“What If It’s Already Too Late?”: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene

“We’re f**ked. Now what?”

From John Halstead

I had a terrible thought recently …

“What if it’s already too late?”

Actually, this idea has been haunting me, hovering on the boundary between my conscious and unconscious mind, for some time.

In 2016, Bill McKibben, founder of the climate activist organization 350.org, came to speak at a rally at the BP tar sands refinery in my “backyard” in the highly industrialized northwest corner Indiana.  The occasion was a series of coordinated direct actions around the world against the fossil fuel industry, collectively hailed as the largest direct action in the history of the environmental movement.

What struck me about McKibben’s speech, though, was its tone of … well, hopelessness. Here’s how he concluded his 10 minute speech:

“I wish that I could guarantee you that we’re all going to win in the end, the whole thing. And I can’t, because we don’t know. The physics of climate change is pretty daunting at this point. The momentum of it is pretty big. We’re not going to win everything. We’re not going to stop global climate change. It’s too late for that.

“But the work you’re doing literally couldn’t be more important. There’s not many people who get to say in their lives, ‘I’m doing the most important thing I could be doing.’ But that’s what you guys are doing today. I can’t guarantee you’re going to win. But I can guarantee you in every corner of the world that we’re going to fight. And that’s going to be enough for now, just knowing that we are taking it on.”

That’s pretty sobering material for a speech at an environmental activist rally, not to mention a speech by one of the leaders of the climate movement:

“We’re not going to stop global climate change. It’s too late for that.”

At the time, I was caught up in the enthusiasm of participating in my first act of civil disobedience, so I didn’t think much about McKibben’s words.

But they kept coming back to me.

“What Did He Just Say?”

“A person has already been born who will die due to catastrophic failure of the planet.”

I remembered McKibben’s words later, as I was watching Aaron Sorkin’s HBO TV series, The Newsroom.  In one scene, a high ranking scientist in the EPA is being interviewed by the show’s lead, a news anchor played by Jeff Daniels. The scientist explains that the latest measurements of atmospheric CO2 had passed the point of 400 ppm (parts per million) and what this means for humans:

EPA scientist: The last time there was this much CO2 in the air, the oceans were 80 feet higher than they are now. Two things you should know: Half the world’s population lives within 120 miles of an ocean.

News anchor: And the other?

EPA: Humans can’t breathe under water.

The anchor then asks the scientist what his “prognosis” for humanity is, “A thousand years, two thousand years?”  The scientist’s response was bone chilling:

“A person has already been born who will die due to catastrophic failure of the planet.”

After a pause to get his bearings, the anchor resumes:

News anchor: You’re saying the situation is dire?

EPA scientist: Not exactly. Your house is burning to the ground, the situation is dire. Your house has already burned to the ground, the situation is over.

News: So what can we do to reverse this?

EPA: Well there’s a lot we could do…

News: Good…

EPA: …20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. But now, no.

News: Can you make an analogy that might help us understand?

EPA: Sure. It’s as if you’re sitting in your car, in your garage, with the engine running and the door closed, and you’ve slipped into unconsciousness. And that’s it.

News: What if someone comes and opens the door?

EPA: You’re already dead.

News: What if the person got there in time?

EPA: Then you’d be saved.

News: OK. So now what’s the CO2 equivalent of the getting there on time?

EPA: Shutting off the car 20 years ago.

News: You sound like you’re saying it’s hopeless.

EPA: Yeah.

(You can watch the full clip below.)

 

The first time I saw this, I felt a flood of conflicting emotions: a combination of sinking horror and an absurd desire to laugh. I recognize it now as gallows humor.

Now, this was a television show, but it’s not fiction.  In the real world, we passed 400 ppm not long after the episode aired. And the fatalism of Sorkin’s EPA scientist makes sense when we understand what 400 ppm really means.

Remember Bill McKibben’s organization, 350.org?  It takes its name from the research of James Hansen, the scientist​ who drew the public’s attention to climate change when he testified before Congress in 1988.  In 2007, Hansen told the world that 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe upper limit to avoid a climate tipping point.

But we passed that point in 1988–30 years ago!

At time of my writing this, we have already seen CO2 levels as high as 412 ppm, and we are permanently over 400 ppm.  And we’re already feeling the effects: As of 2015, the planet is warmer than it has ever been in the last 11,000 years!

No wonder McKibben was fatalistic when I heard him speak in 2016.  When he organized 350.org, in 2007, it was already two decades after we had passed the safe threshold.  Now we’re in our third decade, and CO2 level had only continued to rise, with no sign of abating.  More carbon has been released into the atmosphere since Hansen’s 1988 congressional testimony than has been released in the entire history of civilization before that!

Science Fiction?

“Who killed the world?!” — Mad Max: Fury Road

“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.”

— Emerson

Back on the TV show, the Jeff Daniels’ character asks the scientist to explain what all this would look like:

EPA scientist: Well, mass migrations, food and water shortages, spread of deadly disease, endless wildfires. Way too many to keep under control. Storms that have the power to level cities, blacken out the sky, and create permanent darkness.

In this hopes that this was hyperbole, I started researching.  The math is right on,  and according a Mother Jones article which fact checked the script, the predictions are pretty reasonable. Even the part about blackening out the sky might come true if the “geoengineers” have their way and start sending sulfur into the atmosphere, Matrix-like, in the hopes of reducing global warming.

In 2014, just as I was starting to wake up to climate change, the New York Times reported that a large body of research indicates that it is “inevitable” that the planetary temperature will rise by 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) and that we are “locked into” a future of drought, food and water shortages, and rising sea levels.  And that’s the optimistic estimate!  In fact, we’re on track for more than 4°C of warmingThat’s the temperature difference between the last Ice Age and the world now!  So it’s reasonable to expect the world of the near future to be as different from today as today is from the Ice Age.  According to the Times, that kind of change might render the planet “uninhabitable” to human beings.

Reports like this have become part of our daily news diet.  It’s shocking that they don’t trigger a revolution.  But as Steven Yeun’s character says in the recently released movie, Sorry to Bother You, when people see a problem that they don’t know how to solve, their response is to get used to it.

Archdruid John Michael Greer, author of Dark Age America agrees with Sorkin’s prognosis.  From Greer’s vantage point, this bleak prediction is only notable for what it leaves out:

  • expanding war and ethnic conflict
  • increasingly frequent environmental disasters
  • a return to a subsistence economy even in first world countries
  • the collapse of governmental institutions
  • the rise of charismatic authoritarian strongmen
  • and drastically declining human population–

anywhere from a 70% reduction (from 7.5 billion to 2 billion), which would bring the population to a sustainable level, to complete human extinction.

Does this sound like science fiction?  If it does, it’s not surprising, since these themes are increasingly common in our entertainment.  There’s the food shortages, the police state, and the walled off cities depicted in USA’s Colony (minus the aliens). There’s the government-endorsed religious fundamentalism and regressive sexual politics in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  There’s the crop failures, resource depletion, and declining population in the movie Interstellar.  There’s the collapse of governments, the rise of walled-off corporate states, and the sprawling climate refugee encampments, in the SyFy series Incorporated (more on that later).  And let’s not forget the rise of feudal warlords like Negan, the villain in AMC’s The Walking Dead (which became bigger than Monday night football).  Each and every one of these fictional scenarios is likely to be a part of humanity’s reality in the not-so-distant future.

The decline has already begun.  Its effects can be seen everywhere, but we barely notice it because the change is usually incremental, rather than sudden.  If we step back a minute from the daily barrage of news, we can see it:

This was the stuff of science fiction not too long ago.  Today, it’s our reality–and our entertainment.  While shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Colony have the potential to numb us to our present reality, sometimes science fiction can help us see our present more clearly. Watching one of these shows not too long ago, I had another terrible thought …

What if none of this is an accident?

“Everything is Going According to Plan”

incorporated-e1500580872733-1068x589
SyFy’s “Incorporated”

“Everything is going according to plan. I don’t know whose plan it is, and I think that it’s a really stupid plan, but everything is going according to it anyway.”

—  Dmitry Orlov

I had always thought racism was a glitch in America’s social system, something that could be overcome with time and education. Recently, however, I’ve begun to see how racism is actually a function of a capitalist system.  It keeps the poor and working class divided along race lines, to the benefit of the rich. As Malcolm X succinctly put it, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

What if, like racism, biosphere-wrecking climate change is not an accidental byproduct of our capitalist system?  What if it isn’t a bug, but a feature?  What if the system isn’t broken, as progressives claim?  What if the system is functioning exactly as it is supposed to?

It was another television show that got me thinking about this, a series called Incorporated, which premiered on SyFy in 2016.  The premise of the show was that world governments had gone bankrupt and had been effectively replaced by large corporations.  These corporations functioned in walled-off cities, called “Green Zones”, outside of which was a sea of displaced people living in “Red Zones”, which included refugee camps overflowing with people having fled coastal cities flooded due to climate change.

In the show, there is virtually no mobility between the residents of the Green Zone, the corporate class, and the residents of the Red Zone, the unincorporated.  There are no checks on the corporations, other than the threat of violence from other corporations.  Although they live very privileged lives by comparison, those living within the corporate walls are virtual slaves to the corporation.

As I watched this, I was struck by two thoughts.  The first was the close similarity between Incorporated‘s dystopic future to our present reality.

The second thought was: “What if this the goal?”  What if this is the desired outcome for some of the corporate class?  Zero government regulation.  Anything can be bought for a price.  Extremely exclusive social status.  Technological wonders for the few who can afford them. In short …

What if everything is going according to plan?

It doesn’t require believing in a conspiracy to see that our capitalist system is driving us toward the future depicted in Incorporated, and that it isn’t by accident.

For it to function, capitalism depends on growth.  Without growth, the incentive for capital investment disappears and the system breaks down.  In an ideal capitalist system, there are no limits to growth.  In order to grow without limit, capitalism needs two things: unlimited demand and unlimited supply.  On the demand side, this means conspicuous consumption, socially manufactured needs, and disposable goods.  On the supply side, this means access to cheap and abundant energy, i.e., fossil fuels.  Without these conditions, the system cannot produce the kinds of surpluses which motivate the capital investment that perpetuates the system.  But these conditions–unchecked consumption and the burning of fossil fuels–inevitably lead to disasters, both economic and environmental.

It turns out, that’s part of the system too.

In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), Naomi Klein describes how the corporate class has learned to profit from natural and economic disasters, by pushing through policies of deregulation and privatization while the impacted citizenry is too distracted and disorganized by the disaster to notice.  Examples include Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf War, and 9/11, to name just a few of the many.  The corporate class benefits from these policies, while the rest of the population is left with collapsing public infrastructure, declining incomes and increasing unemployment.

“An economic system that requires constant growth, while bucking almost all serious attempts at environmental regulation, generates a steady stream of disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological or financial. The appetite for easy, short-term profits offered by purely speculative investment has turned the stock, currency and real estate markets into crisis-creation machines …. Our common addition to dirty, non-renewable energy sources keeps other kinds of emergencies coming: natural disasters … and wars waged over scarce resources …, which in turn create terrorist blowback …”

“Given the boiling temperatures, both climatic and political, future disasters need not be cooked up in dark conspiracies. All indications that simply by staying the current course, they will keep coming with ever more ferocious intensity. Disaster generation can therefore be left to the market’s invisible hand.

“While the disaster capitalism complex does not deliberately scheme to create the cataclysms on which it feeds (though Iraq may be a notable exception), there is plenty of evidence that its component industries work very hard indeed to make sure the current disastrous trends continue unchallenged.”

— Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine

According to Klein, this leads to an increasingly divided world.  Whether it is post-Gulf War Iraq or post-Katrina New Orleans, everything is divided between “Green Zones” and “Red Zones”, stark partitions between the privileged and the precariat. In the Red Zones, infrastructure is left to decay and social services are stripped of resources, while the privileged withdraw to the gated Green Zones, which are protected by the police/military. In many places, this is the present day reality, and it’s not so far removed from the future depicted in Incorporated.

