Capitalism and Its Discontents: What Are We Living For?

The Left has been fragmented for decades. Liberals, socialists, communists, greens, and anarchists have all endlessly debated future models for society. One wonders, how many are just talking, and how many are willing to listen? There already are models for society to live sustainably and to prosper, very, very old ways: by following the paths set by the indigenous.

From William Hawes

“Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about fascism.”
-Max Horkheimer, from the essay “The Jews and Europe”, December 1939

Aren’t we all tired of capitalism? Haven’t most of us gotten sick of the drudgery, the monotony, the exploitation, sucking up to our bosses and management who pretend to care about the average worker? The drive to consume more and more has degraded all art, values, and sense of community in the US.

Capitalists literally are holding the people of the Earth in bondage. As liberal democracy crumbles in the West, the risk of neo-fascism continues to rise in North America and Europe.

It’s worth examining why the US has TV shows like “Hoarders”, where people have problems collecting useless crap, and where viewers publicly shame and judge the afflicted. Yet, where is the outrage at the real hoarders, the billionaires, the banks, and the military industrial complex? This is serious hypocrisy, a cultural blind spot: a double standard that is not being addressed by our society.

Capitalists are Addicts

Why does society not ask arch-capitalists the obvious questions: when is enough, enough? Who needs a billion dollars? Once you can provide a comfortable life for your family, children, and grandchildren, what is the point of hoarding your money in bank accounts and lording over a monopolizing mega-corporation? Where does this endless desire for more come from?

It’s fairly obvious that a failure to confront death is closely linked to the bottomless appetite exhibited by capitalists. The perceived need to construct towers, monuments, mansions, and manufactured narratives of their own greatness is proof. Not to mention how many of the super-rich have chosen to become cryogenically frozen post-mortem: this is in outright denial of their own mortality, and the necessity of death so that future generations may live.

In failing to confront death, any object can be used as a crutch, an addiction. Addiction is linked to social isolation and lack of community, which the capitalist class creates by artificially creating specialized divisions of labor, alienation, and class differences.

Addiction leads to a disconnection from what some would call a “reality principle”, leading to further and deeper indulgences and lack of restraint. There are further similarities between capitalists and drug addicts: the impatience, the disconnection from others, the neediness, as well as a general childlike need to be validated and pampered.

Methodology and Treatment in an Age of Insanity

We see where capitalism leads: to a permanent crisis, a never-ending state of emergency. Since the 1970s, workers have increased productivity mightily with little to zero increases in wages considering inflation and other factors. Americans are also working longer hours; young adults are even having less sex partly because of this. There is a huge problem with prescription drug abuse (not just opioids), teen suicide is rising (sadly, at a 40 year high for teen girls in 2017), and child poverty isn’t being addressed properly, if at all, by our own government.

All of these absolutely tragic issues are connected to capitalism. When we are forced to compete against each other, in grades at school, for that raise or promotion in the workplace, this breeds a mindset of dehumanization.

I would also posit that the separation of young children from their parents when they begin schooling, either day care or pre-school or kindergarten or afterwards, is one of the first steps in life where the feelings of individual atomization starts, and collective social disintegration begins. Being ripped from your parent’s arms because they have to work just to survive, and the state/private/charter school substituting for the role of a parent, is one of the first deep tragedies inflicted on many of us by the “needs” of the modern world. I believe this suffering is lodged deep in our unconscious selves, and this is not being addressed publicly at all, and barely acknowledged in our private lives.

Treatment starts when we want to become free of the Great Beast of capitalism, the “Babylon system” as some like to call it. We must ground ourselves, and return to a deeper relationship with our mother Earth. Self-reliance is true freedom, and families and communities should begin to grow as much of their own food as possible. I understand the limitations for those in urban areas, or those stuck in jobs where time and effort cannot be adequately put towards farming, of course. Collectively, as a city block, a suburban neighborhood, a rural township, we are all going to have to learn to get together, share food and technology, and become independent of this beast. We must begin to develop a gift economy, an indigenous-based economy, based on reciprocity and trust, not exploitation and coercion, as Charles Eisenstein explains.

Other than that, a mass protest movement must be created so the resources that our federal government receives in taxes can be shifted from weapons of destruction to schools, health care, community projects, and renewable energy.

Analyzing a Popular Alternative

I believe it’s important to discuss some of the budding alternatives to capitalism that are developing around the globe. In the US, support for socialism has risen immensely, especially among the younger crowd, thanks to the work of Bernie Sanders (notwithstanding him not really being a socialist) and others. Yet how serious are most American socialists?

One of the most popular groups in the US is called Socialist Alternative (SA), led by the charismatic Seattle councilwoman Kshama Sawant. SA has some great ideas, and yet, some of their proposals make it seem as if they’re just going through the motions. Let me explain.

On their about page, a few things stand out. They write: “We see the global capitalist system as the root cause of the economic crisis, poverty, discrimination, war, and environmental destruction.” Very well put. Yet then, this is followed by the line below:

“As capitalism moves deeper into crisis, a new generation of workers and youth must join together to take the top 500 corporations into public ownership under democratic control to end the ruling elites’ global competition for profits and power.”

This sounds nice, but I wonder how much time was really spent thinking through the implications of this policy. What if democratic control only leads to redistribution of the companies’ wealth, and not fundamental transformation of the products, resource usage, and dangerous working conditions?  Where is the sense of urgency, the fact that deadlines are being approached regarding global warming, regarding the ecological damage being done by these companies?

One wonders, has SA bothered to take a look at the list of the 500 top companies? For some, perhaps they can be repurposed to make sustainable products. For others, maybe the factories and warehouses can be dismantled and recycled for public use. For a few, it might be feasible that they could be broken up into smaller entities and non-profit co-operatives.

Yet, we must realize that these companies have only been able to thrive due to government tax breaks, insider trading, off-shoring hidden wealth, and other financial chicanery. Further, these mega corporations rely on specialized division of labor, fueling worker alienation.

Also, the biggest companies choose not to compete against each other in entire sectors, allowing for large profit margins. What happens when “public ownership” leads to stricter competition and price wars, forcing many employees to be laid off? How will these companies be able to compete against Europe and China? Is SA committed to local and bioregional approaches to agricultural and socially responsible industrial practices?

For many of these companies, though, the only democratic thing I can think of to do is to vote on who gets to throw the first brick or Molotov through the empty building. These corporations have done irreparable harm to the planet. Some of them are simply not going to be able to be reformed.

The only way to transform these entities (the ones that can be saved) properly, with the proper protections, would be to rewrite the constitution to include environmental and social rights, as well as the rights of mother Earth, as Bolivia has done. Without a legal framework based on ecology, there is no way to make sure “democratic control” of a transnational corporation would actually lead to environmentally-safe production.

SA is notable for fighting for a $15 an hour wage. First, I want to say that I support this policy. It is a laudable goal, and may work soon in some of the nation’s wealthy, tech-savvy, coastal metro enclaves.

Yet we need to ask what would happen if this were enacted nationally, and what we should do to prepare if it ever does. The elites would pull their money out of the system, if only to spite the Left and the socialists who enacted the policy, and give them a taste of pain for disobeying capitalism. The neoliberal economy is designed around low-wage service work, and is so tightly interwoven, not to mention extremely monopolized, that a sudden wage rise would lead to high levels of inflation, and possibly to a severe economic recession or depression. Are groups like SA ready to organize outside the political structure, to make space for a civic society, domestically and abroad, which will need massive influxes of resources, food, and housing when shit hits the fan?

SA also wants to “slash the military budget”, which is great. SA does not clarify where that new money should go. SA also proclaims that they support internationalism. Allow me to make a proposal: money from the military budget should be given away freely to developing countries, with transnational groups, either under UN auspices or some new framework, helping distribute and allocate resources so they are not wasted by corrupt dictators and governments. Poorer nations will need massive influxes of revenue to help them develop and avoid using fossil fuels and habitat-destroying industry, in the realm of trillions of dollars over decades. The West has accumulated ill-gotten wealth from centuries of colonialism, chattel slavery, and genocidal policies towards the “Global South”, and now may be the last chance to give back, before it becomes too late.

Are US socialists committed to these sorts of radical proposals? Are SA and others ready to admit to its followers that real socialism will involve hard sacrifices, and almost certainly (in the short term, at least) lead to less material goods and privileges that Westerners have enjoyed for centuries? Are socialists as ready to support a living wage in China as they are in the USA? Finally, are American socialists committed to transforming the nation, or just promoting an ideology that is centered too much on human needs, and not enough on the needs of non-humans and future human generations?

