Marx, Mao &

Paolo Friere

The one person who epitomizes the paradigm shift evolving at Yucca Mountain is Roger Kasperson, a political geographer from Clark University in Worcester, Massachussetts. As the director of the Center for Environment, Technology, and Development (CENTED) and a sub-contractor to Mountain West, Kasperson became a philosophical center of NWPO's socioeconomic studies.

The numerous papers co-authored by Kasperson for NWPO, interweave three main areas: 1) equity issues; 2) human reliability risk analysis; and 3) comparative nuclear waste management. The overall conclusion of these papers is that Yucca Mountain is inequitable to Nevadans who would shoulder greater risks than the rest of the nation and that the technologists creating the site cannot be trusted to do zero risk engineering. As an alternative, Kasperson presents the example of Sweden's consensus building approaches on their nuclear issues.

The roots of Kasperson's analysis of Yucca Mountain, however, are much more complex than an academic interest in mitigating the dangers of nuclear waste. Kasperson, a political geographer, had theorized since the early 70s how to conduct a social revolution using 'non-traditional' social advocacy. Earlier in his career he had had come to view technologists as 'elites' who were incapable of responding to the needs of citizens.

Taken in toto elitist theory is an apology for the failures of modern democratic states. The alacrity with which contemporary political scientists have rushed to accept, indeed to enthrone, a passive role for the citizen is remarkable. The attempt to take account of empirical findings has led to a change in the principle operating values of democracy. The conception of man presented is beastly rather than noble. It offers only a gloomy prospect for the future of man. The advocacy of a politics of leadership and expertise is exceeded only by the singular absence of any basic commitment to social justice. [Kasperson, Roger and Breitbart, Myrna; Participation, Decentralization And Advocacy Planning, Association of American Geographers, 1974, p.12]

Translated, Kasperson believes "beastly" elitist technocrats offer only a "gloomy prospect for the future of man" and are without a "basic committment to social justice." It is little wonder that a decade later the State of Nevada and NWPO, influenced by Kasperson's thinking, found themselves continually bashing the scientists and technologists involved at Yucca Mountain as elitists lacking social concern for Nevada. Thus it appears it is not the particular DOE and subcontractor managers of Yucca Mountain alone that are being indicted by NWPO as untrustworthy, but the entire nebulous class of all technological elitists. Kasperson had concluded a priori that technologists are untrustworthy, long before he ever became involved in the nuclear debate!

If elitist technocrats are hopelessly corrupt, Kasperson offered an alternative:


If a notion of social justice is absent from elitist theory, it pervades Marxist conceptions of participation. For Marx, man is the measure of things. He protests a social and economic order which cripples man and prevents the full development of his capabilities. Such a full development in capabilities requires that man be productive, healthy, and genuinely interested in the world around him. But man cannot be productive when the product of his labor is "an alien object. . . ." [Participation, Decentralization And Advocacy Planning, p12]

The above quotations, taken from a monograph titled Participation, Decentralization, And Advocacy Planning, written in 1974 by Roger Kasperson with Myrna Breitbart of Clark University, parallel what has later become in large part the philosophy of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office.

Kasperson evidently believed that "elitist" scientists and technocrats are incapable of social justice. Marxism, in contrast, treats man with a sense of "social justice". What this implies is that NWPO, under Kasperson's philosophical tutelage, may have come to believe Yucca Mountain will never pass muster, no matter what scientific evidence is presented! Marxist dogma would not allow it, otherwise NWPO would have to admit that bureaucrats from the centralized Department of Energy and its private technocrat contractors may sometimes not only tell the truth, but may also care about the social outcome of their endeavors.

Kasperson's theory is part of a tradition of political philosophy holding little in common with environmentalism. Consequently, environmental sensitivity appears to have been adopted later as a front for broader political goals. Translated twenty years later, NWPO seems to have evolved towards Kasperson's viewpoint in opposition to Yucca Mountain, simply because opposing the technocratic bureacracy is a fashionable political statement. According to Kasperson:

Unlike Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung feared the professionalization of the leadership. His writings reveal a consistently populist orientation to participation. The peasants, in his view, are "clear-sighted" concerning those who have authority over them. Leadership involves not only knowing the will of the masses but also their active participation and support. In his famous 1943 statement, he held that "all correct leadership is necessarily from the masses to the masses . . ." The ideas of the masses are converted into concentrated and systematic ideas, brought back to the masses for testing, and then put into action. In the process, these ideas become "more correct, more vital, and richer" each time. For Mao, the participation of the masses created revolutionary energy and spirit. Like Trotsky, he was very suspicious of any leadership which became at all removed from its revolutionary base. The cultural revolution in 1966 was his response to the growth of the bureaucratic elitism that Lenin so desired. He unleashed mass participation in an effort to purify a social and cultural superstructure which had grown apart from the masses of the peasantry. [Participation, Decentralization And Advocacy Planning, p 14]

The thought that Roger Kasperson has attempted to kindle a "cultural revolution" in Nevada and America through his hold over NWPO is troubling. Mao Tse Tung's cultural revolution was catastrophic for the Chinese and filled with barbarous bloodshed. While a cultural revolution can no doubt be a "response to the growth of bureaucratic elitism" and "purify a social and cultural superstructure which (has) grown apart from the masses of the peasantry", unleashing such forces on the scientists working at Yucca Mountain and the citizens of Nevada seems extreme.

Obviously, the Kasperson article of 1974 is not an environmental tract, but a work promoting radical social and political advocacy without reference to the environment. Written before Yucca Mountain was even proposed, Kasperson was neither an environmentalist nor risk analyst at that time, but a political geographer intent on transforming society. What this shows is that the State of Nevada's chief philosopher already viewed technologists, such as the Department of Energy, as elitists who lack a sense of "social justice" long before he ever came in contact with the Yucca Mountain project. It is little wonder then that the DOE has been consistently condemned by NWPO over the years as untrustworthy and corrupt. After all, judgement had been passed by Kasperson based on Marxist tracts twelve years before Nevada's socioeconomic studies supposedly discovered this new fact.

Is Kasperson a Marxist? It is clear he was at one point and had well defined ideas about taking over the system through the use of political advocacy, though his political center has shifted since that time. If Kasperson were just an old-line Marxist we could end our story here, but what makes his history unique is the evolution which occurs over the next years until Yucca Mountain. Kasperson's political evolution parallels a transformation of Green political theory from defunct Marxist philosophy to a new paradigm.

The critical transitional concept here is the word decentralization, which in more boisterous times was called "Power To The People". Decentralization, broadly a shift to democtratic community action, is the dogma used to radicalize the debate over Yucca Mountain. However, decentralization has a far deeper meaning than merely distributing power to the people. Kasperson, the political geographer, was well aware of this even in 1974:

"A third general objective is more self-consciously radical than the preceding ones. Some proponents of decentralization believe it to be a means for creating territorial power bases from which to contest established elite power. This notion has its roots, of course, in the revolutionary experience of Communist China and the "city and country" model of world revolution. Decentralization, in this view, is a vehicle for political mobilization, a strategy for creative countervailing power, a force for democratization. Milton Kotler, for example, argues (1969, p 100):

The radical task which the left must undertake if it is to assist democratic revolution is to challenge the very concept of nationalism and central control. To be radical, intellectual and physical force must accord with the original phenomena of revolution - local insurrection and local control - within which structure democracy can flourish. The left must develop and articulate a theory of local sovereignty." [Participation, Decentralization And Advocacy Planning, p 35]

Nevadans may be surprised to find that researchers at the philosophical center of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office may see the debate over Yucca Mountain as a revolutionary opportunity, a chance for "creating territorial power bases from which to contest established power elite". Nevadans may want to review whether they wish to go down a path that "has its roots, of course, in the revolutionary experience of Communist China and the 'city and country' model of world revolution" and whether this is the mandate they envision for their Nuclear Waste Project Office.

Even more revealing in a historical sense is that we see juxtaposed here two divergent philosophies: Marxism and Decentralization. It appears that in the 1990s, these two worldviews have begun to coalesce and solidify into what is sometimes known as the Deep Ecology movement or Green Revolution. However, in 1974 a synthesis of these philosophies was only a glimmer in the eyes of elite progressive philosophers. Roger Kasperson was in this respect ahead of his time, as a political geographer he must have been one of the first to realize that Maoist Marxism and anarchist decentralization philosophies were capable of being grafted one onto the other. Kasperson already knew quite well when he came to Nevada in 1985 how such theories could cause a firestorm:

So why all the sound and fury? Most parties, the present author would contend, have seen the push for participation for what it is - a potentially effective means for redistributing political power, for eradicating the biases that keep the periphery on the periphery, for combatting social injustice. That is why participation must be kept under careful control. It is also the reason that even limited activation of the poor elicits such a crushing response. . . [Participation, Decentralization And Advocacy Planning, p 25]

Certainly it will be argued that Kasperson's political philosophy has changed since 1974 and his presence in the socioeconomic studies of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office is innocuous, the result of random academic pinballs falling through the pins. Nevertheless, Mountain West was chosen as prime contractor in 1985, only eleven years after the writings we quote and at a time when Marxism was not yet considered dead. Kasperson is also a political geographer, for whom politics has special meaning and it is unlikely that all his revolutionary fire had been extinguished when he and similarly minded colleagues from Clark University appeared on the Yucca Mountain scene in 1985.

