Catch up on the latest!

Winners and Violence


Installment Five – Winners and Violence

Last week I said I would write this time about poverty and violence, but just as I took laptop in hand, a podcast assaulted me with an appalling report about bombings in Turkey that took over 100 lives. That report caused me to focus more narrowly and more angrily on the problem of violence.

   I still have no idea who killed whom in Turkey. I’m quite sure I haven’t heard the real story. I’m also quite sure that whoever sent suicide bombers into that crowd (if that’s really what happened), had, from their own point of view, excellent reasons for doing so. Certainly the guys who blew themselves up believed they were doing it for a good cause.

   Was it the current government holding on to power, for the good of the nation? Was it the Kurds fighting for freedom and democracy? Was it the Islamic State seeking to make the world a better place by killing off enemies of the One True Islam? Whomever it was, and whatever their justification, the minute they used violence to achieve their goal, they lost their status as decent human beings.

   So far, since I’m talking about terrorism and the Middle East, you’re probably still with me, but how far can we go together on this pacifist path?

  What about President Obama? Every Tuesday (I’ve heard) he updates the drone kill list, giving permission for some kid with a joystick to fly an unmanned aircraft over a distant country where he blasts a house or car to smithereens hoping it contains the targeted bad guys and not too many innocent bystanders. Of course, both Obama and the kid are doing this to keep Americans safe from the terrorists, so is this an acceptable use of violence?  

   What about the US, NATO or Saudi Arabia bombing Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria, killing hundreds of thousands, displacing millions, and turning nation after nation into failed states? All of this is to kill guys who cut off people’s heads and would cut yours off if they got a chance, right? So is this kind of violence justified?

   What about Palestinians stabbing Jewish settlers or firing rockets into Israel? Israel is obviously a rogue nation run by neocon Zionists keeping Palestinians on starvation rations in the world’s largest jail where they are periodically mowed down by the thousands. Are Palestinians justified in using violence to fight for their freedom? Are Israelis justified in killing Palestinians to defend Israelis? Has all this killing of evil people made life better for Israelis or Palestinians?

   Or what about a duly appointed policeman who orders someone to freeze or get down on the ground or put out a cigarette and that person deliberately disobeys the order, giving said policeman some impolite verbal resistance. Is that policeman justified in using a Taser, gun or other violence on someone who is clearly a rebel and fails to understand who must be obeyed for the good of society?

   Or what about a young black male who has done nothing wrong but is stopped by a bad cop. He knows from his own experience and the experience of dozens of others right around him that he is about to get a beating and end up dead or in jail. He has done nothing wrong and has every reason to believe the cop might kill him. If this innocent young black male can grab the bad cop’s gun, shoot him and get away, would he be justified in doing that?

   Or what about a black, transgender woman walking down a dark alley where she meets four drunk, white rednecks who pick up sticks and start speculating hilariously about her genitals. Should she have a semi-automatic in her purse that she can turn on those rednecks to protect herself? If she does, would she be justified in killing them? Wouldn’t the world be a safer, nicer place without those guys?

  Or, let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night and see a couple guys breaking into your home with signs on them that say, “We are here to rape your wife and kill your children.” If you had a gun, would you kill those guys?

   When is violence justified? Where do you draw the line? How do you draw the line?

   First, can we stipulate that decent human beings don’t kill each other? If so, the question becomes, can a decent human being kill a winner, that is, someone who is not a decent human being? Under what circumstances can I kill a winner and remain a decent human being?

   Most people I know, many of them quite decent in many respects, are unwilling to give up violence. They don’t like violence, of course. They want to avoid it as much as possible, but they insist it’s sometimes necessary. To defend this position, they point to everything from Hitler to guys breaking in to kill children to the need to eat to the survival instinct in our DNA.

   I, on the other hand, believe we have to reject group violence altogether to loosen its grip on our collective throat, and the bombings in Turkey compel me to explain why.

   Let’s start with a definition of violence. For the purposes of this series about winners and decent human beings, violence starts when you win something without caring about the loser. If you hurt someone in any way, by word or deed, gun or money, legal or illegal, conscious or unconscious, you have “started it.” You have done something that can and often does lead to actions we all recognize instantly as violence, usually the inflicting of physical harm.

   By “winning”, I’m not referring to rugby or checkers. Games are excellent devices for safely enjoying the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The losers willingly take part, with losing the price competitors pay for playing the game and sometimes winning.

   And by rejecting group violence, I am not talking about guys who come into your house to rape your wife and kill your children. If someone breaks into your house, go ahead and shoot, see if I care. Individual criminals and the violence they perpetrate aren’t even in the same league with the class of winners and type of violence I’m urging you to reject.

   The winners I’m talking about are people with power acting institutionally and in groups to compete with other institutions or groups. In service to organizational competition, they negotiate, legislate, lie to the media and drop bombs in ways that benefit themselves without knowing or caring what it does to others. I’m talking about people who take from or pollute the Earth without caring what they’re doing to the ecosystem or future generations. These mindless, group-based winners are an existential problem for all decent human beings. Their activities are making our lives miserable and our planet unlivable. We have to stop them, but how?  