Ecocentrism, not Anthropocentrism

The Left has been fragmented for decades. Liberals, socialists, communists, greens, and anarchists have all endlessly debated future models for society. One wonders, how many are just talking, and how many are willing to listen? There already are models for society to live sustainably and to prosper, very, very old ways: by following the paths set by the indigenous.

For instance: by living in the moment, and observing things as they really are, it becomes quite clear that humanity is facing huge challenges unlike at any other time in history. Just one hundred companies have pumped out 70% of worldwide greenhouse gases since 1988. Is the answer, as SA has posited, really just to democratize these corporations and hope for the best, or to shut them down completely?

Westerners are going to have to realize very quickly that despite our space technology, skyscrapers, and instant media, we are the children in the room when it comes to ecological knowledge, and the indigenous around the world are the adults. Native American tribes and various indigenous peoples worldwide have catalogued thousands if not tens of thousands of local plants in their local ecosystems, often with hundreds of different uses for each individual plant. Indigenous accept their own mortality and have constructed elaborate rituals, ceremonies, and initiations to help each other confront death. Also, and this is critical, indigenous tribes understand their carrying capacity in their local habitat, and so are able to regulate and rationally plan for their population levels. Overpopulation now threatens the world with ecosystem degradation, habitat destruction, global warming, resource wars, ocean acidification, plastics proliferation, pandemics, and mass starvation and drought.

The indigenous are plant people, and we can follow just a few basic ideas to help us escape capitalism: conserve what remains of the South American, African, and Southeast Asian rainforests, as many future cures from disease and chronic conditions will be found there. In the Americas, the milpa, a planting of corn, beans, squash, and various nutrient rich veggies allows for huge crop productivity in a small area. We can use hemp and legalize cannabis to make biofuels, produce paper, make innovate building materials like Hempcrete, and provide the masses with a safe, relaxing herb for recreational, medicinal, and spiritual use. Advanced technology in most scenarios will only make things worse. What is the best thing one can do to stop global warming? Not a solar array, but planting a tree. Slow down soil erosion? Plant a tree. What is resistance? Planting a community garden is a more socialist, a more significant thing to do now than attending another symposium on Marxism.

The indigenous are freer and happier than Westerners not by some innate abilities, but because they have chosen to work for their freedom: by co-producing food, tools, clothes, pottery, by hunting, fishing, and foraging together. Westerners have refused to resist thus far, because deep down, many know they are dependent on the system for survival, and don’t want to pull that plug, to bite the hand that feeds. It’s the only way, though. We are going to have to walk away from all this, and activists, protestors, and concerned citizens are going to have to metaphorically step into our own Lacandon jungle, and organize around ecology, democracy, and social justice.

Yet, we must realize that it is too late in the game to rely simply on voting. Citizens will respond to a mass movement to the degree that it represents the will of the people: to the degree it can articulate a political truth on a deeply visceral level. Most mainstream socialists (important exceptions being Ian Angus, Paul Burkett, and John Bellamy Foster) have so far been too committed to a flailing, abstract ideology; specifically, wrongly committed to a Eurocentric, technocratic, anthropocentric worldview; to capture people’s imaginations. Developing an ecological worldview, one that acknowledges our interdependence and interconnectedness with all species, is crucial.

Thus, as the 21st century progresses, Standing Rock will eventually be seen as having more influence than Occupy Wall Street. We are connected to our planet and the web of life more than we can ever know or attempt to explain. For instance, we won’t end warfare until we abolish factory farming: the two are intimately linked, as exploitation of man over animal allows fascists the ideological justification for exploitation and the killing of man by man. Ecology is the keystone science: it allows us to see the linkages between species, food webs, and provides the science needed to develop scale-appropriate, sustainable technology. Ecologists understand that an injury to one is an injury to all, and under capitalism, we’ve all been wounded, plant, animal, and human alike, even the rich, who’ve suffered spiritual decay and moral disintegration.

The only democracy possible is an ecological democracy, with a long-term planning, and rational, sustainably-oriented national constitutions, a 90-95% reduction in fossil fuel use within a few decades at most, and an international consensus which will guarantee safeguards against habitat destruction, even in the face of democratic majority opposition. If we don’t face up to these facts, and collectively and courageously organize, we may in fact be due for the Kali Yuga, as the Hindus prophesied.

Thus, perhaps we can update and re-phrase Horkheimer’s famous quote for the 21st century:
“Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about the 6th mass extinction.”


William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, The World Financial Review, Gods & Radicals, and Counterpunch. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com. Visit his website at williamhawes.wordpress.com


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Lies That Capitalists Tell Us

 

While idiotic supporters of our two-party system wring their hands over the sensationalist nonsense reported by the mainstream media, we thought it might be worth touching on the most dangerous lie of all-time: capitalism. It’s an all-encompassing delusion, including: the myth of continual technological progress, the mendacious assumptions of endless economic growth, the lie that constant bombardments of media and consumer goods make us happy,  and the omissions of our involvement in the exploitation of the planet and the resources of distant, poorer nations, among other things.

We’ve taken the time to hash out some of the most pernicious mendacities we’ve come across in our (relatively) young lives, in the workplace, in our private lives, and in the media. ***

Please share these counter-arguments far and wide, in order to educate your fellow citizens, and, if necessary, to provide the intellectual beat-downs needed when arguing with pro-capitalists. So without further ado, here is our list of the most devious “Lies that Capitalists Tell Us”:

1) Wealth will “trickle down”

It’s hard to believe an economic policy that conjures images of urination could be wrong, but the idea is as bankrupt as the lower classes who have been subjected to the trickling. Less than ten people now have the financial wealth equivalent to half the planet, and the trickling seems a lot more like a mad cash-grab by the (morally bankrupt) elites. Rather than trickle down, the 1% and their lackeys have hovered up the majority of new wealth created since the 2008 crash. After 40 years of stagnant wages in the US the people feel more shit on than trickled upon.

It’s not a mistake that the elite reap most of the profits: the capitalist system is designed this way, it always has been, and will be, until we the people find the courage to tear it down, and replace it with something better.

2) I took all the risks

It can be argued the average employee takes far more risks in any job than the average person who starts a business with employees. The reason being is that the person starting a business usually has far more wealth, where most Americans can’t afford a 500 dollar emergency. Meaning if they lose a job or go without work for any stretch it means some tough decisions have to be made. A person with even a failing business cannot be fired, but the employee can be fired for almost any reason imaginable, they are operating without a net at all times.

The capitalist uses all sorts of public infrastructure to get his/her company off the ground. From everything to the roads to get you to your job, colleges, public utilities, tax breaks, electricity, etc. Even the internet itself was created from public research. Yet still, elite business owners still have the audacity, and are so full of hubris, that they believe in the hyper-individualist, macho, rugged-cowboy/pioneer façade they affect.

3) I could pay you more if there were less government regulations

Many capitalists argue that layers of government bureaucracy prevent them from paying their employees a fairer, living wage. This is a huge whopper, as our regulations (like no child labor, a minimum wage, disability and worker’s compensation, basic environmental impact studies, etc) actually provide safety against the worst type of exploitation of workers and destruction of the land by corporations. Without these minimum regulations, an age of even more outright neo-feudalism would occur, where employees could be layed-off and rehired ad-infinitum, based on downward market wage forces, at the wishes of ever-more capricious owners, management, and CEOs.

4) If you work hard, one day you can be rich like us (We live in a meritocracy)

America is not a meritocracy, and no one should think it is. There exists no tie to the intelligence of work done or the amount of it that guarantees success. Rather to be rich depends more on either being born into it, or being exceptionally good at exploiting others so one may take the bulk of the proceeds for themselves. This is the magic formula for wealth in this ever so “exceptional” land – exploit, exploit, exploit.

Inheritance & exploitation is how the rich get rich. To understand the exploitation aspect takes some understanding of how the rich function. Next to none of the super rich become that way solely by meritocracy. Their income is created through complex webs of utilizing leverage usually to extract some form of passive income. They are the rentier class or con artists, or both.

You only have to look at what the rich are dabbling in. Like Robert Mercer for instance, who made his money via “a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.” . Skimming money off corrupt financial markets hardly seems like a worthwhile activity that contributes anything to humanity, it’s a hustle.

Or take Bill Gates, who did some programming for a few years, poorly, and became rich by landing a series of deals with IBM initially, and then by passively making money off the share values of Microsoft. The late Steve Jobs may have been one of the more hands-on billionaires, but even he required thousands of enslaved asian hands to extract the kind profits Apple was able to make.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson almost certainly has organized crime links, as if owning a casino wasn’t enough of a con to begin with.

Rich DeVos became a billionaire by running a pyramid scheme most are familiar with called Amway.
The Walton family, owners of Wal-Mart, pays a median wage of 10 bucks an hour (far below a living wage), they strong arm vendors, and also rely on products made with working conditions that resemble old world slavery, while having more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans.