If it were just Kasperson who at one time espoused a radical revolutionary theory one would sleep better, but a number of other actors involved in the Yucca Mountain debate also held and continue to hold similar views. This is not necessarily because they are sophisticated academicians of political geography whose hobbies are Marxist / Maoist / Decentralization theory, but because Yucca Mountain is a gravitational attractor that draws a number of similar synergistic revolutionary viewpoints towards its center.

Does it matter whether Kasperson is a Marxist? It does when he was hired to do objective scientific work but his political ideology precludes that objectivity. The state of Nevada would not be affected one iota if Kasperson were a Marxist, or Martian for that matter, if it could trust his scientific work. But Kasperson apparently doesn't feel obligated to uphold objective scientific standards:

". . . . Traditional planners maintain a faith in the ability of the present political system to accomodate nearly all interests in society. Essentially, they accept the assumption of equal political opportunity. This process enables the planner to act as a neutral coordinator supplying individuals with information on particular planning issues and suggesting the technical solutions to problems which would best serve general public needs.

Advocates see politics in a different light. In place of consensus, the political process becomes a melange of competing interests vying for power and influence. This process recognizes that many groups are better equipped than others to assert and maintain their interests. Advocates feel, therefore, that it is their own responsibility to compensate for their unequal distribution of political opportunity by guaranteeing everyone in society at least the chance for a meaningful expression of position on particular planning issues. In short, advocates refuse to approach planning problems as issues requiring a choice between various technical solutions. Planners cannot hope to perform their roles as problem-solvers in an aura of relative scientific objectivity - to ignore the political implications and personal values inherent in their work." [Participation, Decentralization And Advocacy Planning, p43]

Kasperson appears to have found his own advocacy niche in Nevada's Nuclear Waste Project Office as a socioeconomic consultant. Unfortunately, when Kasperson says, "Planners cannot hope to perform their roles as problem solvers in an aura of relative scientific objectivity," he calls into question the integrity of his research atYucca Mountain , as well as the credentials of CENTED and many of the other socioeconomic consultants working for NWPO under the Mountain West banner. One cannot be certain whether their research is science, and whether it is pure advocacy.

Neutrality is something a traditional planner is stuck with, such as the professionals at DOE (who are continually challenged on their trustworthiness by NWPO). But Kasperson apparently is not a traditional planner, he's an Advocate who feels it is his responsibility to compensate for an unequal distribution of political opportunity. If, according to Kasperson, scientific integrity must take a back seat to the needs of political advocacy, then science as a whole is lost in a "melange of competing interests vying for power."

It is the perversion of the Yucca Mountain scientific evaluation process to forward the political agenda of a professor of political geography that makes the participation of Kasperson, CENTED (which he directs and has similarly opinioned faculty) and Mountain West (which he helped build) suspicious, not whether Roger Kasperson is left wing or right wing. Thus, the political agitation that has occurred in Nevada may in large part owe its hysterical nature to Kasperson's Marxist paranoia of technological elites than to legitimate issues of risk at Yucca Mountain:

"Going beyond advocacy suggests that we cultivate a radical self-awareness and confidence in the minds of presently powerless citizens so that they may begin to advocate meaningfully for themselves.

"These ideas are reflected in the writings of several well-known humanist philosophers and educators (Mills: 1959; Fromm: 1968; Fromm: 1961; Illich: 1970; Friere: 1970; Marcuse: 1964). . . . Within the radical humanist tradition . . . Marx was one of the first to protest man's estrangement and transformation into a "dependent" being with the advent of Western industrialism. Marx did not believe that man's most basic desire was for material well-being. Rather, he stressed man's basic morality and the corruption of this morality by the industrial system (mode of production) and existing social structure." [Participation, Decentralization And Advocacy Planning, p 50]

Kasperson had devised a anti-technological advocacy strategy for coopting the political process long before Yucca Mountain was even an issue. The goal of this strategy was never to rationally judge technological projects on their merits, because the Marxist theory Kasperson espoused claims technologists are immoral elitists. Instead, this is a social organization theory, which only coincidentally has found nuclear technology a convenient bugaboo to promote its goals.