    The crux of my argument is practical, not moral. Decent human beings simply cannot stop winners by killing them. We can’t even defeat them. Winners are good at doing anything it takes to win. Decent human beings are not. Thus, as history and our current situation show, decent human beings rarely defeat winners.

   More importantly, winners are completely devoted to winning. They are not good losers. In fact, they have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to kill us all and make our planet uninhabitable rather than lose. (Recent case in point: The lying executives of Exxon may well have sacrificed the entire human family to preserve their positions and profits.) Winners are armed and extremely dangerous; they must be handled with great care.

   After decades of watching decent human beings win battle after battle (the New Deal, the Voting Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Vietnam War, don’t-ask-don’t-tell, a black president, marriage equality) only to keep decisively losing the war, I have come to the conclusion that we can’t beat the winners. We can’t even compete with them. After all, competition is their specialty; decent human beings don’t stand a chance. In the winners’ game, nice guys finish last. Our only hope is to change the game, and the only change that will accomplish what we seek – a world run by and for decent human beings – is to drop out of the competition, drop out of the winning, refuse to take part in or cooperate in any way with any group killing, and reject, despise and disobey any leader who advocates or even accepts the use of group-on-group violence.

   In the West, we have to make ourselves completely immune to the notion that North Koreans, Iranians, Venezuelans, Russians, Chinese, Muslims, immigrants, young black males, abortion doctors or anyone else should be killed. We reject killing by terrorists. We reject killing by drones, soldiers and states. We reject killing by good guys as well as by bad guys. We reject killing or any form of cruelty as an answer to any of our problems. We demand that all problems be solved through dialogue, negotiation, and the creative transcendence of conflict, with “solved” here meaning a solution enthusiastically embraced or at least willingly accepted by all stakeholders, from the most to the least powerful. Any solution that pleases any subgroup at the expense of any other is no solution, and we would rather die than accept or participate in that kind of solution. This is what it means to be a decent human being.

   Because we can’t force winners to participate in conflict resolution processes, decent human beings need, at this stage, to live as separately as possible in our own decent human communities. We need to demonstrate that cooperative life without winning is fun, safe, comfortable and productive. We need to show that a commitment to universal wellbeing is actually better (in every possible sense of this term) than the competitive, adversarial lives we are forced to live today. We need to build communities and businesses that are economically and environmentally sustainable while being safe, caring and enjoyable. And we need to do all this without relying on winners or giving them our money. To the extent possible, we have to buy from, bank with, and bank on decent human beings.

  If we can’t drop out of winner society and create our own better society, decent human beings have nothing to offer. We will merely be nice guys finishing last until the winners pull us all over the cliff. And, if we are willing to accept violent responses by any group toward any group for any reason whatsoever, we are not significantly different from the winners we are trying to educate and convert—except for being weaker and poorer.

   For at least two millennia human society has been attempting to defeat evil through violence. After all these years of good and bad people killing each other, we live in a violent, unsustainable society governed by selfish, lying, cheating, stealing, murdering gangsters who are gradually ruining our planet while keeping their fingers on buttons that could exterminate our species in an afternoon. Seems to me decent human beings ought maybe try something different. 

Add your reaction

Winners and the Environment



Installment Four – Environmental Crisis

 Nuclear weapons are one of the two compelling life-or-death threats demanding that homo sapiens evolve from a bunch of competitive winners into a cooperative family of decent human beings. The Earth is the other. The Earth is a threat because it presents us with certain hard, physical limits that we either respect or die. (At the moment, we are not respecting them.) 

   Human beings need food. Most food comes directly or indirectly from plants that need a certain amount of heat, cold, sun and rain. If we change the Earth’s climate too quickly, our farmers and our essential plants will fail to adjust. Moreover, most food plants need to be pollinated by bees and butterflies. As we fill the Earth’s soil, water and air with pesticides, we are killing the bees and butterflies. We are also killing bacteria, fungi, and worms the plants need. We are actually diminishing our ability to produce food on this planet, and as we do, more people will starve. When people in advanced nations begin starving, global society will collapse into chaos. No police force, no matter how brutal, will control millions of starving people who know that life can and should be better. As civilization collapses, we will enter a dark and desperate struggle for physical survival leading, possibly, to an exchange of nuclear weapons that will take us right out.

   Human beings need fresh, clean water. If we fill our water with chemicals, poisons, and radioactive substances, the water we can’t live without will make us sick or even kill us. We can make fresh, clean water even from dirty seawater, but that requires enormous energy, which will, under present conditions, contribute to climate change. As a result of the climate change we have already caused, some of us live in areas that receive far less than normal, necessary amounts of rain, while others of us receive far more rain than we can safely and effectively handle. Flooding in one area does not make up for a drought elsewhere. Both are devastating, and both will increase as we increase the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

   Speaking of atmosphere, we need a certain percentage of oxygen in our air to stay alive. Fifty percent of that oxygen comes from the oceans. The oceans can absorb only so much carbon dioxide before becoming too acid to support normal sea life. When a living thing in the ocean dies, it falls to the bottom where it is decomposed by bacteria. This decomposition process uses oxygen. Thus, if too much ocean life dies all at once due to acidification, the oceans will stop releasing the oxygen we need, and we will all die.

