“Becoming Mars”: Destruction of Life on Earth

Mars. Author:NASA/JPL. In the public domain.*

“Becoming Mars”: Destruction of Life on Earth

Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D.

Reflections of Robert J. Burrowes’ Essay: Life on Earth is Dying

Robert J. Burrowes’ article, “Life on Earth is Dying’” (Transcend Media Service, Dec 12, 2016) is one of the most important articles of our times. Burrowes writes with informed conviction of the disastrous consequences of humankind’s presence and actions on Earth. Humanity’s brief, but ruinous period of habitation, has been labeled “The Anthropocene Era.” In humanity’s (Homo Sapien Sapien) 200,000 years of presence on Earth, 50,000 years as “Modern Homo Sapien,” humans established hierarchical dominance among life forms (Although viruses contest this assumption!).

As one of many life species, humans rose from children birthed by our ancient mother, Lucy, in South Africa, to our present age. Today humans search the cosmos for ancestral ties and new planetary homes. Humanity’s ascent is indeed wondrous! Also wondrous is humanity’s descent! Humanity’s descent includes mass destruction of many life forms and life supporting contexts.

Clearly, nature is not free of the life destruction. Natural disasters transform the structure and process of life on Earth through natural “disasters.” Table 1 lists examples of major natural disasters.

Table 1: Natural Disasters

Acid Rain/Acidic Oceans
Insects (e.g., Locusts)
Methane Gas Release (e.g., Arctic Ice)
Secondary Disasters (e.g., Riots)
Sink Holes
Solar Flares
Storms (e.g., Rain, Ice, Hail)
Tsunami (Tidal Wave)
Wind Typhoons, Hurricanes, Tornados
Volcanic Eruptions

Nature has been responsible for the extinction of many life species and expressions through its powerful forces. “Extinction,” is a harsh term, meaning absence of presence. Humanity now competes with nature as a destructive force, abetting extinction.

Much has been written about extinction, including Elizabeth Kolhberts’ essential volume, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (NY: Henry Holt, 2012). The value of Burrowes’ article resides in its condensed presentation, making it ideal for worldwide distribution, discussion, and debate in education, religious, military, political, and economic forums.

In my opinion, Burrowes’ article could poetically be entitled: “Becoming Mars!” This refers to the “Dead Red” planet we see nightly in our skies, a reminder of the consequences of human destruction of life. Ironically, we seek to travel to Mars for possible habitation. Is awareness of our tragic footprint of destruction preparing us planetary desolation, and encouraging planetary exploration.

There is something “archetypal” here. Is something inherent in human nature, an intuitive sense alerting us to the challenges of survival amid diminishing resources? Ahhh, eros and thanatos! Magical, mystical, or an inherent quality of life — élan vital

Burrowes writes with obvious urgency, alert to the spectrum of past and present abuses. Lesser scholars might demonstrate more tolerance for destructive events and forces; Burrowes, however, has been documenting the savage assault on earth’s life for decades. He is a reluctant Jeremiah! One senses earnest pleas throughout his comments. Sotto voce, I hear him say: “Change, I beg you!”

The human tragedy of this perilous situation is our immunity and resistance to warnings. Burrowes’ relentless warnings compel us to understand the role of the human hand and mind in ravaging Earth. It may well be too late; but it is not too late to mobilize human conscience, and to identify and respond with wisdom to the unfolding challenges.

Burrowes’ article deserves widespread posting and discussion in every forum: Issue: survival! Time: short! Possibilities: limited! Consequences: apocalyptic! The destruction of life on earth is happening on our watch. This amidst emerging global consciousness!

The phrase, “The whole world is watching,” once used to shame egregious military actions is appropriate here.

In an effort to raise consciousness, I prepared a visual display of the destruction of life expressions and processes. Chart 1 summarizes the “destructions of life” occurring in our Anthropocene Era. I imagine the chart being placed on refrigerator doors, the prime location for reminders and important events. “Remember to bake cookies for the cub-scout meeting.” “Remember to buy stocks.” “Remember to bet on the Colts.” “Remember we are destroying life!” Competing priorities! Wonder what we will say in 2030?


We have failed to use our remarkable endowment for choice. We are content with comforts and rewards of indifference, apathy, passivity! We accept delusions: “It is someone else’s problem!” “I can’t do anything about it!” “I have no power to make a difference.” “Where is my remote?” So be it!

