A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Monday, December 20, 2010

On Environmental Activism

There is a most basic question: What can I do? 

A long list can be made of the evils humans are fomenting on the earth; each of them should be (must be) stopped, but where to begin?  Derrick Jensen and others point out correctly that taking short showers, sorting the recycling and composting are not enough, especially if there are two cars in the garage of your 3,000 sq. ft. house.  Not nearly enough.  So much not nearly enough that you might as well not even do it – unless, of course, it is a gateway activism that leads to bigger things. 

The fact is, our situation is really quite desperate: extinction rates that will soon begin to disrupt ecosystems such that environmental “free” services will become limiting; changes of atmospheric chemistry that reach trigger points and overrun buffering systems; changes in ocean chemistry that trigger cascading changes in the whole biophysical living space.  The consequences for humans would be that our food and water sources would disappear for large numbers.  All the complex support systems currently in place in developed countries would be soon overwhelmed and the tenuous delivery systems in developing and third world countries would end; billions of people would be on their own without the resources of material or knowledge to meet their needs. 

If you were confident that the above description was accurate, then you would do whatever it took to stop it.  Right?  Because just think of the worst possible thing that could happen to you or to anyone, you can see it coming, and you have the capacity to do something to stop it – that is the way this is.   So we all agree… let’s go stop this environmental disaster.  “I’ll be over at 8 to pick you up.  Should I get you something at Starbucks?  Oh yeah, I’ll come over in the Prius!” 

But we are back to the original question.  We are sitting in the Prius ready to go.  You have your latte and I my plain dark roast with cream and sugar.  Now where do we go? 

To answer this question I have to begin by disagreeing with Derrick Jensen.  We will not win this battle – and it is now and will become a more serious battle – by fighting on the historical model of revolution.  We have largely lost our leverage of numbers for direct action for two reasons: one is that thousands, even millions of people can act without anyone knowing if the media refuses to tell the story, and it is refusing to report what the corporate elite doesn’t want reported; secondly, there are so many people today and so much of the material support system is automated that millions could die, not to the dis-benefit of the present economic structure, but to its actual benefit, i.e., life is cheap. 

So, living well on little, reducing your personal ecological footprint is a worthy pursuit.  Also supporting and comforting your life with the natural world is valuable – to bring others into this way of thinking and acting it is necessary to show with one’s own life that the deep joys of the living world are immediate, personal and fulfilling.   And then it is time to act. 

This is no different than martial arts training or boot camp; people must be prepared.  Prepared for what?  Prepared to confront a society, other human beings, that are brainwashed in materialist expectations, who would rather believe the lies that they know are lies than begin to accept the truth and have to give up their material possessions, possessions that they don’t even have the time to use; prepared to accept rejection and condemnation for pointing out the simple facts of the madness that we call ‘normal’ life. 

This is the first battlefront: your front porch, the coffee counter at work, the person in line at the store, your church, your car pool.  Tell them the truth.  Show them how you live, show them your pride and your balance.  As part of the battle plan, don’t correct them, just model for them the possibility of a life that is different with your own real life.  

This is where I think Derrick Jensen is wrong: if your life is approaching the rates of consumption that are far less damaging to the planet and you actively and with courage model that possibility for others, the seeds of a movement can be planted; it is the only way the designs of a possible future can form, and without it the more dramatic actions are only the bloody battles of a useless war. 

The second front is the relationship that your local community has with local ecologies.  Where I live the rich and superrich are building 10,000 sq. ft. homes on hilltops and mountainsides. Land developers are putting in subdivisions faster than the water from our drained rivers and aquifers can reach them. Road paving is apace. Schools have lost 20% of their budget and we were already about 48th in the nation. Many thousands of people get into their cars every morning, and mostly one at a time, drive 5, 10, 30, 70 miles to work and do the same in the opposite direction in the evening.  Coyotes, bears and mountain lions are starving as their habitat is compromised and coming to town like rural peasants looking for a meal.  Just pick a couple of these issues and learn about them, then you would know what to do. 