There’s just no way to make that kind of money without having a major market advantage and then profiteering off it. Lie, cajole, coerce, manipulate, bribe, rig, and hustle. These are the tools of the rich.

No one is worth this kind of money and everyone needs each other’s help to function, but in the minds of the rich they consider themselves the primary cogs in the machine worthy of their money for doing not much else than holding leverage over others and exploiting it.

5) This is as good as it gets (there is no alternative, TINA)

Through a process of gaslighting and double bind coercion the choices we are fed are propagandized via controlled media outlets owned and operated by elites. We are told our choices must be between the democrats or republicans, attacking the Middle East or face constant terrorism, unfettered capitalism or state run communism. We are given binary choices that lack all nuance, and nuance is the enemy of all those who seek to control and exploit. They feed us a tautology of simpleton narratives which unfortunately do exactly what they hoped, keep people dumb and biting on their red herrings.

Capitalists make it seems as if there is no alternative because they hoard all the money, have all the hired guns, and pay off teams of servile lawyers, judges, and lobbyists to write and enforce their anti-life laws. Capitalists demand “law and order” whenever their servant classes get too restless. In general, the most hardened, dogmatic capitalists exhibit bewilderment and/or disgust at genuine human emotions like joy, creativity, spontaneity, and love. Many capitalists have an unconscious death wish, and want to drag the rest of us and the mother Earth down with them.

Capitalists have stolen all the farmlands, hold all the patents to technology, and don’t pay enough to mass amounts of citizens to get out of the rat race and get back to the land, to live off of. The screws are turned a little tighter every year. If we are not done in by massive natural disasters or an economic collapse, expect a revolution to occur, hopefully a non-violent one.

6) We give back to the community

Corporations set out to create non-profits as a public relations move. They cause the problems and then put small band-aids on the gaping wounds they have directly contributed to and use the charity as a source of plausible deniability to obscure the fact that they are exactly what we think they are: greedy.

Handing out bread-crumbs after you’ve despoiled, desecrated, and bulldozed millions of hectares of valuable habitat is not fooling anyone. The elite one-percenters are the enemies of humankind and the biosphere itself.

7) The system (and economic theory) is rational and takes into account social and environmental costs

People tend to think someone somewhere is regulating things to keep us safe. They look around and see sophisticated technology, gleaming towers in the sky, and what they believe to be is a complex intelligent world. But in truth no one is running the show. The world functions as a mad cash grab driven by neo-liberal ideology. Our leaders are driven by power, fame, and money, and exhibit strong psychopathic, sociopathic, and narcissistic traits.

The problems of modern industrial capitalism and its impact on the world is clear – our exploitation of the resources, people, and other species are a direct result of our consumer based infinite growth model. Just a few of the problems we face are species extinction, climate change, ocean acidification, and a toxic carcinogen filled trash dump of a planet that reached population overshoot decades ago.

If the system was rational, we would begin planning to lower birth rates to decrease the world’s population, and voluntarily provide education, decent, dignified jobs, as well as birth control and contraception to women worldwide.

We live by money values, and think in money terminology. When we discuss healthcare the topic arises about how to pay for it before nearly anything else. The priority isn’t on saving lives but how to pay for things. Yes, how will we pay for healthcare when banks can create money on a computer through the magic of fractional reserve banking, which they often use to bail out their crony friends. The money isn’t real but the implications of restricting it from the populace are. Money is created out of thin air by the magic of the Federal Reserve, yet we have all heard our bosses, and the pricks in Washington complaining that “we don’t have enough money for that” when it comes to healthcare, improving schools, and humanitarian relief for the poorest parts of the world.

Again, if the system was rational, world poverty would be solved within a few short years. Money destined for weapons and “defense” could be used domestically as well as abroad to Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, and there is more than enough money (75 trillion is the annual world GDP, approximately 15 trillion in the US alone) to pay for a good home, clothing, and food for every family worldwide, with an all-renewable powered energy grid.

8) The future will be better

When Trump’s slogan make America great again was on the lips of every alt-right fascist, most of us stopped to ask, when was it great? The truth is that politicians have been promising something better since the inception of this country and better has never arrived.

There is always another expensive war to fight and another financial meltdown occurring on average every eight years. Wait, you might say, what about those sweet post-WWII growth years brought about by the New Deal? The sad truth is those years were only materially beneficial to white, middle-class men, who were highly sexist, racist, and complicit in incubating today’s consumer-driven Empty Society.

The post-WWII era was an aberration in our history and the result of having more jobs available than people, but as the country rapidly exploited its natural resources and reached the limits of linear growth while the population exploded the leverage that allowed people to have higher wages receded. Even though efficiency increased enormously, the people lost leverage to demand higher wages.

Without leverage held by the people capitalism will return to its status quo goal – exploit, and that’s just what it did. In the US, corporations grew richer and the people grew poorer starting from the mid 1970’s to the present.

9) It’s Just Business

Employees devote years of their lives to companies and when they are let go they are told it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. This is how all bad news is delivered even when personal, it’s says we are cold-hearted organizations that adhere to a bottom line first and human needs second. So know when they say “it’s just business” what they are saying is understand we are sharks, and acting like a shark is just what we do.

This is also the logic behind defending war crimes and similar atrocities. Nations like the US claim they have a “responsibility to protect” civilians from terrorists. Then, when American bombs kill civilians (or their proxies use US-made weapons), they are referred to as “collateral damage”.

10) Financial markets & debt are necessary

The health of the entire economy is too often gauged by the stock markets. But the reality about financial markets is they are extraneous gambling machines designed to place downward pressure on companies to post good numbers to elevate share prices. These financial markets funnel capital to a smaller and smaller number of multinational corporations every year, and perpetuate non-linear economic growth (and therefore more pollutants, CO2, pesticides, strip mining, razing of forests) that is killing the planet.

Debt is the most fundamental lie in our economy. Money is only supposed to be a tool to move goods efficiently around a market, but for money itself to be a wealth engine is a Ponzi scheme. And we all know how that ends.


William Hawes

is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. His articles have appeared online at CounterPunch, Global Research, Countercurrents, Gods & Radicals, Dissident Voice, The Ecologist, and more. You can email him at wilhawes@gmail.com. Visit his website williamhawes.wordpress.com.

Jason Holland

is a writer. Visit his blog Reasonbowl.com. He can be reached at jason.holland@reasonbowl.com or follow him on twitter @ReasonBowl. Watch him on his Youtube channel at Reason Bowl Radio.


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Rewilding America

“Ultimately, the longing for spiritual rejuvenation and community empowerment will break through the cage of modernity, if we are not first destroyed by ecological devastation and/or economic collapse.”

Cultural and Ecological commentary from William Hawes

It’s time for us as a people to come together, to form an understanding about our natural environment, and our connection to it. If we are to survive long into this century and beyond, our society will have to learn to re-indigenize itself. This will be a painful process for those dependent on creature comforts, on the electrical grid’s continuous power supply, on the streams of TV, Netflix, even the internet itself, on factory-made pharmaceuticals, etc. It will be difficult for those whose illusions are about to be shattered, for those who thought they could live for so long and have it so good at the expense of others and to the detriment of their natural, wild surroundings.

We aren’t going anywhere. There will be no moon and Mars colonies to flee to. Isn’t it suspicious, though, how little talk there is about the parallels between the past colonialists of North America and the sci-fi dream of future colonies in space? Any potential future space colony wouldn’t be a glitzy affair: it would be similar to past and present immigrants and refugees streaming across continents, trying to escape death, privation, despair. In short, the dream of human habitation of the solar system exists because of the utter destruction of landscapes and the indecency of human societies in many parts of our planet.

Imagine if we actually decided to collectively care for our own world instead of having day-dreams and wasting billions on rockets and gadgets to propel us towards the “final frontier”. Doesn’t that sound nice? Luckily for us, the resiliency of our planet towards habitat degradation is very, very strong. That is why a policy of rewilding must be introduced into mainstream thinking and politics. Coined by David Foreman, rewilding refers to conservation methods that strengthen and maintain wildlife corridors and large-scale wilderness areas, with an emphasis placed on carnivores and keystone species which act as linchpins for ecosystem stability. Rewilding leads to increased connectedness across previously fragmented habitat due to roads, railways, urban sprawl, etc.

In the Americas, please consider educating yourself and others about these issues, and donating to a few of the fine organizations promoting wildlife corridors, such as: the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, the Paseo del Jaguar program led by Panthera, and the American Prairie Reserve.

