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un-serious


We used to have this saying in Turkish that is almost impossible to translate: “Gayri-ciddi.” If you were to translate it literally it would be “un-serious.” But it is quite a bit more than that. It describes a person who is shallow, not to be taken into account, superficial. Someone on whom one should never bestow any sort of responsibility because they would be incapable of carrying it. It is no longer in common usage. My parent’s generation were the last to say “gayri-ciddi” about someone. It was immensely dismissive and they would say it in that way, with that sort of facial expression to accompany it.

As my mother grew older (she died in 2008) she increasingly said it. Not just about people she knew personally but she used it for almost all politicians, opinion makers, and pundits whom she followed on TV. She was an invalid for the last few years of her life and being unable to leave home she became a voracious consumer of TV news programs. Not just the Turkish ones, but being multilingual she also kept up with France 24, BBC World and CNN international. And a German one too, DW, if I don’t remember incorrectly. So, I am sitting here wondering about what she would be saying today, and particularly what she would have to say about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution. Because, “gayri-ciddi” is what I am sure she would have said. And vehemently. And especially so since climate change was something she was extremely concerned about.

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What, in heaven’s name is this? And not only what it is, but the reactions that it is getting. With the conservatives screaming “she is dangerous! this is socialism on steroids” and the progressives lauding this puerile document. ?!? Not only the resolution itself and its authors, but the whole milieu in which this is happening is profoundly, unsettlingly "un-serious." Unsettling because it means that no one is seeing the actual gravity of what confronts us as a species.

If I, as a private individual concerned (forget concerned, terrified) about global warming were to post something like a "Global Warming Solutions for the Eastern Mediterranean" version of this document as a wish list on my blog that would be one thing. Who am I? Nobody. I can say what I like. I can wish for whatever I want. I am not a policy maker. I carry no responsibility. I do not have a huge staff at my disposal that can conduct research for me. I am not someone who is in a position to bring together teams of experts to sit down and put together a “serious” document. 

But let us say that with my meager resources I want to look at this seriously. What would this entail? What would one need to address? Through what means could one propose as a solution? As I said, I can say whatever I like. I am nobody with regards to a subject like this. So, I will say what, from where I am standing, would need to be addressed and why I am so appalled by the resolution at hand:

The biggest “un-seriousness” about the New Green Deal resolution is that it somehow, amazingly, (unbelievably in fact) manages to see global warming as something that can be tackled through domestic policy changes. From an isolationist standpoint, in other words. Yes, there is this rather condescending subheading somewhere in it that says “promoting the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal” but other than that – nothing. There is talk of mass migrations, but only as they would impact the US, as far as I can see. It is almost entirely about addressing the biggest crisis that all of humanity has ever faced by giving a wish list of changes that are to be implemented within the US. Domestic changes in the face of a global crisis. Forget crisis, that is much too mild a word. Calamity. Oblivion. Catastrophe. I am speechless. And what really makes me speechless is that I heard the young lady herself proclaim that we have only 12 years left.

So, you retro-fit every building in the USA, which if you start today should take you 12 years. If not more. (Not to mention little practicalities such as where you would house millions of people while their homes are being overhauled, or whether there are even enough construction workers or available building materials in the entire world, let alone the US, to achieve a concurrent building project of a scale unheard of throughout history – but I digress. Let us assume for the sake of argument that somehow miraculously those issues get resolved). You build ground transport that is efficient enough to eliminate all air travel inside the country. You build a clean energy grid. etc. etc.…  

Meanwhile China and India and quite a bit of the rest of the world – some less, some more – are blasting away with their carbon dioxide spewing production. And so, the 12 years are up - and just as the building work on the very last building in the US is being finished on schedule, and the bullet trains are just about to leave their stations – the world goes under…

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This is an international problem and any “serious” resolution would have to start from that point. And certainly not by saying “with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action.” The minute you say that is when you show that you haven’t understood a thing.

Unless you do not understand that the whole world (no exceptions! no exceptionalism whatsoever!) totally rethinks everything that we know about international relations from the ground up – to the point where international relations effectively become obsolete since the whole notion of separate countries with separate issues becomes an irrelevancy in the face of the impending disaster – you cannot solve global warming. This is a calamity that when it strikes will strike all of humanity. And unless all of humanity tackles this in unison, no top dog – bottom dog stuff, no hegemonic interests, no exceptionalism, no “me first,” down we go. Retro-fitted buildings and bullet trains notwithstanding. Sorry.

What is needed is not a wish list or a plan or a resolution. It calls for nothing short of a complete paradigm shift that would bring about something that humanity in its history to date has yet to achieve: Seeing the globe as a whole thing. Not as a conglomeration of separate groups of people, ethnicities, religions, countries, nations - all with competing interests, each fending for itself; but instead as a whole that either faces the catastrophe together, pooling all known resources from funds to knowledge to manpower toward a common goal – or goes under. Such a paradigm shift would even need to go further: Not just seeing the globe as whole thing, but also seeing it as something that does not belong to us; as something that we are only the temporary inhabitants of. Very precarious inhabitants at that. Completely letting go of “me me me,” in other words. On every imaginable level. From military to financial to cultural to identity to the very notion of ownership itself. It would involve giving up everything for survival. 

