Monday, May 8, 2017

THE REAL CULTURE SHOCK OF OUR TIME: the realization that we cannot save our western affluence and power, and a human future on this planet

So, meanwhile, despite all the noise in the political culture around Michael Flynn, and DT's tweets, the election in France, the corruption of an administration whose family is freely enriching themselves by taking the notion of "conflicts of interests" to a whole new level - while all this continues and escalates, the dismantling of science and research in critical government agencies that impact our future on this planet also continues. The war on facts regarding climate change and our national parks continues. The war on nature being perpetrated by the fossil fuel corporations, now emboldened and further enabled by the GOP regime in Washington DC, proceeds.

In the morning's Washington Post, this article: EPA dismisses half of key board’s scientific advisers, Interior suspends more than 200 advisory panels. Get those truth-tellers out of the way. Get those people showing us that the world we insist on is no longer possible out of the way. Replace them with those who can reassure us, as we look backward not forward, that we can still have that old world back and everything will be okay.  "Make America Great Again" means returning us not to the days of union factory work, good wages and benefits, high taxes on wealth to support public education, highways, and parks - but rather to the days of the old robber barons, the ones that "settled" the West with their railroads, gold rushes, land grabs, and genocidal ways.

And so that's where we feel need to focus this week, to remind us once again that it is up to us to partner with Nature, with the Water Protectors, with the National Parks defenders, with the anti-pipeline protestors, with local environmental justice groups, with our best scientific researchers and agencies like NOAA and NASA/Global Climate Change, in a broad, powerful unstoppable movement to impede, and ultimately halt, these grave threats to our future on this planet.

I was heartened by the enormous turnout for the March for Science - actually, many marches all over the country. By the hundreds of thousands, scientists went out into the streets (a rare thing in itself), along with their enormous fan base (people like me), to defend research, facts, science itself, an event that in its necessity marks how far we have sunk as a nation.
March for Science, Washington DC

This broad cultural descent into willful ignorance, reflected in the current political regime in DC, in my state of Wisconsin, and many other states around the nation, is a stunning reflection of our times, of the demise of a nation that, in my baby-boomer generation at least, considered education and knowledge to be source of pride in who we are as U.S. Americans. To have political "leaders" who embrace ignorance if it threatens their campaign donors, their place in a hierarchy of power, their religious beliefs - this is something that feels absurd and incomprehensible to many of us who grew up and went to school from the 1950s to the 1970s.

We must remind ourselves that reactionary movements, especially as strong as this current one, are also evidence of how threatened the old powers-that-be feel with the changes underway in the world. That's why they are called "reactionary" in the first place.

To what are they reacting? From the days of the Civil Rights struggles, the anti-Vietnam War movements, the women's movements, farmworker and immigrant rights movements, the emergence of rights groups around gender and sexual orientation, the first Earth Day that was accompanied by the first research showing we were headed toward an existential ecological crisis - all through those years, the reaction has been growing with the creation of corporate-funded right-wing think tanks, Tea Party activism, and the rise of a form of Christian fundamentalism that shifted the culture to the right - and away from science that challenged the tenets of those religious and/or economic groups.

Per US eco demand & resource supply - Global Footprint Network
In fact, the changes to culture and knowledge over these recent decades has been disorienting indeed, revolutionary, a real upending of an order marked by white Anglo-European, imperial, western economic domination that has been in place for centuries. That order considers itself superior to all others that have ever been, an aura that is collapsing in the face of reality - starting with its destruction of the living systems of the planet, its complete non-sustainability as it tries to live outside the boundaries of the Earth's own biocapacity. Add to these upheavals the imminent disappearance of the "white race," including the recent challenge to "whiteness" itself as defining anything real (I keep wishing more white supremacists would get their DNA ancestry checked to find out how mixed their blood really is), the collapse of male identity as superior to women, the collapse of old strict gender roles and identities - I mean, we could go on.

This attempt to try to reassert cultural or political "control" over this upheaval in the Western European-American order is at the very least desperate, sad, even kind of pathetic.

But it is powerful and it comes with a lot of corporate money to back it up. Perhaps Trumpism and the rise of former CEO Rex Tillerson to Secretary of State are the best examples of exactly what I mean - an aging generation of "grumpy old men," corporate titans from an old world order soon to die out, feeling their power dwindling, their old world views collapsing, but desperate to hold them in place.

Kind of like the attempted rise of the Old Confederacy as part of that dynamic of desperate clinging.

