Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Different Drummer


Seems to me we’ve been offered 2 solutions to our political and environmental crisis. We can participate in various forms of lobbying and we can exercise consumer choice. These options suck. I offer that no meaningful change is possible within the existing paradigm because the systems within that paradigm are broken: our government is corrupt, bloated, and imperially over reaching. Our consumptive habits require not a change in fashion, but a change in ruling principle.

Our national government does not serve us well for several major reasons. First, our system of private campaign finance has produced representatives that cannot vote for anything that doesn’t serve their masters. How else do you explain the 40 million customer gift we are about to hand private insurance? Yes, they’ll have to insure sick people now and they won’t be able to give you the boot when you get sick but they’ll just raise rates on everyone to compensate for that. Second, the national political climate is so polarized and partisan that rational debate is impossible and a national government cannot run on a platform of my way or the highway. How long do you think we can function when EVERYTHING gets boiled down to pro-choice or pro-life and saying something is anti-American passes for half a debate? Third, the main stream media and journalism is failing to fetter out truth from fiction when it isn’t actively fanning the flames of fanaticism. Not great for a culture that is already kind of allergic to information. Fourth, our ruling elite’s vested interest in the perpetual persecution of wars that direct our national accounts into private hands makes us the object of international hatred and threats. A nation that is always at war must necessarily sacrifice everything else. Finally, and most importantly, as a whole Americans are a passive and apathetic uninformed mob of dopes. Half of us don’t vote and the half that does is probably too jammed in the dem or repig slot to sit down and figure out what the fuck they really think.

Western Capitalism only has a few simple plays in its book. The market solution to our environmental crisis is to demand “greener” products. This is an oxymoron. There is no environmentally responsible way to manufacture a fundamentally unnecessary product. The only truly green purchase is the one you don’t make. The anti-glamour solution to our problem is to consume less. A lot less. Like half as much. Like we did in 1967. Until we take that truth to heart and own the fundamentally unsustainable nature of our current lifestyle, we’re marching to the same drummer just wearing a different hat. We cannot utilize a paradigm that has brought us to the brink to retrieve us from it. In order to do what will effectively curtail our drag race off the lip of the cliff, we have to reject our More/Newer/Easier mentality; in short, we have to affect the death of demand. The repercussions of stultifying consumer demand are scary to people who have never contemplated an economy based on quality and improvement rather than cheapness and growth. Steady-State systems can provide for our needs and sustain our humanity in ways that our current system can’t fathom. It doesn’t have the math to calculate the value of functional (screw fair) income distribution, health security, full employment and justice.

We can’t “demand” our way of this! We can’t wait for a solution to be delivered in a pretty box by our oligarchic national government or the monopolistic multinational conglomerates that rule our markets. They will never deliver their own extinction and their extinction is what is necessary. Rather than wait for the federal government to get the credit card companies in line, we need to cancel our credit cards. Rather than wait for the federal government to get Wall Street in line, we need to take our money out of the stock market. Rather than ask the federal government to make sure our breakfast cereal is nutritious, we need to buy rolled oats and embrace the C word. Cooking. We have to say “I don’t need that” and “I can walk there” and “no more fresh tomatoes till June” and “Fuck Whole Foods with their 7 hours by truck is local bullshit!”

Revolution never comes from the orderly communication of our desires to the establishment. It comes from an internal shift that effectively dissolves the current paradigm. The solution to our political and environmental problems lies in immediate conscientious individual action. Vote for a 3rd party; progressive, green, whatever; not because you think they can win but because they speak to your values. How is that compromise candidate scheme working out for you? Reject any candidate who rejects public campaign finance and limits on campaigning. A candidate that wants to win with money and marketing schemes rather than ideas is telling you all you need to know. Resign yourself to always being involved in and responsible for government. Democracy requires activism, information and engagement. Fascism, not so much. Seriously consider the option of regional autonomy. It might be better than the perpetual civil war reenactment we are enjoying today. Embrace a sustainable alternative to the Darwinist consumerist paradigm knowing all the time that it will be less convenient and more difficult but more of our kids and grandkids might get to live.

Change is coming. We stand at the confluence of too many depletion curves for the status quo to be a viable option. We can define our response and weather a storm of own making with conscious dignity or we can abdicate our responsibility and suffer what is handed down to us by The Great White Waddle Society. If we chose to check our moral compass at the door to the multiplex, a solution will be found, but it won’t be found democratically, mercifully or in time.

UPDATE:

Similar sentiments:

"Our only hope, really, is a conscious campaign to manage our own process of de-complexifying, before the universe manages it for us, whether we like it or not. One tragic part of this -- among many and for many parties -- is that we did not use the last decade of relative world stability to get that process underway here." Kunstler

"One tried and true solution, of course, is self realization and inner liberation. Seeing the world with the cold eyes of the simplest and purest sort of awareness, and a fiery compassionate heart. Seeing the world without illusion, which is very hard and constant work. Then keeping it personally unto ourselves. Keeping our traps shut about it but acting individually upon what we see before our eyes each day, and not according to the consensus of those around us." Bagent

10 comments:

  1. Simply a brilliant, Gandhi-esque analysis of the essence of the problem and the solution.

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  2. The fault Dear Sahm, is not in our institutions and purchasing habits, but in ourselves. The human animal did not evolve to optimize survival strategies in an environment of plenty and we are therefore paradoxically most at risk for devastation and even extinction when our innate predilection for short-term gain is married to the material bounty facilitated by our technological prowess. Political and social revolution will only change the name of the beast, not the nature. You are so right; socio-biological determinism is a bitch.