We’re F**ked.

ozymandias2
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

“There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew
that cultures decay, and life’s end is death.”

— Robinson Jeffers, “The Purse-Seine”

Of course, the world of Incorporated isn’t the end of the story either; it’s just a chapter in the story of civilizational decline.  And we know how that story ends: death.

Our civilization is going to die.

If you’re like me, you need to sit with that last sentence for a while.

Of course, there’s plenty of people out there saying otherwise.  I could pick different sources to believe.  With the World Wide Web at our fingertips, it’s quite easy nowadays to choose the answers you like.  I could choose more comforting answers.

But it was a question, not an answer, that really devastated me.  Radical environmentalist, Derrick Jensen, asks this question of his audiences, and it’s one which I think every environmental activist should ask themselves:

“Do you think this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of life?”

That question is what convinced me that the world as we know it is going to end, sooner rather than later.

And more and more experts are coming to the same conclusion.

Like Brad Werner, a pink-haired complex systems researcher who, in 2012, presented a provocatively titled paper to thousands of scientists at the Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, titled “Is Earth F**ked?”

Werner’s answer: “More or less”.

Or like Daniel Kahneman, the cognitive psychologist who won a Nobel prize for his studies of how irrationally humans respond to problems which require immediate personal sacrifices now to avoid uncertain collective losses.  When asked to assess humanity’s chances for survival, Kahneman responded, “This is not what you might want to hear. I am very sorry, but I am deeply pessimistic. I really see no path to success on climate change.”

Or like Mayer Hillman, a social scientist and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute who has spent the last 20 years writing and speaking about climate change policy, and who, in 2017, announced his withdrawal from speaking and writing on climate change, declaring

“We’re doomed.”

Hillman raised the same question as Jensen: Do we really think human beings will move to zero global emissions in the near future? More specifically, Hillman asks,

“Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”

Hillman can’t.  Jensen can’t.  And I can’t either.

That’s the point that is glossed by so many evangelists of renewable energy: renewable energy can’t “replace” fossil fuels.1

About two hundred years and fifty ago, human beings started using fossil fuels–first coal, then oil–to power civilization.  What followed was unprecedented explosion of growth.  The civilizational “progress” which we take for granted is result of the burning of fossil fuels.  But the fossil fuels are a finite resource, and when they are gone, that will be the end of growth and progress too.

Renewable energy sources cannot produce as much energy as fossil fuels.  And transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy only addresses the supply side of the equation. A renewable energy economy would only work if we simultaneously reduced our consumption.  I’m not talking about people taking shorter showers and turning off the lights when they leave the room.  I’m talking about a contraction of the economy which would crash the global capitalist system.

We simply can’t transition to a 100% renewable energy economy without also ending capitalism.  Nothing short of a global socialist revolution is going to be enough (and I’m using “revolution” quite literally here).  But capitalism has proven so adept at adapting to challenges and absorbing dissent, nothing short of the end the world is likely to bring it about.

“Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world.”

— Fredric Jameson, “Future City”

While it’s easy for most people in developed countries to look around and think that all is well, the fact is we are living in what Roy Scranton calls the gap between sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.  We are like the patient goes to the doctor for a routine checkup.  They feel fine, but the doctor returns looking grim.

The prognosis is terminal.

For some, this might actually be welcome news. I have communist friends who have been waiting a long time for the collapse of capitalism.  And I have anarchist friends for whom the collapse of civilization is good tidings of great joy.  “Everything is going according to plan,” indeed.  (There’s even some people who are trying to accelerate the collapse by undermining any attempt to reform capitalism which might prolong its demise.)

It turns out that the Marxist are partially right: Capitalism is going to collapse, but it won’t require the revolution of the working class. It’s going to happen through the natural process of capitalism doing what capitalism does: consuming forests, species, and human potential and excreting carbon dioxide, toxic chemicals, and radioactive waste–in short, eating everything in sight and shitting where it eats.

Even if climate change were not a reality, our civilization would still die.  Capitalism is just not sustainable.  The combination of overconsumption (only partially the result of overpopulation) and overpollution will lead inevitably to civilizational collapse.  Considering the damage capitalism is doing to the planet, that might not be such a bad thing.  But unfortunately, our civilization is going to take a good part of the biosphere down with it.

The Stages of Grieving for a Civilization

“When you become a parent, one thing becomes really clear. And that is that you want to make sure your children feel safe. And it rules out telling a ten year old that the world’s ending.”

Insterstellar (film)

When my son was 13, he went through an existential crisis. He was losing his faith in the religion he had been raised in, including the belief in an afterlife. The thought of personal extinction terrified him.  Over the next several years, he made peace with his own mortality.  He did so, at least in part, by taking refuge in a new faith, the faith in human progress.  He could accept the fact that he will die one day, but at least the accumulated knowledge of humanity would survive.

I felt the same way.  And I know many atheists and religious naturalists who do as well.  We accept our own mortality, while we cling to faith in the immortality of civilization.

But I don’t believe that anymore … and I don’t know what to say to my son.

It turns out, it’s not just individuals who die.  So do civilizations.  As Archdruid John Michael Greer, explains in Dark Age America, the last 5,000 years of human history have not been a straight line.  There have been many dark ages.  Europe in the early Middle Ages is only the most recent example in the West.  There was also the collapse of Mediterranean and Near Eastern civilization in the Bronze Age.  There were three separate Egyptian dark ages.  And there have been others, in both the West and the East.

The causes of these prior dark ages are familiar: climate change, population growth, soil degradation, and widening social inequality.

“Many clever men like you have trusted to civilization. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation, what there is particularly immortal about yours?”

— G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Our present situation is unique, however.  Those civilizations before us exceeded the carrying capacity of their land bases, but we are connected to a global economy.  We are facing collapse, not just on a regional level, but on a planetary scale. And while civilizational decline is not uncommon, the speed at which we are rushing toward ours is.  The reason why we are so rapidly rushing toward this end is because we have a terminal case of denial.

In The Denial of Death (1974), Ernest Becker theorized that the basic motivation for human behavior is the desire, in fact the need, to deny the reality of our own deaths.  According to Becker, we engage in “immortality projects” in an attempt to create something that will transcend death.  But these immortality projects are maladaptive, because they sever us from the flow of life–of which death is a part.

We do this on an individual level, but also on a collective level. Western civilization itself can be understood as a collective immortality project–one giant, complex attempt to deny our connection to nature, to the Goddess, and hence to deny our mortality.  Climate change denial is just a special case of a much broader and deeper denial–a denial of our limits.

And it’s not just climate change deniers who are in denial.  Many activists on the other side of the spectrum, like me, are in denial as well.  I wasn’t denying that climate change is happening, but I was denying what it meant.  “I believe that we will win!” I chanted along with my fellow activists.  I was in denial.  And the origin of that denial, a faith in human progress, is what got us into this mess.

Looking back, a lot of my environmental activism looks like the stages of grief: denial, anger, and bargaining.  I moved into the depression phase recently.  The good thing about the depression is that it allows me to recognize this process for what it is:

I am grieving for the death of human civilization. 

The last stage of grief, I am told, is acceptance.  But what does that look like?  Do we go on protesting?  Do we go on fighting, like Bill McKibben says, because fighting is better than doing nothing?

To be continued tomorrow in “‘Die Early and Often’: Being Attis in the Anthropocene”.


Notes

Nor is nuclear energy the panacea that many techno-wizards hope it is, due to insurmountable problems of scale, waste, and energy-return-on-investment.


John Halstead

halsteadJohn Halstead is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is one of the founders of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which works to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”. He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and here at Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also edited the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. He is also a Shaper of the Earthseed community which can be found at GodisChange.org.


Can you tell us how we’re doing by filling out this short survey?

We’d really, really appreciate it!

And also we’ll give you a discount at our bookstore for your time.

On Plastic Straws and the Coming Collapse

When you look at what is needed to slow down or stop Climate Change and the destruction of the environment that sustains human life, you get confronted with an awful reality. That reality? There is literally no significant change that will not also deeply harm vulnerable people or infringe upon some modern freedom we now conceive as vital, inherent, and inalienable.

An editorial, from Rhyd Wildermuth

Recently, the city of Seattle in the United States became the first US city to fully ban single-use plastic straws, utensils, and cocktail picks in restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops. The ban was heralded as an environmentalist victory by marine conservationist groups and fiercely fought by restaurant associations, plastics manufacturers, and some activists for the disabled.

You may have encountered news about the ban specifically because of the opposition of some activists for the disabled. Though the Seattle ban allows restaurants to provide flexible single-use plastic straws for people who medically need them, restaurants, bars, and cafes aren’t required to keep such straws on hand. Thus, a disabled person who cannot drink without a straw might find themselves needing to provide their own in order to consume a beverage they’ve purchased. Activists for disabled people point out that this situation creates an accessibility barrier for a minority of people who already face countless other such barriers.

The debates around the plastic straw ban unfortunately obscured several much larger issues around environmental destruction, Climate Change, and disability. More unfortunately, the way the plastic straw ban was debated across social media reduced the question to a false polarity: save the turtles and oceans, or keep disabled people from aspirating their liquids and dying of pneumonia.

The problem with all these debates was that there were deeper topics which were never up for debate. For instance, can laws designed by technocrats to change consumer behavior actually stop environmental destruction? Can capitalist nations fix the problems they’ve caused by replacing one product with another? And what about the vulnerable people who rely on capitalist-created products that destroy the environment?

One can detect in the ban on plastic straws by Seattle (a city in which I lived for 16 years) a smug and fully unmerited sense of humanitarian “progress.” Much of it is hypocrisy: Seattle is longtime home to some of the most environmentally-destructive corporations in the world, such as Boeing and Amazon (which will sell you 100 plastic single-use straws for $5.99, straw ban be damned). Seattle relies heavily on those corporations and their workers for its tax revenue. Also, Seattle’s carbon output, while low compared to many cities of its size, is only so low because of its geographical proximity to hydro-electric power plants, not from efforts to conserve energy.

Like many “progressive” European nations and other cities, Seattle obscures its own contributions to the destruction of the environment while implementing laws and policies which only alter the aesthetics of its damage. This same hypocritical stance can be seen in Seattle’s treatment of homeless people. The Seattle King County metropolitan area has the fourth largest homeless population in the United States (12,500, the same size as South Korea’s homeless population), yet prides itself on its Liberal/progressive policies and is also the first large US city to have elected a Socialist to city council.

Seattle is the perfect example of the self-congratulatory, hypocritical Liberal Democratic (that is, capitalist) order, but it is hardly alone. This same duplicity can be found throughout the Western world. For a case in point, we need only look at Germany, usually touted as a paragon of green policies even under a conservative government. Angela Merkel announced the closure of all nuclear power plants by 2022; but Germany purchases and will continue to purchase and transport nuclear energy from its neighbors, particularly France. In addition, half of its timber production is burned to create electricity.

Almost all of the shifts that Liberal Democratic (capitalist) nations in the world have made towards reducing the destruction of the climate follow a similar pattern. Reductions in one destructive behavior are replaced by increases in another, and each switch is mere aesthetic. This pattern is nothing new: consider how most of the policies of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act in the United States focused entirely on aesthetic changes. Reductions of emissions into the air from factories and coal-fired power plants, as well as from automobiles, never significantly reduced CO2 in the atmosphere; instead, they reduced particulates which were causing asthma, smog, and “acid rain.”

The problem here should be obvious. While no one wants to choke on automobile exhaust and industrial pollutants, and reducing these particulates absolutely decreased cancer rates and helped asthmatics, these policies only made the larger problem invisible. C02, the primary agent of Climate Change, doesn’t leave a stain on the sky or cause immediate health problems. Instead, it increases the temperature of the entire earth by trapping heat, thereby melting glaciers, shifting ocean currents, and initiating wide-scale droughts, floods, crop failures, extinction events, and eventually societal collapse.

