Sunday, November 25, 2012

Put on your tinfoil hats

It’s time for me to put on the tinfoil hat and try to make sense of one of the craziest conspiracy theories out there.  There’s a new novel called Agenda 21, a dystopian fantasy of a world taken over by the UN under the aegis of agenda 21, a set of guidelines compiled by the UN.  The video trailer is set in a hellish post-apocalyptic urban landscape, or maybe just a bad neighborhood in New York on a gray day, with hungry people in lines waiting for some food from the authorities, numbers tattoed on their foreheads.  In case that is too subtle an emaciated old person is strapped to a conveyor belt heading toward an oven. 

In the novel people live in communal societies, use treadmills to generate electricity, and swear allegiance to some green socialist government.  It should be no surprise that the name on the book’s cover is America’s foremost purveyor of fear and bonker conspiracy theories, Glen Beck.  Except that Beck did not write the book, he bought the rights from one Harriet Parke who actually wrote the book, and put his brand on it.  I’m sure it will make him lots of money.

One of the favorite fears of right wing conspiracy theorists, agenda 21 is seen as part of a grand scheme by the United Nations, covertly aided by the present government, to usurp the country’s sovereignty, take control of the government and implement a green socialist agenda.  I think agenda 21’s biggest competitor in the wingnut hysteria department is the fear of Sharia Law.  Those readers less inclined to wackaloony conspiracy theories and more given to thoughtful analysis may ask how urban and rural planning, zoning ordinances, and land use measures which have been practiced in this country for about a century are now part of a greater plot by the UN to enslave citizens. 

Agenda 21 was put together by the United Nations in 1993.  It is a non-binding set of guidelines for sustainable economic development that can be used by any country for guidance.  It addresses sustainable development – waste management, conservation, farming, transportation – in both developing and industrialized countries.  It shows industrialized countries how they can use fewer resources by managing resource use in sensible ways.  Some people, myself included, believe that such concern might be useful on a planet with over 6 billion people and declining fuel and water resources.

I hate to deflate anyone’s pet conspiracy theory if that’s what keeps them going in life, but I feel compelled to note a few things about the possibilities that such a theory has even a remote connection to the real world.  This country has the most powerful military in the world, spending more than the next nine countries combined.  It has hundreds of bases all over the world and many more small forward operating bases, more military bases than all other countries combined.  In the past few years the US has often operated unilaterally in foreign affairs (see Iraq).  At best the US consults with other countries before doing what it wants, in effect saying this is what we are going to do, just letting you know.  We are the meanest baddest mother on the block and act accordingly.  That has not changed with the current president, whose foreign policy is as aggresive but more subtle than his predecessor. 

The UN police force, the guys in blue uniforms, is essentially a toothless military unit that has stood by and watched while dictators murder their own people.  It gets much of its funding from the US.  I know this is hard to grasp for many conspiracy theorists, but how likely is it that the UN is going to start telling the US what to do, or threaten it militarily?  What chance is their that I will become a professional athlete next year with 7 figure endorsements?

Suggesting that we Americans can use less resources in a crowded world is heresy in Wingnuttia.  They say not only are we exceptional but we can do whatever we want.  And actually planning our infrastructure to use resources more efficiently?  Well dontcha know that we are all splendid individuals who can act without concern about how our actions fit into a larger society, islands in the big sea and free as birds.  Going with this thinking, the suburban retail megalopolis with strip malls and the full gamut of big box stores from A to Z, parking lots and 8 lanes of automobile gridlock that trapped many of us (not me) this weekend expresses the highest attainment of the American dream does it not?  Now that’s an environment that let’s you be yourself if you believe the commercials.       

I guess it’s not too far a stretch from thinking that endless Walmarts and Toys ‘r Us on the boulevard of sprawling shiny dreams is the best you can do, to believing that an effort to find a human scaled alternative to what some of us consider a chaotic materialistic suburban hell is really an evil plot by the United Nations trying to ensare us into a one-world green-socialist police state. 

Well I just had to put on my tinfoil hat and look around and see if there’s any evidence of agenda 21 here in southwestern rural Indiana.  There’s my septic tank.  Do you know that the county has strict requirements on the size and planning of the septic field, and when my house was built 5 years ago the septic system had to be approved?  There’s that darn government meddling in my affairs.  So what if the house has a septic system that is inadequate and pollutes the stream.  That’s someone elses problem, right?  After all, I’m an American, I can do whatever I want. 

