The Great Endarkenment
March 26, 2004
Gray Brechin, Ph.D.
I want you to imagine that you are looking at history — and most other things that humans do — in a very uncustomary way, as if you were looking at the world through polarized lenses. We're going to spend a few minutes looking at history as flows of energy.
How many times recently have we been told that we are engaged in unremitting warfare between good and evil, between light and dark, between civilization and barbarism — but not in terms of energy. We of course know which side we are on. We are on the side of civilization, since we represent its apex. And so it's only appropriate that America — still young and virile, and as resolute in purpose as when first set upon its destiny by the Founding Fathers — should have returned a year ago to the place where civilization began in the Fertile Crescent, in Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers. We have brought civilization back to where it began but where it then went bad there while we went good here; we have brought light to what had gone dark. We have come to liberate its people and, incidentally, to help them develop the energy that lies under their wrecked and now radioactive soil.
One could regard civilization, like humanity — indeed like all of life itself — as a constant quest for energy. The difference between ourselves and others is that your average fern or hawk or platypus uses only as much energy as it needs to live and to reproduce itself. They know the meaning of "enough;" they don't build cities or empires, where there never is enough. To civilize means literally to "citify." Mesopotamia is where cities first appeared.....and it shows.
By now you're probably used to those scenes of bleak devastation you've seen on television — not the ones that Saddam Hussein or the Taliban made or we are making, but the landscape created thousands of years ago by civilizations that are now piles of hardened mud and artifacts currently being looted to decorate apartments and mansions in today's imperial cities. Those Mesopotamian cities rose upon the surplus energy made possible by irrigated agriculture which, in turn, made possible division of labor, hierarchies, writing, accounting, leisure time, sciences, the arts, architecture.....and, of course, warfare in order for the elites of those cities to get still more energy. At its simplest, warfare is a vast expenditure of energy needed to get more energy with which to fight more wars....and so on.
Much of that energy consists of the labor of humans and animals fueled by carbohydrates, and that means topsoil. But throughout most of history, it was also wood; the quest for forests for fuel and building material has been one of the chief stimuli to expansion and conquest. The fates of forests, soils, and cities are intimately entangled throughout history in ways that often only the wisest understood. Plato knew that Greece had once been covered with forests which had nourished rivers and springs, but that in his own time the land looked like the body of an emaciated person wasted by disease because the forests had been felled and Greece consequently impoverished. He was looking at the consequences of an unremitting quest for energy; by that time, the Fertile Crescent was no longer very fertile; it was well on its way to becoming the salty desert that we see now because of the demands made upon it by Babylon, Ninevah, and other fabled cities. Imperial Rome, in its turn, would be literally buried by about 20 feet of soil washed off the deforested Appenines; its appetite would waste North Africa, Spain, and everywhere else around the Mediterranean called upon to send it tribute.
And yet, we did get something in return for all that energy extracted from the earth and from the sun and concentrated in a few great cities. The lights went on. We created art, and we created knowledge. And we stored it, as we stored energy in granaries. Humans created libraries. But those libraries were not for most of us; they were for them. The elites who built and ran the cities and their empires knew that knowledge was power, and they kept it to themselves. For us, they concocted belief systems that sent us to war to get more energy for themselves. They created some of the most cockamamie religions you can imagine to motivate millions of little people to build temples and palaces and tombs for them, and to go to war to get more energy with which to build and accumulate more. "Enough" is a word these people have never added to their vocabularies.
Nonetheless, they built some wonderful places. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Venice is a more beautiful and ingenious place than, say, Phoenix, or even Las Vegas. It became that way because, in 1204, Venice's rulers diverted the Fourth Crusade from the Holy Land to besiege and sack the ancient city of Contantinople — a Christian city like Venice. Venice took much of the loot and 3/8 of the Byzantine Empire to begin making its own empire. God, of course, was on its side. To this day, there are people in Istanbul who hate Venice for what it did to their city 800 years ago. Much of what was the Venetian Empire is a desert today because of the energy that it took. Memories are long in that part of the world; we forget that at our peril.