Strengthening our ecosystems will provide a higher quality of life for future generations, as well as your children and grandchildren. Now that’s a return on investment. Forget about yourself, your fragile ego, and your “standards of living”, for a moment. Western capitalism and colonialism has been degrading habitats for centuries, with benefits mostly accruing to white, older men. Only by giving back to the land, and in many cases, non-intervening and letting our soils and waterways heal on their own, will allow for a more equal distribution of wealth. It is natural resources, not money, which are the real inheritance we will leave behind to our youth.

The distribution of the “common-wealth”, by the way, used to be far more equitable hundreds of years ago, when land was freely available for hunting, fishing, foraging, and farming. Yes, there is less abject poverty in Europe and the US today compared to centuries ago, but it has come at a steep cost: there is no self-reliance, no collectively and culturally stored traditions of farming, crafts, weaving, pottery, home-building. Corporations have swallowed all this, citing the “need” for specialized divisions of labor. Self-sufficiency and homesteading are looked upon with scorn, and we are told to buy everything we could ever need (and desire), instead of co-producing tools, clothes, food, and more.

Sharing of community resources needs to be re-instilled in the populace. The average garage, shed, or extra closet of today’s Westerner is filled with useless crap used maybe a few times a year, all purchased from a few companies. Recycling usable equipment and renting for small fees throughout the communities will significantly decrease consumption and foster closer neighborhood ties.

Today, the legal webs and labyrinths of “property laws” and low-wage work have imprisoned the average person. So has the spread of capitalism and unequal distribution of money, division of labor, separation of classes. The lives of masses of working people, the precariat, are just as unstable and misery-inducing as they were centuries ago, when Frederick Douglas said:

“Experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and rushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.”

This all underscores the need for rewilding the American people, not simply expanding our National Forests and wildlife refuges. It calls for a transformation in consciousness, to promote understanding of different cultures, openness towards change, and advocating for compassion and peace. We can begin by starting to support a 15 dollar wage, to fight for climate science funding, to promote renewable energy. Yet there needs to be an understanding that those actions, while a good start, are simply a few first baby-steps towards re-orienting our culture.

Ultimately, the longing for spiritual rejuvenation and community empowerment will break through the cage of modernity, if we are not first destroyed by ecological devastation and/or economic collapse. Longing, in all actuality, is too mild a term; actually, there is an intense craving for unique and authentic notions of identity, for belonging to a caring culture, for sharing and cultural blending. There is also, to an extent, evolutionary reasons and epigenetic possibilities for the deep desires, for instance, to want to sing and dance around a fire, to go on long walks to calm the mind, to talk to plants and animals, to feel the Earth’s joys and pains, to partake of psychedelic plants. It’s what our species has done for millennia, and no freeways, high-rises, fluorescent-lit malls, or gated communities can possibly make up for these urges.

Inner calmness and contentedness, feeling joy at other’s successes, altruistic actions of bravery, spontaneity, the creative act, and transpersonal experiences all teach us that our egos are illusions. The drive of the ego is the drive of civilization, with all its life-denying baggage. It is this ego-based desire to dominate, to harness and pillage nature, which expands outwards to include all life-forms, including even our close loved ones. The judgments and pain inflicted on others are projections of our own, deep inner hurting. The ego shifts the blame, projecting, always outwards onto others, always disguising and rationalizing its selfish deeds.  Indigenous life is not without problems, but it recognizing and integrates the shadow-side of ourselves: there was no need for modern psychology until modern, Western man ramped up the process of destroying the world, all in order to fill the gaping void within the soul.

Thus, rewilding our psyches will mean dissolving the ego, recognizing it as a small part of the mind, occasionally useful in survival-enhancing or problem solving situations, but not as an absolute master of our sense of self. In short, it must be acknowledged that there are many aspects to individual minds, spectrums of ways of thinking, just as specific brain-waves exist, and differing states of sleep and dreaming.

Shrinking the ego will re-establish our commitment to protecting the Earth. As creator and protector of life, our planet, along with crops, animals, mountains and rivers, all have been venerated and deified across history. Thus, the sacredness of life and its continuity can be seen for the miracle it truly is. New spiritual and religious groups will be founded, with cross-fertilization and syncretism causing an explosion of kaleidoscopic cultures. Shrinking petty individual desires and grievances enlarges our view of nature: it allows for free living and amicable relations, promoting an idea of an Unconquerable World which can triumph over the capitalist-dominated, chaotic, absolutist, totalitarian impulses of modern life.

This has serious implications. What cannot be used, i.e. extra physical products, food, and extra income must be given away to less fortunate countries. Open-source medicine and technology will have to be distributed to developing nations to stave off the worst symptoms of global warming and habitat degradation. In the wealthy West, the rich should look to the example of the indigenous, where in some tribes the chieftains distributed their personal wealth among their tribe, often to be rewarded in kind at a later ceremonial/seasonal time of the year. Companies that produce weapons or various useless waste will be forced to shut down. Education will be reoriented to focus on the potentialities of each individual student, not as a one-size-fits-all indoctrination mill, churning out damaged, submissive, domesticated youth.

Green constitutions will have to be drafted to provide regulations to protect humans and wildlife from unnecessary pollution and production. It’s not just the West that will lead: the Chinese must realize, and be planning for, the eventuality that the demand for crappy plastic goods and gadgetry at big-box stores is going to decline, worldwide, in the coming decades. A new international order based on the UN, or otherwise, will be needed to uphold climate change commitments, speedily develop renewable energy tech, sustainable agriculture plans, and distribution of resources. Basically, this requires a shift from an anthropocentric outlook to an ecocentric outlook.

This will require a global awakening, and a moral/spiritual transformation of consciousness. It is the only way for our societies to move forward. Adaptability and having a broad range of skills and a wider knowledge base will be preferred over the narrow, technological elitism we see today in the corporate world and reflected in culture and the media. Ultimately, rewilding ourselves means learning how to live free, i.e., unlearning what our consumer-based culture has brainwashed us into believing.

I don’t intend to shy away from the hard political questions of what the world and the US could look like in the near future, if the above steps are taken. Most likely, the modern nation-state will perish, America included. Our national experiment has been blood-drenched and steeped in genocide, slavery, domination by capitalists, and structural racism from the very beginning. A new era of cooperation is called for, with true democratic consensus and citizen involvement in governance as well as the workplace. Smaller areas based on bioregionalism and the city-state will replace the nation-state (which Gore Vidal, among others, spoke out in favor of) and will be more likely to prosper, as they will be more likely to provide for their citizens. Climate refugees and nomadic ways of life will increase for those fleeing disaster, or those simply seeking better opportunities. Decentralization of power as well as a closer connection to the land will foster a reawakening of the tribal ways of life, where tight-knit communities care for the sick, the elderly, disabled, and troubled souls, instead of shunting them into various soul-crushing institutions like jail, mental hospitals, etc.

A new era of solidarity and care for the meek must begin. This will mean feeding the millions per year who die of starvation, drought, lack of medical care, etc. This will mean reprioritizing our lives, with no excuses. Radical egalitarianism and faith in the boundless potential of each and every person must be instilled in our societies. Some will denounce this as radical, utopian, unachievable. Those who say so are without hope, without faith, having been indoctrinated by mainstream media and enshackled by capitalist ideology. Recently, in an interview, China Mieville explained this quite well:

“We underestimate at our peril the kind of onslaught of received opinion from the media, from the sort of cultural establishment, basically kind of ruling out of court any notion of fundamental change. Ridiculing it as ridiculous, to the extent that, you know, when you start to talk about wanting a better world you see the eyes rolling. What kind of despicable pass have we come to, that that aspiration raises scorn? And yet that’s where we are, for huge numbers of the political establishment.”

What sort of ideology can replace this cynicism, this nihilism? What kind of world do we want to create? I defer to Carl Rogers:

“Let me summarize my own political ideology, if you will, in a very few words. I find that for myself, I am most satisfied politically when every person is helped to become aware of his or her own power and strength; when each person participates fully and responsibly in every decision which affects him or her; when group members learn that the sharing of power is more satisfying than endeavoring to use power to control others; when the group finds ways of making decisions which accommodate the needs and desires of each person; when every person of the group is aware of the consequences of a decision on its members and on the external world; when each person enforces the group decision through self-control of his or her own behavior; when each person feels increasingly empowered and strengthened; and when each person and the group as a whole is flexible, open to change, and regards previous decisions as being always open for reconsideration.” (1)

Notes:

1.) May, Rollo, et al. Politics and Innocence: A Humanistic Debate. Saybrook Publishers, 1986. p. 6.


William Hawes

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


The pre-sale for Dr. Bones’ new book, Curse Your Boss, Hex the State, Take Back The World, is here.

Settle Down

“We must learn to slow down, to be present in each moment. Only then can citizens parse through the immense piles of bullshit our political elites foist upon us each day.”

