To me – and I accept that this is an unusual and unpopular viewpoint – the real issue is that we are behaving like a bunch of undignified, narrow-minded twats.
A powerful and growing agreement exists among people hacking away at the current impasse that we must begin with building circles of increasingly powerful community. Yet, tension keeps recurring between those who call for education toward growing awareness and for sharing those awakenings with others a la women’s consciousness raising groups of yore, and those who bank on relocalizer groups working to bring about small practical changes into their lives, villages and towns. And then there are those who argue that such small changes can lead to political quietism on the one hand and on the other, that practical localization achievements can be swept away by the Powers that Be in an instant if they so choose, and therefore localization and personal changes are not enough. What if all are right? It’s not either/or. I want to weave these three points of view together and take a good look at the emergent pattern.
The red pill club
Vast are the multitudes these days who have seen past the curtain. Just this morning, sitting at the local java joint, the conversation turned to the state of the country. So I looked toward the guy doing most of the talking, and popped the question. Why is it that America is unable to go after all those criminal banksters and fraud-peddling financiers, full well knowing we wuz robbed? He got it on the first try: “Because those people who caused the problems and those who are supposed to fix them are in bed together.” “So,” I say, “it’s kinda like the mob used to do it? At first he looks startled, then responds, “Exactly; you put key people on your payroll, one way or another.”
Like a diamond, awareness has many facets, but it is clear to the core: the colorful ever-shifting overlay of spectacle designed to distract us has lost its coherence, and the increasingly ugly reality is visible to any who pause to look. To switch metaphors, we’ve awakened finding ourselves wading in bullshit and humanure up to our knees. Within the deeper layers – and there are always deeper layers – there is of course far more than that: understanding that the crises of our age are intimately bound with the underlying structure of our civilization, for example. Or that the touted “efficiency” of the industrial machine is a lie, that this machine is grossly inefficient and destructive – but the measuring sticks used are meant to obscure that inconvenient reality. Or, closer to the vest, the realization that our touted “food security” is practically non-existent, embedded as it is in an agricultural system rooted in ridiculously wasteful practices and propped up by artifice (subsidies and legislated favoritism).
My most recent awakenings have to do with a deeply perceived need to segue to a more “whole,” unfragmented, undomesticated form of thinking and indeed inhabiting my world, and tinkering with what it means to embody what I care about. The other day, I heard a click when someone pointed out that after America’s Founders crafted the rather inspired Constitution, having worked a bit too hard to make sure that the new American government was tilted toward the elites, their successors contrived successfully to convince the increasingly educated and aware “middling sorts” that this is Freedom. No need for Jefferson’s “revolution every 50 years,” folks! Just think positive thoughts, recite the Pledge and the heroic industrialists, CEOs and other bigwigs will take care of everything in this best of all possible worlds! Now even this bamboozle is unraveling in the very heart of conservative America. These days on the internet, every week seems to bring another small piece of the large puzzle.
How well have we done with the job of ‘awareness’? While incremental gains have been made over the last 200 years and more, I would say that the last 10 years have made a huge difference. Significant levels of awareness are no longer the province of a few intellectuals or rebels. The ‘tuning in’ of the 60s, pushed underground, joining with other streams, has morphed into something much deeper and far more pervasive. In particular, the last two years have seen a mass awakening. People now know. Not intellectually, I mean. We know in our bones. Millions and millions of us, right, left and center. In part, we know because of the internet. We finally have a way to talk with one another, help each other find useful information, reinforce our best sense of what is going on, and cross-check with others firsthand. And in part we know because of the ongoing visible decay of the old ways of living and growing impotence of the old ways of thinking. We also have the elites to thank: the economic unraveling and their increasingly brazen and obvious plunder is doing wonders to shake people from their slumber all around the world. And in the U.S., the end of unemployment checks for millions this November will force yet another layer of reckoning.
When my book club recently read Orwell’s Animal Farm, I worried that these mostly older and not at all radical ladies would have a hard time relating. Yet the discussion was the liveliest we’ve had in a while, and it didn’t take long for bubbles of anger at what is happening in America to percolate to the surface. Our oldest and most conservative member actually went into an angry riff sharply informed by Orwell’s insights! I went away that day thinking that the underpinnings of ‘American reality’ have finally shifted; it is the lack of social permission to speak up that holds people back. In our group, Orwell’s book provided a temporary safe space to talk about such “unmentionables.” With each bump on the stairway of the long descent, more people will find their voice. So I’ll go out on a limb and say, when it comes to ‘awareness,’ well done, boyz and grrlz! Well done. Call me a crazy prophet: I say from here on out, awareness will gather into a wave as all exponential processes do.
Path of resilience
I have called it a contagion, because the people who are bit by this bug are altered by it and get in gear to make changes that are far more than skin deep. But I hope it is more of a path than a fortunate kind of popular craze. Everybody understands resilience. Now I am not saying that the majority is willing, as yet, to get off the dependent couch. But my impression is that for those with their native “species’ intelligence” intact, resilience makes a ton of sense. It does not matter one bit if we have huge disasters ahead or not, nor whether all resilience pioneers become dubious about the project of modernity. All folks are pilgrims on the path of resilience who recognize that human life is precarious, and always has been, and that living as pathetic domesticated sheeple who just keep consuming, get fleeced and amused, and have their wastes taken to a pretend-place called “away” is neither a worthy human existence nor one that bodes well in a downturn. And there are always downturns on this planet. Resilience appeals to sensible people of all persuasions and worldviews. It is an idea – and praxis — whose time has come. The last 100 years have been a blip of an exemption for many of us, a dubious opportunity not to have to deal with the nitty-gritty of life and each other. Here is our chance to apply what we have learned from this strange experiment and move on to something saner.
