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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/11/11

Harvey Wasserman on How We'll Survive and Win

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HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well I agree with that. I think the moral force even for people who are pessimists about the outcome, the moral force is absolutely essential and we could win without the pessimists, there's no doubt about that and certainly in people who are pessimists are essential to developing a critique. We would and understand how bad things are if it weren't for the pessimists. I don't see a rosy present. I see horrible injustice and things that are deeply, deeply, deeply depressing about the way things are going and what's happened. You can be a Fukushima, you can't experience a Fukushima knowing what we know and go dancing around the block. These are tough things to digest. I teach the holocaust for god's sakes, but I have seen victories. I do see victories all the time and listen, you know, I'm a Red Sox fan!! How can you be a Red Sox fan after 86 years and not have suffered tremendous angst"


HARVEY WASSERMAN:" What can I tell you? And I'm a University of Michigan fan. We always manage to pull defeat from the jaws of victory. There is a balance and I think the essence is in the balance frankly that you have to know how bad things are but also believe you can win and that's the balance to find. That's the balance between the optimists and pessimists. We're not unrealistic about how serious the situation is and how awful things can be, but on the other hand if you didn't think you could win, why bother unless you just into it for the fun of the game or the need to do the game and that's fine, but how can I not be an optimist and still believe that the abolition of war is possible? I think it's possible. I think it's possible because it's essential to our survival. It may be in the 20th century there was space enough of this planet for a certain number of wars and they were awful and all that stuff but in the 21st century wars will ultimately be our demise as a species and then I don't believe we will stand for. I believe that there is a collective consciousness and the collective consciousness is continuing to dictate that we do certain things to survive and among them will be and is now the abolition of this phenomenon called war.

Part of it is the reality of the Internet, that we do have a way of communicating with everybody on earth simultaneously and part of it is the advent of the ability to do things in harmony with nature and so here we have a situation and then let me get to these other two points: How many people do we have on this planet? What's the solution to population, the population explosion? Do we have too many people? Well, when you say you have too many people, if you want to ask well who is the too manyth person? I don't like to say there are too many people. It bothers me because that implies that we're going to eliminate people as a means of survival and I don't buy that. What I do buy is that we do have the means to limit population growth, to have population growth balance out and the way that's done, and this was the last thing I did in my book, by the way, I finished Solartopia and I suddenly realized, god you know, I haven't addressed population. How do you really address population? Do you force people, I mean the one child policy in China has been brutal. It has resulted in the deaths of millions of little girls, forcible whenever, it's not even worth discussing. The way you control population in the long term is that you empower women. All the countries where women are equally paid, equally educated and have the equal rights, population plummets. Women, generally educated women, women with control of their lives, were not dominated by men and not essentially facing forcible rape and reproduction want to have a couple of kids maybe and that's it, or none at all and a look at Italy, you looking at ironically catholic countries, Quebec, places where women have risen up and have not quite equal but close to equal rights and I certainly getting there, population drops all over Europe. Now it's dropping in Russia, but that I think is Chernobyl in part, but it's very clear and actually it's become an article almost a faith is that yeah, we control population by empowering women or not empowering them but allowing them to have the power, getting out of the way of letting them have the power they deserve. The line that I think works is that the mothers of the earth will be in harmony with Mother Earth and that they will decide in a natural way the correct, right sustainable number of human beings on this planet. I actually don't think we're going to get to 10 billion people. I think that the empowerment of women will proceed and the population will level off and we'll find the right number of people that the earth can sustain and that's how it will be done. I don't see any other method, at any other modicum; I mean certainly, of course, sex education, the availability of contraception, abortion is actually the least of it. The number of abortions is lower in states where it's legal because those states also tend to have sex education and availability of contraception. It is contraception and education that are the number one ways to avoid abortion. It's really ironic with the right-wingers that are always got to make abortion illegal; well if you want to avoid abortion, support Planned Parenthood. Margaret Sanger did more to avoid abortions than any other person on earth because she spread birth control, that's the way you do it and I think that's going to be common accepted knowledge and that's how population ultimately will be controlled, not by war, not by forcible population control but by the empowerment of women. That's how it works. Hopefully women will also be less war-like and more inclined to support the environment. The jury is still out on that but I'm optimistic, especially as a guy with five daughters (laughing), what choice do I have?

That's actually the last step. The in-between step to fill out the four political sides of Solartopia is democracy and social justice. Inequality, well let's put it this way: poverty is not sustainable. I don't mind having people who are rich as long as they behave themselves decently and don't wreck the planet but people want to be rich, fine, be rich, but nobody should starve. Everybody by virtue of being human has the right in a solartopian world to food, clothing, housing, medical care, education and transportation. These are essential human rights and they are also the key to a sustainable planet. It is not human nature to accept being impoverished for long. People do do it but in the long term people will rise up and so it should be an article of faith as it is for many people around the world that by virtue of being human you are supported and you have a right to dignity, to a decent life and once that is sustained and I think the great spokesman of that is the most famous American that nobody's ever heard of, who is Eugene V Debbs, a great leader of the socialist movement in this country, who is my personal hero, that once human dignity is assured and once people are supported, then we will have the kind of society that we need to sustain ourselves on this planet and with social justice comes democracy, they are inextricably linked and the current nature of our system in this country demands that we do this little thing which is to get rid of electronic voting machines. I know it sounds like a small, bothersome detail, but the fact is that electronic voting machines are perfectly designed to steal elections and the only sustainable, reliable method of doing democracy in the modern world is to have universal hand-counted paper ballots and automatic voter registration. These voter registration drives are sad. Everybody who turns 18 in the United States should be automatically registered to vote. I don't wanna go as far as Australia does and require people to vote. If you don't vote in Australia your find and can actually in some cases go to jail, but I'm not sure I would go that far but everybody who is 18 should automatically be registered to vote and hand-counted paper ballots, I think what we should do is have voting over a weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday so that working people can come then on Tuesday all the kids get out of school and the high school and college students, and count the votes and they can work the polls too, and so I do believe that democracy and social justice are really the major missing links in getting to Solartopia and without that as part of those four major political and cultural steps we don't get there either.