“Oh, I’ve plenty of time. My time is entirely my own.”

-Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

 

What does it mean to “settle down in today’s political landscape? Let me be clear, I’m not referring to the way the term was used by our teachers in school, as a sneered, patronizing declaration to submit and obey: “Settle down, boys and girls!” Neither do I mean to “settle” in the sense of taking what one can get, selling out one’s values for some feeble, abstract compromise.

Rather, it occurs to me that settling down with oneself, and one’s community, is just about the most radical stance a person can take these days. Whatever do I mean by this? Part of what I’m referring to here is cultivating a healthy inner life. Having a sense of contentedness, equanimity, patience, inner peace, and wild-eyed wonder at the beauty our world has to offer.

We must learn to slow down, to be present in each moment. Only then can citizens parse through the immense piles of bullshit our political elites foist upon us each day. Instead of reacting (often with feigned surprise and outrage) at each and every tragedy and crisis the corporations and the government is behind, concerned citizens and protest movements must begin to go on the offensive.

This will require a unified front among Leftists and activists, and an understanding that the piecemeal approach which mainstream non-profits, social justice groups, and protesters operate under must be reevaluated, reconfigured, and new strategies must be invented.

A sense of duty, care, compassion, and collective responsibility for the planet and the meek of the Earth must be stoked among leaders in civil society. This may require radicals and activists to step back from the maelstrom of contemporary life in certain senses: to set examples by not jet-setting around the globe regularly, to give up luxury consumer items in solidarity with the working classes, etc.

Healthy food, continuing one’s education throughout life, being fulfilled in work and in play, learning to appreciate nature, and developing a spiritual practice are just a few basics. Mainstream American culture does everything it can to distract, obfuscate, and distort every conceivable path towards personal and collective enlightenment among its citizens. This culture of speed, of being unable to hold attention, this mindset of Amusing Ourselves to Death, must be confronted.

Computers, TV, cell phones, social media, video games, and now virtual reality technology are zombifying the average US citizen more and more as each day passes. Rather than providing a lens to understand and interpret current affairs, provide a way to engage and study world cultures, and develop critical thinking skills, our omnipresent screens have become our captors, distracting us with loads of useless information, lowest-common denominator pop culture, and vapid Hollywood movies.

How can citizens fight such an all-pervading degradation of values, art, and culture? Literally, part of what I refer to by settling means sitting on the ground, and being still. Also, walking barefoot on the soil, our mother Earth, will help people understand how to resist. It’s no surprise that many mental health professionals are now advising their patients to take walks in nature or working at tasks like gardening en lieu of prescribing pharmaceuticals. This burgeoning field has been dubbed ecotherapy.

(There are other things that can help. Here’s an abridged version of some personal experiences which have helped me settle down: meditation helps put my mind at ease. So does responsible use of cannabis and psilocybin. Good sex, of course. If you’re traveling in the US, getting away from civilization to recharge is a good place to start. Fishing by a stream worked wonders for me in the Great Smokies. Fasting in the Mojave was a revelation. Sitting and watching the fog roll into a redwood forest was a transcendental experience.)

What kind of advice did you expect from an eco-freak like me, a tree-hugging dirt-worshipper? It is possible to draw strength from the planet, as well as lovers and friends and plant and animal allies, after all. All indigenous societies and Earth-centered communities understand this instinctively, implicitly. For comatose Westerners, it will require stretching and reawakening their enfeebled imaginations. The Earth is alive, teeming with life, and always has been: small children know this, but mass culture has brainwashed us as we’ve grown up to believe otherwise.

Settling also means each of us has to learn how to become rooted in one’s community, state, and nation: growing a stable and harmonious identity, a sense of belongingness, and a meaningful culture. In this sense, settling in one’s community becomes taking a stand: if local resilience and environmental education is built up in your town or city, democratic consensus and citizen action can prevent corporations from buying up local businesses, bulldozing lots for huge real estate projects, and polluting with abandon.

Pacts within communities to promote some sort of egalitarian redistribution of wealth to decrease inequality will foster higher levels of trust, friendship, and reciprocity. Deconstructing capitalist multinationals and replacing them with worker-owned cooperatives is another necessary step, as workers living in the vicinity of factories are less likely to allow for environmentally-dangerous industrial practices. Providing a universal basic income, along with universal health care, even if at first only on a local or state level, would allow the rest of us in the US to see the benefits with a clear gaze, unfiltered by ideology and dogma.

Rules for increasing the percentages of women and minorities in government and the workforce would certainly promote a healthier public sphere. Switching to systems of proportional representation for elections would benefit third parties and allow for new ideas to take hold. Laws for conversion of agriculture to fully organic, non-GMO, pesticide and herbicide free food would uplift people’s spirits and drastically reduce preventable diseases and increase life spans.  Converting more people to eating less meat, especially red meat, will slow the razing of our tropical rainforests. Every town and city will have to convert to renewable energy to soften the impact of global warming, which is slated to raise temperatures about 3-4 degrees Celsius and raise the sea level about eight feet by 2100. These are relatively conservative estimates, by the way.

Personal transformation will have to go hand in hand with citizen-led, community based environmental and socially-oriented education. This will require teachers who will help us remember how to feel comfortable in our own skin, free from the dramas of judgment and victimhood that our culture imposes on us.

Our relationship to the land must change. European “settlers” who arrived in the New World assumed that land could be owned, and most descendents here in the US still agree. European colonists and later US pioneers had their very own urge for Lebensraum, which accelerated in 19th century America, and was dubbed Manifest Destiny. This destructive, inflexible European ethnocentric outlook has to be defeated. Please read a wonderful Russell Means speech about these issues here.

Most US citizens are sadly still strangers to the continent they live on. In general, the West and the US have become spiritually impoverished. Rather than owning land, we can learn to become stewards, caretakers of the planet, for the brief time each of us is here. For Americans, increasing ecological awareness is key, and to survive, we will have to learn from indigenous, Native American traditions, and Westerners must rediscover and embrace their lost indigenous souls.

We are living in a critical time to determine the planet’s future. As Fritjof Capra foretold, humanity has arrived at The Turning Point. Ecological thresholds are being approached as amounts of desertification, topsoil loss, deforestation, ocean acidification, and atmospheric CO₂ rise year after year. If China and India attempt to industrialize to the levels of Western Europe and the US, it’s essentially game over for continual, steady levels of food production as well as climate stability.

Here we are, at the crossroads. Restraint, humbleness, and compassion must reemerge as key values for our descendants to have a chance at a prosperous future. Global capitalism, a combination of gluttonous consumerism and breakneck speed energy and financial flows, must be thrown out the window. This will in some cases mean monkey-wrenching the machine, and destroying private property. So be it. The conversion to a steady-state, de-growth, equilibrium economy is long overdue.

Stressed, burnt out, with savings tapped out, and overworked from the hustle of corporate America, we are approaching a breaking point. There is a lot of work ahead of us, too. Citizens can find the time, if we make time. That is to say, we can succeed if our society can dare to imagine a system where time itself does not enslave us. So, lose that wrist watch and cell phone for a day or a hundred, if you can. Take that camping trip with your family you talked about. Live simpler. Love harder. Stop for a minute, and stare into the abyss which is global capitalism, imperialism, and systematic habitat destruction. Listen to the wind, the rocks and soil, rushing water, a crackling fire. One can find answers by keeping still and listening. As a poor, pacifist carpenter once said:

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”


William Hawes

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


 

Something Is Happening

SOMETHING IS HAPPENING HERE, but you don’t know what it is: Do you? No one knows, really, as this something is still evolving. As we look back to 2016, though, it is abundantly clear that history has awoken from its slumber. We’ve had a couple events in the West last year: Brexit and Trump.

Politically-charged, dynamic events (as Alain Badiou might define them) have been rare in the West since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the USSR. Capitalism made it seem as if neoliberalism was winning in the 1990s, even as the US wantonly murdered in Iraq and took perverse pleasure in helping to dismember Yugoslavia, among other things.

In fact, one could argue there have only been four notable Western political events in the post-Cold War era: the 9/11 attacks, the 2003 protests against the Iraq War, the 2008 banking crisis and following protest movements of 2011 (Occupy and 15-M Movement), and the populist, anger-driven aforementioned events of 2016.

You see, authentic, spontaneous political events (in the form of uprisings or popular revolts against the elite) are a no-no in the West. History is supposed to have ended, remember? Max Weber called this the Iron Cage, and for good reason.

Now, though, the meaninglessness and rootlessness of our lives trapped inside the cage have become too obvious to ignore, for most of us. As each day passes, our political discourse glosses over how lazy, ignorant, mean-spirited, and numb our society has become. We import luxuries from all over the globe, but can’t be bothered to cook or grow our own food, assemble our own electronics, expand renewable energy projects, provide clean water to inner cities, organize high-speed transport, or educate our youth without drowning them in debt, etc.

