Dan Brook

We will either have democratic socialism or we will continue to socialize suffering

Whenever anyone proposes a policy that would benefit ordinary Americans, we are met with the repetitive chorus of “How are we going to pay for it?”

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Noam Chomsky Explains Exactly What Went Wrong in the 2016 Presidential Election in Brand New Interview

Noam Chomsky is an exceptionally influential figure. Author of well over 100 books (as well as many articles, letters, speeches and interviews) published over the past 60 years, Chomsky is integral to cognitive science, modern linguistics, philosophy, mass media criticism and political analysis -- especially of US foreign policy, the military-industrial complex, capitalism and imperialism. Chomsky is a defender of free speech and is one of the most cited authors.

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Meat Is a Global Warming Issue

There are many human activities that contribute to global warming. Among the biggest contributors are electrical generation, the use of passenger and other vehicles, over-consumption, international shipping, deforestation, smoking and militarism. (The U.S. military, for example, is the world's biggest consumer of oil and the world's biggest polluter.)

What many people do not know, however, is that the production of meat also significantly increases global warming. Cow farms produce millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane per year, the two major greenhouse gases that together account for more than 90 percent of U.S. greenhouse emissions, substantially contributing to "global scorching."

According to the United Nations Environment Program's Unit on Climate Change, "There is a strong link between human diet and methane emissions from livestock." The 2004 State of the World is more specific regarding the link between animals raised for meat and global warming: "Belching, flatulent livestock emit 16 percent of the world's annual production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas."

The July 2005 issue of Physics World states: "The animals we eat emit 21 percent of all the CO2 that can be attributed to human activity." Eating meat directly contributes to this environmentally irresponsible industry and the dire threat of global warming.

Additionally, rainforests are being cut down at an extremely rapid rate to both pasture cows and grow soybeans to feed cows. The clear-cutting of trees in the rainforest -- an incredibly bio-diverse area with 90 percent of all species on Earth -- not only creates more greenhouse gases through the process of destruction, but also reduces the amazing benefits that those trees provide. Rainforests have been called the "lungs of the Earth," because they filter our air by absorbing CO2, while emitting life-supporting oxygen.

"In a nutshell," according to the Center for International Forestry Research, "cattle ranchers are making mincemeat out of Brazil's Amazon rainforests."

Of course, the U.S. should join the other 163 countries in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Of course, we should sharply reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and shift towards renewable sources of energy. Of course, we need to stop destroying the rainforests. Of course, we need to stop the war in Iraq and drastically reduce the U.S. military budget (presently at half of the entire world's total military spending), which would increase, not decrease, national and global security. But as we're struggling and waiting for these and other structural changes, we need to make personal changes.

Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the University of Chicago concluded that changing one's eating habits from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a vegetarian diet does more to fight global warming than switching from a gas-guzzling SUV to a fuel-efficient hybrid car. Of course, you can do both. Where the environment is concerned, eating meat is like driving a huge SUV. According to Eshel, eating a vegetarian diet is like driving a mid-sized car or a reasonable sedan, and eating a vegan diet (no dairy, no eggs) is like riding a bicycle or walking. Shifting away from SUVs and SUV-style diets, to much more energy-efficient alternatives, is key to fighting the warming trend.

Global warming is already having grave effects on our planet. Vegetarians help keep the planet cool in more ways than one. Paul McCartney says, "If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That's the single most important thing you could do." Andrea Gordon, in her article "If You Recycle, Why Are You Eating Meat?" agrees: "There is a direct relationship between eating meat and the environment. Quite simply, you can't be a meat-eating environmentalist. Sorry folks."

Vegetarianism is literally about life and death -- for each of us individually and for all of us together. Eating animals simultaneously contributes to a multitude of tragedies: the animals' suffering and death; the ill-health and early death of people; the unsustainable overuse of oil, water, land, topsoil, grain, labor and other vital resources; environmental destruction, including deforestation, species extinction, mono-cropping and global warming; the legitimacy of force and violence; the mis-allocation of capital, skills, land and other assets; vast inefficiencies in the economy; tremendous waste; massive inequalities in the world; the continuation of world hunger and mass starvation; the transmission and spread of dangerous diseases; and moral failure in so-called civilized societies. Vegetarianism is an antidote to all of these unnecessary tragedies.

The editors of World Watch concluded in the July/August 2004 edition that "the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future -- deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease." Lee Hall, the legal director for Friends of Animals, is more succinct: "Behind virtually every great environmental complaint there's milk and meat."

Global warming may be the most serious global social problem threatening life on Earth. We need to fight global warming on the governmental and corporate levels, and we also need to fight global warming on the everyday and personal levels. Now we need to fight global warming -- with our forks.

Israel, Palestine and Justice

I’ve been forced to think a lot these days about Israel and Palestine, who are and will be permanent neighbors. Especially as a Jew, a progressive, a human being, I do so with a very heavy heart.

Both sides and their supporters are responsible, even if not equally so, and both sides and their supporters are acting irresponsibly. Both sides have legitimate concerns (e.g., independence, safety, justice), but use illegitimate methods (e.g., dehumanizing the other, violence against civilians, collective punishments). So while I strenuously oppose the violent and brutal methods of both sides, I’m entirely sympathetic to the legitimate concerns, fears, and grievances of both sides.