DAVID SWANSON: Sounds like a good vision to me and of course I love the book; on the other hand, paper ballots is sort of a technology that we've been able to achieve for a while now and we aren't getting there.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well there are few places where we have. Of course in Germany, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, they have paper ballots and in Germany, for example, the vote count is usually within 0.1% of the exit polls, and so is remarkably accurate, but we're in a bad situation here in this country, especially talking here from Ohio. It's very, very corrupt and lethal. It's a major problem that we face. These electronic voting machines, they are the perfect joke for a true cynic is to have people pushing touch screens and expecting their vote to be counted; it's ridiculous. In Ohio, the secretary of state has the power, the leisure, the privilege on election night of taking about 10 minutes or less and just making the vote count whatever the hell he wants it to be. We have a white male millionaire secretary of state in Ohio and he will decide if he wants to on election night in 2012 who carries Ohio and he can do it in 10 minutes.

DAVID SWANSON: You used to have an African American one and it didn't help much.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: No, he was worse (laughing). It's a sad situation and that's something that we're going to have to get over and the same thing was social justice. If you cannot sustain a society where you have people walking around like Donald Trump, who may not have any money by the way (laughing) while you also have people sleeping under bridges. It's very cheap actually. I have seen very low numbers on what it would actually take to feed everybody and to clothe and house everybody. I'm certain there would be a lot of problems getting it done but get is eminently doable. It is nothing like the defense budget in terms of the dollars it would take to accomplish this and that has to be done, so in this day and age with knowing what we now and seeing everybody; people are no longer invisible on this planet. In the age of the Internet, everybody is visible and everybody's situation is known and in some circumstances like that I just don't see our species tolerating extreme poverty much longer. I just don't see it happening.

DAVID SWANSON: With everyone out of poverty you still might have to limit the extreme wealth of trillionaires or see them control the governments".

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well I think that will happen actually. I think once people are out of poverty, and this sounds like certainly a utopian vision and I suppose that's why I called it Solartopia because it's a little more tangible at this point, but people don't keep coming up with utopian visions unless there's a reason to keep coming up with them and I think once everybody, and I do think it will happen once everybody's out of poverty and has some kind of education, the super rich I think become less viable as well and people question extreme, absurd levels of consumption and it becomes less and less acceptable, let's put it that way.

DAVID SWANSON: Let me ask maybe one more question. I don't know if you read a new book by Bruce Levine called "Get Up, Stand Up." This is a psychologist who wrote an article about a year ago called "Are We a Broken People" and he diagnoses Americans and activists or potentially activist Americans as ill, as sort of in an abusive relationship with the corporatocracy. If we drug kids who are disobedient and rebellious, we lock people up who would be our best activists before they become Debbs' and get locked up for the activism, we watched too much television, we're locked in a political lesser-evilism, we're trained to believe we have no power and have no role to play and we increasingly don't play the role that we need. Your view of American activist life seems much more positive. Do you think that there are systemic fixes needed to get people to understand their role as more than voters and consumers or do you think it will come around as needed?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: The answer is yes (laughing)"

DAVID SWANSON: (Laughing)"

HARVEY WASSERMAN: It's no accident that they're going after the educational system. An educated people is a dangerous people and so the right wing, the conservatives, although I hate to use that term to describe them, the corporatists understand how important it is that they gut the educational system and not allow people to be taught that they can stand up and make a difference, and so these guys in Texas wanted to take even Thomas Jefferson out of our books for god's sakes and you being in Charlottesville understand the dual nature of Thomas Jefferson but it is a very, very difficult problem to do this and to keep people understanding that you can make a difference, but in a certain sense I hate to say it, but that's the beauty of Obama because people did rise up in 2008, and it was the same thing with John Kennedy in 1960.

Kennedy disappointed huge numbers of people. Much of what is said about the corporate nature of Obama was said about John Kennedy and his 1000 days there, that he had sold out his base but the fact is that the people rose up and I remember, I am old enough and you are not, to remember the campaign of 1960. It was a big deal. I caught tremendous flak for wearing at Kennedy button in my high school here in Columbus, a high school that is now all black, but it's always a difficult situation to sustain the belief among people that you can make a difference when they are confronted with a gargantuan structure that is designed to in every way shape and form say you can't make a difference, but somehow cheerfulness seeps through. There's a great line, Leonard Cohen has a wonderful live album, have you heard this Live in London by Leonard Cohen?

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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