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  3. Dear TooMuchFuzzyLogic,
    I said this in Pouring Sand Down the Rabbit Hole back in April:
    "After a certain level of security is attained, our happiness suffers additional accoutrement. Nothing we have that matters is enhanced by gratuitous upgrade. Human beings aren’t designed for affluent leisure."
    This is the seat of the problem and you've stated it beautifully. Thanks for the great comment!

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  4. I have to disagree with TooMuchFuzzylogic. There is simply too much cultual variation around the world to allow for a linear, genetic determinism. While all humans are quite genetically similar there is a wide variation in the way we live. Even Europeans have a substantivley different way of living compared to Americans. This is not to mention thousands of other cultures that managed to live sustainably before being polluted with the cancer of colonialism followed by Globalization.
    To take the reductionist,determinstic view is to absolve oneself from moral responsibility for one's actions, or the lack of them. What stands in the way of social justice and ecological reforms moving us toward sustainability is a set of economic and political institutions, designed by elites from the beginning to sustain privilege and to deter change e.g. the US senate. I think the forces driving the US toward the ecological brink are indeed powerful, but they are not, as Richard Lewontin long ago asserted, in our genes. Changing consciousness is a daunting task to be sure, and may prove impossible, at least within the time boundary established by our mounting ecological and social problems, but it is morally imperative that we try. Any other position, however well expressed, is a cop-out.

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  5. That's an excellent epitome of the problem, Juliet.

    There are people out there, all too few of them so far, who see the refusal to be "consumers" as the defining act of civil disobedience and citizenship amid this rotten corrupt system.

    That's a big part of the reason why climate change legislation is doomed to fail. If we can't even muster the political will to smash the banks and the insurance racket and institute single-payer, both of which can be done at will, are mere political projects, the scraping off of useless parasites, then how will we ever muster the will to mitigate greenhouse gases, which really would require changes in lifestyle?

    It's intractable for now. I'm not going to argue for national legislation any more (more like gridlock), but rather for movement building, forgetting the hopeless federal corporatism for the time being.

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  6. That's the same conclusion I keep coming to, Russ. Pursuing any of this on a national level is useless.I think the only productive use of energy is for people to lead by example, just by living their lives in a sustainable way, being vocal and a source of information in their immediate communities.

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  7. Dear Sahm

    Stunning,complete and irrefutable logic presented in a clear and concise manner. Thanks so much.

    When I spent some time thinking about what you said I came to the conclusion that, now that I know what to do I can do what you say. It's simple. Or not.

    1. Consume less. This requires that I think long and hard about what I buy. Might involve some really deep analysis of why I buy. That will take some work on my part. Have to go even deeper and ask what I want from life and if buying things will get me what I want in life. This will take some time but then if I want to take back control of my life and the lives of my children or family I must spend some time doing some deep thinking. That is the small price I must pay.
    2. Cancel my credit cards. This means living on present income. Not next months or even next years. Can I afford do this? I have to live on less. Which goes back to #1. Why do I buy what I buy?
    3. No more money in the stock market. Whatever money I have I will use to buy govt bonds or commodities or real estate. Starve the stock market beast.
    4. Vote only for a 3rd party in order to offer real competition to the Princes of Thieves better known as Democrats and Republicans.
    5. Vote only for the candidate that accepts public campaign funding. Starve the Kings of the Princes of Thieves.
    6.Have political activism be as natural as breathing. Like Yoga, its all in the breath.
    7. Cook my own locally grown food and starve the processed food giants like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, etc. So easy since I LOVE to cook and have always cooked my own oatmeal but now it will have a special feeling knowing that I am part of a societal revolution.

    There is no sarcasm intended here. I am completely serious. If I can do these simple things why can't all of us? Those of us who insist that this be a country that values the lives of its citizens. Not just our labor which enable the corrupt Kings and Princes to continue to steal this country from us. Maureen

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  8. Damn the Paradigm, let it burn in Hell. Mother Earth shall have her vengeance. Will you survive the firestorm? It is only our strength in body and our strength in mind where we will find the basis for our survival. Let us teach our children well.

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  9. Hey spirit of 1777,

    I read through your blog this morning; awesome commentary and good discussion going on. I'm always thrilled to find a kindred spirit out there.

    Best,

    Juliet

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  10. I certainly empathize with Anonymous #1’s desire to impose a structure of moral accountability on the madness of the modern world, but the term “cop out” is somewhat impolite. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines ‘cop out” as “ an action “to avoid or neglect problems, responsibilities, or commitments”. I have no desire to excuse anyone’s selfishness or lack of foresight, nor do I desire to excuse myself from my self-imposed responsibility to act rationally and with equity; I simply view human civilization as a response to the problems of species survival, not an expression of moral quality. If a person wishes to subscribe to a moral perspective and hold that such a perspective is beyond attribution to socio-biological causation, that is a contention which is not subject to empirical analysis. You cannot say that we are more than what we are without venturing into the supernatural, a place where objective analysis of discernable facts does not operate and individual perspective controls. I continue to be puzzled that “summus quod summus” is seen as an anthem of apathy rather than a call to define what it is that we in fact are. How else will we establish what our correct place in the Universe is?

    Different cultures are driven by different circumstances and histories and since determinism is a function of the interrelationship of biology and environment, great variety in adaptive responses would be anticipated in separated populations; that’s why Europeans don’t serve ice in their Coke, but natural selection always ultimately determines what makes the most sense. Analysis of these relationships is perhaps more than just an academic issue since we are now on the verge of being able to control both environment and biology in a meaningful way. Anyway rather than continuing to engage in inane ego-masturbation to assuage my wounded self-esteem, perhaps I should say to Anonymous #1 that he/she and I probably actually agree in a fundamental way in that I believe intellectual failure is way more evil than evil. Evil is its own excuse, but stupidity is the damnation of informed and willful choice, and that’s just plain wrong.

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