Is the world (particularly the prosperous part of the world) up for that? Today? No. Of course not. The Green New Deal resolution is almost a testimonial to how incapable their authors are of even understanding such a momentous paradigm shift, let alone facing it. And by taking it seriously, their audiences only help underscore how dire the situation is.

If it is a matter of survival – which I believe it is – maybe such a massive global paradigm shift might eventually occur. But it won’t happen before 100s of millions die, before entire seaboards get flooded, millions run inland all across the world. Hunger, famine. Not just in Africa and the Middle East, but everywhere. So, humanity will literally have to be up against the wall (like those alien invasion sci-fi movies where all countries become one in the face of a joint calamity, you know?). And at that point it will already be too late, of course.

A question that those who are reading this might ask could be - "so what should they have done? not address climate change at all?" If this is how they do it - then yes. It would be better to shut up about this altogether rather than to concoct something so dilettantish. That said, what could they do, if they had an interest in going about it the right way? First, get together with all progressive parties and environmental NGOs in other countries, from all over the globe. Including those from countries you may perceive to be hostile to the interests of your country. Especially those, in fact. Gain their trust. Peer to peer. Which, I can say right now will be the hardest thing to do in all of this. In fact, if you can pull this off - gain the world's trust - half the battle is won.

If you manage to get to such a point of trust (again, big if!) go on to collaborate with these folks on formulating a joint call to scientists and academics. The best of the best, from all related disciplines, again from all over the world (the scientist who has done the most pertinent work on how to save the world may well be from Iran, you know?), to come together to work on solutions which are based on joint, consolidated research. Which is probably the only way out. Consolidated research.

Put all your energy into getting funding for such a venture. As for the actual solutions - leave that to the people who know what they are doing. The scientists. The academics. And importantly - if there are any speeches to be made in the interim, leave that to them as well. Since, unlike you, they will actually know what they are talking about. Take on the humble position of public servant (for a change) and just diligently go about finding money for them to be able to keep on working together. Do not put yourself (or even your party or even your country) forward. Global equality - nothing but. And then when the time comes to do so, help create international public awareness for the scientists's findings and their proposed solutions - without adding your own two-cent's worth! Make a pledge that you will honor these findings and proposed solutions absolutely, with no holds barred, and that you will try your damnedest to get your political party and your country to honor them as well.

Dreaming aren't I?

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Personally, I do not have any hope. I am old, I will probably die before it all goes to hell. But this isn’t about me, is it? All these young people that I love? My students. My nephew. All these young people all over the planet whom I do not even know.

And you know what? The animals. I care more about them than I do about humanity in all of this. Hate me for this if you want, but this is how it is. All the wild animals we have already done in, the ones that we are in the process of doing in. And the ones to perish yet. And the domesticated ones. I lie awake at night sometimes, thinking about the animals. The video of that dying polar bear that I couldn't even watch and that still stops me from falling asleep...

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And from this back to “un-seriousness”: Half a century of global dumbing down – and here we are.

I wrote this long post as a sequel (or a case study, if you will) to this one since it seems to me that the Green New Deal is a really good example for talking about dumbing down as it is evidenced in contemporary politics. Obviously, I do not know everything that goes on in all other countries. But I am sure that there is no shortage whatsoever of similar fantasies being bandied about as “serious” propositions everywhere. I know the politics of my own country, obviously, and we have prime examples of it here every day. Which we didn’t have 50 years ago.

Would FDR have come up with such a document? Something that has every appearance of being based on zero research? Hardly any critical thinking? Forget critical thinking, an absence of basic cause-effect analysis even (as I was trying to show when I asked where millions of people were to be housed while their homes were being retro-fitted?) Would Churchill have presented something like this to the public domain? Would De Gaulle? Atatürk? Moving closer in time – would Kennedy have? Harold Wilson? Jimmy Carter? Willi Brandt? Helmut Kohl? Indira Gandhi? Gorbachev? Demirel, here in Turkey? I am too lazy to go on google and draw up a long list of politicians from decades ago, from before the Powell memorandum era, but you get my meaning. There were public officers who were extremely good at what they did and others who muddled through somehow. And there were those who were awful. Corrupt. Venal. There were a few naive ones. And lots of cunning ones. None of that is any different from today. What is different is that not even the worst of the lot would have written such a thing. Their instinct of self preservation would have hindered it. The worry of being laughed at. To be whistled off the stage. It would have been quite unthinkable, anywhere in the world, to face the public with a jejune domestic wish list in the face of impending total global destruction. (No matter how well meant it might have been, although I have my serious doubts about that also – the whole thing seems very much like an opportunistic spectacle to me.)

Unlike their predecessors today's politicians do not get pelted with rotten eggs. There will be no consequences to anything that they say or do - or don't say or don't do. Which is why they do it, of course. They know that they will get taken seriously even in the face of abject nonsense. For 5 minutes at least. That is what is so horrifying here. Because it really shows how very deep we have all fallen. To what an extent the societies that we live in have been mercilessly "dumbed down."

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