Spectacular Persuasion

mass spectacle

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967)

Ethos. Logos. Pathos. The three elements of persuasion. Acts of persuasion in contemporary society can only scale through technological means. In ancient times this was accomplished through speech and by the pre-industrial era through print, paint, and lithography. Photograph and film brought new life to once static text and images at the turn of the 19th century. And today, moving images suffused with persuasive narratives pervade human minds and bodies by way of digital production and distribution. Except these narratives have become unbalanced in our information saturated societies (or perhaps it has always been that way from the beginning). We live in an age of Pathos where appeal to human morals and rational thought have been discarded for ostentatious display of feeling, sentiment, and appearance. It is an age of Spectacle.

mass spectacle

The powerful employ spectacle for perpetuation of power, which in turn perpetuates spectacle. The cycle is amplified by a celebrity-industrial complex of highly connected members propagating status symbols through distributed information networks, and the masses on the periphery of these networks consume spectacular imagery and partake in its celebration so that they may transcend (or perhaps momentarily forget) the boring and mundane realities of life. The non-living image eclipses the living in favor of this cycle where those with status have greatest control of image production, and those without it live on the margins.

celebrity spectacle

Representation, identity, and freedom encamp on these margins. But spectacle outshines them until the margins achieve spectacle for themselves. Though once spectacular persuasion has been achieved in cultural celebration of pathos (and by extension, pathology), all that remains are neatly packaged delusions for mass consumption and entertainment.

The show must and will go on for as long as we choose to live with our eyes wide shut to the real world.

Goes without saying

There are certain facts of human nature that cannot be twisted by Machiavellian motives no matter how extreme or sensitive the political circumstances may be surrounding them. The facts of the matter are that human lives need air to breath, water to drink, and food to eat in order to survive. Regardless of the well from which you sip, these facts are undeniable, inescapable, and inalienable. There are no legislations, declarations, or manifestos that can undo these facts of human nature. No academic citations are needed for verification. And yet as hard as these facts may be, the political reality of today will have you think that accepting these facts are a free choice to be made.

Political reality is no match for physical reality. As the world stands, our civilizations’ air, water, and food supplies are gravely threatened by global forces — not by terrorists, not by warring nations or economies, and not by those who we may easily find disagreeable. The greatest global threat to humanity is ourselves. Now political reality will have you believe that the threat is external, that if we remove the danger that lurks outside or the enemy that hides within, we will have saved ourselves. Physical reality would say otherwise.

Physical reality would remind us that there are nearly 8 billion human lives that all depend on natural resources; that these resources can only exist in an environment where they can be replenished; and that there is a quantifiable chance that we will wipe ourselves out by not being good stewards to an environment that has been so life-giving as our Earth. Physical reality would also remind us that extinctions occur. There could be no self-inflicting wound that is greater.

To be reminded must mean to remember, and to remember must mean there is a history. But history, for some, has a capricious tendency to be memoryless or even ungrounded in facts. History has its way of cleaving political reality from physical reality. Some histories are written by those who are powerful, other histories are written by those who are powerless. Political reality will prey on whatever histories it may find convenient given the circumstances, but it can never divorce itself from physical reality as deluded as it may become. Physical reality trumps political reality. Regardless if you are a Republican or a Democrat, conservative or liberal, Tea Party or Green Party, alt-right or alt-left, citizen or non-citizen, physical reality remains intact: all of us need air, water, and food.

There was a time when political reality was once grounded in physical reality, when bipartisanship transcended political bickering, when environmentalism was a shared and not a party-affiliated value. History would remind us that a Republican, Richard Nixon, in the 1970s created the United States Environmental Protection Agency. He did so by appealing to the shared values of both Republicans and Democrats. History would remind us that a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, created the United States Department of Energy. He did so by appealing to the shared values of both Republicans and Democrats. We witnessed an expression of this shared value in successive presidencies — in the Bush, Clinton, and Obama administrations.

On January 20, 2017, a new administration, an administration which has articulated its intent to divorce itself from physical reality and buck the trend of its predecessors, will assume office. This new administration has promised on its “first day” to renege on his predecessor’s promise to deliver billions of dollars in mitigation funds to countries facing extreme stresses on their survivability due to more frequent and intense natural disasters. This new administration has promised on its “first day” to cancel his predecessor’s executive orders limiting the construction of energy infrastructure projects that are prone to lethal accidents. This new administration has also promised on its “first day” to lift restrictions on businesses notorious for heavily polluting the country and the planet at large.

All these promises sound like good news to anyone who wants jobs and free-flowing capital without consequence. But for anyone who is mindful of the consequences of our actions, there are real risks and liabilities we are adding to humanity’s survivability balance sheet — risks and liabilities all of us will have to pay on a long enough time horizon. Certain risks and liabilities are worth taking, others are not. The dangers attributed to these risks and liabilities are real, and are grounded in hard facts.