Burrowes notes “consumerism” contributes to the “death of life on earth.” The immediacy of our desires, fueled by devious advertisements, compels us to buy and buy, without consideration of the consequences. Consumerism is an ideology, a political economy, and a moral choice.

Advertising rules our lives! It does so skillfully and insidiously, over-riding judgment and evaluation. Have you noticed TV advertisement images and displays change every few seconds; this is done to capture and hold attention? Smart! The technology of behavior and mind control!

James Spieth (2012), in his visionary volume, America the Possible: Breaking the Chains of Consumerism (New haven CT: Yale University) and Lizabeth Cohen (2003, NY: Vintage Press) in her volume, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of of Mass Consumption, provide important insights into the historical courses leading to the present destruction of life summarized by Robert Burrowes. Spieth, in an article published in Common Dreams (September 10, 2012), notes Cohen’s trenchant words:

Referring to the era of postwar prosperity that lasted approximately from 1945 to 1975, she notes: “this period of unprecedented affluence did much more than make Americans a people of plenty. Undergirding the pursuit of plenty was an infrastructure of policies and priorities, what I have dubbed, for shorthand, the Consumers’ Republic. In reconstructing the nation after World War II, leaders of business, government, and labor developed a political economy and a political culture that expected a dynamic mass consumption economy not only to deliver prosperity, but also to fulfill American society’s loftier aspirations.”

If conspiracy is collusion to engage in insidious and secretive acts to benefit some at the expense of the others, we can consider consumerism an ideological conspiracy. Once established and supported by advertising mavens, consumerism now dominates the global economy. The Earth cannot sustain endless consumerism! Essential human needs are trumped by unneeded wants; unless, of course, we consider beer and a cheeseburger as non-essential. Difficult choices need to be made!

Robert Burrowes, and his partner, Anita McKone, map out a fifteen year effort entitled the Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth (tinyurl.com/flametree). “It may well be too late, but if we do nothing, then the course is sealed.” To some extent, indigenous people around the world offer models for harmonious living and life preservation. I do not wish to glorify indigenous life, but there is something to be learned about indigenous society accommodation to harmony with life. Some say this is spirituality.

Ignorance of Life’s Ecology

In the pursuit of profit at any cost, complex life ecologies have been ignored or denied. Destruction of life in one area, results in destruction of others. Fracking is a perfect example of this failure. Driven by oil, we destroyed water and land. We promote earthquakes! Whether natural forces are responsible for destruction is no longer an issue. Humans are an obvious source of causation, exacerbation, and continuation of life destruction. Climate change is real!

To a large extent, some fault can be traced to Biblical admonitions claiming “God made man the master of all things.” Gifting this erroneous assumption with Biblical status as God’s words has had tragic consequences. The Biblical quote, “God made man in his image, and ….” (Genesis 1:28) is a major source of human hubris.

Attributing these words to God is a mistake. They are human words, written by human hand and an enormous ego. In penning these words, and attributing them to God, humans are given guilt-free license to assault every form of life for their narrow self interest. We cannot ignore the reality of our responsibilities to all life forms and expressions.

As has been written many times, humans are a part of life; humans are not the master! The delusion of the “master” role and status denied and limited “wisdom.” Were I back in the classroom, I would teach three things: (1) Humans are life creations, part of life, not masters (Lifeism); (2) Humans are destroying life, driven not by survival needs, but by consumerism ideologies; (3) Biblical myths and political economy systems have destructive implications for life’s survival.

Humanity is in need of a reference identity belief system and ideology which can better accommodate all life. To my fellow humans, I say learn humility, reverence, veneration, awe, and wonder, not for magnificent human achievements (buildings, flight, medicine, technologies), but for the obvious reality we are a form and expression of life, not the master.

We are creatures of life, akin to all forms of life, including plants, weeds, insects, and animals, rivers and mountain. See, for example, Lifeism (Marsella, A.J. [March 17, 2014. Lifeism: Beyond Humanity. Transcend Media Service (TMS.org).

we continue to avoid this “basic identity,” in favor group, society, and national identities, we risk the remaining days of life will be lived in deprivation and extinction. Mars awaits us!


