doors don’t stay open forever.

Best wishes,

Greg and Trish, on behalf of the Los Alamos Study Group


[1] Descrecit Eundo: "It wanes as it goes," the opposite of the New Mexico state motto, "Crescit Eundo," ("It grows as it goes").


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