It would appear that the new administration and its followers are unaccustomed to facing consequences such as these, and have chosen their own facts. Perhaps this opinion piece did not meet the editorial standards of Breitbart, and did not reach you. Perhaps you worship conspiracy theories, and you deemed this to be propaganda spouted by the globalist liberal elite. Perhaps making America great for some is a nobler pursuit than making this planet habitable for all. Perhaps my reality is different from your reality.

We have a terrific opportunity to truly unite all Americans, if not the whole world, by reconciling our realities and making environmentalism bipartisan again. The ratification of the Paris Agreement testifies to all of us that we can prevail as one people under a common, unifying goal irrespective of geopolitical orientation and national interest. The new administration has a responsibility to demonstrate by example to the nation and to the whole world how we can “come together as one united people” yet owes its success to irresponsibly peddling and pandering division, fear, paranoia, and hate within its ranks and among its followers. The optimists still watching the spectacle unfold are left wondering how much damage can be undone. Others are wondering how much more damage awaits.

To those followers of the new administration, this is an urgent appeal to you and your leaders: do you not need air to breathe, water to drink, or food to eat just like me? Or shall we civilly (or uncivilly) agree to disagree?

Attack in Kabul amid peaceful protests over energy access for minority group

Demonstrators from Afghanistan's Hazara minority attend a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan July 23, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Demonstrators from Afghanistan’s Hazara minority attend a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan July 23, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

“Islamic State claims responsibility for Kabul attack, 80 dead”

Saturday’s demonstrators had been demanding that a 500 kV transmission line from Turkmenistan to Kabul be re-routed through two provinces with large Hazara populations, saying they feared being shut out of the project.

The government said the project guaranteed ample power to the provinces, Bamyan and Wardak, which lie west of Kabul, and that altering the planned route would delay it by years and cost millions of dollars. But the resentment felt by many Hazaras runs deeper than simple questions of energy supply.

Water reservoir levels improving in California

The California Water Resources Control Board says the 28 percent May water conservation rate, compared to May 2013, was “phenomenal.” The board says cumulatively, local water suppliers have saved 1.6 million acre feet in the 12 months of mandatory conservation, or enough water to supply eight million people for a year.

Green politics as a unifying force

There was a time when both Democrats and Republicans supported the environmental movement. The first Earth Day in 1970 was brokered in an attempt to heal political divisions within the United States amid the backdrop of the Civil Rights Era and the Vietnam War. What can the nation do to regain unity around the goal of protecting natural resources?

Oil prices down, equity markets up

It is difficult to separate the signal from the noise when gauging economic barometers, taking guesses now that will most certainly be proven wrong later. And today may have been just another one of those days when false negatives and false positives meld to form a most beautifully inaccurate picture for investment pundits — just another blip on the radar — or we may have witnessed a key structural milestone in a global energy economy centered around oil. The downward trend in oil prices over the last two years has shown to have had a dampening effect on equity prices since the fallout began towards the end of 2014. And so almost any trading day oil prices ended lower, there was a good chance equity markets ended lower as well.

But today was different, both in magnitude and timeliness. Oil prices fell, but equities rose. Crude dropped by nearly 3% [1], but the S&P 500 was just shy of a 1% gain and the Dow rose over half a percent. Small caps did even better with the Russell 2000 Index jumping 2.7% [2]. Now one huge confounding variable in today’s trading were remarks made by Fed Chair Janet Yellen, but taken into account suggest that monetary caution is still at play and so nothing has materially changed (or will change) as far as interest rates and money supply could affect asset prices across the board over the next few months. The irony was that in those very moments that Yellen warned investors that lower prices could continue to hurt the economy, equity markets reacted just the opposite of what’s expected when one inflicts pain onto another. In fact the S&P 500 hit a year-to-date high while crude oil straggled. The only harm done by weak oil prices today seems to have been self-inflicted and well-isolated from broader macroeconomic trends.

A divergence in two commonly correlated benchmarks may be occurring. Monetary policy aside (a not-so-modest thing to say), if today is any signal, it’s that the global economy can sustain itself and decouple itself from the value that oil provides to the economy with the right fiscal controls.

[1] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-oil-idUSKCN0WU01Y
[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-29/u-s-index-futures-little-changed-as-investors-look-to-yellen

What the Federal ITC Extension Means for the US Energy Storage Market

Some analysts expect energy storage deployments to reach ~1.7 GWh by 2020

Some analysts expect energy storage deployments to reach ~1.7 GWh by 2020

GTM Research expects an additional half a gigawatt of storage paired with renewables between 2016 and 2020. Though storage alone doesn’t qualify for the federal Incentive Tax Credit (ITC), if installed with solar PV or wind, energy storage systems historically have been able to claim tax credits, as long as they meet certain requirements. Both the Department of the Treasury and the IRS are deliberating over whether storage should automatically qualify for the ITC. If renewables-paired storage does become explicitly eligible, there is an even more significant upside for projected deployment in the coming years.

Read: What the Federal ITC Extension Means for the US Energy Storage Market