Lighting a Flame in Dark Times

Are we born not knowing, are we born knowing all?

Are we growing wiser, are we just growing tall?
Can you read thoughts? Can you read palms?
Can you predict the future? Can you see storms coming? …
Can you read signs? Can you read stars?
Can you make peace? Can you fight war?
Can you milk cows even though you drive cars?
Can you survive against all odds now?”
-Nas and Damian Marley, “Patience”

MEET THE NEW BOSS, same as the old boss. Except he’s a bit crazier, less qualified, much more petulant, narcissistic, and thin-skinned. Regardless of what Trump says about wanting peace, he is above all a corporate stooge, easily distracted and manipulated. Behind the stage, the deep state will prevent any long-term peace in Syria and Iraq, won’t allow any substantial forms of economic nationalism/protectionism or isolationism to develop, won’t confront the Israeli apartheid state, won’t stop the Saudis from bombing Yemen, and won’t allow any rapprochement with Russia.

Alternative voices for peace continue to be pushed to the wayside. War in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and recent terror attacks in Berlin and Istanbul continue to upset any vision of an inclusive world community. US arms sales continue to enrich the very few while millions of ordinary Americans fall further into poverty. Dialogue, diplomacy, and the semblance of an international community are slipping each day. Propaganda continues to proliferate about the “hacking” of the election.

Disregarding who is at fault for a moment: why the surprise? Haven’t we been told for decades our nation was slipping into a banana-republic, a rogue state, etc? (If you work for CNN, you have to use the tame-sounding phrase “Illiberal Democracy”) Isn’t this what happens to crumbling countries? Circling back, it’s much more likely the CIA or NSA would fake the hacks, making them appear as Russian, if only to bolster a false sense of patriotism, a collective hate against the Other.

The descent into far-right populism and demagoguery is not confined to the US. Vulgar and dangerous European ideologues such as Marine Le Pen, Norbert Hofer, Geert Wilders, and Frauke Petry continue to use divisive and destabilizing rhetoric, demonizing minorities and refugees. Unfortunately, they, like Trump and the UK’s Theresa May, are symptoms of the great social unraveling, not the causes. In Europe and the US, there is much more going on than the formation of a “flatter” world. Culture is being hollowed out, modern science has been usurped by corporate grants to control research and regiment minds, medicine and social justice initiatives are scrapped, community has been cratered, global warming is ignored, and electronic distractions proliferate throughout society.

Westerners are obscenely coddled, satiated, privileged, and unprepared to handle the coming economic and ecological crises compared to citizens in the developing world. Nietzsche’s Last Man has arrived in the West, and creature comforts are all that we can be expected to desire as consumers, as we shy away from news about war, terror, and the hardships of life in far-away places. As a close friend says, we are bad for our health. Changing atomized living habits and re-engaging and reclaiming the public commons is a necessary first step.

Increasingly, it is nonmaterial comforts that we are supposed to take pleasure in, through our omnipresent screens. Meanwhile, the need to convert to a steady-state, zero-growth world system led by organic farming, agroforestry, sustainable building materials, and renewable energy technology is greater than ever. Practical, useful work is denigrated by mass media, class consciousness is blunted by identity politics and bourgeois neo-Victorian values; having a socially-useful, fulfilling career is a demented dream as youth and millenials are simply “lucky to have a job at all” even with loads of student debt; work and play that forms roots in local communities is marginalized; jobs that would help export necessary health and energy techniques to less fortunate places are frowned upon, denounced as utterly unrealistic and utopian. The urge to use our hands, hearts, and minds together in a healthy and equanimous way, the attempt to develop scale-appropriate inventions, and the surge in bioregionalism and localism, are scoffed at by the high priests of technology and government.

Neoliberal globalization, mega-mergers, high-level corruption, greed, and privatization of the commons are wreaking havoc on ecosystems and the vulnerable economies of the developing world. Endless speculation disrupts any notion of stable currencies in the Global South, where inflation, bank runs, and demonetization schemes (most notably in India at the moment) prevent steady, secure access to banking, health care, electricity, and agricultural products. Speculation and artificial demand stemming from manipulation of commodity markets can ruin entire families and farming villages if their crops are no longer below prices set by international conglomerates.

The reasons for Trump’s rise, the virulent, fascist-lite rhetoric, the hate towards Muslims and Latinos, the populism and its acceptance in mass media, are well documented. What is beyond comprehension is the lack of any serious resistance among the Left. All progressive eggs went into the Bernie basket in 2016, for well-intentioned reasons, but one person does not a movement make, one woman or man does not a “revolution” start. Especially since Sanders was running his campaign positions to the right of Eisenhower, had very little interest in foreign policy, and was only offering social-democratic reforms, not the deep structural changes that are needed.

