Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Hedging the Revolution in an Election Year

We need a revolution. Not just a socialist one, but one with ecojustice at its heart. This revolution is about survival, halting the ecocide that is accelerating while we sleepwalk to the default tune of business-as-usual. Its broad outlines are in place, and the teamwork between the Occupy movement and the Climate movement late last year gave an inkling of what is possible. We need to occupy public spaces and to demand a voice in the societal debate over survival issues that is not even happening right now.

“It's the economy, stupid!”
No, stupid, it's basic ecological succession.

Thanks to a webinar sponsored by the superb ecological magazine Orion, I was introduced to a set of voices who are talking about the true scale of the revolution, which is planetary devolution. Paul Kingsnorth, who wrote the latest lead article, was on the call, speaking forthrightly but patiently about the withering of a noble, redemptive environmental movement, now reduced to an engine of consumerism and a platform for partisanship. (This includes those socialist activists who are occupying the climate movement.) The time has come, he said, for recognizing the dead-end of civilization, run amok under the hegemony of global corporate capitalism. He was joined by the visionary David Abram and a radical ecofeminist who made me uncomfortable even though she spoke much truth.

The call itself was challenging and inspiring, and when it ended I looked up Kingsnorth's Dark Mountain website and realized how totally radical the challenge was, both to the powers that be and to those of us who would build something wholly new in Leviathan's ruins. The manifesto is called “Uncivilisation,” and it begins with Emerson: The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization. It goes on to call for artists to join his cadre in creating new stories to replace the outworn engine of our failed means of social organization, the myth of progress. This “New Story” is not Thomas Berry's universe of evolving sentience so much as a bioregional, place-based effort to create from the soil up a new set of foundations. The emphasis for the global network of artists Kingsnorth et al are inviting to the table is not so much cosmic as humble and earthy, a new social order hopefully co-evolving in the web of re-speciation in the wake of the wave of extinctions our species has recently initiated.

I want to share widely the Dark Mountain Manifesto, and I am beginning to lay plans for a conference here in Katuah to which I will invite regional authors and artists to join the call from Northumberland. But, perhaps only because I still belong to a political culture that is on the edge, increasingly edgy, I am starting to hedge. With the Presidential Election looming, I have to say I'm happy to see the Republican presidential wannabes tearing each other up over retrograde issues like abortion for rape victims. And frankly, I'm happy to see predictions of an Obama win in the aftermath of their comedy of errors.

Just a few months ago, fresh from civil disobedience against the Keystone Pipeline, I was nodding in agreement at calls for a progressive challenge to the President from within his own party, joining the pundits and my friends in enumerating all the ways he had let us down. Sure, pushed by the Occupy folks and, he denied the permit for the tarsands pipeline to cross the Canadian border. But now he's actually welcomed the announcement of construction of the southern end of the deal through Oklahoma and Texas. It's only a matter of time until the whole thing is built, and the planet will receive a decided nudge towards climate catastrophe.

A few days ago a fellow author called from DSCC headquarters. She was by far the best telemarketer I've ever encountered, and she caught me in a relaxed mood. So she charmed me into giving a monthly donation to help the Democrats hold the Senate. I mentioned to her the cover article for Atlantic, asking the real Obama to stand up, and she said, “Well you really don't have any alternative, do you?” We talk of alternatives outside the present system after its collapse. We may even act in small ways to help bring it down (try to stop being a consumer - I mean totally). The reality is that collapse is going to happen, though perhaps not as apocalyptic as some of us have imagined, as John Michael Greer points out so well. But maybe until the sword actually drops, we can avoid some of the worst excesses of the current system.

The Big Question remains. Do we abandon national politics as beyond redemption, or do we play the relative odds? It wouldn't hurt to give Obama another shot - think of the alternative. Another shot to help incrementally, since no national or global political forces are going to solve the looming climate problem, or global ecocide. Do you remember 1968, when progressive purists denied the consummate insider/dealmaker Hubert Humphrey their support, handing Nixon a close election? Do you remember 2000, when Nader siphoned away enough votes to enable Jeb Bush's Florida Republican machine to steal the election? Do you really think the two parties are inseparable, Siamese Twins? Will you stand aside during this election, and accept the consequences? If so, you have more courage in your convictions than I. And less hope for our deeply troubled country and benighted species.

Despite my sympathies with Emerson and the “Uncivilisation” manifesto, I am addicted to Normal. Cognitively, I know that this is due to the one-time gift of fossil fuels, starting now to give out. Though politicians on both sides occasionally note this, none pushes it far enough to lose the support of the eighth-grade level of judgment of the general electorate. A great example is Obama's campaign promise: “Let's be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil.” As his first Presidential term draws to a close, these words are sounding hollow indeed, for he has increased drilling well beyond historic levels. Meanwhile, the eight graders from the other side of the spectrum cry shrilly that he has abandoned the project. Go figure.

My heart says it's time to love the earth more than the segments profiting from her fossil remains. But I am a slave of comfort. Maybe you could help me break free. Let's start a support group to find ways, step by step, to free ourselves from the addiction to Normal. Seriously. Meanwhile, I will hedge on, even as I plot revolution.

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