It happens over and over again. God is forever on the side of the victor, or the losers did something bad to merit His disfavor. History became a litany of wars fought in His name, masking the constant quest for more energy.
And then, in the eighteenth century, something different happened. For shorthand, we call it The Enlightenment. A group of philosophers, mainly in France, proposed that humans could organize themselves in a different way. And the U.S. is the product of that.
Chiefly, the founders proposed that people could rule themselves, but to do so, they would have to have access to the information that had formerly been monopolized by the few, particularly by the priests. Government would not only be representative, but it should be transparent so as to keep it honest and free of tyranny to which it otherwise tends. Hence, freedom of the press. Hence, separation of church and state. Hence, libraries; that is why Thomas Jefferson made a library central to his University of Virginia, and started the Library of Congress. These were meant to enlighten the many, and this, to my mind, was a real advance in civilization.
These were noble ideals, often honored only in the breach. The country, and the cities grew, and as they grew, they required more energy which they took from more distant sources, often by force. Because there was no state religion, there had to be some other motivating ideal by which large numbers of men would march or sail off to distant places to take and add them to what was often referred to as "this empire of liberty." In 1845, a journalist named John O'Sullivan coined the phrase "Manifest Destiny" to describe why the U.S. must stretch from sea to shining sea, and then some. "Manifest Destiny" was code for God, while few bothered to ask just how O'Sullivan or the politicians who used that term to their own advantage had channeled the Deity and knew what He wanted His chosen people to do. At that time, what God apparently wanted was for the U.S. to attack its weak neighbor Mexico and take its northern half. God wanted the U.S. to have San Francisco Bay as its strategic gateway to the Pacific, but along with The Bay came a great deal of real estate, gold, silver, copper, fertile soils, and a huge surplus of energy which would go a long way to making the U.S. a superpower in the twentieth century.
The glittering charm of Manifest Destiny was that it was so Un-Manifest that, whenever called upon, it could justify taking All Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, the Western Hemisphere, and, finally, the Pacific Ocean itself. Stabs were made at all of those lands and oceans until 1898 — 50 years after the War With Mexico — when Manifest Destiny made an encore after a U.S. warship called the Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana harbor, allowing the U.S. to righteously declare war on Spain and to take most of its remaining overseas territories. What happened in 1898 and afterward is remarkably similar to what we are going through now. "The Splendid Little War" was so brief and glorious that it was immensely popular in this country, and self-declared partiots vilified those who opposed it as traitors. Nonetheless, there were many who spoke out, calling it an imperial venture and a betrayal of America's ideals. The most eloquent anti-imperialist was elderly Mark Twain. Many of his fans were baffled that the great humorist could turn so bitter, so sarcastic, so treasonous — and so, you have probably never read his writings from that time, which are among his best.
What few Americans knew was that the war on Spain had been planned by a few men well before the Maine exploded. The idea was to get the Philippines and Guam and annex Hawaii in order to control the Pacific Ocean. There was a large fly in that ointment, however; the Filippinos didn't want to be occupied by another colonial power, and they fought back. The Splendid Little War turned into a very Dirty Long War with no exit strategy and thousands of dead, diseased, maimed, and mentally wrecked soldiers returning to the homeland, while the Philippines were wasted by a brutal guerilla war and scroched earth retaliation. It was a potential public relations disaster for the McKinley administration, so pundits were duly rolled out to explain it in the usual terms of bringing light to the dark places of the earth. Kipling wrote "The White Man's Burden" to steel American nerve for what its soldiers and sailors had to do. "God" was still around, but increasingly, Humanity, Civilization, and Team Spirit stood in for Him. Secretary of War Elihu Root assured Americans that "the warfare has been conducted with marked humanity and magnanimity;" San Francisco historian Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote:
It was worth to Spain all it cost in delivering her from her unprofitable colonies; and it was worth to the United States many times its cost as an object lesson, teaching men how to kill their fellow men gracefully, humanely, and in all Christian charity. Never before was seen in war such zeal and patriotism unattended by enmity, and where there was such an absence of any desire to inflict wanton injury upon the enemy.
The Reverend Dr. Kirby told a rally of Methodist ministers in San Francisco that "The Lord Jesus Christ is behind the bayonets."
Most importantly, Americans were repeatedly told that their country, unlike any other, had been innoculated by its founding ideals from error or evil, and those such as Mark Twain were just plain wrong if not downright seditious. As the war in the Philippines dragged on, Professor Bernard Moses — founder of the Department of Political Science at the U.C. — assured doubters that
The patriotism of the American people is to make impossible the realization of the dreams of the prophets of evil; and, backed by the morality and manhood of this nation, it is to lead us in the way that is right.
All of this before movies: imagine the certainties that could be implanted in people's minds by a Jimmy Stewart, a John Wayne, or a Wolf Blitzer, or a Thomas Friedman.
I'm going to skip over most of the next century, because those years are largely about the perfection of propaganda — or, if you prefer, public relations — as well as about the shift from coal to oil and natural gas and nuclear energy, and how those new sources of energy have changed the earth and have made the United States the superpower that it is. As I wrote in Imperial San Francisco families with names such as Rockefeller and Guggenheim (and I might have added Walker and Bush) made New York the new Rome, and "like the Roman generals returning from Spain with booty, such dynasties provide the plebes with a spectacle of immense wealth brought home from distant lands, as well as suspicions of transnational conspiracies necessary to get it. Yet the fountain of wealth, power, and glamour that issues from the mine and the oil well has also decisively shaped the way we perceive and treat our planet —not as a farm, let alone as a garden, but as a mine head and a battlefield."
Don't take it from me. Here's Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 when we still had presidents with brains:
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
The first task of this administration is to indissolubly wed corrupt business and corrupt politics....and the dictionary definition of that form of government is fascism.
In the three-plus years since a blatantly partisan Supreme Court turned over government to the loser, and through him to the oil industry and a sort of American Taliban foreseen by Margaret Atwood in her prophetic novel The Handmaid's Tale, immense and possibly irreparable damage has been done to Constititutional law in this country, as well as to international law and to the terrestrial environment. This is anything but a "conservative" administration; it's the most radical regime in U.S. history, and its radical goals are there in the policy papers you will hear about which call for Full Spectrum Dominance of Planet Earth, no matter what the cost to you and me. It's all about securing more energy for the United States and its eternally no-fault ally Israel, while ignoring for as long as possible what the use of that energy is doing to render our planet uninhabitable very soon.
I am here, as I'm sure most of you are, to try to learn what actually happened on the morning of September 11, 2001 because, up to now, we have not been allowed to know, as the survivors' families have tried to point out to the rest of us. I say this knowing that I will immediately lose my credibility because we have been led to believe that here, everything is out in the open, and that if you did not see it on CNN or Fox News or read it in Time or the Times, then it didn't happen. Anyone who suggests otherwise — for example, that the plane crash of a liberal senator hated by the present administration, a tragic coincidence that threw an evenly divided Congress decisively into the camp of the illegitimate regime to preclude any chance of impeachment proceedings — anyone who suggests that that might be anything other than an unfortunate accident not worth much more than two days of news coverage, that person must be a raving fruitcake. Conspiracies just don't happen in this country — all evidence to the contrary. Like the inability of this country to do any wrong, that idea has been implanted in the minds of millions of Americans as armor plate defense against questions that should be asked about what happened that fine morning in September.
All evidence to the contrary....... There was a conspiracy that should concern us here very much, for it was far more serious than the previous known conspiracy of Watergate in its implications for Constitutional rule. It's called Iran-Contra, and in its brief hour squirming in the spotlight, it began to reveal some very ugly things about how a small cabal of totalitarian-minded crooks, thugs, and low-lifes with contempt for the Constitution took it upon themselves — or were ordered to do so — to run a secret government out of the basement of the White House. Among many other things, we learned through hearings that drugs were being flown into this country with no need to worry about interception by the DEA or anyone else. That had, apparently, been “taken care of” higher up.