As one commenter responding to a Jensen article recently said about the resilience vanguard: They grow gardens, share the bounty with each other, learn to compost, save and share seeds, share information about the evils of industrial food and offer strategies to counteract that. As they learn about sustainable food production, their interests spread toward other related things. Canning and preserving. Reusing and recycling unwanted items from the home. Buying sustainable products of all kinds. Learning to sew. Making their own music. Raising chickens. Installing solar power. Riding bikes and walking more. Jensen poo-poohs this stuff but it’s the seeds from which the future will grow. Every time I attend the annual seed exchange or visit the local food exchange I feel optimistic. Every time I eat home grown produce, plant seeds my friends saved, and otherwise avoid voting for industrial culture with my wallet, I hope I am making a little bit of a difference. I’d go blow up a dam but then I’d be forced to eat industrial food and wash with industrial soap in prison.
How are we doing on the side of resilience? It appears to me that the needed knowledge is largely in place. All those people who began to build alternative houses from local materials, making their on-site energy, rediscovering subsistence agriculture or foraging or herbal medicines or home birthing or greywater systems, creating pockets of independence from the totality, have done well. Some of the extensive mainstream know-how and gadgets can be adapted to resilient ways of living with relative ease. There is much alternative, appropriate technology out there that can be brought in as needed, and John Michael Greer is apparently sparking a revival and intensification of this work. Appropriate tech even appeals to folks of a cornucopian persuasion who nevertheless recognize the follies of what passes today for “smart” technology and science. It’s a damn shame that so many ingenious inventions of the past that were simple to understand and easy to make, and required little energy to run, have been swept away by the relentless march of modernity. Some can be recovered, and this is a worthy task. Some can be bettered by those among us with the sort of understandings that apply modern magic to a very unmodern task: the day to day practical living of the sort that brings humble creaturely joy, makes deep personal sense, and helps communities (both human and ‘natural’) thrive.
So. We have a large knowledge base to draw on, and great many people in all walks of life are making it their business to reskill and retool. All you appropriate and convivial tool inventors and recreators, all you new agrarians and off-gridders, all you folks daring to leave clueless urbanity behind and jump into a whole new-old way of living, you have done us proud. Working with so little, in your back yards, garages and fields, dedicated to relearn ancestral ways when most of the culture pushed you hard in the opposite direction, you kept going. You kept going through the years when hope flickered small and these very practical tasks seemed like the only thing that a person could do to keep the flame alive! The coming generations are catching the bug anew now, learning food from the ground up, turning suburban backyards into oases of fruit trees and vegetable gardens, and getting reacquainted with the underlying natural patterns of waste, water, living soil webs, sun and wind, and how we humans can flow with the planet, rather than push against. Creating robust and stable local economies is a task that awaits the next wave of daring trailblazers. What a profound sense of relief: resilience is back. Blessings for all on this ancient path!
In each other we trust?
Facing a disturbing and heartbreakingly difficult future, it seems obvious that people of goodwill must come to pull for one another in ways unprecedented since the last ice age. Everything we hope for, everything the future could be, depends on our capacity to recreate the conditions needed for interpersonal trust. Yet so far, this work has remained in the shadow. Efforts of note include experiments with public deliberation, creation of open spaces, compassionate communication, sociocratic governance and open source collaboration. We’ve but scratched the surface. For example, while amazon and ebay have their trust metrics, this craft has not informed our lives yet. Instead, the culture of hate thrives in the words of doomers, leftwingers and rightwingers, scientists and layfolk, the religious and the atheistic; it has infested all public spaces. Just say something unpopular in an impassioned forum and all the rude trolls will come out of the woodwork while most of the participants aid and abet the abuse by doing nothing. A lot of otherwise aware, educated and with-it folks have no idea how to get along with people who disagree with them. Go into a forum like that, and it’s war. The hate culture crosses all boundaries. James Howard Kunstler gets regularly abused by anti-semitic emailers, but he himself lashes out brutally against southerners, rednecks, the tatooed, teabaggers and others who in his view are beyond the pale. How can lefties, who are unable to talk about their rightwing neighbors without spewing fury and contempt, press in good faith for ending American wars abroad? How about ending the wars fought on our front porches first?!
People who do not trust one another end up hiding from each other within lies, hypocrisy and isolation. They will have few inner resources for the radical collaboration at the center of humanity’s livable future, and keep on running away from community despite their deep needs and earnest convictions. I say it’s time to get serious about setting aside the fear and suspicion that have driven us to the anonymity of cities and impersonal institutions. Can we summon the strength to turn away from the absurd political spectacle and toward each other, and grow a culture of trust from the grassroots? From this trust, a new kind of politics can finally emerge.
Once we get excellent at working together, only then can we set our sights on the huge, formidable challenges of whole regions cooperating to reshape large-scale economic and power patterns, and to begin the work of planetary healing. You are urging us all to sweep away the current malignant order of things? My first question would be, when was the last time you called your opponent a douchebag of a fucktard? When was the last time you smothered him or her under 16 tons of condescension? Yesterday? Back to the starting point, I’m afraid. How the heck could we accomplish what we dream about without being able to — in our sleep! — listen with empathy, give and receive honest feedback, gather into groups without posturing and terminal boredom, internalize effective accountability without someone cracking the whip of authority, stop deferring to power-hogs, and make collaborative work so enjoyable people will flock to it rather than run in the opposite direction?! What will it take to learn to listen to people across ideological divides, diffuse long-standing animosities, and begin to work with them on projects of crucial import to us all? We need everyday visionaries in all walks of life pioneering the same sort of alchemy and “green wizardry” that Greer is promoting, but in the fields of trust that have lain fallow too long. Everything else hinges upon this. Intractable human problems become in principle approachable if we get down to getting along.