Of course, it is doubtful Kasperson or anyone involved in the Yucca Mountain opposition will admit to being a Marxist now; Marxism is no longer in fashion even with the die-hard intelligencia of the left. However, the collapse of Marxism in the 1980's was more than the passing of a philosophical fad, it was the disintegration of a quasi-religious movement, the collapse of a moral structure.

Marxism is a beguiling moral theory, a conviction that massive redistribution of wealth and power from the elitist "haves" to the common man is a noble mission. It is also an abysmal failure as is now obvious to everyone. To fill the moral gap left by the collapse of Marxist theory, it was necessary to find a new religion that didn't completely negate the old leftist world view that massive redistribution of wealth and power was necessary for the salvation of mankind. That new religion is environmentalism, but a brand of environmentalism far removed from that of Teddy Roosevelt.

This new brand is apocalyptic environmentalism. Only if the environment is at risk of total collapse from some demonic force (conveniently provided by nuclear elitists at Yucca Mountain) could the redistributionist world view be vindicated. Thus, Marxist ideologues transformed their tattered ideology into a theology of environmental resource allocation instead of capital allocation, and the grandaddy resource of all is energy. Again, Roger Kasperson provides transitional theory to bridge the gap between Marxist class-warfare and the new environmental religion:

More than an advocacy approach to planning must be employed in order to create a society based upon principles of justice and equality. . . . Paolo Friere, an exiled Brazilian educator who has managed to escape his own impoverishment and acquire a lucid understanding of its origins and elements, has developed a theory for the education of illiterate people. The crux of the theory is the notion of conscientizacao - learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions in one's life, and to take action against the "oppressive elements" of that reality. It is Friere's belief that every human being, no matter how uneducated or impoverished, is capable of of looking critically at his world in a "dialogical" encounter with others. If provided with the proper incentive and tools, Friere believes that man can begin to perceive his personal reality, its problems and its contradictions. This perception is the first requisite for changing that reality. [Participation, Decentralization And Advocacy Planning, p50]

Paolo Friere is a key philosopher in the creation of what is called Liberation Theology. A combination of Marxist theory and Brazilian Catholic peace and justice and land reform activism, Liberation Theology finds expression at Yucca Mountain in the form of the Nevada Desert Experience (NDE), key to Nevada Test Site protest. One of NDE's founders is the notorious Judy Treichel, also founder of the local Clergy and Laity Concerned, another peace and justice movement with Catholic and Liberation Theology roots. Conveniently, Treichel also founded the 'educational' Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force.

While Paolo Friere is a key transitional philosophy, Kasperson and other socioeconomic researchers for NWPO eventually settled on a secular philosopher, John Rawls, on which to base their rejection of Yucca Mountain. Decentralization, Paolo Friere's liberation theology and Rawls' egalitarianism are all steps in the redefinition of Marxist concepts in palatable forms. Thus, there has been a transformation of the terminology over the last fifteen years so that now there is discussion of 'decentralization' instead of 'power to the people'. We have 'equity issues' rather than 'local insurrection and local control' and 'advocacy' rather than 'revolutionizing', but these terms are meant to obscure meaning, not enlighten.

Consequently, a complex evolution has occurred at Yucca Mountain, from old-line Marxist concepts into new branches such as decentralization, liberation theology and eventually Rawlsian ethics. Tying these threads together is Roger Kasperson, who as a sophisticated political geographer knew full well how to merge these different philosophical lines into a synergistic whole.

Unfortunately, Kasperson's connected belief that advocates can do no wrong correcting the supposed inequities of an immoral industrial system may well have corrupted NWPO's socioeconomic studies beyond repair. The opportunity for experimenting with non-traditional advocacy was provided by the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office. The 'state-of-the-art' socioeconomic studies and polling conducted by the Mountain West consortium for NWPO was the means for educating the people about the 'oppression elements' in their lives (i.e., DOE and the Yucca Mountain project) a la Paolo Friere. The blueprint for the entire experiment was provided in 1974 by Kasperson's and Breitbart's Participation, Decentralization and Advocacy Planning. The funding for this grand experiment in social manipulation was in the amount of $15 million dollars, provided by the nuclear industry.