Both countries deserve to live in peace, both sides deserve to have their children grow up safely and happily, both countries deserve to be free, both countries are losing key people due to brain drain, both populations deserve to be active participants in their collective destiny rather than subjugated by their authoritarian power-hungry leaders.

The Israeli occupation and military incursions are illegal and immoral, not to mention counterproductive ultimately. (As terrible as it is, though, it is not a holocaust or genocide. The Israeli army is physically capable of doing so and if it were so inclined would be killing much more than hundreds of Palestinians a year.) The vitriolic and virulent anti-Jewish (not just anti-Israeli) speech and actions of the Palestinians are frightening, dangerous, and deadly. (See www.memri.org for English translations of the Arabic media.) I think it’s true that Yasser Arafat is encouraging Palestinian violence against civilians (e.g., he still refers to suicide/homicide bombers as “martyrs” not murderers and he at least nominally directs the Al-Aqsa Brigade), yet he doesn’t necessarily have the power or the legitimacy to fully stop it. I think it’s true that Ariel Sharon is a war criminal and instead of being in jail where he belongs is on a new war path.

Each side is all too effective at provoking and demonizing the other. As usual, the people suffer. As historical and religious cousins, in addition to being neighbors, Jews and Muslims need to find ways to discuss, debate, and disagree, even hate each other, without descending to violent attacks against each other.

Both sides are engaging in terrorism, and Israel’s is being materially and ideologically supported by the US (with billions of dollars in aid and full diplomatic support) while Palestine is being materially supported by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar (which provide tens of thousands of dollars to the usually impoverished families of the suicide bombers) and ideologically supported by most of the Muslim countries (which incessantly extol the Palestinian cause and demonize “the Jews” in order to distract from their own authoritarian and corrupt systems).

Both sides are not only inflicting damage on the other side, but also on themselves. Both sides are killing children, the other side’s as well as their own. As we should know, the means do not justify the ends, the means create the ends.

I sincerely believe that Israel should end the occupation, dismantle the settlements, remunerate refugees, and treat Israeli Arabs equally and fairly, etc., which is the just thing to do. This would alleviate many of the problems, but it would not end all the violence to say the least. Palestine also has responsibilities, including the condemning and stemming of violence. The other Muslim nations also have responsibilities, not least of which should be financially building Palestine rather than verbally attacking Jews and worse. Further, Hamas wants all of Israel and Palestine to be an Islamic country ruled by Islamic law presumably similar to a Taliban-like or Iranian-style clerical fascist dictatorship. It should also be noted that even before Israel was a state, during WW2, some top Palestinian leaders sought to ally with Hitler to pursue a final solution against Jews. Their dream/nightmare continues unabated.

Some have asserted that the issue of Jewish historic suffering is “entirely irrelevant to the present day circumstances”. However, it is relevant and important because Jews have been blamed, threatened, maligned, attacked, ghettoized, bombed, and killed for thousands of years, all over the world, continuing into the present and unfortunately very likely into the future, mostly by Christians but also by Muslims. Many Jews who are traditionally liberal and progressive often become right wing around these issues due to the legitimate historical, present, and future fears of deep and pervasive anti-Jewish hatred and violence.

For many Jews, with the tragic history of multiple genocides (i.e., uncountable pogroms, The Inquisition, The Holocaust), and with so relatively few Jews in the world (i.e., only about 13 million in a world of over 6 billion people), any attack against Jews is seen in the context of group survival and continued ethnic existence. Let alone bullets and bombs, when Palestinians (almost exclusively men and boys) throw rocks, they are symbolically stoning the “infidels” (i.e., Jews and all other non-Muslims, in addition to gays, rape victims not rapists, women adulterers not male ones, et al.), symbolically enacting and exacting the death penalty, thereby playing on the realistic fears of Jews, secularists, and others.

I frankly don’t understand why so many people, especially those on the left, consider the suicide/homicide bombings against civilians understandable (aside from in a social scientific sense, even if not “excusable”), inevitable, or the like. Why would it be “inevitable” for Palestinians and not for African-Americans, South Africans under apartheid, Native Americans and other indigenous people, East Timorese, Tibetans, Romani, Basques, Dalit, Kurds, Northern Ireland’s Catholics, et al.? Like all others, Palestinians make choices, even if those choices are constrained by their culture, and it is unfair to rob them of their agency. There are always other alternatives.

As I have long believed and advocated, the Palestinians would be much more effective against the Israelis if they engaged in a relentless mass movement of non-violent civil disobedience (including marching into and around Jerusalem/al-Quds in the hundreds of thousands). The entire might of the Israeli army with all their US funding and weaponry would eventually be virtually powerless against this most potent weapon. US and world opinion would be more firmly in the Palestinian camp, as would many more Israelis. Furthermore, this would help build Palestinian civil society alongside the fight for a Palestinian state, instead of damaging the prospects for both.

Israelis also need to increase their civil disobedience campaign to end the Occupation and to reduce the militarization of their society, ensuring their security through the positive peace of justice rather than repression and war. Likewise, Americans in particular, but others as well, need to pressure their government leaders.

As we have long been saying in the movement, if the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow. We need to lead them to peace with justice in Israel and Palestine.

Dan Brook teaches sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. His essays have appeared in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Peace Review and Z Magazine. He can reached at Brook@california.com.

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