See No Evil

With this in mind we can return for a moment to the plastic straw ban. 9 million tons of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans every year; of that pollution 2000 tons are single-use plastic straws: 0.025% of the total (though 4% by volume). Beyond pointing out the unnoticeable change in the oceans even the eradication of all plastic straws in the world would affect, we also need to remember that consumer bans like this are not actually targeting CO2 emissions.

Single-use plastic straws are visible waste. We can point to the images of sea turtles and marine birds choked to death on a piece of plastic and say, “look–we did this.” Larger-scale pollution such as trash dumping or oil spills likewise provide visible signs of the damage our modern way of life causes to the environment. Gulls and seals covered in petroleum or whales and dolphins killed by plastics make us feel bad. Our immediate response is guilt and some anger: we didn’t want to kill those things, and we want whomever did to take responsibility immediately, clean up the mess, and hopefully pay some sort of fine.

This is a deeply Liberal/capitalist sense of guilt, one that feels quite sorry for things and hopes everything can go back to normal once all the apologies are repeated and the perpetrator has learned their lesson. This guilt wants its feelings smoothed over and the ugliness taken away, along with re-assurances that all is forgiven. And most of all, this guilt just wants the crisis to be over so capitalism can continue.

The real crisis, however, is only just beginning. The destruction industrialized capitalist society has caused to the entire biosphere has been mostly invisible for the last two centuries; it has now made itself visible and becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. But unlike an oil spill or a sea-turtle suffocated by a plastic straw, the visible manifestations cannot be traced directly to individual actors, and creates a crisis for the model of Liberal guilt and responsibility.

Who is most responsible for the C02 emissions of automobiles? Is it the manufacturers who made the cars, the millions of people who bought and drove them, the governments which built the roads and defunded public transit, or the petroleum companies who delivered the gasoline to the consumers? Is it the people who profited off of all this most, or the people whose demand and consumption enabled that profit? And even if we decide that it is the corporations and politicians who are most responsible, the billions of people in the world such as myself who have never owned nor driven a car could just as easily say that those who do–even if they needed it because they are disabled–are also guilty and responsible.

The Coming Collapse

Extinction Symbol

The problem remains that guilt doesn’t actually change anything, and these questions–just like the debates around the straw ban–obscure the much more terrifying issues.

When you look at what is needed to slow down or stop Climate Change and the destruction of the environment that sustains human life, you get confronted with an awful reality. That reality? There is literally no significant change that will not also deeply harm vulnerable people or infringe upon some modern freedom we now conceive as vital, inherent, and inalienable.

Consider the automobile question posed above. Ending automobile use and manufacturing of automobiles would drastically reduce the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere, as well as the destruction of land and habitat caused by roads and petroleum extraction. Also, it would re-green a lot of space quickly: think all of those parking lots and highways no longer used. But if you have a car right now you’re probably thinking about how put out you’d be, especially if you live in a rural or suburban area. That goes doubly for someone in that situation who is disabled.

This problem repeats itself in every possible scenario. Jet travel, international shipping, personal energy consumption: vastly curtailing or even ending any of these things would actually make a difference and possibly stop climate collapse, but in each case most humans would lose something they count as a freedom, while a few would also lose their ability to survive.

Unfortunately, this is the future for industrial civilization whether we want it or not. Doing absolutely nothing will still kill the most vulnerable, while a small minority will get to keep all the technological splendor of late-capitalism. The biosphere will wither, civilization will self-destruct, and the rest of the human and non-human populations of the earth will suffer a slow, agonizing genocide.

A scenario already playing itself out in many places helps to explain the really awful crisis we are in. Increased temperatures increase demand for air-conditioning and other CO2-producing cooling technologies. Brownouts (when power-plants cannot provide enough electricity to meet demand) already occur and will increase as the earth warms. Such events will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations (the elderly) who may die during heat waves. So even all our efforts to transition to renewable and less-destructive energy sources will not fix the problem: the extra energy creation will merely go into mitigating these disasters.

There is currently no political or social mechanism to decide how to distribute energy to protect vulnerable people while reducing energy consumption by those who need it less. The best the technocrats in whom we are told to put our faith have come up with are aesthetic changes which feel good but change nothing. More so, even these toothless policy changes rarely ever take effect.

No government has banned personal automobile use, nor petroleum extraction, nor the vast networks of server farms or industrial manufacturing and distribution upon which our modern existence relies. Nor can we ever expect to see governments do this without revolutionary pressure.

So the current state of affairs–in which humanity continues to produce and consume its way to its eventual demise–will continue unabated. People living in wealthy capitalist nations will continue to debate aesthetic changes to their way of life and argue endlessly about who precisely is most to blame. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable beings–human and especially other-than-humans–will continue to suffer more and more from industrial civilization as the glaciers melt, the forests burn, the deserts spread, and the oceans rise.

Until our debates about environmental damage and Climate Change take this reality as their starting point, we will all suffer this collective fate, whether we ever use a straw or not.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is the co-founder and a co-editor of Gods&Radicals. His latest book, Witches in a Crumbling Empire, is now available at our online bookstore in print or digital.


We now have t-shirts! Sales directly support our work. Order by clicking the image below.

Put Reason Back to Sleep

“The future will have a place for neither faith nor reason.”

From Christopher Scott Thompson

Photo by Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash
Photo by Hans Eiskonen

Surrealist Prophecies #1

“It was in the black mirror of anarchism that surrealism first recognised itself.”

– Andre Breton

This poem is the first in a sequence of apocalyptic prophecies inspired by China Mieville’s novel Last Days of New Paris, which led me to investigate the Surrealist Manifesto of Andre Breton and the use of what Breton calls “the magical Surrealist art” as a method of channeling or divination:

Put yourself in as passive, or receptive, a state of mind as you can. Forget about your genius, your talents, and the talents of everyone else. Keep reminding yourself that literature is one of the saddest roads that leads to everything. Write quickly, without any preconceived subject, fast enough so that you will not remember what you’re writing and be tempted to reread what you have written.

The pure “Surrealist game” is unedited automatic writing, but the poems in this sequence use automatic writing only as a starting point – to be followed in each case by many hours of revision and polishing.

The theme of the sequence is the collapse of our global civilization due to uncontrollable climate change, leading to a mass rejection of both faith and reason and the re-enchantment of our world among the ruins of our failed creations. Some of the poems in the sequence are set before the Fall and portray the spiritual and emotional dilemma of our current crisis. Some describe the Fall itself, and the strange changes in thought and perception that will be needed if any are to survive a world in which humanity has been radically de-centered. Some describe the world to come, a world newly alive with gods and spirits yet free of all dogma or fixed belief – a world of beauty and strange magic.

Put Reason Back to Sleep

“The sleep of reason produces monsters.”

– Francisco Goya

Put reason back to sleep.

Let monsters slip

Out of the corners of your eyes

And lick bricks like meat.

Let them lie them down to breathe

Among the ruins of old useless infrastructure

And there breed new beasts.

The future will have a place for neither faith nor reason.

But only a fluttering

As of birds in flight

That we can sight in season.

And we can plant new trees in

The broken bones of what we built

While from the silt of dead dreams

We must pick out what still gleams.

The future will have a place for neither fact nor fiction.

There will be no restriction based on creed,

But all eyes will bleed.

From one drop,

A vast bulk

Will heave its hulking tentacles

Up through the holes

In once-solid floors

And splash black ink on broken doors

To announce its presence,

To stake its claim.

Another drop shall bloom

And become a room

Red with blood flowers

Above the flood.

Where we shall

Hold all-night congresses

With the snarled tresses

Of wet hair.

We will carve knots in candles there.

The future will have a place for neither pope nor king.

There will be no special honor paid to art,

Yet all hearts shall sing.

We will leave offerings at cold crossroads

Where no cars roll.

A strange new song, not a soul.

For the fast unfolding of

Something old.

We will pray quietly in empty stores

Whose floors are strewn with plastic bags,

And weep silently as humbled conquerors

Before shattered windows

To paint new dragons

On flooded streets.

We will hear the gathering of shuffled feet,

The stir of wings.

We will hear the voice

When it sings.

We will praise the flight

Of dead birds

With muttered words

And raise hands in prayer

To sun and air,

To praise the dawn as she gleams.

We’ll never ask what it means.

To ask questions

Of either fact or fiction

Is to place restrictions on

Dreams,

And when dreams walk,

That isn’t safe.

The gods of the future will not be safe.

For there the ocean,

Now fat and bold,

In the mud-choked memory of some high cathedral

Will hold his revels and make his home.

The sun will dance her way

Through the cracked dome

Of this corrupted capitol

Where cruel laws were made

And pierce straight through it

Like a blade.

And there, death,

Clothed in white,

Will hold court in some aborted

Cinema

And serve drinks all night.

And she who has heard

The merest rumor

Of that old tumor,

Faith –

He who has seen the faintest wraith

Of that old traitor, reason –

They themselves shall have done treason.

For these things bring death.

They taught us to believe

And to not believe

Till there were no gods left.

They themselves brought the dust –

The rust that showed itself as

A red taint in tap-water

And shall become our Fall.

Put faith to sleep.

Let Titans climb up out of the black bowl of your heart

And squeeze bricks to dust.

Let them lie them down to breed

Among the ruins of old useless infrastructure

And there spread like rust.

The future will have a place for no faith but wonder.

And an endless shattering

Of cracking glass

And a long crash, like thunder.

But we can plant new trees in

The ruined remnants of what we built.

And from the silt of dead dreams

We can pick out what still gleams.


Christopher Scott Thompson

CSTshortbeardBW

Christopher Scott Thompson is an anarchist, martial arts instructor, devotee of Brighid and Macha, and a wandering exile roaming the earth. Photo by Tam Zech.


Gods&Radicals is a non-profit publisher that relies on reader’s donations for our work. Support us here.

The Factory Floor & The Witch’s Stake

To accept Empire is to deny the dead, the tortured witches of our past and the tortured rebels dying in Empire’s prisons. To not fight Empire is to defy our own bodies, defile the land and destroy the bodies of others. To accept Empire is to become Empire.

From Rhyd Wildermuth

The following essay is adapted from Rhyd Wildermuth’s speech, “Witches In A Crumbling Empire,” to be republished as part of his next collection, Our Time of Springs, Our Time of Flames (August, 2018)


The Empire under which we all suffer, under whom we are all ruled, was born upon the factory floor and upon the witch’s stake.

Industrialised capitalism started in England around 1760. Before then, almost everything humans used was made by humans with human effort, without the input of petroleum. So, in the early 1700’s, any clothing you wore and any food you ate was made or grown completely without fossil fuels.

The first coal-fired factories were built in cities swollen with refugees from the surrounding areas. Those people had just lost all access to land and the means to support themselves because of laws called the Enclosure Acts. No longer could they raise animals and plants from the earth with their own two feet firmly planted on the ground; now, their only option was to stand on wood and stone factory floors for 14 hours a day making things for other people.

Humans are hard to control. Humans don’t like working all day for someone else. They have to eat, and piss, and shit, and rest. Many women bleed every moon, sometimes they get pregnant and have to care for their children.

But Coal doesn’t tire. Coal doesn’t show up to work late after a night of drinking or fucking. Coal doesn’t need a rest, doesn’t get menstrual cramps, doesn’t daydream about how life can be better. Coal also doesn’t demand wages.

So the great ‘revolution’ of industrialisation was the slow replacement of human labor with black carbon labor from the earth. In the Americas, the people called Black were also used to replace waged labor. In both cases, the rich tried to find a low-cost, easily-managed, fully-predictable means to gain wealth.

Slaves revolt, though, and kill their masters. Coal and oil blacken the cities and skies with soot, but burned through filters, the carbon becomes invisible, escapes quietly into the atmosphere, warming the earth at such imperceptible rates that it could be ignored until recently.

What could not be ignored was the tendency of humans to revolt against their masters, be they slaves or peasants, workers or servants. Humans don’t make very good machines, we are unpredictable, tire easily, and anyway would rather be creating art or eating, then doing monotonous work for little pay.

The same era which saw the birth of industrialised capitalism also saw the birth of all modern forms of government and control. The modern city, the nation-state, so-called Democracy, representative government, prisons resembling factories resembling schools which resemble prisons. It also saw the birth of the modern police and the political order under which we now live.

But what is Empire?

By Empire I mean America, but I also do not.

By Empire I mean Capitalism, but I also do not.

By Empire I mean colonization. I mean industrialisation. I mean the slaughter of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans. I mean the carbon in the air and the worker in the factory. I mean all the newly extinct species and all the dying forests. I mean the corporations which own the internet and the corporations who profit from the computers and smartphones you read this on.

By Empire, I mean the foreign wars. I mean an Arab woman cradling the corpse of her decapitated daughter and shaking her fist at the gay Black dude from Los Angeles who only joined the Army to get money to support his mother.

By Empire, I mean the Mexican child screaming as her father is taken away by an ICE agent whose grandparents fled the Nazi advance in Europe.

By Empire, I mean the Black father mourning his son killed by a cop whose ancestors sold themselves into indentured servitude rather than starve to death during the famine in Ireland.

By Empire, I mean the intersectional feminist writing essays about the exploitation of women and children on a computer made through the exploitation of Asian women and African children.

And by Empire I mean the Arab man who massacres gays in a nightclub to retaliate for atrocities none of those people committed.

By Empire, I mean the single white mother driving her disabled kid to a doctor’s appointment over roads lain by migrant workers who are about to get deported.

By Empire I mean the civitas and the polis. I mean civilization and the police, the laws and logic, the political order, the thou shalt nots and the prisons where you go when you refuse to listen.

But more than anything, I mean the Empire in each of you and the Empire in me.

I mean all that was once wild and raw and sacred in us that is now ground into machine-parts and mechanical obedience.

By Empire I mean you, and by Empire I mean me.

And finally, by Empire I mean this thing that is crumbling around us, gasping for air, begging us to keep it alive.

The Empire that is crumbling around us was born on the factory floors and the witch’s stake, and both were assaults on the human body.

Silvia Federici said it, in her essay “In Praise of the Dancing Body:

Capitalism was born from the separation of people from the land and its first task was to make work independent of the seasons and to lengthen the workday beyond the limits of our endurance…. What we have not always seen is what the separation from the land and nature has meant for our body, which has been pauperized and stripped of the powers that pre-capitalist populations attributed to it.

If the first task of Capitalism was to separate us from land and nature, they have more than succeeded. One need only look at the vastly artificial surroundings we all live in, the devices we use to speak with each other, the manufactured foods and synthetic medicines. Can you walk outside your home and find something edible growing by the pavement? Do you know which birds share your neighborhood with you? Can you point to where precisely the sun will rise tomorrow morning without a compass? Without looking outside tonight or at the internet, which phase is the moon in?

But it’s useless to rail against this disconnection. What separates us from the land and nature is not a current assault in an ongoing struggle: the war was won by them long ago. We are an occupied people, often occupying occupied land cleared long before any of us were born.

If that war was lost, though, the other war is still on going. Says Federici again:

Mechanization—the turning of the body, male and female, into a machine—has been one of capitalism’s most relentless pursuits.

Capitalism has needed us to act like machines so we can fit into the system as mere, fully-interchangeable cogs. Many of use don’t fit, though: be it our bodies themselves or our failure to conform, the process of turning us into machines is never fully complete.

Those of us who gum up the gears aren’t welcome in the factory, but Empire has a place for us too.

Empire was born on the factory floor, and it was also born on the witch’s stake. Failure to file down your rough bits, refusal to conform to the will of the political order, and worst of all encouraging others to do the same will land you at best in jail, or riddled with mental-illnesses that were non-existent in pre-capitalist lands, suffocated with a crushed trachea for daring to sell loose cigarettes or bleeding to death in the street for looking non-white when the polis tried to enforce its will.

There are countless technological distractions and institutions which have helped us forget our bodies: the masturbatory fantasies of video games and pornography, the medicalisation of any bodily refusal to be a good worker. Gyms look like factories for a reason, for it’s in the mills and on the mechanical looms where we first lost the meaning of muscle and blood. And then there is clock time, our smartphones and alarm clocks, schools which teach kids to move from class to class to prepare them to move from task to task.

Capitalism needed to separate us from the land and our body because it is the land and the body which tells you this is all wrong. The land screams as species go extinct, forests die, icecaps melt. Your body screams when you treat it as a machine.

Your body tells you this is all wrong. Starting from the body, you know you tire faster when you are doing meaningless work. You know the food on offer to you at the supermarkets is empty, you know that the air you breathe is often toxic. You know sitting for eight hours staring at a screen hurts more than just your eyes, that standing behind a counter slinging coffee to exhausted people makes you a poorly-paid drug dealer.

All that knowledge is what capitalism needs you not to know.

All those feelings are what Empire fears you’ll feel.

Capitalism needed to separate us from the land and our bodies for another reason.

Your body is always in contact with something else, something outside yourself. Your feet, the lowest part of you, the easiest part to ignore until they hurt, they connect to the entire world-soul. Taking your shoes off, standing on the grass or the sand or stone, you become no longer a machine but a body again, part of something always bigger than yourself, with a different logic, a more intuitive time, a deeper truth.

Your feet on the earth, you cannot be disconnected from the earth and the seasons, because you are also the earth and its seasons. Work in summer is not work in winter, the time of your waking and the cycles of your sleeping follow a different rhythm fully separate from the time of money-making, the time of machines.

Capitalism needs you to forget this.

Witchcraft tells you to remember.

If Empire was born on the factory floor and on the witch’s stake, it spread into every last bit of our existence, making subjects out of each one of us. While Capitalism needed to separate us from the land and our bodies, Empire needed us to become passive subjects of the political order.

Passivity is not receptivity. As a gay man I can assure you, more action goes into receptive sex than merely closing your eyes and thinking about the Empire. I suspect most women would concur.

Receptivity opens us to the world of senses, of feelings, of meaning. You are being receptive now, taking my words into you, playing with them, weaving their meaning into the tapestry of you. But passivity makes you a victim, a mere tool in the hands of the powerful. Passivity is consumption, selection between lifestyle options, an identity defined not by what you do but by what you choose. Did you vote Democrat or Republican? Drink Coke or Pepsi? Use an iPhone or Android?

Passivity reduces will to mere consumer preference. No longer will to power but a mere checkbox on a ballot or a selection on a screen. No longer desire and suffering but mere distractions to dull the fatigue of work and the anxiety of alienation.

You cannot force someone to become passive except by long applications of torture. But there is another route, a slower one, by which you can conquer the will of others by telling them not ‘thou shalt not’ but ‘thou cannot.’ Like the God of Eden’s lies to the woman in the garden, we are told we cannot survive without capitalism, cannot be safe without police, cannot find meaning outside of waged work, cannot find love without cosmetics.

And so what we did not lose on the factory floor we lost with the death of witches. Not only the women with herbs and poison roots, not only the crones bearing stories from times before private property, not only the maidens urging worship in temples of wild lust, not only the mothers feeding us from their bodies. Not only them, but also them: the women who reminded us an entire world can be made not from city and machine but forest and dirt.

Not only them, but also the heretics, the mad, the dreamers, the rebels. The men dressed like women tearing down fences along with women drest like men, refusing the enclosure of the sacred commons and the seizure of land for the profit of the few. The indigenous elders gunned down by settlers, the traditional healers dead in the hulls of slave ships. All of them taught what Empire needed us to forget: the earth knows what the computer never will, that the body bleeds a liquid more powerful than petroleum.

With them gone, we started to believe we can-not. We cannot heal ourselves without pharmaceuticals, we cannot feed ourselves without factory farms. We cannot make our own clothes, cannot craft our own homes. We must now suckle at the toxic teat of the Market while it slaps us with an invisible hand.

We started to believe we cannot resist.

But in the screaming defiance of the immolated witches was a reminder: we can refuse to submit, even in death.

It took centuries to shape us into what we are now, passive sniveling subjects of Empire and Capital. Though this may seem long, we lived outside Empire much longer. Capitalism is new and short-lived, compared even to Feudalism. It differs only in its full permeation of all our existence, and it is for this reason I call it Empire.

It is also collapsing.

The climate change caused by Capitalism cannot be stopped any longer, and its effects already cause famines and resource wars throughout the world. Between 30,000 and 140,000 species go extinct every year now; at the beginning of the 1800’s, this number was no more than 1000 yearly. Cities are beginning to flood, water tables depleting, while the oil-wells which makes the entire Empire run are going dry. Climate change will increase the refugee crises currently fueling the nationalist parties in Europe and the US, and whether they are fleeing from resource wars or unmanned drone bombers, they are undoubtedly the first quakes of Empire’s impending collapse.

Empires always pompously declare themselves eternal. The British swore the sun would never set on them, the third reich was supposed to last 1000 years. Western Democratic Capitalist Empire declared itself ‘the end of history’ in the 1990’s, but of course Fukuyama’s prediction sealed its fate.

Empires have always tried to cheat death and this one is no different. But the crone that stands on the other side of death’s door revealed her trump card, and now few can deny what this means.

Some still cling to the vain hope that Donald Trump is merely an unfortunate set-back to the progress of civilization. But reversing civil protections, installing fascist theorists in positions of power, rattling the chains of other world leaders, building a wall to keep the Mexicans out—these are not mere reversals of Empire’s progress, they are Empire trying to save itself.

Consider this wall between the US and Mexico. See past the obvious racism of such a thing and its absurd cost to what’s lurking beneath the political veneer. Consider the impending flood of climate refugees: remember your geography, look at a map displaying where the major destruction will occur first, and suddenly Trump’s idea isn’t mere xenophobic delusion.

The increase in surveillance powers, the militarization of police forces, the dismantling of the courts and the rights they are sworn to protect, the stoking of fascist flames: these are not just the actions of a psychopath, but of an engineer shoring up the ruins of Empire.

The same is happening everywhere else in the world. The capitalists know we are remembering to resist again, and so they are raising again the stakes, piling faggots beneath them, waiting for our next sign of revolt.

To accept what is around us now, to call such things “good” and “necessary,” is to laugh in the faces of the screaming witches who died so this Empire could arise. To chase after like mongrel dogs the trinkets and crumbs the capitalists throw down to us on the floor–the “rights” and “freedoms” and all the glossy junk cluttering store shelves–is to jeer at the sorrow and sufferings of our ancestors hauled to work in chains or prodded into mills by the terror of starvation.

To accept Empire is to deny the dead, the tortured witches of our past and the tortured rebels dying in Empire’s prisons. To not fight Empire is to defy our own bodies, defile the land and destroy the bodies of others. To accept Empire is to become Empire.

To fight Empire is to stare in the face of our own deaths and laugh, knowing the worst that might happen is Empire might burn us, too.

But to the witches who risked the stake to avoid forever the factory floor, the insurrectionists who risked bullets to forever avoid submission, and any who risked the rage of Empire for the possibility that Empire might fall, the choice was an easy one.

So is ours.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals Press and a co-editor of godsandradicals.org.


Please help us pay our writers by donating a few dollars to us. And thanks!

The Land Under Our Feet

Llyn Dinas, below Dinas Emrys (photo by author)

Tribes which hadn’t spoken to each other in decades gathered together on frigid northern plains to face down hired mercenaries, police, infiltrators, and their army of bulldozers.

At the same time on the other side of the planet, mothers raged and fathers wept to Allah as their children were shot dead for throwing stones at other bulldozers and other mercenaries called “soldiers.”

A few hundred years ago, women laid their children in graves dug shallow into peat.  Beneath threadbare cloaks clinging to shoulders laden with what little they could carry, they cursed landlord and king while boarding ships to take them across a cold sea into servitude.

At almost the same time in the land to which those other women traveled, other women clawed into dry hard earth with nails made brittle from famine. There they buried their own dead in their own shallow graves–all those who died on the march from the fecund swamps that were once home along the trail of tears.

As you read this, undocumented refugees and artists hide behind barricades in a forest, shouting and jeering at and sometimes fleeing police armed with grenades and truncheons. The police advance and with sledgehammers smash homes where children were born and lovers held each other in desire; then they retreat to their own homes in time for dinner before sleep to begin the destruction the next day.

In high mountains a village mourns a shaman whose songs led them and many others into the arms of the goddess of a sacred plant. Her body riddled with bullets, like so many others murdered for the sole crime of being in the way of those who wanted the land upon which she lived for something more profitable.

The brutal repression of the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, the violent oppression of Palestinians, the Irish famine, the forced marches of indigenous people and the murder of their leaders, and the French government’s violent eviction of the Z.A.D. from Notre Dame des Landes: these are the stories of capitalism, the blood and sorrows of millions soaking into the land under our feet.

Today’s Mayday. It’s Beltane.

It’s a day of celebration. It’s a day of revolt.

For anarchists and communists, it’s a sacred day, marches and riots to remember martyred workers. For Pagans and witches, it’s a sacred day, when forest and sun dance like sex and the life it breeds and the meaning it gives.

One chants of resistance, the other sings of joy, and under both is the land under our feet.

Capitalism began only a few hundred years ago with the forced expulsion of peasant from land in Europe and the forced expulsion of colonized from their land across the waters. Evictions, massacres, enslavement, settlement and re-settlement: without these things there could have been no Capital, no factories and what they produce. Marx called these acts “primitive accumulation,” theft of wealth and labor and most of all land by force and law.

But this is not just our history, this is our now.

The money funding the bank which forecloses on a poor Black family’s home is the labor stolen from Africans enslaved and land stolen from commons enclosed.

The investment capital that gentrifies a white neighborhood is the alchemical product of cheap labor and the forests in which First Nations hunters stalked Elk and Bear.

The bulldozers used to demolish the homes of Palestinians are the bulldozers that tear down homeless and refugee camps, that move the rubble of bombed homes and move the dirt into mass graves.

The guns used to shoot the child throwing rocks are the guns pointed at the Black kid just trying to walk home from the store, the guns which kill American kids in their classroom are the same guns used to subdue Mexican teachers demanding better pay, guns hoarded and wielded by police and soldiers everywhere to prevent us from taking back our collective birthright: the land under our feet.

Under all of this is land. Humans live only because of land, we eat and drink and breathe because of land. Without land our gods are naked and cannot speak, our children are hungry and cannot live, our ancestors forgotten and cannot be heard.

Paganism is about that land. Anti-capitalism is about that land.

Colonialism, Capitalism, Empire: these are the names of the story of how humans are ripped from land, severed from the gods and each other and themselves.

Now in the crush of cities we rush from rented space to work, from work back to rented space. Now in towering tenements we open foil packets into boiling water as children cry, sirens wail and televisions declare the future is now and capital always.

Now the forests die.

Now species older than humanity breathe their last.

Now the oceans rise and storms rage.

Now backlit screens become our society, likes and retweets our comfort, all because we have forgotten we are also the land under our feet.

Today is Beltane. Today is Mayday. People are dancing. People are being shot. People are shouting in rage. People are fucking each other, people are sighing at another day of wretched work.

Gods&Radicals exists because they are connected by the same thing. We write because we remember the land, remember each other, remember ourselves. We remember our gods stolen from us by sword and cross and dollar, springs and forests taken from us by fence and judge and profit, ancestors and offspring asking us when the cruelty of Empire will finally end.

We are witches, heretics, dreamers and bards. We are guerrillas, organizers, rioters, saboteurs.

We long for the liberation of others and for the liberation of ourselves, the coming time when around burning barricades or crackling hearths we can be ourselves again. No longer laborers for others, no longer criminals under the tyranny of law. No longer illegal and refugee, no longer colonized and conquered.

No longer anything but the land under our feet, and those who live upon it.

Happy Beltane. Happy Mayday.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is one of the founders of Gods&Radicals. He lives everywhere, but mostly in Rennes, Bretagne. Follow his newsletter here.


Support us by either buying our print and digital works (everything’s 20% off for the month of May with code RIOT) or by donating here, or both!

How To Stop A Flood

(In memory of Seb Barnett)

It was a long day at work, a long week. You were so tired this morning you left your phone at home, too, so there was nothing to help distract you from how much you hate your job.

But it’s Friday, and you’re done for the week. You can breathe a little, maybe even go have a drink with friends.

You arrive home. You climb the steps to your apartment building. Some days, those two flights to your apartment seem daunting. Today’s one of those days.

You hear the old couple on the first floor fighting about something through their door. They’re always fighting, sometimes so much you have to crank your music up really loud to drown them out. It’s gonna be one of those days, too.

When you get to your apartment though, you see the door’s been left partially open.  “Dammit,” you mutter. You’ve asked your roommates repeatedly to not do thatit makes you feel unsafe. They should respect that. You don’t want to yell at them, but... fuck.

When you push the door open you see the flood. Water’s everywhere, literally pouring in streams from the ceiling over everything.

You moan as you look at your bedroom: Your mattress is soaked, your computer is sitting in a lake on your desk, all your favorite books on their shelves are bloated with wet pages. And then you rememberyou left your phone plugged in by your bed, and there it is, sitting in a puddle of water.

You grab it, pick it up, and water spills out from its case.

Now you’re shouting profanities.  You survey the rest of the damage and start crying. You can’t help yourselfit’s all so much. You run to the living room to look at the painting your friend did for you last year. It’s warped, destroyed. You cry again… they committed suicide a few months ago, that was the last thing you had from them.

You search the rest of the apartment quicklythe same damage in the other rooms, your roommates’ bedrooms just as flooded.

It’s all so much, too much.

You want to sit down, hold your head in your hands and weep. But there’s nowhere dry to sityour couch is sopping wet and water is still pouring from the ceiling above it.

Coming to your senses, staring at the ceiling, you realise the water’s probably still running upstairs. You bolt out your door, tear up the stairwell with rage and pound on your upstairs’ neighbour’s door.

He opens it as you stand there, water flowing over your feet.

“Your apartment’s flooding” you shout at him.

He nods, then hands you a wet dishtowel.  “Yeah. Want to help us mop it up?”

One of your roommates is already inside with him. She looks at you, exasperated, holding a sponge and a bucket. “It’s so awful!” she says, her voice shaking, tears streaming from her eyes. “Everything’s ruined.”

You look at the sponge in her hand, and the thin dishtowel in his hand and shake your head. “Don’t you have a mop?” you ask, exasperated.

He shakes his head. “Couldn’t be bothered. Those are expensive.”

You resist the urge to punch him for being so dense, and then run back downstairs to your own apartment. You try not to look at all the damage, try to resist the urge to scream again. You grab your mop, a bucket, and a few already-soaked towels from the bathroom, and just as you are about to go back upstairs, your other roommate arrives home.

“It’s coming from upstairs,” you tell her. You hand her a towel, and start to walk past her before she stops you.

“We need to clean this first,” she says.

“What? Nowe have to stop the water from coming in.”

“This is more urgent,” she says. “My girlfriend’s coming over tonight. We can clean this first and then stop the water coming in later.”

“Are you serious?” you say, and then see her face. She’s in shock, just as you were. She’s not thinking clearly. And she’s already gone into her bedroom and is trying to sop up water with the wet towels.

You try again. “We need to stop the water coming in first.”

She acts like she didn’t hear you. You say it one more time.

“We can’t just ignore all this water,” she finally says. “And I’m not helping that guy upstairshe’s an asshole” and then shuts her door, leaving you in the hallway with the mop bucket.

She’s right. The guy’s awful. But you shake your head and run back upstairs anyway. The door’s open, and you enter to find both your roommate and your neighbor arguing and not cleaning up the water. She’s decided now is the time to talk about how loud he is when he has sex; he counters that she’s too sensitive and then starts complaining about the noise from her birthday party last month.

For a moment, you want to knock both of their heads together until you noticethere’s water pouring from the ceiling in this apartment, too.

“Shut up, you two” you shout. “The water’s coming from upstairs!”

“Stop changing the subject,” your neighbor says. “Your parties really get out of hand. I’m not racist, but I think it’s because of your loud Asian friend.”

You don’t even bother trying to calm your roommate’s reaction. In fact, you kinda hope she kicks him in the balls. But still

“Look,” you say. “You’re a shithead. But we have to stop the water upstairs.”

“Whatyou’re on his side now?” your roommate says, throwing her sponge at you.

“Fuck!” you scream at them both, and run out.

You climb the stairs more slowly this timethe adrenaline has left your system, you feel exhausted. And you really don’t want to deal with this anymore.

You knock on the door anyway.

No one answers, so you knock again. You can hear running water, but no other sounds, no sloshing footsteps across carpet, nothing.

“There’s… there’s a flood,” you stutter, knocking again.

The door finally opens, and the rich dude who lives there looks at you. You look at him and see he’s dry, and there’s no water on his floors.

“Our apartments are flooding” you tell him.

He nods, gives you a condescending look. “That’s what you’re all shouting about, huh?”

“It’s coming from your apartment.”

He shrugs his shoulders. “Oh, yeah. A pipe burst in my bathroom last night. But it’s only flooding into the wall, so it’s no big deal.” He actually smiles at you when he says this.

“You have to turn off the water” you shout. “You’re flooding the entire building.”

“No I don’t. But I’ll sell you my mop if you need it.”

“What?” You scream, starting to push past him.

He pushed you back, hard. “You poor people think you can just get stuff for free.”

“I said turn off the water now, or I’ll make you.”

He looks behind you and smiles. You can hear what he hears echoing up from the other apartmentsthe sounds of your roommate and neighbor fighting. Beyond them you hear your other roommate crying, wringing out a wet towel, and you can even hear the old people on the first floor shouting.

“You and what army?” he laughs, pushing you out the door, slamming it in your face.

The world is flooding.

Literally: Oceans are rising, land is disappearing, islands, villages, towns and cities are drowning. Climate change caused by human economic activity is killing people, causing wars, and slaughtering species. Governments and the rich have begun investing in special security measures for the coming chaos capitalism has caused, while international climate change agreements still pretend minor changes to the way we distribute resources and pollute the earth will fix things.

We humansthe only ones who can actually stop what’s happeningare staring at a nightmare scenario. Everything is going to shit: food shortages, resource wars, increasing poverty, heat waves, super storms. Cities choked with toxic fumes, massive deforestation, spreading deserts.

But we humans can’t stop it until the tap is turned off, and no one can do that alone.

Just as in the flooded apartment, stopping the source of water won’t replace the ruined books or furniture or anything else it destroyedending capitalism alone won’t fix the world. Turning off that tapstopping capitalism’s relentless destructionisn’t going to undo any of that damage, just as overthrowing capitalism won’t magically stop racism, sexism, colonialism, or any other oppression under which we suffer.

Every single one of those things is a problem. Every single oppression, every single injustice, every single crisisthese things certainly matter. But none of these things can be resolved until the arrogant assholes above us, the rich, the politicians, all those who make sure the destruction continues, are dealt with first.

Sometimes when we talk about fighting capitalism, people ask how we intend to stop racism and misogyny, transphobia and oppression of the disabled. Sometimes they even suggest those things are more important because they are more urgent. Sometimes people insist that any revolutionary movement must do all of those things at once, or it isn’t revolutionary.

We can do all of those things. We should do all of those things. We must do all of those things.

But only one of those things has the power to affect every single person, destroy every life and make every person suffer. White and Black, First Nation and Asian, European and African, male and female, trans and cis, abled and disabledeach suffers under this thing.

It also affects the rest of the living world, the non-human beings upon which we rely for our very ability to survive. Mass extinction events, poisoned streams and lakes and oceans, soil that can no longer sustain life let alone food production, all the damage done by this one thing.

That thing is Capitalism.

By Capitalism though I don’t mean a nebulous, undefined system. I mean the Capitalists, the living humans with names and addresses who make sure this damage happens because that’s how they make their money. I mean the corporations who rip apart the earth to get at coal and petroleum to sell back to us, who tear down forests and poison rivers because it makes them money. And I mean the politicians who make sure no one challenges them, and the police and military paid to shoot anyone who wants this to stop.

That’s not a lot of people, actually. But they have all the wealth and all the guns and all the media at their disposal. We only have us, our bodies, our creativity, our desire. And there are billions of us.

We are myriad, and they are few. But we forget this, forget the power we have. We forget this when we believe what they tell us, when we accept their narrative, when we let them terrify us.

We also forget this when we decide they are not the primary problem. We forget this when we decide people in the middle of the chain between us and them are actually the problem instead. We forget this when we insist fighting one group in the same situation is more important because they don’t have it as bad as we do. We forget this when we decide the imperfect people around us are too imperfect to fight alongside.

Revolution will not save the world. The overthrow of capitalism won’t solve every problem in front of us. There will still be idiots and oppressive jerks, there will still be violence against women and disabled people, there will still be racists and transphobes.

But what there won’t be is Capitalism.

There won’t be a system that lets some people have everything and forces the rest of us to fight amongst ourselves for what’s left. There won’t be a system making sure the earth is destroyed so a small handful of people can live like kings and queens.

We can have this, but never will if we insist that other problems are more important.  We can have this, but never will if we wait for perfect allies who never oppress anyone. And we can have this, but never will if we don’t do something soon.

The world is flooding, and we know why.

Let’s stop it.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.


Support our work at this link. And thanks!

 

Global Warming: The Secular Paganism Everyone can “Enjoy”

 “There’s a real dark side of the kind of paganism — the secular elites’ religion now — being evidently global warming.” 

K. H. White, Trump’s nominee for White House Council on Environmental Policy

An essay from Patacelsus

The Invisible Hand smites when unopposed. Patæconomically, this couldn’t be a more true statement. And the Statement made by the current nomination to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality is also true; to wit: “There’s a real dark side of the kind of paganism — the secular elites’ religion now — being evidently global warming.

K.H. White, you tipped your hand. Had anyone noticed, your masters would have been a little more than annoyed with you.

I’ve outlined a little previously on the religion of the corporate person. But this recent blip on the general psychic scream that is Trump (best advertising gimmick ever, just psi-scream constantly so that no matter what you always have their attention; best corporate mascot ever…) has landed us the opportunity to go in a little deeper into the religion of the corporate person.

In later articles, we will also have to delve deeper into the study of the excreta of the corporate person, and why the Black Sun symbol truly is the most true totem that they could have stolen. Needless to say,  pre-sapient vampire gestalt consciousnesses have very strange dreams, which are also their shits, which are also spirits.

It’s a very strange world in 2017, now more than ever we humans should stick together. This isn’t human chauvinism, just a basic recognition that we are no longer the apex predator of the planet. The corporations have made it clear what their message is, “We’re the top of the fucking food chain!” Of course, we’re going to find servants among us, who serve the corporations but haven’t ceded their mind and spirit, like Trump has, quite yet. Kind of like the human vampire servants in the movie Blade, which I reference for no other reason but that I always really liked that weird movie.

But before we get into that, we should stop and reflect on what we already know. We know that the Invisible Hand is the God of the Free Market. It is worshiped by the corporations who have achieved an primitive type of Gestalt Consciousness. Being very much the creation of and being supported by human beings, and therefore, very much like any animal, it asks itself four basic questions when it encounters you:

  • Can I fuck it?
  • Can it fuck me?
  • Can I eat it?
  • Will it eat me?

You have a serious problem if a gestalt decides it can eat you. We call that the State. You have a different serious problem if it decides it can fuck you. We call that Capitalism. You yourself, reader, ask and answer these questions to yourself every time you meet someone, with emphasis put on the questions most pertinent to your situation. It’s ok! You’re human, it’s ok to be human!

You don’t ask these questions consciously anyway. Moral agency does come in when you decide what to do with the answer, hint hint. The only people who don’t think it is ok to be human are non-human people. And the God of the true Capitalists, the corporations, who is a jealous God, is the Invisible Hand; the ultimate eater/fucker.

The Invisible Hand has been fucking and eating for a long time, make no mistake. It’s big first score was in France, September of 1774. Turgot deregulated the grain market by abolishing police regulations. Yes! Food security was of vital state importance back in the day and age of Kings. If people aren’t getting fed, they start killing the people that failed them, screaming, “Mother fucker are you out of your damn mind?”

War of all against all? Monarchs and States should be so lucky.

The Police were in charge of ensuring purity and price conformity. It was left to the Police to ensure the food supply. For them to suddenly stop doing that was disaster. The Flour War went down in ’75, completely disproving Adam Smith’s theories a year before he published The Wealth of Nations.

The Free Market was loosed upon the world, and there was now no stopping it. The big score was also a birth cry.

Like any spirit human enough to make pacts with, corporations can be restrained by words on paper. The archists call these words “contracts” and “laws”, and in addition to serving loyally the ancient monster that summons them and binds them to these pacts, the archists also believe that being so bound protects them from the bad stuff.

They fail to realize that being a bound servant is the bad stuff.

This is the environment that corporations live in, desperately fighting against human beings and their ancient master, the state, to create the promised land, the free market. A perfect free market in which they can simply own the software/hardware that they exist in. Neo-feudalism is what some are calling it now, and not fondly.

However they are, like the State, just spirits, and spirits can be dealt with. And monarchs are mere mortals, flesh and blood just as we, they too can be dealt with. They all make mistakes like everyone else. K. H. White made a mistake. In 2016 she said out loud on radio that, “There’s a real dark side of the kind of paganism — the secular elites’ religion now — being evidently global warming.”

That’s the quote on the CNN story:

Now you might think that this is amazing peace of performance art/bullshit is paid for and promoted by Christians, like with the evolution in schools deal. It isn’t. K. H. White’s employer is the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative themed paid mouthpiece for business interests. And for professional bullshit artists, they have a pretty solid 7 figure revenue. Some of their biggest donors are oil interests like ExxonMobil and Chevron.

The basic bullshit they seem to be using as a script is “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” written by Alex Epstein, which equates fossil fuels with all the basic advances we equate with the 20th century. The argument seems to be that fossil fuels are the only energy source that can provide the things of the modern world needs to be “modern,” and that it is therefore immoral to “revert” back to anything else; in this case wind and solar being considered a technological step back. Yes, converting the products of a fusion explosion so huge it has its own gravity into usable energy, like the cavemen did. Sorry, cavepersons.

One could be forgiven for making this mistake though, this bullshit’s reasoning is similar to the type of reasoning at the center of the Wedge doctrine, in that the creators of the Wedge doctrine thought that the only two options were evolution or biblical creationism; that once they convinced people that evolution was mistaken, they’d have no choice but to choose creationism, thereby placing Christianity back in the center of life and Jesus back into our schools. Completely ignorant of the fact that there were many theories of how animals got to be the way they are. Meaning even if they could convince everyone evolution is a crock of shit, it does not necessarily follow that everyone will just roll over for Christianity.

In the same vein, Epstein’s argument seems to hinge on the non-Fact that fossil fuels are the only sources of products and energy that human beings need to be basically healthy and happy, and yes, materially wealthy. Because that’s the real worry of these folks, making sure their masters are profitable. But shh shh, don’t say that too loud.

You wouldn’t want the Pagans to hear.

If you listen to the sound cloud file, you don’t ever hear K. H. White or the person she is talking to mention Christ, Christianity, Jah, the Holy Spirit, Saints, or any of that mess. Instead, their praise is reserved for the engineering feats, real and imagined, of the oil industry. It is in this context that she equates global warming and Paganism. Also, she seems to think all pagans all like and get along with each other. Here we are, one big happy fucking family! At the end of the clip, the real Satan comes out for them to flap their hands and ‘fraidy-pee about, Communism!

But of course they disappointingly only mean Marxism, because nuance is a hard thing to express when your being paid to shill bullshit. It’s true: crosses don’t do squat.

White’s true masters are the corporations, which means her true master is the Invisible Hand. She doesn’t seem to be ridden, as is the case with Trump. She truly seems to be a willing collaborator. Selling out her own species. Small wonder Trump brought her in to be the chair of the CEQ. We can’t have these people whose backs we live off of telling us things like, “We need clean air to breath,” or, “we don’t want to die of UV exposure”, or maybe, “Please don’t make the world an unlivable desert.”

“We certainly can’t have that,” think the corporations and their god, evidently. But that isn’t the actual news here, Trump, the ever busy mascot for The Trump Organization that he is, has been plenty busy on the behalf of the fossil fuel clique of vampire spirits. No, the real news is that K. H. White tipped their hand a little bit too much the September before last. But, she got lucky, and nobody was the wiser, or if they did look twice, they just assumed it was another Christian thing.

Except they never mention Christ or Jah.

So to really get at what the fuck they mean by “Paganism”, we have to interrogate the word itself. Or more properly, the word Pagan. Paganus is what the Romans used to call the country rustics. You find country rustics in the ager, outside the Pomerium, which circumscribes what is officially Rome. Of course this isn’t what they mean, but the basic concepts operating here are descended from this ancient meaning.

To be clear, the “free market” is the Pomerium, the promised land, that the vampire lords are building for themselves, based on that first taste they got back in ’74. Everything else is ager. You may often encounter so called “libertarians” complain about the market not being free. There is very little left of any market that is in fact not free. But it is only free for those permitted to the Pomerium.

The market is within the walls, and you aren’t invited, you country hick, good luck in the ager, Pagan!

The secular elites they mention are people like Tom Steyer. I don’t know how secular he is or isn’t, but his wiki page says he was married to his wife by a Presbyterian minister and a rabbi, I must assume a Jewish one, the wiki didn’t go that far into it.

Seems a bit much for someone who is thorough going “secular,” Usually when “secular” gets used, it’s code for godless atheist commie scum, but again, a billionaire hedge fund manager doesn’t seem to quite fit. About the only thing that people like Tom Steyer have in common with the phrase “secular elites” is that they are indeed part of that ruling monetary caste, the rich “elites” of America. But so does K. H. White, and so is Trump, and Elon Musk, and so are all the vampire spirits consuming our time, the corporations. So the phrase “elite” is a bait and switch, the real importance is the equation of global warming and Paganism.

“Secular Paganism.” Unless you are the Invisible Hand, a corporation, or one of the elite monetary class, a.k.a., the rich, a. k. a., the house slaves, you are officially a (Secular) Pagan now, congratulations!

What? You don’t want to be a Pagan, says the inexplicable non-Pagan reading this? Too bad! The hurricanes and famines and pestilences are going to kill you whether you think global warming is real or not. Because we passed the period of being able to do something useful decades ago. So buck up, inexplicable non-Pagan reading this, you’re a Pagan now, but this revelation, at this late hour, hardly matters.

We’re way passed the point of avoiding the worst. You may wake up one day and find yourself extinct. Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill? You know I’ve been doing a Blade reference extravaganza over here this whole time and if you haven’t gotten that by now then I am super annoyed with you; that movie is awesome.

Ok, so you don’t want me to end on a low note, sorry. Fine then, so we caught the Invisible Hand red handed. So what? You want me to tell you what to do about it?

You don’t need me to tell you, you already know what to do. Go do it. You only need to remember one thing, crosses and holy water don’t do dick so forget what you’ve seen in the movies.


Patacelsus

mal1A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.


Hey! We’ve started our fundraiser for next year. Can you help us pay our writers and hire a new assistant site editor? Here’s the link. Thanks!

The Wyrd of the Weorld is to be Mere-Deap: The Return to Mythic Time

There is a feeling of strangeness that has come over the world. We have a sense, scarcely articulated, that something is coming. And that the world we have become familiar over hundreds of years of capitalism and industrialism, has suddenly become surreal and bizarre. We suddenly become aware of the shadow that walks alongside us.

From Ramon Elani

“Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us, and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of St. John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison.”—Heinrich Heine

“The dream is a hidden door to the innermost recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night…All consciousness separates, but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of the eternal night. There he is still whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood.”—C.G. Jung

The human world drifts closer to the abyss. We may still linger in the shallows. The water maybe only knee-high. Gentle fish play about our ankles and tickle our toes. But a deep blue void beyond our comprehension awaits. Are we seeing the future or the past? Cities swallowed by rains. Water rising. Skyscrapers shrouded with seaweed. Highways and shopping centers encased by mountains of sediment and algae.

Modern, capitalist, industrial consciousness is unprepared to make sense of what it sees. And what it now knows is coming. The myth of the future has long since eroded and collapsed, sending up a cloud of dust to block out the sun. Progress. Technology. Human perfection. Four hundred years of dreams. Dreams of shimmering tomorrows extending like a neon caterpillar into the heart of eternity. All blown away in a hurricane from paradise.

I.

In 1962 J.G. Ballard wrote The Drowned World, his first novel. In this maddeningly prophetic vision, Ballard imagines the world of the 21st century, devastated by climate change. As the concept of manmade global warming was still essentially unthought of at the time, the cause of Ballard’s apocalypse is a series of powerful solar flares that weaken the atmosphere and initiate a process of irrevocable heating. Confined to the polar regions, civilization is only barely able to survive and humanity knows that will not last much longer. A strange mix of scientists, mystics, and eccentric adventurers travel south to the remains of Europe, which has reverted to a prehistoric swamp, inhabited by the massive reptiles that are gradually reclaiming the ruined earth. The human population has dropped to no more than five million and babies are no longer being born, a result, perhaps, of the massive amounts of solar radiation that pours unfiltered into the earth’s atmosphere. There is no human future and the planet rushes unstoppably back toward its own primordial dawn.

We too now stand at the threshold of a primeval, mythic age. The sorts of cataclysms that are foretold by every culture’s oldest stories are now commonplace and we know that greater ones are not far off. It is time to acknowledge the nature, the character of our present moment. What form of temporal consciousness can account for the increasingly likely possibility of human annihilation? For those who inhabit Ballard’s Drowned World, the only response to an undeniable geological reality is a descent into the ominous lagoons of the prehistoric, prehuman psyche that persists residually in the shadowy subconscious. As the conditions of Ballard’s world becomes more similar to that of the Triassic age, so too does the psychological and spiritual condition of his characters revert to prehistoric forms. The world dissipates into an archaic dreamscape.

“Everywhere in nature one sees evidence of innate releasing mechanisms literally millions of years old, which have lain dormant through thousands of generations but retained their power undiminished… We all carry within us a submerged memory of the time when the giant spiders were lethal, and when the reptiles were the planet’s dominant life form.”

What other mysterious shapes lie beneath the dark waters of conscious thought? As Houston, Mumbai, and Miami are drowning, we must ask ourselves: how do we face this world of catastrophe? The oceanic mother is drawing us back to herself. We are being pulled back to the water. Back to the womb.

“If we let these buried phantoms master us as they re-appear we’ll be swept back helplessly in the flood-tide like pieces of flotsam.”

There are powers awakening in the world that we have long forgotten and if we do not heed them, we will vanish from the face of the earth. Techno-industrial society has taught us to deny those powers. To deny that they ever existed. Climate change has shattered that vicious lie. Who can watch the waters rising, the deserts spreading, the sun burning through the sky without feeling terror grip the heart. Climate change has reminded us how small we are and how weak we stand before the might of the gods. We stand now with two choices before us: collective suicide or the descent into what we have forgotten. The descent into the deep, into the world that we foolishly believe dwells only in our dreams. No, it is a world that pulses in our blood. Memory. The terror we feel when we see the storms approaching reminds us of the mythic age we once inhabited.

II.

Amitav Ghosh begins his new book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by reflecting on the history of his people in what is now Bangladesh. Ancestral memories of flooding rivers, displacement, wandering, refugees. Ghosh writes “I remember the elemental force that untethered my ancestors from their homeland… When I look into my past the river seems to meet my eyes, staring back, as if to ask, Do you recognize me, wherever you are?” The folly of bourgeois, capitalist, industrial society is to deny agency to the non-human world. What is non-human is only relevant apropos its use to humans. Thus climate change presents a paradox so inconceivable to the techno-industrial mind that it has become utterly paralyzed. Nobody knows how to respond. What does it mean that the earth has risen up against us? This earth that we have, over the last 300 years, become accustomed to seeing as nothing more than a resource to be exploited or a backdrop for our human dramas. We have forgotten the gods but that does not mean they cease to exist.

The techno-industrial world is not capable of understanding what it has unleashed. Thus it will drift away in the flood of history. We are only confused in our response because we have accepted the terms of our education in modernity. We are only confused because we have been taught to see humanity as the center of the universe. We have been taught that humanity is exceptional. That the rules don’t apply to us. That we are irreducibly other than the world. That we are above the world and its powers. In short, the legacy of the enlightenment has taught us to believe that we can become gods. Climate change has shattered this delusion. Humanity will utterly perish if it does not abandon this foolishness. And if we readjust our eyes to see without the distortion of the past 300 years, we will see that everything is clear. As Ghosh writes, “comprehension need play no part in a moment of recognition. The most important element of the word recognition thus lies in its first syllable, which harks back to something prior, an already existing awareness that makes possible the passage from ignorance to knowledge.” In other words, comprehension is a tool of the capitalist, the engineer, the scientist, the modern. Comprehension is an idea engendered by a conception of the world that is measurable, knowable, finite and a conception of humanity that is limitless. Comprehension is an idea of control, of domination. To comprehend is to name, to bind. It is an idea that will strangle and suck the life out of the world and ourselves.

Recognition is the language of the seer, the wild deer in the misty glen, the bloody raven on the alder tree, the bear dreaming in a mossy cave. Recognition has always been with us. It is the way of our first ancestors and our last descendants. To know what you always knew. To be accepted and to accept. I will not seek to control you. I merely see you and I know what you are. There is an ease and a quietness to recognition, though it can bring earthquakes and break the sky. Ghosh reminds us, “[recognition] cannot disclose itself except in the presence of its lost other…it arises from a renewed reckoning with a potentiality that lies within oneself.” Recognition is a return. It is to find what has been lost, and to understand that it has been within us the whole time. We stand upon the barren mountaintop, upon the cliffs before the pounding waves, amid the lifeless suffocating sands. We see the ruin and devastation coming toward us. The coming storms are inescapable. They cannot be reasoned with. We cannot throw money at them. We cannot bomb them into oblivion. We cannot think our way out of this. We have reached the edge of what techno-industrial, capitalist society can accomplish. There is nothing left for us now than to sit with our horror; to dive into the depths, to welcome the rushing dark waters, and to seek what we have forgotten beneath the waves.

Thus climate change brings us back to ourselves and the world. It reminds us what we have known throughout our time on this earth: that we are surrounded by forces and powers and energies that are utterly beyond us, that we can never hope to dominate them, that every moment of our lives are conditioned and made possible by them, that we are nothing more than fruit flies to them, that we can never understand their workings or the extent of their might. We know in some vague way that we function through them. We know that there is a relationship between us. There are terms and agreements. There are consequences for promises and covenants broken.

It is not so long ago that all humanity held covenant with the spirits of the earth. Floods, famines, draughts, storms were seen as the actions of the gods. There was a cultural and psychological context for such events. When the gods were angry they punished humanity. The end of the world was a story all people told. And that story was always followed by rebirth. In other words, these stories helped humanity understand its place in the cosmos. Small, helpless, fragile. As subject to the greater powers as the smallest creature that runs and scurries. But also connected to the cycle of destruction and rebirth. To be subject to the terrifying forces of the universe is also to be bound to all of creation. What agonies do we suffer now from our insistence of separation from the world? How easy it has been for us to delude ourselves thus. For hundreds of years and increasingly, humanity has built its world to be apart from the greater world. To encase ourselves in steel, to escape into a virtual world, to preserve ourselves in the tower. All to be immune from the violence and terror of the gods. We sadly believe this to be our goal. But the flood that comes upon us now will bare us naked. A new time is coming. As Ghosh puts it: “we have entered a time when the wild has become the norm.” It is implied of course, that for almost all of our history, the wild was the norm. It was never not the norm. We just pretended for a bit.

III.

Thus, let us bravely declare our return to the age of myths! To the timeless! To the dreaming! We know the monsters that lurk in the heart of the storms. We fought them before. We knew them to be greater than ourselves and when they came, we lost many souls. Yet we stand before them proudly, defiantly, because we know that we are part of this world just as they are. We are made of the same stuff and we return to the same source. We have the same mother. “Every man and every woman is a star.”

Modernity has strangled itself. When time became conscious of itself, the gods and their powers fled from the time-demon that we conjured. Jung: “As you know, in olden times the ancestral souls lived in pots in the kitchen. Lares and penates are important psychological personages who should not be frightened away by too much modernity.” We have driven the world away from us. This demon helped us reimagine the world as tame, safe, abundant, slow, and weak. Things may change, the modern voices mutter, but they change slowly. Never fear, never fear. These are the voices of ghastly withered things. They do not see how their bodies have crumbled beneath the tedium and banality of bourgeois consciousness. And with their bodies, the body of the earth. Modernity has tried to tell us, for three hundred years, that nature could be controlled, that humanity could be perfected, that the myths of Ragnarok and revelations were mere fables, not to be believed. All swept away by the storm.

For thousands of years we have known that tigers are demons, to be feared and appeased. Villages must be built far away from the realms of the tigers and their forests and mangroves are not to be disturbed. We have known that trees have spirits. We have known that the ocean is dark and that its wrath is terrifying. Thus villages and houses would never have been built by the beach. As Ghosh points out, now it is considered a great mark of wealth and status to have a beachfront property. The gods care nothing for our wealth and status and these houses will be swept away to be driftwood and seaglass. The catastrophes that are coming and are here, for all the anguish they cause and loss of life, bring us back. Bring us to remembrance. Bring us to recognition.

There is a feeling of strangeness that has come over the world. We have a sense, scarcely articulated, that something is coming. And that the world we have become familiar over hundreds of years of capitalism and industrialism, has suddenly become surreal and bizarre. We suddenly become aware of the shadow that walks alongside us. Ghosh aptly brings to mind the concept of the uncanny. Climate change is nothing if not uncanny. We cannot think it. It is beyond us. But what is the nature of this quality? Climate change is uncanny because “we recognize something we had turned away from: that is to say, the presence and proximity of nonhuman interlocutors.” Mythic time animates a world filled with voices. Stones, trees, clouds, ferns have always sought to speak with us. We have long since ceased to listen or respond. As the hurricanes come down upon us now, all that is left is to beg them to spare us from their wrath.

Ghosh suggests that climate change forces us to remember that “humans were never alone, that we have always been surrounded by beings of all sorts who share elements of that which we had thought to be the most distinctively our own: the capacities of will, thought, and consciousness.” There was a time when this idea would not have seemed strange. Indeed, there was a time when this idea would have been universally accepted by every man, woman, and child on earth. Modernity posits a lonely world, emptied of life and vitality. Humanity sits alone in the tower. But now the tower is crumbling.

In the mythic time it was understood that as the wild world around was throbbing with consciousness, that consciousness could also interpenetrate our own. There was communication between humanity, animals, plants, stones, and trees: “there are entities in the world, like forests, that are fully capable of inserting themselves into our processes of thought.” In other words, the horizon of human thought is defined by the forces and spirits of the earth. Perhaps humanity is nothing more than a thought or a dream of the earth. Climate change has made it clear to us that the nonhuman world is influenced by human action, despite the fact that its power is unimaginably more vast and profound. The mythic consciousness understands this relationship intimately. Offerings and sacrifices were made to honor and acknowledge this relationship. Demons, monsters, and catastrophes are sent by the gods to punish or teach us. It is a response to our actions. The horrors of climate change “are the mysterious work of our own hands returning to haunt us in unthinkable shapes and forms.” Jung was of the same mind. Observing the mechanized reality of 20th century America, he pleaded that something must be done to “compensate the earth.” We turn away from the world we have wrought because it is too horrible to believe. There is no penance or sacrifice great enough to atone for what we have done.

And worst of all, we have no excuse. As Ghosh points out “it is not as if we had been warned… An awareness of the precariousness of human existence is to be found in every culture: it is reflected in biblical and Quranic images of the apocalypse, in the figuring of Fimbulwinter in Norse mythology, in tales of pralaya in Sanskrit literature, and so on.” Every culture on earth has spoken of the end times. The time when the gods would bring the full force of the earth against the human race. The mythic world gives us a way to understand this notion of time. It teaches us that the end of this world is not forever. Indeed, it teaches us that there is no real end, only new beginnings. But make no mistake, a new beginning can only occur by obliterating every trace of the old world in a violent conflagration so massive that the cosmos themselves will shake. The coming dawn of the new world does not make the darkness, terror, and blood of ragnarok any less. The mythic consciousness understands that we cannot have rebirth without death. That violence is the shadow side of creation. Horror and love. Power and frailty. Modern consciousness insists on splitting everything up into discrete boxes. The box has been shattered now and we can no longer turn away from the shadows. Linnaeus wrote, “Surely Descartes never saw an ape.” Jung articulated the same position: “He [man] can only state with certainty that he is no monkey, no bird, no fish, and no tree. But what he positively is, remains obscure.” Modernity teaches us that we can make easy distinctions. The wild world resists this with a strength cannot be denied.

Modernity teaches us that time travels as an arrow. The future rushes irresistibly towards us. The forms of consciousness of the past are rendered invalid by being part of the past. Modernity teaches us that everything evolved from a less developed form. Climate change has changed it all. Modernity has now revealed itself to be a hollow fiction. We rush blindly into the past. The doors of the spirit world swing open. The world of myths, the world of dreams await us. We have no other way to understand the world around us and this world will destroy us.

IV.

Let us end here with Jung. If the way through the horrors that are coming lies in the deep twilight of our mythic past, there can be no better guide. For Jung, everything we are as modern creatures rests upon an immeasurably vast primordial foundation. Millions of years of memories swim in the darkness of this buried swamp. Having put aside the world of omens, magic, and superstition we have denied the knowledge contained in these memories. And by keeping them shut away from the light, we mutate them into grotesque, murderous things and will creep out of the muck and slime in the depth of night and strangle us. The animal in us, the mythic consciousness, the power of instinct, the ability to hear the rustling voices of the trees, these things cannot be extinguished. They can only be forgotten or remembered. And the recognition that Ghosh writes about is the method by which these powers are restored to us. Climate change stabs our heart with such profound terror that ancient whispers within us cry out. They remember cataclysms of the past. They remember stories of the end of the world.

There is only one path now. For that I suppose we must be grateful to modernity. A thousand more years of this world would have wrought unspeakable horrors upon the human soul and the spirit of the earth. We know now, or will shortly know, that techno-industrial society is a fraud. We must abandon the pursuit of knowledge and control. Jung wrote “knowledge does not enrich us; it removes us more and more from the mythic world in which we were once at home by right of birth.” For all the technical prowess of modernity, climate change was the result. And we cannot tinker our way out of it. But to be separated from the mythic consciousness only by a distance of time is no separation at all. For we no longer assert the linear movement of history. We stand at its edge and find ourselves back to its beginning.


Ramon Elani

Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father, as well as a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England

More of his writing can be found here. You can also support him on Patreon.


All our works are 20% off until 15 November. Use code SAMHAIN at checkout.

Our Disabled and Climate Changed Futures

“Two things are inevitable: the climate is changing and we are all becoming disabled.”

From Pat Mosley


1, 2, 3, the rain starts to patter on the metal porch roof.

1, 2, 3, I start anxiously counting out my pills.

4, 5, 6 days left, two days until landfall, the pharmacy won’t let me refill my prescription for another three days at the earliest. If there’s a delay, if the hurricanes prevent this legal trafficking of my survival, another day or two on top of that. I may have to improvise. I may go through withdrawal.

When winds come knocking and trees bury roads, how will I die? Will I hold off eating, balance my blood sugar as best I can, starve, or blackout? Will I slip into the cozy of Death’s embrace or flail madly, obtuse in anger that I am finally so close to a life I enjoy and use to bring joy to others?

Does melting ice disable polar bears? Do the highly specialized diets of koalas feel like an impairment in the face of deforestation? Do fish and birds feel blinded or disoriented with the loss of ancestral migratory patterns and changing seasonal variations that call them too soon, too late, further away, or not far enough?

When the revolution comes… We had entertained our hike months earlier. When all hell breaks loose… When every insurrectionist wakes to live and die in their favorite wet dream…How will I die?

I am not afraid of Death. We have met. Death is dressed in blue not black. When I was a child, Death was like a warm ocean as deep as time. Death was a golden pirate’s treasure sinking deeper, and deeper still while the machines beeped a slowing pace and the doctor’s inserted a needle or a tube. A few years ago, Death was electric, bright teal and navy energy arms, pushing my wheelchair down the halls of the ER. I was Death. I greeted myself at the edge of life.

I am not afraid of death. Death is the end of capitalism, the end of gender, the end of work, of war, of counting pills, and feeling guilty about not attending more socialist meetings.

I am adverse to a slow and painful death of waiting to starve or blackout, or choking on the polluted air that others’ lungs have adapted to.

I am concerned that discussion about slaying the Leviathan relegates me and other disabled folks to these slow and painful deaths. Capitalism, industrial society, and all else we observe along the body of the Beast are rightly identified as root causes of climate change. Capitalism, like its absence, also causes disabled people to suffer and many to die slow and painful deaths. But while abolishing an economic system is justified, what will we grow in its place? And more importantly, when do we begin? (Can we begin now?)

Disabled people like me want to be part of our collective conservations on life post-capitalism. We want to be included, but not in the tokenizing social progressive ways of neoliberalism. Disabled people are also people of color, Queer people, trans people, working people, immigrants, and more. Our issues at times parallel other social concerns like racism and sexism, and have even informed these prejudices. For instance, the perceived mental disability of being female was once used to justify opposing women’s suffrage. And perceived racialized disabilities preventing one from being an efficient worker have a long history of being employed against immigrants to the U.S. Being gay was once thought of as a mental illness, and debate on whether or not trans people stand to benefit in more material ways from claiming gender dysphoria as a disability rather than distinguishing themselves from disabled people was a community issue just a few years ago. In one form or another, ableism still informs sexist, racist, and other prejudicial discourse.

But at the end of the day, disability is also different. I need to eat on a specific schedule. I need to eat specific types of meals that depend on my blood sugar, and vary day to day and throughout the day. This isn’t as easy as me simply telling other people what I can eat. I’m still navigating this terrain myself. I sometimes have trouble hearing too. A few years ago, I went totally deaf for five days. I’ve had teeth removed to help relieve this impairment. Under times of intense stress, my whole body feels like it is sunburned. I get fatigued and my skin is irritated by even the softest and lightest fabric.

I need assistance breathing the air we have polluted. When I was a child, my lungs collapsed with relative frequency. I was out of school for at least a week every semester for several years. Leaving Baltimore for North Carolina sometimes helped. In fact I made that move permanent over a decade ago. But this year my symptoms have returned. I pay ~$95/month for a rescue inhaler in order to perform a bodily function most people have to intentionally set aside quiet time to remember they do with ease. I’ll be paying more in the future if my symptoms don’t subside. Many times this spring, I went to sleep wheezing because I knew I could not afford a visit to the emergency room. I couldn’t leave the house for much of July when the skies were just too hazy and the air quality was too poor. I waited for months to see the doctor in one of two yearly visits I can presently budget.

Other disabled people have other types of needs. Others have different forms of mobility, sensory experience, and physicality. Disability is wide-ranging and diverse in scale. Our experience of life is marked both by hyper-visibility and invisibility, social stigma, and the embodiment of difference. Whereas one may argue that other forms of prejudice can be resolved by changing social attitudes about their focus, changing attitudes towards disability will not resolve difference. Prejudice isn’t the cause of lost limbs, deafness, malfunctioning organs, etc. And while capitalism is undoubtedly exploiting the health and life out of disabled people everywhere and informing ableism particularly in relation to employability and worker efficiency, neither is capitalism the cause of disability.

Disability is rather an experience of being human. As we age, our bodies break down on the way to death. As we experience the wildness of life, disability becomes us. As we are born, our bodies map an orgy of natural physicalities innate to human biology, mind and flesh, inside and out. The eugenicist and capitalist fallacy of the perfect worker is a dark magic spell Freak witches and wizards everywhere have been disabling.

As the raging hurricanes and rising tides bring climate change to the doorstep of so many unbelievers, and the mindsets of those in social justice awaken to a planetary dialogue continuing with or without us, disabled people must be part of the utopian futures we envision. If not for our sake, for your own sake, when you are aging, when your body’s health eludes you, and when the weight of all that human greed has profited on betrays you. Able-embodiment is temporary, conditional, and under direct assault by the pollutions and economic obstructions leaving your health to chance and a function of your zip code. Two things are inevitable: the climate is changing and we are all becoming disabled.

The deluge of corporate sins upon the Earth excites many into a state of climate change anxiety. When necessary, will we flee or bunker down in place? Will I run out of medication at the most inopportune moment? Will I drown in my home, or die of treatable impairment? Those of us witnessing the storms from afar may find ourselves suddenly inspired to take action, to open our doors to (climate) refugees, or to demand revolutionary changes to our impact on the planet.

I think the impulse to burn it all down or to retreat to the wilderness and find some long ago purged part of ourselves there or to die trying are feelings we all move through. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think there is a well-traveled social change model we may think we have time to follow: a flurry of petitions, a media spectacle of permitted marches in the street, an election for the best candidates from a pitiful selection, or even a nonviolent public action of some sort providing us with the moral high ground of having been to jail for justice. Others of us may go vegan, become locavores or freegans. I’m personally traversing an evangelical stage of compost and zero waste enthusiasm complemented by a newfound creative interest in trash. A multitude of strategies will emerge in this era, and that multitude will be necessary for change.

For those of us responding to climate change and economic collapse anxiety by creating alternatives, I reason it is critical that we think as disabled people, even if we momentarily experience able-embodiment. As climate health worsens, our own health worsens too. How will we replace industrialized medicine, or rob the healthcare industry of the power to profiteer off our disabilities? How will we grow and manufacture our own pharmacies? How will we reclaim our bodies, our narratives, our medicines, and our assistance tech from capitalism? In our utopian futures, healthcare is a community function, and the health of the commons is where that value plants its roots.

Beyond the medical model, how too will we create sustainable communities structured in such a way to weather not only climate change but the physical changes of human experience? How will we modify our communities to account for multiple modes of accessibility, and to treat soil health, air quality, water potability, tree health, animal health, and human health as one holistic equation? How do we empower a biodiversity and cultural shift that values native plants, animals, and people too?

I am dreaming of wheelchair-accessible forest labyrinths, wild edible scavenger hunts, and community gardens. I am dreaming of community economic models that eschew ableist and capitalist constructions of jobs for a fulfilling life built together, from each according to ability, and to each based on need. I am dreaming of activists who learn sign language not just to better integrate with Deaf comrades, but for the sheer fun of knowing those who surveil them will have to budget time to pick up ASL too.

1, 2, 3, the little rain drops hit the curved leaves of my night-blooming cactus. A wren carries off the last twigs of an offering I made to Feronia, while a shaggy community cat perches before the altar dish with tail in carnal flex.

Meanwhile, floods return the streets of Texas and Florida to the ocean. I remember a girl from massage school whose house was destroyed by an oil spill in the Gulf. I wonder how many climate refugees will be washed ashore now. It looks like North Carolina will dodge the worst of it, this time.

The pharmacy opens in a few minutes, and I’ll finish this piece before I go to get the pills I need to survive. For another month, I probably won’t die from eating or breathing. For another month, I can work on something better without the urgency of survival gnawing at my lungs and pancreas.

How will this moment cause us to change?

What worlds are we creating in place of what is washed away?


 Pat Mosley

Pat is making magic in the Carolina Piedmont. His blog can be found at patmosley.wordpress.com