   We have known about the greenhouse gas effect since 1859. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius published the first calculation of global warming from human emissions of CO2. In 1960, Charles David Keeling accurately measured CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere and detected an annual rise. The first big conference on climate change took place in Boulder, Colorado in 1965. Today, scientists are routinely presenting the rest of us with increasingly dire warnings about the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions as much and as soon as possible. And what have we done to solve this problem? Nothing or, at least, nothing that will have a significant effect on the outcome. We are still doing all the things we know perfectly well will make the Earth uninhabitable in a matter of decades.

   The reason we have done nothing to solve the above serious environmental problems is because our leaders are not decent human beings. They are winners. Wall Street winners know we have serious environmental problems, but are institutionally incapable of quitting their mad competition for money. Oil company winners know their industry is driving nail after nail into our collective coffin, but they, too, are unable to escape the hyper-competitive system that guides their decisions. Political winners are unable to win without money from the business winners whose competition is the driving force in our global economy, so they do what they’re told by the business winners.

   All of these winners compete for control of governments, politicians, laws and regulations, markets, labor, resources, and money because that is what they have been trained and hired to do. If they were suddenly to think about the Earth and take their eye off the prize (winning and profits), they would quickly be replaced by some winner who won’t. And who is it that controls this system? We do, the 99%.

   You have been carefully taught to think it’s the winners at the top, the 0.01% who actually make the decisions. The winners who control the boards of directors of the banks, energy companies, insurance companies, and all the major corporations that control the politicians and, through them, the militaries and police that control the people. It does, at first glance, appear that these hyper-ultra-winners are managing the world. But that’s what they want us to think—that and we’d be lost without them. Actually, we’re lost if we let them keep control.

  Dangerously few of the people at the top are decent human beings. We know this because they keep fighting to win instead of working decently to solve our climate and pollution problems. We know it because the meetings of global leaders that should be solving these problems (Davos, G7, G8, G20, COP, UNGA, etc.) inevitably end in abject failure to do anything meaningful. The smartest, most powerful leaders in the world content themselves with blaming each other or touting some carbon-trading fix that is too token to qualify even as symbolic. Time after time the winners who appear to be in control say clearly by their actions that continued competition and continued winning (by them) is more important than solving the problems that threaten to take their own species right off this planet.

   In this blog series about winners and decent human beings, I have been asserting that, instead of fighting, stakeholders should sit down and talk. But when it comes to climate change and environmental disaster, we ARE talking and yet, nothing is happening. After all, we had the much-maligned and ignored Kyoto Protocol. We’ve had COP meetings (Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) every year since 2007, and the next one will be in Paris this December. Many climate activists are hopeful that Paris will be different, that this time our world leaders will finally come to grips with the problem. I doubt it.

   The problem is, our leaders talk the way winners talk. Winners get together and pretend to negotiate toward a solution, but actually, they go into the talks absolutely determined not to give up anything of value. They go in with strategies and tactics designed to win. “Winning” means appearing to do something about the crisis without actually taking any steps that might reduce the profits of an oil company or a major political donor. They want to solve the problem, but any solution has to let the winners keep winning.

   Most tellingly, our winner leaders are not talking enough. The problem they face is maintaining an ecosystem that supports human life on Earth, and the COP meetings are about 6 to 15 days a year. In Paris, the schedule calls for solving the world’s most urgent and difficult problem in 10 days (Nov. 30 to Dec. 11). I realize that lower level staff work on the problem before and after the conferences, but whatever they’re doing, it’s not enough.

    If a group of people were in a raft floating down the Niagara River toward the falls, they would spend more than a few minutes now and then talking about what to do. Of course, if these people were winners, they would be shooting and throwing each other out of the raft, but if they were decent human beings, they would be talking continually, focused intently on all paddling together to get the raft to one side of the river and onto a rock or something.

   A problem with the depth and complexity of climate change takes more than a few days a year, and a problem of this life-threatening urgency should receive continual high level, high profile discussion until a reasonable solution has been achieved. The current negotiation pretense is worse than nothing. The winners meet just enough to convince the rest of us that adults are in charge and a solution is just around the corner. If they simply did nothing, we would all see clearly that the ’toons have taken over the asylum, which might inspire more decent human beings to run for office.

   Regardless of the reasons and the deep flaws in my analysis, the fact is, our world is ending if we fail to act, and our leaders are failing to act except in their own interests as winners.

   So here is where I get radical, so radical I have trouble following my own advice. First, environmental issues are the perfect context in which to demonstrate that the winners are not really in charge. The billionaires and generals who appear to rule the world are 100% dependent on the power we, the 99%, give them. Rich people need poor people, but poor people do not need rich people. History has repeatedly demonstrated that when poor people are frustrated and angry enough to unify, they easily eliminate their rich rulers, replacing them with new rulers who gradually get richer and crueler until they, too, have to be eliminated. Thus, we poor people get the rich people we deserve or are willing to put up with.

   Next, the only way any of us are going to get out of our environmental predicament alive is to stop trying to be winners and start being decent human beings. And, we have to make this transition as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

   If we want the winners among us to stop winning for themselves at the expense of the 99% and our ecosystem, we have to stop playing their game. We have to stop competing for money and start living in a way that removes the incentives that drive winners to compete. We also have to take from them the tools they are using to kill us. 

   So what does this mean? At the easiest level, it means ceasing all efforts to become or appear rich. In fact, it means withdrawing our respect and admiration from people who are rich and not devoting their wealth to protecting the Earth. It means not buying a big car or house or fancy clothes or doing anything to appear successful in material terms. It means buying as small and efficient a house and car as you can possibly live with. It means boycotting Monsanto and Wal-Mart, of course, but really, it means boycotting everything, that is, buying as little of everything as possible. If we stop buying what the winners are selling, they will soon understand where the real power lies.

   At a more difficult level, it means drastically reducing our use of energy and resources. If we want the winners to stop warring over oil, we have to stop using so much of it. If we want to stop the proxy wars in Africa over precious metals, diamonds and other valuable resources, we have to stop buying them. One thing we’ve learned from the decades long, totally ineffective war on drugs is that demand will be met. The only way to weaken gangsters or banksters is to weaken demand.

   At an even more difficult level, we have to stop working for and cooperating with winners. We have to take our money out of stocks, bonds and big banks. We have to put whatever we have into small community banks or credit unions. We have to stop working for any company that does not in some way ensure that workers have significant influence over all corporate decisions. We have to stop working for companies run by a board of directors that serves only the interests of shareholders. In fact, we have to stop buying from such companies, paying more if necessary to buy from worker coops, local businesses and any decent human beings we have the opportunity to support.

   At the most difficult level, we have to get out of cities and move back to the countryside. There, we have to make ourselves useful in some way until we can learn to grow our own food, make our own tools, and greatly increase our level of self-sufficiency. One day, it may be possible to build cities that don’t destroy our ecosystem, but today, cities are utterly dependent on exploiting the hinterlands and mistreating the Earth. Cities are energy sinks and heat islands. Relatively wealthy consumers in cities who want cheap food make it impossible for farmers to survive. They hand all their power over to trading companies that impoverish farmers. By blindly buying cruelty- and chemical-based food substitutes, city consumers with no idea what they’re eating, empower Monsanto, Cargill, ADM and the other industrial giants that destroy our soil, our water, our seeds, our plants, our food, and our bodies, while making it impossible for decent human farmers to grow decent natural crops to be served as real food.

   If we would like to see winners weakened and decent human beings strengthened, we need to strengthen the countryside, restore our land and water, grow our own food, and learn to live as much as possible without petroleum and without cities.

  Cities are full of winners. These winners look down on the rest of us because they have great penthouses, lots of servants, lots of gadgets, and lots of parasites telling them how great they are. But if people in the countryside began growing food for themselves, making clothes and tools for each other, and dramatically reducing what they buy from corporations and ship to cities, those citified winners would soon learn the value of food and the great out of doors.

   Most cities have only about three days of food on hand. If shipments fall dramatically, cities will empty out quickly. True, the winners in the highest penthouses will be the last ones to feel the pinch, but the systems on which their obscene winnings depend will collapse long before they actually get hungry. The pleasure of living in a penthouse will fade considerably when the rest of the building is empty.

   Are you crazy? What planet are you living on? We can’t change the system by recycling and changing to LED light bulbs. Me using less oil will make no difference at all if everyone else is using it. I’ll just suffer for nothing.

   All of these objections are legitimate. I certainly admit the possibility that I am crazy, but it seems to me that decent human beings will never defeat the winners and save the Earth through marches, vigils, demonstrations or even violent revolution. The winners are ready for this. More importantly, making demands of winners leaves them in charge. And if decent human beings turn to violence, we are no longer decent human beings. A new world order established by violence will be unable to make any of the needed changes because it will be led by winners. We decent human beings need to take over and do something better, which we will find through decent human problem solving.

   Sadly or luckily, we can’t defeat the winners by defeating them. We have to convert them, and we can only do that by quietly, politely but firmly withdrawing our cooperation, money and power, and by demonstrating a viable, more enjoyable alternative way of life. We have to stop competing, stop pursuing money, stop buying what they are selling, stop being violent, and stop accepting violence of any kind against anyone for any reason. If we can do this, we may earn a few more centuries on Earth, and an Earth full of decent human beings would be a peaceful, sustainable, warm, loving and beautiful place to live.

   Next week, I will address violence, the problem of poverty, and the gap between the rich and poor, I mean, winners and losers. 

Add your reaction



Installment Three – Immigration

I was planning to write this time about CO2, the second monster threat to human existence that winners are failing to address. However, the immigration crisis in Europe has leaped ahead of global warming in the news and in my heart. As a decent human being, I am so upset, I can’t help turning to it now.

First, let’s be clear. The refugee problem is caused by winners, that is, by people who compete to win something at the expense of someone else. Some are competing for oil and other resources, some for money, some for territory, some for status, and some are just happy selling arms to all the sundry would-be winners. To be fair, most of the competitors probably do sincerely believe they are good while someone else is bad and, therefore, should be killed. Winners are quick to think someone else should be killed.