I won’t make any pretenses towards having any grand answers to the many pressing crises threatening to envelop us all. Unplugging from the Babylon system of our screens, mass media, smartphones, and getting out in nature is a great start, though. Begin to use your body and mind to help heal the vast devastation, the utter desecration and deep wounds we have inflicted on our Earth, our fellow man, and our wildlife.

Resistance to Trump and the American system will begin as soon as he enters office only to give handouts to his billionaire friends, cut taxes on the rich, and piss off foreign leaders with his jaw-dropping ignorance. It is money that seems to make him tick, after all. Whether the ideological resistance will emanate from a genuine Left, or a surging neo-nationalist far-right, remains to be seen. What is known is that sitting on the sidelines and leaving citizens without a say will only deepen the divides in our brave new world, where polarization through alternative newsfeeds and belief systems threatens the well-being of us all.

A sense of humbleness, of reverence and respect for others’ views has to be fostered among the public at large. At the same time, the absurd notions of normalizing what Trump stands for and the calls to give him a chance should be called out for what they are: ridiculous. Bullies like Trump do not compromise with “losers”, and even well-meaning forms of reconciliation will only be perceived as weakness by his administration.

It should be clear that our federal government and its social services, supposedly designed to help ease the hardships of the modern economy and international competition, are failing us all. Yes, senior citizens still have access to advanced medical help, and still are receiving social benefits. Yet even these basic services might not last for long if Congress decides to privatize Social Security, repeal Obamacare, cut Medicare, etc. The corporate pirates who control DC lobbyists and the media will eagerly strip, loot, and gnaw away every conceivable asset that the public would want nationalized, all in the name of getting rid of bureaucracy and a fallacious belief in the efficiency and fairness of private companies who are accountable to no one.

To accomplish a radical restructuring of society, our cultural myth of progress, and the fallacious notion of placing humans on a pedestal above all other species and the Earth’s health must be destroyed. These ideas are explained quite lucidly in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. Similarly, this was recently discussed by Paul Kingsnorth, who explains John Berger’s notion of a “culture of progress” versus a “culture of survival”.

This culture of progress we find ourselves ensnared in is essentially irrational. Beginning in the Renaissance, the idea of humanity striving to greater heights, with mind split from body, using finite resources for infinite appetites, has driven us towards a cliff edge, and now a sixth mass extinction is underway. According to this culture of death, world markets must be expanded, ecology is disregarded, and our most intelligent scientists inform us that we must begin colonizing the stars, rather than fixing problems on the only home we have. Indigenous cultures and languages are extraneous in this Leviathan world system, whose needs are overlooked, people exploited, and lands despoiled.
In contrast, a culture of survival strives for just that: human life passed down from generation to generation, with the necessary language, culture, religions, and technology needed for continued existence.

Consider this analogy between the two cultures: there is a small group of people, morally/spiritually awakened, who are watching the village fire (the culture of survival). They tend the fire, stoking it when necessary, adding logs, etc. They understand implicitly their job as upholders of culture, surviving from year to year, keeping the sacred flame alive. Outside the fire circle, the rest of humanity (the culture of progress) has been continually distracted for centuries: by the printing press, by the light-bulb, the railroad, telegraph, the gun and modern weapons, the radio, the TV, the internet. This “need for new stuff” is related to moderns’ inability to enjoy quiet and solitude, to accept the ebb and flow of the natural world, and simply being comfortable in one’s skin. All of these inventions, which we’ve been told are necessary, are not bad per se: it is the lack of any ethical restraint, the insatiable appetite for more, which continually leads to disaster after disaster. These “progressives” are like moths to a flame, and they simply cannot resist: yet this is a fire which will undoubtedly destroy them.

In America, the village fire, the wisdom of a culture of survival, has mostly been extinguished. There are pockets of resistance, but for the most part, the culture of survival must be built from the ground up. Passing down necessary knowledge and planting seeds for the youth are our most important goals today. A growing darkness of militarism, racism, and neo-nationalism is spreading across the West, with a looming threat of ecological catastrophe; a surge of refugees fleeing war, lack of opportunity, and resource competition; and a danger of another large-scale economic recession. Promoting compassion, greater understanding of different cultures and solidarity with people around the globe must begin now, in every city and town across the continent.

Each of us must find the strength to light their own flame, find their own inner strength and sacred fire, and use their passion and creativity to change the world. By using our collective brilliance, a new space could be opened up for a new kind of Earth. Reviving our communities one-by-one gives us our only chance to confront and defeat the many tentacle monster of international capitalism and US imperialism. There is an alternative: but you won’t find it by watching your TV, or playing on your smartphone. As Arundhati Roy said:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, CounterPunch, The World Financial Review, Gods & Radicals, and Countercurrents. He is author of the e-book Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com


William Hawes has a piece in A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred. It’s available for sale here.

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