So, many have lashed out against the system, and our more vulnerable members of society, in anger, defiance, out of sheer ignorance. Could it be because, deep down, we know how helpless, sheltered, and out-of-touch our society is, compared to the rest of the world? What are the root causes of this disintegration of public discourse?

One cause is our utter dependency on the capitalist system to clothe, feed, and shelter us. What we used to inherit from our mothers and fathers, important agricultural knowledge, artisanal and cultural wisdom, a sense of place and belonging, have all been traded in for money, the privilege to be exploited by capitalism, toiling in jobs that alienate us from ourselves, families, the Earth. Paper bills and electronic bank accounts are a pitiful substitute for self-reliance. This loss, this grief, isn’t allowed to be expressed in public. Logical positivism tells us that progress will prevail, the future will be better than the past, and anyone who thinks otherwise must be some sort of Luddite.

Since real income has fallen and social services have been slashed in the last 40-plus years, many have seen their loved ones’ lives cut short (lack of access to health care and quality food and produce, air and water pollution), their dreams defiled (steady jobs gone, factories shuttered), their entertainment homogenized and dangerous (sports mania has become normalized, “Go Team!”, alcohol, painkiller, and opiate addiction is rampant), their hopes for the future shattered (community and public space swallowed by corporations).

There are those, as well, still too plugged into the system (both Trump and Clinton voters), too attached to their gadgets, to the hum of their slave-labor appliances, to the glow emanating from their screens. They will cry incessantly about the turning away of Muslims from flights, but there is only silence for the millions killed abroad by the US war machine. Mainstream liberals are just as likely as the meanest, most selfish conservatives to fall prey to emotional pleas, demagoguery, and pathetic attempts to see themselves as victims in this Age of Anger.

The urge to resort to the myth of a righteous, homogenous, “pure” social group, to denigrate the other, is strong in such dire, despondent situations. In America, though, material poverty cannot be said to be the only, or even the main causal factor, behind this return of nativism and tribalism. Rather, it is undoubtedly a spiritual malaise that has swept over the West. Ever since the rise of the Industrial Revolution, it has been technology which has provided the underlying weltanschauung for our culture. Sprouting from this, an inhuman and Earth-destroying morality has formed. Jacques Ellul explains:

“A principal characteristic of technique … is its refusal to tolerate moral judgments. It is absolutely independent of them and eliminates them from its domain. Technique never observes the distinction between moral and immoral use. It tends on the contrary, to create a completely independent technical morality.” (1)

Thus, Western society, through the use of mass-produced electronics and disseminated in what some call our “Information Age”, has now seemingly accelerated the pace of change and ecological destruction beyond the scope of any group or nation which could possibly control it. We are then confronted with the thought that only an economic collapse or series of natural disasters could possibly provide the impetus for revolutionary change to occur. This only leaves us feeling helpless, depressed, and passive in the face of government oppression and capitalist exploitation.

Not only that, but capitalism has quite literally dulled our senses and disconnected us from our source of being, planet Earth. Don’t believe me? Read this amazing paper on how Polynesian wayfinders discovered islands thousands of miles apart without any modern technology. This is part of what Morris Berman means by Coming to our Senses. To re-establish our unity with nature, the Western notion of an ego-driven, domineering and reductionist search for truth, meaning, and creativity must be thrown out. Here, Berman invokes Simone Weil:

“‘decreate’ yourself in order to create the work, as God (Weil says) diminished Himself in order to create the world. It would be more accurate to say that you don’t create the work, but rather you step out of the way and let it happen.” (2)

This isn’t really discussed among wide swaths of leftists, the social-justice crowd, or with mainstream liberals. It’s anathema to a materialistic, dead world where freedom has been traded for comforting lies, money has been substituted for the ability to provide for ourselves and our communities, and the abundance and resiliency (truly a miracle!) of the Earth is taken for granted as we chase our next fix for consumer goods, our next chance for drugs or gadgets to dim our perception.

What you’re not supposed to say in public, of course, is that our world is falling apart, and we are doing nothing to stop it. The reactions are too raw, the reality too grim, even as we know, for example, that 10% or more of the total species on Earth will be gone by 2050.

Yet we can do something: there is an opening now in political discourse which has been previously denied to us. The Republican and Democratic parties have thoroughly delegitimized themselves by offering up Trump and Clinton as their figureheads: these were widely considered the most widely disliked candidates in recent memory, if not the history of our republic. There is room for Libertarians, Greens, and Socialists to gain power: yet only if they avoid their own regrettable sectarianism, organize, and promote an inclusive, broad-based platform.

To do so, citizens will have to gain some perspective on their lives. A slow pace of life needs to be seen as a virtue, not a sin: many on the right and left are quick to denounce the hedonism of the jet-setting, parasitic globalists, the Davos men; yet refuse to see their own lifestyles and actions as smaller examples of such outlandish consumption.

If we are open to life and our environment as part of a greater whole, an unfathomable mystery, we can refuse our culture’s siren songs of death, misery, and destruction. While modern technology can be useful if reined in by an Earth-conscious, responsible morality, some things are better left unknown, undiscovered, if it risks destroying the Earth in order to find the answer. Rather than running a cost/benefit analysis to determine the land’s worth, some aspects of the planet and the universe are better Left Sacred.

Also, acknowledging our mortality, and accepting the basic fact that death could come for you at any moment, can liberate our souls and propel them to unimaginable heights. Joe Crookston explains this quite well:

“And then when I turn dry and brown
I’ll lay me down to rest
I’ll turn myself around again
As part of an eagle’s nest
And when that eagle learns to fly
I’ll flutter from that tree
I’ll turn myself around again
As part of the mystery”

 

Notes:
1.) Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. Vintage Books, 1964. p. 97.
2.) Berman, Morris. Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West. Simon & Schuster, 1989. p. 337


William Hawes

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

Lighting a Flame in Dark Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Hawes

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


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

Like this piece? You will probably love our print and digital publications, including our journal A Beautiful Resistance and Christopher Scott Thompson’s new book, Pagan Anarchism! Find out more here.

Left-Sacred: an introduction

A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred is the third issue of the Gods&Radicals journal. It will be released on 1 February, and presents the work of 16 writers and 4 visual artists.  It’s currently available for pre-sale.


On the 19th of June, 1937, an exhibition opened in the city of Munich. Called Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst,(1)” it housed paintings, sculptures, and other works carefully curated to warn against the scourge of degenerate art. Amongst the stated goals of the exhibition was the “deliberate and calculated onslaught upon the very essence and survival of art itself,” along with “the common roots of political anarchy and cultural anarchy.” (2)

Included in the collection were works by the Swiss painter Paul Klee. One hundred and two of his paintings had been seized, though a rather famous one survived in the hands of the Marxist mystic philosopher, Walter Benjamin. The piece was called Angelus Novus, and Benjamin would later write about it, without revealing that it was in his possession. Its angular and stark depiction inspired his famous conception of the “Angel of History.”

Before Walter Benjamin’s attempted escape through Spain to the United States, the mystic had entrusted the painting to his friend, the student of the transgressive Sacred, Georges Bataille. The painting itself is transgressive, an incomprehensible Sacred, wishing, as Benjamin wrote, “to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.(3)” But the angel cannot: its wings are caught, it must continue on this new wind, leaving the wreckage of history behind, progressing not towards some great evolutionary goal, but merely away from the ruins of the past.

That the painting was seen as degenerate makes the Angel of History more fascinating. The Fascist current of history, the one which awakens strongly now in our present, cannot abide degeneracy and sees it everywhere. Fallen, fallen are we, decadent pale shadows of our once great glory. Our blood is too mixed, our house too messy, our genders and sex too confused, our borders unfenced, the land crowded with foreigners, our children dirtied by the melanin of others. Make America Great Again, restore the Empire, save Liberal Democracy, uphold the rule of law, return to us an innocence that never was.

Where the Fascists see former glory, the Angel of History, passed hand-to-hand by degenerate leftists, sees only wreckage. Walter Benjamin would not survive the Nazi attempt to restore Germany to its mythic former glory, but the Angelus Novus did. One even suspects the Angel of History did have time to awaken at least some of the dead. Benjamin haunts these pages, as does Bataille’s search for a transgressive Sacred, as does the Angelus Novus itself, all collected in the messy, fierce, resurrection of a degenerate left sacred.

What is a sacred left? What is left of the sacred? What is the left sacred? These are the interweaving themes of this third issue of A Beautiful Resistance, watched over by the Angel of History, its wings forced open by a wind from another world.