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Emeritus Professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus in Honolulu, Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 21 books and more than 300 publications noted for challenging the ethnocentricity and biases of Western psychology and psychiatry, and for advocating peace and social justice. He can be reached at marsella@hawaii.edu.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 December 2016.


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Make America Masculine Again?

Protesters fill in along Independence Avenue hours before the Women’s March on Washington kicks off. 21 January, 2017.In the public domain. Author: Voice of America.

By Gordon Fellman

It is interesting that the main word in “Make America Great Again”—the crucial adjective—remains not only murky but completely undefined. We must guess, but Mr. Trump’s public remarks may offer indirect clues.

Does “great” suggest reinstituting slavery? Renewing colonialism? Returning to the least comprehensive and most inadequate health care system in the entire industrial world, the one that preceded the Affordable Health Care Act? Going back before the New Deal to life without social security, without government support for those suffering from economic injustice and collapse?

Many people assume that defining that word does not matter, understanding it simply as code for “white,” as in Make American White Again. The race interpretation makes sense, of course: 1) The Republican Party imploded in 2008 when faced with the first Black US president, a reality dealt with as intolerable and to be ignored, defined, reviled, and undermined at all costs. 2) Demographics make it clear that whites will be outnumbered by nonwhites in this country within a generation or two. And then there is Donald Trump’s bizarre birther obsession, slimily born and slimily renounced.

Changes in this country since the Civil Rights, antiwar, Women’s and LGBTQ movements have understandably rattled people who felt themselves, by their own self-definition, bypassed by those vast changes in our society.

Little attention has been paid during this election year to what it might feel like to have one’s confidence in the assumed superiority of whiteness, war, men, and straight sexuality attacked head-on by forces not easy to understand if you cannot see yourselves as part of them.

People guiding the victories of those movements ignore where they leave people who feel bypassed by them. That anger was part of the reaction is puzzling only to those who wish not to face the emotional realities, including many forms of felt loss, that social change necessarily brings in its wake.

Why do some people welcome change and others meet it with fear and dread? One group finds something added to their lives (dignity for all), the other focuses on what appears to be taken away (white privilege, male privilege, etc.)  Both the celebrations and the fears and dreads make sense to me.

Those striking movements of the last sixty years can usefully be seen, at least from the point of view of many white men (and some white heterosexual women), as bound together by their massive rejection of normative, or traditional, white masculinity. It is, after all, white men who have played the dominant and dominating roles in interlocking systems of racism, sexism and patriarchy, war, and heterosexism.

The movements in question all threaten the masculinity that had been taken for granted among white men for centuries.

Trump is reasserting normative white masculinity, evoking such forms as the frontiersman, business tycoon, white prizefighter, and football memes of masculinity. Trump walks with a certain swagger that characterizes this normative masculinity. His unrelieved rudeness, sarcasm, and bullying fit iconic playground, football, and college fraternity strivings to be seen as acceptably masculine.

Consider the normative male pride in showing off what male peers consider the trophy wife. We don’t know what Melania feels about this, but plenty of women respect and likely long for the reassertion of the normative male. (Not all women are feminists and may be bewildered by its claims.)

Trump’s scorn for the rich (a group in which he boasts membership), women, the Pope, immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, the poor, disabled people, et al is a style associated with calculating, cruel, hard men from time immemorial. What I see in Trump’s swagger and in his eyes is coldness, insecurity, and emptiness.

Beneath all the bluster and boasting in that kind of man (and his female accomplices) has got to be unfaced, unrecognized, undealt with pain. That pain surely matches the pain beneath the surface in his wildly cheering audiences.

As Trump skims over all policy and other political issues, what is left is style. It is the style of a man who wants, pathetically, to be recognized as a man’s man and to welcome aboard only those who will share in that aspiration and self-delusion. The people so frantically trying to share this macho pretense join him in denying that it is on life support at best. It will give way eventually, or we are doomed, to empathy and compassion. That frame of mind must trump this sad, overblown toughness and bullying if we are to survive.

The old masculinity is Trump’s. The new masculinity will rejoice in preserving dignity, humility, life, and the integrity of our fragile planet.

Gordon Fellman teaches sociology at Brandeis University and chairs its Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies program. Having earlier written on the possible shift from adversary relations to those of mutuality, in his book Rambo and the Dalai Lama: the Compulsion to Win and Its Threat to Human Survival, he is now writing The Coming End of War, which offers a three part deconstruction of war and several suggestions for how to memorialize what war has been and how to move past it.