For the most part, it’s winners competing to win oil in the Middle East who are causing the violence, chaos, and misery that have sent all those refugees to Europe. If, instead of blazing away with guns and bombs, world leaders had gotten together at any point to talk like decent human beings about how much oil is left, who needs it for what, how to share it, how to share the proceeds, and how to safely and quickly transition to a post-petroleum society, no refugees would be streaming into Europe. It is the catastrophic effort to win rather than solve problems that turns ordinary people into refugees.

And now, winners are applying the same winning (and losing) philosophy to solving the refugee problem. Some want to let all the refugees in and take good care of them. Some want to build walls and fences to keep them out. Some are putting them in jail. Some are compromising by setting quotas. Americans are hiding out on the other side of the Atlantic hoping the refugees won’t get there. What is not happening is a series of conferences that include all the stakeholders, including the refugees and the official and unofficial leaders in the countries they are escaping. What is not happening is a comprehensive effort to identify the root problems and solve those problems to the benefit of all involved.

This kind of conflict resolution effort is not taking place because our societies (in and out of the war zones) are still so completely dominated by winners. Even the nice people who want to accept all the refugees and take care of them are focused on trying to win. Yes, they are trying to win for the sake of others, which is nice, but they are appalled and disgusted by the people who want to keep the refugees out and have made no effort to include those people in any problem-solving effort.

In Germany, President Merkel has been great, from the point of view of the refugee accepters. She is willing to accept 500,000 of them. But what if 510,000 of them show up at her door? What will she do then? Send the extra 10,000 home? More importantly, she is seriously infuriating the German Nazis, and we know how dangerous those folks can be. In fact, although Hungary is the most overtly closed nation in Europe at the moment, all European nations have substantial right wing parties that could very well use this refugee issue to grow in numbers and power.

The sudden appearance of large numbers of new people in any community is a frightening, potentially explosive phenomenon. With winners handling this problem, we will soon see Europeans at each other’s throats, with hundreds of thousands of poor, desperate refugees caught in the middle. This is not the way decent human beings solve problems. 

 To most of you reading this blog, the good folks working to welcome and care for the refugees are decent human beings. I understand and share this sentiment, but to the extent that they are ready and willing to ram refugees down the throats of fellow countrymen and women who are genuinely frightened, these decent human beings are acting like winners.

In this case, decent human beings should be calling for town hall meetings, national and international conferences, UN Special Assemblies and other opportunities to discuss, deliberate, problem solve, and implement solutions supported by the vast majority of people on all sides of the issue. Decent human beings should be clamoring for dialogue aimed at actually solving the refugee problem, which would lead inevitably to the deeper problems that caused the refugee problem.

Impossible? Utopian? What planet am I living on? You react this way because you are unable to imagine a world not dominated by winners. If Obama, Putin, Xi, and other key players were to sit down to solve this problem in a civilized manner, it could be done. The flows of arms into areas of violent conflict would end, and most of the refugees would stream home determined to rebuild their own countries, with US, European, Russian and Chinese help. As a wonderful side benefit, world leaders might even find themselves entering critical talks about oil resources, global warming, and our post-petroleum future.

If, instead of fighting to win, our leaders sat down to solve our common problems, we would all reap enormous benefits, including, possibly, continued human life on Planet Earth. We fail to solve problems because winners keep insisting on winning. We have to stop fighting like winners and start talking like decent human beings. This means you and me. We can’t wait for our leaders to turn into decent human beings, nor can we wait for our governments to promulgate human decency legislation. We all have to overcome our urge to win, strengthen our determination to be decent human beings, and promote decent human being-ness.

This change is already happening, much more quickly than our win-lose corporate media can reveal or even comprehend. We will continue this transition, one by one, invisibly, until the 100th monkey has become a decent human being. At that point, winning will suddenly appear grotesque, bizarre, ridiculous and out of the question. Suddenly, we will stop electing warriors and start solving problems. In the meantime, I am hereby clamoring for an international conference on the refugee problem, with speaking roles offered to refugees as well as the captains of industry who pay politicians to wage war in the Middle East.

Next week I will definitely take up the issue of CO2 emissions and how winners are making our planet unlivable.

Add your reaction

Installment Two


Installment Two – No Winners with Nuclear Weapons

If you haven’t read my opening statement, please do. This piece will make more sense that way. But assuming you find that to be too much trouble, let me summarize. In my opening statement I promised to: 1) take all (or most) of the world’s problems and explain exactly how winners are screwing up a perfectly manageable situation, and 2) help you graduate from being a winner to being a decent human being enhancing the chances of human survival on Planet Earth.

   So why is winning so evil? Let’s start right at the top of the enemies-of-humanity hierarchy. Nuclear weapons are dangerous, expensive and not a good return on investment (from the taxpayer point of view, as opposed to the nuclear industry point of view). According to Global Zero, nukes cost the human family about $100 billion per year (that’s a trillion dollars every ten years). With that much money, we could end hunger, which is what we would do if winners weren’t in charge, but I’m sliding into a future topic.