  • A goddess of the poor and outcast speaks in Erynn Rowan Laurie’s Brig Ambu.
  • Gods topple off thrones in Rhyd Wildermuth’s Awakening Against What’s Awakened.
  • An office window opens and love awakens in The Necromancer, by Left Eye
  • The wild fights with fang and claw in After Procopius, by Lorna Smithers.
  • Rot is decomposed and grown into new life in Nina George’s Modern Sin-Eaters.
  • Nimue Brown explores a line-less cartography in The Druidry of Mapping.
  • William Hawes sees in pre-linear time the path to the future in The Reawakening of Tribal Consciousness.
  • In Bell Unrung, Lia Hunter mourns the toll of what we do not embrace.
  • Anthony Rella’s Gods of My Ancestors contemplates the messy history of blood and deity.
  • An Angel whispers, a carpet is stained, in Hunter Hall’s Yellow Tape & White Carpet.
  • Chimeras and hybrid monsters lead us to the world outside of fences in Finnchuill’s The Impure Object of The Left Sacred.
  • Revolution smells like swamp rot and rum in Dr. Bones’ Fear & Loathing At The Crossroads.
  • All the beauty of the many-gendered dead sing in Rocket’s Prayer to the Mother(s).
  • A writer scribbles final notes to the future in Yvonne Aburrow’s The Safe House.
  • Sean Donahue dances with the Angel in Against the Winds of History.
  • And in Solidarity Networks, we outline a strategy for all those wondering ‘what next’ as fascism rises in the nations of the world.

This issue was co-edited by Lia Hunter and Rhyd Wildermuth, foreworded by Margaret Killjoy, and also proudly displays the artwork and photography of Lois Cordelia, Marion le Bourhis, Christopher Delange, and Brianna Bliss.

May all that is messy, degenerate, unrestrained, and feral about you awaken, and may you dance in the winds of history.


  • 1 German: Degenerate Art Exhibition
  • 2 From the introduction to the exhibition.
  • 3 Thesis IX of Walter Benjamin’s On the Concept of History

You will probably love our print and digital publications, including our journal A Beautiful Resistance and Christopher Scott Thompson’s new book, Pagan Anarchism! Find out more here.

Growing Up ‘Insane’

By William Hawes

The current state of American politics must make us question whether any of our leaders in the Beltway can be described as “grown-ups”, i.e., fully mature and sane individuals. Between the endless war crimes, corporate corruption, lobbyists who bribe congressmen and write legislation, and the ineptitude of federal entities who are supposed to protect our health such as the FDA, EPA, and CDC, it would appear that leaders in all three branches of government, as well as the leaders of the corporate world, are either insane, suffer from various psychological disorders, as well as suffering from a type of collective hallucination, the common denominator being an utter lack of empathy for others humans, or respect for the Earth.

Further, we must at least question whether collectively, we the citizenry, are as susceptible to mass delusions as our psychopathic leaders are. Our society can be effectively generalized as forming what Paulo Freire calls a culture of silence, many of whom see no problems with exploiting and despoiling other countries, looting wealth, and killing millions; and many more that are simply afraid to speak out against the indignity of the US empire, in fear of socio-cultural reprisals. This culture of silence, which we are taught at a young age, indoctrinates and effectively eliminates the ability of people to form critiques of our rotten political and economic systems. This is who Richard Nixon was really referring to, when he spoke of the “Silent Majority”: citizens too naïve, dumb, childlike, and afraid to confront the injustices inherent to our system were exactly who Tricky Dick was appealing to.

While many of us pretend that something as silly as “American exceptionalism” exists, and fall victim to the myth of rugged individualism that permeates all aspects of civic life and economics, the sad truth is that we’ve become a nation of petulant children. While we fantasize about Jeffersonian notions of small businesses and republicanism guiding our way of life, transnational conglomerates control our agricultural output (killing us slowly with GMOs and pesticides) and our media landscape (brainwashing us with neoliberalism and propaganda).

Marx and Engels tuned us into the ideological war imposed by capitalism, which distorts and confuses workers’ belief systems, alienates workers from themselves and their work, and attempts by subterfuge to shift the blame of ruthless exploitation away from the ruling class. This was called false consciousness, and later, Sartre used the term mauvaise foi (“bad faith”). Gramsci defined the ideological control of capitalists over the socioeconomic system as cultural hegemony. Many readers are intimately familiar with these ideas. So why does this critique of the left from John Steinbeck still ring so true:

“I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.”

As Paul Goodman explained so lucidly, we’ve all been Growing Up Absurd for generations, trapping many in the chrysalis of adolescence for their entire lives. As he pointed out:

“The accumulation of the missed and compromised revolutions of modern times, with their consequent ambiguities and social imbalances, has fallen, and must fall, most heavily on the young, making it hard to grow up.”

There is no mystery why Goodman entitles his chapter on missed revolutions in the fields of the physical environment, the socioeconomic model, political and constitutional reform, morality, and reforms dealing with children and youth, “The Missing Community”. For youth today, just as in his day, have few responsible role models, a repressive and prison-like atmosphere in schools, with consumerism and technology determining every aspect of a child’s search for joy and wonder, and now, the artificial edifices of social media and “augmented reality” is replacing genuine interaction. Indoctrinated to fit into a system of war, corporate monopolies, vapid pop culture, and not encouraged to think critical about their country or world cultures, children become jaded as soon as they realize that the notions of freedom, equality, and sharing that their parents and teachers taught them were based on lies. We must reverse this tide, lest we forget Walter Benjamin’s saying that:

“Behind every fascism, there is a failed revolution.”

Studies have shown that about 7-8% of the general population suffers from PTSD at some point in their life. This is almost certainly a severe underestimate. Most cases of severe trauma, abuse, and PTSD go unreported and untreated, leading to years, decades, or lifetimes of suffering. Women are twice as likely to experience PTSD as men, due to rape, sexual and/or domestic abuse, and harassment.

These conditions of extreme trauma and stress, rooted in the coercive, exploitative aspects of schools, corporations, jails, and organized religions, permeate every aspect of society, and reinforce our deepest ideological confusions: the line between personal property and coercive private property is purposely blurred by the bourgeoisie, fulfillment is replaced by “fun”, civic duty is replaced by retreating into the shell of private life, and diplomacy is usurped by war. Brought up in such a totality of fear and violence, it is no surprise that many never progress psychically beyond the stage of the child, or to seek out fulfillment instead of base entertainment.

The wit of the novelist Trevanian is instructive when addressing the Western symptoms of ennui and anomie:

“It’s not Americans I find annoying, its Americanism: a social disease of the post-industrial world that must inevitably infect each of the mercantile nations in turn, and is called ‘American’ only because your nation is the most advanced case of the malady, much as one speaks of Spanish flu…Its symptoms are a loss of work ethic, a shrinking of inner resources, and a constant need for external stimulation, followed by spiritual decay and moral narcosis. You can recognize the victim by his constant efforts to get in touch with himself, to believe his spiritual feebleness is an interesting psychological warp, to construe his fleeing from responsibility as evidence that he and his life are uniquely open to new experience. In the latter stages, the sufferer is reduced to seeking that most trivial of activities: fun.” (2)

This is corroborated by Jean Liedloff, whose experiences with the Yequana and Sanema tribes of Venezuela allows her to contrast their indigenous traditions and child-rearing with the failure of civilized parents, and the resulting insipid, infantile behavior of Western adults and general culture:

“Novelty…is so much a part of the present phase in our culture that our natural resistance to change has been distorted…Nothing is ever allowed to be good enough, nothing ever satisfactory. Our underlying discontent is channeled into desire for the latest things…Among the things high on the list are those that save labor…When success as a passive baby has not been experienced, there is a penchant for button-pushing, for labor-saving, as an assurance that everything is being done for, and nothing expected of, the subject…The impulse to work, necessarily a strong one in a healthy continuum, is stunted…Work becomes what it is to most of us: a resented necessity. And the labor-saving gadget gleams with a promise of lost comfort. In the meantime, a solution to the discrepancy between the adult desire to utilize one’s abilities and the infantile desire to be useless is often found in something aptly called recreation.” (3)

The implications are clear: our culture does not allow us to grow up, because to do so would invoke a critical response and a revolution against the forces of tyranny. Recently, Henry Giroux asked:

“Where are the agents of democracy and the public spaces that offer hope in such dark times? What role will progressives play at a time when the very ability of the public’s ability to translate private troubles into broader systemic issues is disappearing? How might politics itself be rethought in order to address the pedagogical and structural conditions that contribute to the growing intensification of violence in all spheres of American society? What role should intellectuals, cultural workers, artists, writers, journalists, and others play as part of a broader struggle to reclaim a democratic imaginary and exercise a collective sense of civic courage?”