Fellman is a long time activist joining with those who have worked for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than arguing right and wrong, he brings a sociologist’s tools and sensibilities to making sense of this conflict and how it might eventually be resolved. He has also been a community and campus activist during Civil Rights day, the Vietnam War resistance days, and since.

Posted in colonialism, culture of violence, Democracy, Donald Trump, politics, Protest, racism, resistance, slavery, social justice, Understanding violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Sharpest Gene, Part 1

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by Kathie MM

It is not surprising that several previous engaging peace posts have made references to Gene Sharp—e.g., here and here .  What is surprising, even to me, is that I have not yet devoted the kind of space to him he deserves—which I will do, starting today.

Gene Sharp  is one of the premier leaders of the nonviolent resistance movement not only in the United States but around the world.

Although the activities of the nonviolent resistance movement are often shunned by the mainstream media, propaganda machines of the military-industrial complex (which prefer to focus on wars, violence, “terrorist threats,”
and various other horrors purported to demand violent responses), Sharp’s revolutionary (nonviolently revolutionary) work has been well-recognized and appreciated internationally.

He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, 2012, 2013  and 2015, and for the U.S. Peace Memorial Peace Prize in 2012 and has received numerous awards for his work, including the Peace Abbey’s International Courage of Conscience Award .

Here are some samples of his position:

“I think you get rid of violence only if people see that you have a different way of acting, a different way of struggle.”

“It’s a nonsense assumption that you can get rid of terrorism with war. Terrorism is taking the lives of innocent people to gain your objective. War is basically the same thing on a larger scale.”

“Nonviolent action is just what it says: action which is nonviolent, not inaction.   This technique consists, not simply of words, but of active protest, noncooperation, and intervention.   Overwhelmingly, it is a group or mass action.”

These are not empty words. Don’t let anyone convince you that violence can only be dealt with by violence.  The greater truth is that violence begets violence.

Stay tuned for future posts on Gene Sharp.

Posted in Armed conflict, Champions of peace, culture of violence, Media, Military-industrial complex, Nonviolence, politics, Propaganda | 1 Comment

Where it all begins, Part 2

Colin Henderson’s winning design displayed at 2009 Domestic Violence Awareness Rally, Fort Jackson. Author: Sharonda Pearson As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.


By Kathie MM

As noted in my last post , if people want to move their countries from a preoccupation with war, hatred, power, threat, and punishment to the pursuit of peace, brotherly (and sisterly) love, social equality, justice, and reconciliation, the place to start is the home.

Suggestions for starting can be found in the work of Robert J. Burrowes and his “promise to children”:

“From today, I promise that I will try to no longer inflict this violence on you, including that which I call ‘punishment’ so that I can pretend that I am not using violence…

I also admit that we adults have done a bad job at looking after each other, including all of our children, and planet Earth, your home, and that you are going to have an increasingly difficult life as the natural world continues to break down. So I promise to participate in efforts being made to address all of these problems, such as that outlined in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’….

 Most importantly of all, I promise that I will listen to you as best I can. See ‘Nisteling: The Art of Deep Listening’….

Oh, and finally, as best I can, I promise to love you and to respect you as a unique, beautiful and compassionate creation with a great deal to offer the world (as long as adults don’t get in your way)….”

After presenting his pledge to children, Burrowes asks, “As an adult, would you be willing to make this promise too? To whom would you make it?

He then comments, “There is no doubt that giving every child (or adult, for that matter) all of the space they need to feel, deeply, what they want to do, and to then let them do it (or to have the feelings they naturally have if someone or something prevents them from doing so) will have some dysfunctional outcomes in the short term.

This is because we have all been dysfunctionalized, to a greater or lesser extent, by the violence we have already suffered throughout our lives. But listening deeply to a child from birth (or starting today), and supporting them to act out their own Self-will, will lead to an infinitely better overall outcome than the system of emotional suppression, control and punishment of children which has generated the incredibly violent world in which we now find ourselves.”

Again, as I asked in my last post, what do you think about these ideas?

If you wish to join the worldwide movement to end all violence, including violence against children, you can sign online ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’.

Posted in child abuse, environmental issues, family violence, Nonviolence, Reconciliation and healing, social justice, Understanding violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment