Monday, September 1, 2014

A Mute Witness to Human Horribleness

One century ago, the last passenger pigeon on Earth died in captivity. When Europeans reached these shores, flocks of the birds darkened the skies- sixty years before the last of the birds expired, an individual described the vast numbers of birds as they migrated:

`There would be days and days when the air was alive with them, hardly a break occurring in the flocks for half a day at a time. Flocks stretched as far as a person could see, one tier above another.'

Sixty years later, the last one died quietly in a zoo. Despite the vast numbers of birds, each female laid one egg a year, making population replenishment virtually impossible once the wholesale slaughter began.

As with the extinct thylacine (by the way, everybody should buy and read Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger by my friends Margaret and Michael), there are efforts underway to clone passenger pigeons in a "de-extinction" effort. I'm on the record as saying that "de-extinction" wouldn't bring these animals back, but would bring into being simulacra... and such simulacra would probably be housed in captivity, rather than being viable species with sustainable wild populations. We need to try to keep what we have, rather than to bring back what we've killed off. A guilty conscience is not the best arbiter of policy. Besides, why would we bring "back" a species into a rapidly changing world in which it may very well go extinct again? The loss of the passenger pigeon is one of Homo sapiens big screwups, but it doesn't hold a candle to the extermination of numerous indigenous societies that accompanied the kill-off of the birds. Sometimes, it's better just to admit that our forebears did some monstrous things and to work to prevent further monstrosities.

Since this is Labor Day and I need to get a little bit of politics into the mix, I'd have to note that the unions are in danger of going the way of the passenger pigeon, and we'd better start fighting back against the anti-union forces. Lately, the local "all-news-except-when-the-Yankees-are-playing" station has been running anti-teachers' union ads from the Center for Union Facts (if that name doesn't raise a huge red flag, you're not paying attention). They have a lot of nerve running these ads around Labor Day, but these sort of mendacious shitbags are shameless.

Hope I didn't bring anyone down on their day off, but if I did, then I just have to say that you should have gone to the beach in the first place.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Unions are routinely demonized in our country now.

And the threat to them comes not just from the GOP: Bill Clinton got NAFTA through Congress, and Our President (having run against Hillary on NAFTA) has been trying to pass NAFTA on steroids.

mikey said...

Unions are doomed. Even if they are not eliminated, they will become powerless organizations, overwhelmed by the money and power of the corporations and a sick economy in the grip of secular stagnation and the resultant flat or declining wages and high unemployment.

America has become a massively corrupt oligarchy, controlled by the owners of capital and managed in order to deliver maximum profits to those owners, at the expense of the community at large.

As with mass extinction and climate change, it won't be until the people realize that the game is fixed and the future is disastrous and take the kind of large scale direct action necessary that there's any hope of changing the outcome...

mikey said...

In thinking about this, there is a 'perfect storm' of conditions today that guarantee the end of Union/Labor power and a fundamental change in the social compact:

1.) The corruption. They own the political and electoral systems, and that means more Scott Walkers, and more virulent versions thereof.

2.) The economy. There has to be SOME demand for workers in order for corporations to pay more and provide education and training. They are happy to have people go deep into debt using government subsidised loans to learn their trade, and then pit them against each other in a reverse bidding war for wages.

3.) The machines. Look at the labor force participation numbers since 1980. That decline is almost entirely premised on the replacement of human workers with machines. And as the machines become more intelligent, with better sensors and better decision-making capability, more and more jobs will be automated, and labor force participation will continue to fall towards 50%, which would seem to be a threshold number.

Also, if you haven't been following the discussions, look up 'Secular Stagnation'. The future is even darker than Bouffant thinks, and some of you are going to still be here for it...

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

You are way too cheerful, mikey. Global warming is going to get us before any of those things.