   Even a limited nuclear war would instantly end civilization as we know it. A war involving hundreds of hydrogen bombs could exterminate human life. If you don’t believe me, check out And yet, the US and Russia still have over 2,000 warheads on hair trigger alert.

   Nuclear weapons are an imminent threat to our collective survival, but unlike the other threats I’ll address in this series, we could easily end it. Nine countries could free us from this threat in a week or two if they wanted to. Other problems, like global warming and the gap between rich and poor, will be difficult, even with everyone doing their best. The nuclear threat is the easiest global problem we face.

   Disarmament ambassadors, especially those representing the nuclear-weapon states, never tire of telling us how extremely complex and difficult this problem is, but there is nothing the slightest bit complex about disabling the weapons. They can be rendered permanently harmless in a few minutes, to be safely dismantled and disposed of at leisure. End of threat.

   The complexity derives entirely from winners. The highly competitive winners in charge of nuclear weapons are more interested in winning than in liberating us from that threat. They all claim that they are forced to risk making Earth uninhabitable for human beings because of each other, that is, winners have to deter their rival winners. See what I mean? Winners are the problem.  

   Are nuclear weapons required to make this planet a safe, comfortable place for all of us? No, they are required by a tiny handful of winners to deter other winners, all of whom are seeking to establish or maintain dominance over certain territories, resources and much larger groups of people. This competition for dominance prevents problem solving.

   For winners, the pursuit of dominance trumps the pursuit of sustainable peace and happiness for all. Winners are quick to declare that happiness for all is impossible. This belief is a self-fulfilling prophecy because it leads winners to focus narrowly on the pursuit of happiness for themselves or a tiny sub-group. To obtain happiness for self at the expense of others, you must compete and win. This is the type of winning that is obsolete and dangerous in the nuclear age.

   Ever since the first atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wise men and women have begged the political and military leaders in control of nuclear weapons to sit down, negotiate, and solve the problem of world-destroying weapons. The leaders have promised repeatedly to do so, most notably in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The International Court of Justice found unanimously in 1996 that the nuclear-weapon states are legally obligated to negotiate in good faith to achieve total nuclear disarmament. Given this legal obligation, have the nuclear-weapon states gathered somewhere and given it the good ole college try only to discover that the problem is too complex?

   No. In seventy years, the leaders of nuclear-weapon states have never spent one second sitting around a table talking to each other about how to get rid of nuclear weapons. In fact, my data-free guess is that most have never spent one second seriously thinking about it. The last thing they want to do is solve this problem. They are winners. What they want is to use nuclear weapons to win something (a negotiation, a power struggle, a big budget, an obscene profit). Some want to win so badly, they would rather kill us all than lose.

   This situation demonstrates clearly why winners are enemies of humanity. The difference between a winner and a decent human being is the willingness to sit down and talk with an enemy, rival, opponent, or someone with whom one has a problem, especially a problem like mutually assured destruction. Decent human beings are willing to pursue mutual safety and satisfaction through dialogue and creative problem solving. Winners are not.

   The case of nuclear weapons brings this critical difference into high relief. If the nuclear-weapon states wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons, they could easily do so. If they all sat down together to discuss how to institute an effective inspection and verification system, they could get it done in a few days. They know this perfectly well, which is precisely why they’ve never tried. The problem is so totally easy to solve, they’re forced to refuse to try, even though they’re legally obligated to do so. They refuse to sit down to solve the problem because they’re determined to keep their nuclear weapons. They’re determined to keep using fear and nuclear weapons to suck money out of the pockets of taxpayers, so they continue to act like enemies and threaten us all with sudden death.

   So are the leaders who refuse to sit down and negotiate an end to nuclear weapons all evil people? Heavens no! Decent human beings are careful to distinguish between people and the problems they cause. We have to give people space in which to change. Just because some leader is a winner today doesn’t mean he or she can’t be a decent human being tomorrow. Decent human beings have to be nice to everyone because we know that everyone is fighting battles we know nothing about.

   For example, I am profoundly disappointed in President Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, then tripling the US nuclear weapons budget. However, it might be that Obama understands in a way I cannot that, were he to launch a sincere effort to negotiate an end to nuclear weapons, he would soon be as dead as President Kennedy. Bad things do happen to folks who stand up against winners. In fact, it might be that I’m completely wrong about nuclear weapons. Maybe we do need them for some reason I don’t see. This uncertainty principle is why decent human beings must always be ready to sit down with those who see things differently. But this is what winners refuse to do. They don’t talk. They win (or lose).

   Unfortunately, winners have veto power over peace. It takes all sides to discuss and resolve a problem. It only takes one winner with a nuclear weapon to make that impossible. So does the veto power of winners mean peace is impossible? No, but it does mean that President Obama and all decent human beings have to be prepared to die to bring the evil of winning to light. I’m afraid the only way we can stop the winners is by doing some deliberate, transparent, and painful losing. If Obama were willing to risk death or even a Republican victory in the next election, he might be able to get us to the brink of a nuclear-weapon-free world before they get him.