But like a bad dream that evaporates quickly upon awakening, Iran-Contra has faded into the distant past and is about as meaningful to most young people as the Battle of Hastings. Called to testify, Ronald Reagan couldn’t remember a thing — and who would want to press that affable old uncle anyway about how he could possibly have been ignorant of the sulfuric magma percolating just below his Oval Office? When Bush, Senior became President, he pardoned the major participants such as Cap Weinberger, making them “unindicted co-conspirators” — an odd term for a nation in which there are no conspiracies — and Bush, Junior then sealed the presidential and vice presidential records to historians, so that we will probably never know what happened because I suspect that the present regime is editing those records as they regularly do websites and scientific reports that come to conclusions not contained in the Old Testament. John Ashcroft instructed federal agencies that they need not honor Freedom of Information requests.
Bush and Cheney then appointed most of those unindicted co-conspirators to high positions in their administration. Why have a secret government operating out of the basement when you can have one operating upstairs in broad daylight since the Congress is almost entirely willing to abdicate its responsiblities, and the mass media will not point this out except when John Poindexter got a little too ga-ga and proposed total surveillance of U.S. citizens and a betting pool in terrorism futures? This is a government quite literally run by criminals who once before subverted the Constitution in order to achieve their own imperial ends in Latin America and elsewhere. They’re just doing it in the open now, because they know that they can. And they understand far better than most Americans just how essential energy is for Full Spectrum Domination.
This is by far the most secretive administration ever, probably because it has so very much to hide, and the press has, for the most part, been complicit in allowing it to get away with what it has been doing. Few are aware that investigative journalism is a dying if not altogether dead activity in this country. One of the few who carries it on is Bill Moyers, but KQED shows how much it values his show called "Now" by scheduling it for the Siberian time slot of 10 PM on Friday, and bumping it to later whenever that educational TV station has the chance to broadcast four hours of Suze Orman's "The Courage to Be Rich" or a retrospective of the Bee-Gees.
I said that the United States was the product of the eighteenth century Enlightenment. What we are seeing in the twenty-first century is The Great Endarkenment. Let me end, then, by going back to Mesopotamia less than a year ago as U.S. forces shocked and awed Iraqis with a massive bombardment and moved into Baghdad. In less than a week, Baghdad's National Museum was looted and trashed. You heard about that. But did you hear that Mosul's museum was also trashed, and that Iraq's universities were sacked and burned, and that its great archaelogical sites continue to be looted? Moreover, the Iraq National Library and the Koranic Library were looted and burned while American soldiers were ordered to guard the records in the Oil Ministry, as reported by Robert Fisk in the London Independent. The San Francisco Chronicle didn't feel that this destruction merited an article of its own.
And then we moved on to other things, like the President’s [sic] landing on an aircraft carrier to announce the “Mission Accomplished” (I wondered how they got Leni Riefenstahl out of retirement to choreograph that.) We moved on since we are a young nation ever fixed on the future and immune to error — oblivious that we had just permitted the trashing of the irreplaceable records of the very foundations of Civilization itself in our would-be campaign to save Civilization....and we feel that the Iraqis should just get over it, as we got over the coup d'etat of 2000, or as I'm sure that we would get over the burning of the Library of Congress and NY Public Library and Harvard Library and the Metropolitan Museum and the National Gallery, and the Frick Gallery and the Chicago Art Institute, all within four days.
But, then, we're closing our own public and school libraries here because we can no longer afford to keep them open.
Are we just a little unclear on the concept of Civilization, perhaps?
There is a great deal that those who have taken over Washington do not want you to know about what has been and is being done in your name, and the great danger to which those actions are exposing us all in order to get more energy, and to build yet greater fortunes for themselves and their colleagues. That is why I call this period The Great Endarkenment, and it is perhaps the greatest of all betrayals of the founding ideals of this nation, and the monopolized mass media shares a great deal of responisiblity for propagating this giddy ignorance, and this justified fear of what is to come.
Let us shine some light now into that darkness, while we still can.
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