And Morgan County like most counties around here has a Soil and Water Conservation District.  Horrors!  Sounds like a socialist plot to make landowners use sustainable land use practices.  Sustainability is dirty word after all, it sounds like some totalitarian idea imposed from above.  Of course, a process that is not sustainable ultimately fails, but never mind.  People should be free to do whatever they want, meaning they should not engage in this un-American thinking about agreeing to work within guidelines to conserve topsoil (oxymoron alert).   Maybe these SWCD’s were part of Agenda 21 before Agenda 21 existed – those people are indeed diabolical, they can time travel and enslave us from the past!   I think I’m getting a headache under this tinfoil hat.

Now I’m very worried.  Well not worried like those landowners that live in the path of the Interstate 69 extension not far from here whose properties are being taken by eminent domain for the NAFTA highway.  I’m worried that any day those blue uniformed UN troops will show up at my door and tell me I’m not living green enough and I’ll have to leave for the city. 

Well I shouldn’t worry, because at the Georgia state capitol a guy named Field Searcy recently briefed Republican state senators for 4 hours (another oxymoron) and explained how Obama is using a mind-control method called the “Delphi technique” to condition Americans into accepting control by Agenda 21.  A plan so insidiously clever that you can’t even provide evidence it is happening!  Once reprogrammed into compliance me and my neighbors will be marched into the cities.  Then the vacant countryside will fall under the control of a one world government.  I assume my neighbors hound dogs will be shot on sight since these UN people are utterly evil.   Anyway by the time they come for me I’ll be completely submissive after being softened up by that Delphi technique.  I won’t even need any meds.  I’d better watch more TV so I’ll be sufficiently brainwashed.     

Now some of you may point out that the US already submits some of its sovereignty to an international entity.  It’s called a free trade agreement, such as NAFTA.  So if a local ordinance runs afoul of NAFTA guess who wins?  Or if we decide that goods imported from other countries should be manufactured according to the same environmental and worker protection standards that we have in this country or they should pay a penalty becaues that’s not a level playing field, guess who wins?  (Hint:  NAFTA).  But hey, CEO’s of multinational corporations wanted those agreements, and whatever is good for them is good for us, right?  Oh darn, it’s that doggone reality intruding again.  Time to put my tinfoil hat back on.

Seriously this is the kind of stuff that has me worried.  There’s always been a wingnut fringe, but now it’s taken hold in the mainstream with more than a little help from the fearmongering industry of which Beck is one of the top worker bees.  I think that people sense that things are about to change really fast but they can’t put their finger on it, and many people react by insisting against all reason that the past will suffice in the future, and one way to avoid dealing with reality is to escape into your pet conspiracy theory. 

Our inefficient use of resources is about to collide head on with resource depletion.  We have a totally unsustainable economic system.  Transportation and agriculture are completely dependent on declining fossil fuels.  And letting big agriculture and big oil decide the country’s future while government has been turned into their little butler is going to be a disaster.   Then again, it will be a disaster for the generations to come, so why worry, right? 

Now this is the really crazy part.  In the not too distant past we had a sustainable economy in this country.  Towns were walkable, cities had mass transit.  Railroads ran on time.  Farmers knew how to recycle nutrients through different farm processes because they had to if they wanted to continue farming.  They did not have the luxury of huge inputs of fossil fuel to grow things (today it takes 10 Btu’s of fossil fuel to produce 1 Btu of food).  We walked away from that because we thought we had a better way – an economy totally dependent on a finite energy resource.   And in the future we will have to walk it back, and it’s going to be very painful. 

The fear-mongers and conspiracy theorists are taking concepts like sustainability and sensible land use and trying to turn them into dirty words.  It’s no accident, it’s a marketing technique.  When other countries do it we call it propaganda.  If the fear-mongers succeed it will no longer be possible to have a serious conversation about the future without having it hijacked by someone throwing a loaded label at someone else.

What we badly need right now is people having serious conversations, not replays of the flame-throwing on the so-called news channels.  I think, I hope that regular people are figuring out that letting big business make all the decisions about their future is a very very bad idea.  I think people are starting to push back.              

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