   Or, maybe he could bring the whole threatening situation into the open. He could use his bully pulpit to confide in the American people, telling them what he would like to do about nuclear weapons and what he thinks might happen to him if he tries, thus initiating a massive public debate about nuclear weapons that would make killing him difficult, dangerous and too late. This discussion would be happening already if our leaders were decent human beings. Sadly, we are still led by winners who eschew open discussion in favor of secret machinations.

   Luckily, even winners (most of them) would prefer that the Earth remain habitable for human beings. It may be that nuclear weapons are so powerful and threatening they will eventually turn winners into decent human beings. Or, the human family might suddenly stop following winners and start following decent human beings. I know, that sounds extreme, but we live in interesting times.

   More about global warming and interesting times next week. 

Add your reaction

Alice Slater


Alice Slater is a leader in the effort to abolish nuclear weapons. She's written a cool article about the Iran Deal. Thought you might be interested.

Add your reaction

The Crippling Desire to Win


Opening Statement -- The Crippling Desire to Win

I have been to the mountaintop. Thanks to the Northeast Asian Regional Peacebuilding Initiative (NARPI), I have seen the error of my ways.

   Vince Lombardi reportedly said, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.” On another occasion he said, “Winning isn’t the most important thing. It’s the only thing.” Lombardi was coach of the Green Bay Packers football team, so it was his job to win. Besides, sports competition takes place within a strictly limited time and space under an extremely detailed set of rules enforced by highly trained, impartial referees. Plus, Lombardi won the Super Bowl a couple times, so we Wisconsinites instantly forgave Lombardi for abandoning “good sportsmanship” in favor of intensifying his players’ desire to win.  

  We shouldn’t have. In hindsight, knowing what we know now about climate change, fossil fuels, the military-industrial-penal-Congressional complex, and industrial agriculture, all Wisconsinites should have immediately called Lombardi on the phone and explained to him that “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” We should have said, “Take it back, Vince. You’re walking us down the slippery slope. What’s more important, the Super Bowl or human survival?”

   Setting aside sports, TV quiz or reality shows, and the various national “we’ve got talent” competitions, show me a winner, and I’ll show you an enemy of humanity. Though most winners are blissfully unaware that the world has passed them by, winning has recently, as of August 6, 1945, become the root of all evil.

  All (well, most of) the world’s problems could be solved easily if it weren’t for winners. From nuclear weapons and climate change to police brutality and schoolyard bullying, problems like these are not the real problem. The problem is, the people responsible for solving our problems are more interested in winning. In the US, problems are never solved because Democrats and Republicans are 1) devoted above all to winning the next election, and 2) winners working for winners who only give money to winners.

   In the days and weeks that follow, I will take all (or most) of the world’s problems and explain exactly how winners are screwing up a perfectly manageable situation. My goal is to give winning a bad name. Winning is obsolete; winners are Neanderthals that threaten human survival on this planet.

   Again, I’m not talking about sports or games with rules and refs. I’m talking about winners who take things from losers without caring how the losers feel or what the losers are going to do without whatever the winners take. Winning or taking without caring about the person you are winning or taking from is the start of all (or most) violence. If you are a winner, you should be ashamed of yourself. I want you to stop it, right now! What you need to do instead is sit down with your rival or opponent or wife or husband and talk, then keep talking until you come up with a solution that satisfies everyone, that is, something that really makes everyone happy. The goal is everyone being happy.

   You think I’m an idealistic moron? What planet am I living on? Peace is not possible? The pie is a certain size and if you get more, I get less, I should face it? Your low-level consciousness is based on never having attended a NARPI workshop. That and never having tried to make everyone happy. Or, never having tried enough, that is, never having brought your full creativity to the solution. In fact, my bet is, you base your pessimistic assumptions on experiences of negotiating to win with others who are also negotiating to win. Two winners coming up with a creative solution that satisfies both of them is like Luke Skywalker coming to a mutually satisfying agreement with Darth Vader. Winners can’t solve problems. All they can do is win (or lose).

   So pay attention. In the weeks to come, I will help you graduate from being a winner to being a decent human being enhancing the chances of human survival on Planet Earth. 

1 reaction

Nassrine Azimi's Great Article

Not just apologies but repentance

by Nassrine Azimi


Year after year the question arises. Will Japan apologize sincerely for its violent, cruel, fascist intrusions into other countries? Or will it continue to appease its right wing hardliners with semi-apologies that just irritate everyone?

   Japan should apologize, of course. It has plenty to apologize for, and apologies are a crucial technology in peace culture. However, this issue is far deeper than some leader saying, “I’m sorry,” and far broader than Japan, Korea and China. 

   Nassrine Azimi, co-founder of Green Legacy Hiroshima and the woman who built the UNITAR office in Hiroshima, has written the best article on this topic I have ever read. Azimi is an Iranian-born Swiss citizen who lives partly in California and mostly in Hiroshima. She is a career UN diplomat with a thoroughly global, remarkably objective view of international relations. Read this article and I’m sure you’ll agree that we, human beings on this planet, would do well to draft her to serve as our queen.