What I think a lot of them know, however, (sometimes better than a lot of progressives know) is that the Earth cannot possibly sustain the wealth of the rich and powerful while also promoting the well-being of all. This impossibility is not an opinion, this is just some of that uncomfortable reality of facts and science. It is not even remotely possible that wealth can remain this concentrated and all people have enough to eat, clean water to drink, arable land for their crops, uncontaminated environments, dignified housing and work, education for their kids. The Earth can't do it, and we can't even attempt it without destroying the planet's ability to hold us, to keep us here. This impossibility is perhaps the greatest stumbling block of our time. Most of us who benefit from the western capitalist system cannot see any way around this, and so we hedge, we retreat, we go into denial, about how profound and fundamental is the nature of the redistribution of wealth, well-being, and ecological sustainability required for our survival as a species.
Source: Global Footprint Network

Those who know these things and are still pushing forward with the agenda of the global corporate and financial powers are making a choice with grave moral implications.

If personal and corporate wealth are incompatible with preserving the living systems of the planet, if we are already living outside the boundaries of the Earth's biocapacity, how do we proceed in the Age of Trumpism, of corporate control and financing of our political system? How do we move forward, instead of backward, in this Age of Ignorance in which we refuse to see our demise even in the face of floods, firestorms, record heat, and rising seas? How do we find any hope in the efforts we make in the face of daunting challenges like the yawning gap between rich and poor, the growing desperation of populations facing war, terror, and mass dislocations, and the rise of dangerous tribalism and racism all around the planet, a defensive reaction to the social, cultural, and economic changes underway - everywhere?

This is big stuff, and more than can be addressed by the actions of any single one of us. It will take broad collective effort, movements and strong coalitions, education and action, advocacy and political engagement, deep cultural and spiritual work. While none of us can do all of these things, all of us can do some of these things. But crucial to effectiveness is that we not act in isolation, that we avoid "silos" and bubbles, that how we engage this transitional era mimic the way Nature itself works.

The inescapable nature of reality is that there is no such thing as an isolated, individual act. We exist within a complex web of relationships in which everything we do or do not do has impact beyond us, reverberating along the threads of that web. Do too much damage to it, and the web can no longer hold. And we have been doing a lot of ripping away at that web in the age of industrialization and models of endless economic and technological growth.

In the framework of our current political culture, we are seeing an aggressive push against the knowledge and wisdom - the truth - of how Nature works. And I don't mean Nature "out there" among the trees and rivers, I mean Nature that is the trees and the rivers and also human beings interacting with them at all times. We are not a separate silo'ed life form outside Nature that gets to use it for our pleasure, even when that pleasure is a nice hike in the woods. That means that we have to see ourselves and our impacts within the truth of our interrelations with all other sentient and non-sentient beings. 

Part of our challenge is to look at the work we do as expression of the interrelatedness of all those threads that hold, repair, strengthen the connections that hold the web together, meaning that hold us - all life, all the communities of life working together. It is not a matter of feeling the pressure that we must somehow address the whole blessed crisis in order to save the world, but rather to SEE each effort we make, project, or action, or story, or poem, or workshop, or community gathering as part of that web. We need to offer our lives and our efforts not just for the sake of ourselves, our ambitions, or our organizations, but for the sake of the whole, for the health and well-being of the whole of life.

It is from that conscious awareness of the whole that the new cultures and spiritual expressions are emerging that can serve to propel us to the new experience of what it means to be human within this planet. We saw glimpses of this at Standing Rock, now an inspiration for the work of Water Protectors all around the continent and beyond. We saw this in the unprecedented step taken by scientists to walk out of their labs and research institutes and out into the streets as activists for facts and truth. We saw glimpses of this in the two People's Climate Marches (2015, 2017) that put millions into the streets to advocate for the Living Planet - because that's where we all live, and she is in serious trouble.

Earth from inside Saturn's rings. NASA/Cassini
What is emerging is a new experience of what it means to be human within the living whole of this precious little dot spinning in dark space within an unfathomable breadth and depth of cosmic reality.

The new age in which we are living involves this unsettling, even terrifying, awareness - that the age of a certain form of economic culture is bringing us to the brink of planetary disaster and we can't keep doing this anymore. We cannot have wealth accumulation based upon capitalist systems of economic growth and survive much longer. We have set in motion, and continue to set in motion, the conditions for our own demise - if not extinction (and probably not that) at least a future of terrible suffering and want on a devastated planet that could take centuries to fully recover.

These are thrilling times to be on the planet, yes? Here we are at the threshold between eras. Humans have been here before, but never at this scale, never with this much at stake. What I think I want to remind us of with this post is that reaction is not only not the end of the world, but is often indicator of an old world dying and a new one being born. It's just that we U.S. Americans have been at the top of the western economic culture for so long that for us this looks like disaster coming. For a lot of the world, and for Mother Earth herself, this may look indeed like an obstacle beginning to get out of the way. As the dominant economic culture loses credibility, new ecological cultures are rising up.

So as we confront this unresolvable conflict - that we cannot keep our way of life and preserve a human future on this planet - we are going to face the choice of despair or hope, depending on which of these paths we choose. We cannot have them both.

Margaret Swedish  - Check out my bio at our old website.

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