The third front is for ‘professional soldiers.’  The obscenity of national and international incorporated groups, really borderless nations that have as their only interest to grow using the earth’s resources as food and the human masses as their captured metabolic support systems, they must be stopped.  In theory these groups are legally chartered by the people, and these charters could be revoked, but in practice they are like a cancer that has overgrown the patient – has become the seeming reality, as though the patient can be cut free to give the cancer full control.  These entities are doing the greatest damage to the biosphere, to the real value on earth, life and the biophysical designs that support life; and especially to the remarkable new creation, the Consciousness Order, the human adaptation that has the capacity to appreciate it all.  

We have yet to devise a plan for dealing with this enemy.  I know that it has something to do with successes on the first and second fronts, but those will not be enough.  The corporations are like monstrous viral parasites; they mutate and co-opt healthy behaviors, especially behaviors designed to limited and control them.  Media would illuminate them, so buy and control the media.  Government would regulate them, so buy government and use media to trash government.  Workers would demand of them, so buy the worker’s representatives – or kill them – and drive the workers to financial ruin and dependency.  Activists would challenge them, so criminalize the activists and buy an army of mercenaries to do whatever they are told.  

The people have been convinced that corporations are essential for our survival; here we can fight them on the first front.  Many have local projects that can be fought on the second front, but the central core, the power to tear off mountaintops or kill whole oceans, the power to control what every person on the world is told as real, the power to buy and sell leaders, the power to fail and stop delivering many of the most basic services that we have allowed them to control; it is here that we are like a tiny army of serfs with hoes and pitchforks facing castle walls guarded by soulless zombies with laser weapons. 

Nonetheless, these corporate forces will have to be brought into compliance with a Reality that the people absorbed into the corporate matrix don’t even realize (or refuse to believe) is important.  The plan to do this must not precipitate an actual guerrilla war, it would harden the resistance and we don’t have the time even if corporations could be defeated and restructured in that way, but the threat of such a war, sniping and targeted actions against the most egregious corporate behaviors, would be necessary.  If corporate power, morphed into military power, has to be defeated in direct conflict in order to protect the earth’s biophysical stabilities from human excess, then we are lost.  We must create a plan of battle that has, at least, a chance of success. 

Just as castles became irrelevant with the introduction of good cannons and fixed fortifications inconsequential with motorized cavalry, so we must find the weaknesses of corporate power; first to invite them to join us and then to remake them, by whatever means necessary, into forms that comport with the Reality of a biological and humane existence on this little rocky planet.


Anonymous said...

I don't think we need a battle plan as that is what the corporates want, something they know and can manipulate easily.
What they have extreme difficulty handling is limiting/non-cooperation with "the system".
Also the battle was joined decades ago with hippies and environmentalists who were predictably, first ignored, then lampooned or ostracized and now being directly attacked.
I think the masses are passed half-way in this fight and the tide is turning to our favour in obscure ways.
The change will not be tomorrow, but is happening incrementally (hopefully in time to be accepted by mother earth).

Cheers ... Ron

James Keye said...

I understand your comment, Ron, but we still need a plan like one to defeat the Borg (Star Trek super villain) that shifts the "frequencies" at random. The other metaphor is the retrovirus that mutates so fast that normal immune systems are overwhelmed. That is why a normal vaccine (revolution) will not be effective.

I hope you are correct that there is a turning tide.

Michael Dawson said...

Ron, are you saying the hippies are winning? How so?

Personally, I think reconstructing our towns to be genuinely sustainable would be one way to euthanize corporate capitalism, while inviting its help in some areas. It would require the death of the automotive juggernaut, among other things. Without that huge boondoggle, the rentier economy would die. Nothing else could generate the kind of recurring waste it does.

Of course, the overclass is going to fight -- already IS fighting -- like hell to extend the scam until the last possible minute.

Anonymous said...


"Hippies" was lazy quick grab terminology I used (unfortunately in retrospect) for alternate thinkers/doers; a term locally used to label anyone outside the unaware middle class mainstream.

Personally, I'm of the self-sufficient permaculture mindset and have been in a practical sense for some 20 odd years.

Having said that, by inclination I'm a loner and reject any form of organised situation or leader inspired effort (an anarchist?) but am quite prepared to work for common knowledge and understanding - hence my private teaching efforts on the web and face-to-face and interest in James's writing.

Cheers ... Ron