Add your reaction

Peter Kuznick Interview

The Shadow People Project is about far more than nuclear weapons, but part of our inspiration was the shadow people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in May we witnessed an amazing failure by the international community to do anything about this truly horrific threat to our continued survival. So I've been writing about nukes. And before moving on, I would like to share with you an interview. The interview was done by Masato Tainaka, a reporter with Asahi Shimbun, one of the leading nationwide newspapers of Japan. The interviewee was Peter Kuznick, a professor at American University in Washington, DC, and the world's leading expert on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

   This interview covers key questions I am often asked about the bombings. Were the bombs necessary? Did they end the war? If not, why were they dropped? Who was for and against those bombings? It also addresses the implications of those bombings for human survival. The answers may surprise you, so I hope you will visit this link and read carefully.


Add your reaction

Deterrence is Obsolete

dreamstime_s_34609881.jpg“The only thing worse than a world with nuclear weapons is a world without nuclear weapons.” Look around. I’m sure you’ll find this statement in a number of articles by guys (mostly men, in my experience) touting the necessity of nuclear deterrence. The premise here is that nuclear weapons are the only thing preventing a disastrous WWIII between Russia, China, the US, Europe and others. If these countries did not have nuclear weapons, they would be fighting with other weapons, which would be not quite as devastating as a nuclear war but would be far worse than WWII. The people who make this argument believe that nuclear weapons are necessary as a deterrent—to deter other nuclear weapons, of course, but also to deter an attack with conventional weapons.


Read more 2 reactions

NPT Fails


Yes!! The treaty is dead. Long live the treaty.

    I know, the NPT is not exactly history—yet. Many of the States Parties took pains to emphasize how terribly important it is, but the poor thing is not much more than a piece of paper now. Two out of the last three review conferences have ended in failure (no final document), and more importantly, the decisions taken by 100% consensus in the 2000 and 2010 review conferences have pretty much been ignored. So what’s the point?

   The two main points for the nuclear-weapon and umbrella states (including Japan) are 1) to keep everyone else from getting nuclear weapons and 2) to help sell nuclear electricity. From their point of privilege, Article VI (the commitment to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons) is pie in the sky to be discussed in 10 or 20 or 50 years, after the world has become completely peaceful.

   But this was not the bargain. The non-nuclear-weapon states agreed to foreswear nuclear weapons in return for help with peaceful nuclear technology and a sincere effort to eliminate the weapons. Now that everyone who wants (or can afford) peaceful nuclear technology has it, now that this extremely expensive, difficult and dangerous technology is looking like a game for suicidal idiots, and now that everyone can see for sure that the nuclear-weapon states aren’t about to let go of their nuclear advantage, the non-nuclear-weapon states are saying, “To hell with this shit.”

   Of course, the immediate problem is Israel. The only country in the Middle East with nukes is too nervous to even admit having them. That rules out civilized conversation, so the Israelis avoid the whole topic by stating flatly that they can’t possibly think of discussing nuclear weapons until the Middle East is perfectly peaceful. (If they didn’t have any, why would they be so adamant about not discussing them?) So this leaves Arab leaders with a choice. Allow Israel to keep on keeping on as the only regional member of the Nuclear Club, which makes Arabs look like lily-livered, incompetent, second- or third-rate ne’er do wells, or get some nuclear weapons of their own, which will piss off the US, scare everyone, and possibly cause Israel to bomb their nuclear facilities.

   The US is doing its best to blame the failure of the 2015 review conference on Egypt, but the failure lies wholly and entirely with the nuclear-weapon states, especially the US and Israel. All they had to do is say, “OK, you’re right. Nukes are dangerous, let’s all sit down and talk about them,” and the NPT would be sitting pretty. But no, the US and Israel are led by war-culture Neanderthals seeking to establish that they are alpha and don’t have to talk to anyone, so the NPT is finished.

   Now, the human family can go in one of two directions. The civilized thing, of course, would be to set forth a treaty clearly and definitively banning the possession, development and use of nuclear weapons. This would lead to a fabulous and wildly successful international campaign to get countries to sign that treaty. Because nuclear weapons are so unbelievably dangerous with not a thing to recommend them, that campaign would quickly make them the universally hated, global public enemy number one. That, in turn, would make it impossible for any nuke-loving politician to get elected. The whole world would see clearly that the only good nuke is a dead nuke, and that would be the end of them.

   What we are more likely to do, unfortunately, is keep flimflamming, mealy mouthing, and bullshitting around until Saudi Arabia is forced (by its own people) to buy a nuclear weapon from Pakistan, which will force Iran to get one, which will force Egypt to get one, which will spread the virus like Ebola, only more dangerous. The US and Israeli elite will be shocked! shocked! that their alpha status is being challenged, so they might actually attack Iran (to get its oil), leading to a huge war in the Middle East, soaring oil prices, food riots around the globe, degenerating to total economic and social meltdown.  

  If this happens, we could actually find ourselves in serious danger because war-culture Neanderthals would rather be dead than peaceful. So let’s all keep talking about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. That might raise consciousness just enough. Then, when that first nuclear weapon levels Damascus or Jerusalem, the human family will react with sufficient speed and horror to prevent the end of the world the hibakusha have been warning us about all these 70 years. Hope springs eternal. 

4 reactions

Take the Pledge!