First, we must accept the fact that each of us is an agent of democracy, and we must reclaim the public spaces, and smack down the harmful myth regarding “The Tragedy of the Commons”. The answers to Giroux’s plea lie in our ability to raise healthy, strong children who are not seduced by the siren calls of capitalism and patriotic-approved state violence. This should be supplemented by alternative education programs for children and adults, and basic life and practical lessons passed down from parents, grandparents, etc. This doesn’t mean each parent has to teach their kid trigonometry. It means each town has to model itself to promote a viable village atmosphere, and foster a sense of community, with renewable energy, grassroots arts and music, and small to medium scale organic agriculture.

It will mean embracing the truth that industrial civilization is destroying the world, and rather than wallowing in self-pity at having our illusions destroyed, rising up and embracing a culture based on ecology, enlightenment, and virtuous edification of our youth.

Notes:

  • 1.) Jensen, Derrick. Endgame: The Problem of Civilization, Vol. 1. Seven Stories Press, 2006. p. 69-70.
  • 2.) Trevanian. Shibumi. Three Rivers Press, 1979. p. 306
  • 3.) Liedloff, Jean. The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost. Da Capo Press, 1975. p. 114-115.

William Hawes

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

 

The Reawakening of Tribal Consciousness: The Spread of Ecological Wisdom and Confronting the Artifice of Capitalism

 

By William Hawes

“When
we learn to come together we are whole
when we learn to recognize the enemy
we will know what we need to know
to learn to come together
to learn to weave and mend.”

Anne Cameron, Daughters of Copper Woman

“I am the guardian of life
and death
all my children come back to me
I call you
conjure you
hide you in my breast
you nourish me with your bones
and live again.
I am your Mother Earth
your dark Mother Earth.
If you insist on destroying me
you will destroy yourselves.
Wake up
my children
listen to my cry.”

-Claribel Alegría, “Gaia’s Cry”

Recent world events are playing out a drama unseen since the mid-17th century. When the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, European borders were drawn so that sovereign states would establish the sole rule of law within their own respective territories. Today, transnational capitalism, huge waves of immigrants from war-torn and poverty-stricken regions, instant globe-spanning internet communication, and the threat of fundamentalist terrorism are dissolving borders at a rapid pace. In its wake, the notions of duty, respect for environmental rights, citizenship, and nations are being reformed to shape this rapidly forming interconnected global culture.

Leaders of modern nation-states are proving less and less adept at handling crises and managing world affairs: they turn to various technocrats within the maze of various government ministries, powerful businesspeople whose lobbyists write the laws for the legislature, non-profits and NGOs who carry out needed health and infrastructure projects, and community leaders from civil society who are able to wade through ethnic and tribal antagonisms with ease.

As nations falter due to weak links of shared identity between citizens, new ecologically and culturally conscious groups of people are linking together, as globe-spanning tribes based on tradition, ritual, spirituality, reciprocity, and love of the environment are gathering to create the most important movement of the 21st century. As refugees from the Middle East flee warfare, as Latin Americans leave their homelands due to little or no job security, and as highly educated East and South Asians emigrate to pursue advanced careers in engineering, science, and more, global tribes are forming that transcend the modern nation-state. Millions of people now have dual citizenships, and conflicting allegiances between their nation of birth and their new homes.

The Western State is now collapsing under the weight of its own bloated bureaucracies, its satiated, anesthetized, and myopic views of politics, and its inability, its unwillingness, to confront the environmental destruction and social ennui endemic to capitalism. The predatory nature of the State, its capacity for resource extraction and organized violence, is becoming all too clear for globally oriented people, those who adhere to a one-world philosophy and a desire to eliminate borders. Many young people are beginning to consider themselves as world citizens, or at least as member of larger regions, just as people in the EU refer to European citizenship and the European community. In the Islamic world, a similar concept has been used for centuries: Muslims are members of the ummah, the collective community of believers in Islam.

The Vision of Global Tribes

These questions surrounding transnational violence, religious fundamentalism, world citizenship, and social backgrounds are explored in depth in Amin Maaolouf’s In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong.  Maalouf traces his personal background, explains why having numerous tribal and ethnic allegiances does not inevitably have to lead to conflict, how modern Western nations react to “the other”, and most importantly, explains his notion of global tribes. He asserts that in contemporary life we have reached “The Age of Global Tribes”, a new era in which a patchwork of shifting ethnic, religious, and tribal allegiances compete with nation-states for glory, the need for social identity, and power.

Maalouf focuses on the Arab world, due to his dual French-Lebanese background. For Maalouf, fundamentalist Islamism gives disaffected individuals in undemocratic, dictatorial regimes a stable identity, despite the possibility of fomenting hatred and nihilism that fundamentalism can lead to. The corollaries in Western society would be people like Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, the Unabomber, and the odd racist or militia group that advocates violence. While it would be tidy to lay all the blame on a nihilistic outlook, on the death drive (Freud’s Thanatos), this seems an oversimplification. For the young, well-educated, and politically-oriented men in Arab nations, but those not rich enough to emigrate to the West or enjoy the simulacra consumer “”paradise” that Arab nations try to copy, there are few options for social belonging.

Fifty years ago, Marxist groups would have provided an outlet for social belonging; thirty years ago, the examples of Nasser, Sadat, and Khomeini led youths towards pan-Arab or nationalist organizations. Today, with the failure of both, and the covert support of the Gulf monarchies and their Western backers for jihadi terror, Islamist groups provide the need for social belonging in a very small percentage of young Arabs. Maalouf explains:

“In [Islamism] they find satisfaction for their need for identity, for affiliation to a group, for spirituality, for a simple interpretation of too-complex realities and for action and revolt.” (i)

The need to find affiliation for young people is due to the loss of power of the modern nation-state, which has exploited various ideologies to cling to power over the last few centuries. The construct of the nation-state, and its right to exist, has been de-legitimized by the failed ideologies of Marxism in Eastern Europe, Maoism in East Asia, permanent ethnic conflict in Africa, dictatorships in the Mideast, unregulated capitalism in North America and Western Europe, and the machismo populism prevalent in parts of Latin America. Thus it is no surprise to Maalouf and others that religion is what groups will fall back on in the modern era of crony capitalism and ecological disaster. Maalouf’s solution is language: if we all learn to adopt three (or more) languages, cultural differences and tensions will relax, and a true world community where religious belief no longer coincides with group violence and mob rule can flourish.

Neo-Tribal Consciousness and Organization

bus

What is missing from Maalouf’s analysis is the organization of this future society. For author Daniel Quinn, it is the tribe that will become the backbone of our emerging culture. He explores these ideals in his book Beyond Civilization, where he calls for a “New Tribal Revolution”. And in many ways the neo-tribal group seems the best option: tribes which share the work and share the profit of collective endeavors will inevitably have much less inequality and are likely be much more peaceful. As Quinn explains:

“Tribal life is not in fact perfect, idyllic, noble, or wonderful, but wherever it’s found intact, it’s found to be working well – as well as the life of lizards, racoons, geese, or beetles – with the result that the members of the tribe are not generally enraged, rebellious, desperate, stressed-out borderline psychotics being torn apart by crime, hatred, and violence. What anthropologists find is that tribal peoples, far from being nobler, sweeter, or wiser than us, are as capable as we are of being mean, unkind, short-sighted, selfish, insensitive, stubborn, and short-tempered. The tribal life doesn’t turn people into saints; it enables ordinary people to make a living together with a minimum of stress year after year, generation after generation.” (2)

A new form of tribe is emerging, not the suffocating, tyrannical, stereotypical, monotype tribe of the kind we read about in school history books: new groups where tradition does not dictate every action of the individual, where individuals feel free to express their spirituality without the needed to conform to a group religion. An egalitarian tribe, where merit matters, not rigid hierarchy or nepotism. Most importantly, neo-tribal wisdom accepts the idea that ecocentrism is central: the idea that humanity is not center stage in a drama located on planet Earth; the idea that we are all part of a cosmic web, a sacred hoop in Native American terms; that the environment does not derive its worth from human value, but has innate value and should be protected from short-term exploitation. For Quinn, the new tribal revolution is distinctly post-modern: it signifies the end of meta-narratives, the end of the idea that, in his words “There is only one right way to live”: the end of the superficial, spiritually myopic way of the modern techno-capitalist state.

The Delusion of Left vs. Right

trainyard

Viewing the world from the holistic, ecocentrist way, the futile arguments over liberal versus conservative beliefs are unmasked for what they are: a distraction, a carnival. The antagonism of Liberal/Conservative is thus a collective hallucination designed by elites to divide and conquer the people, as well as destroy ecosystems and pillage resources. Capitalist and Marxist-Leninist communist societies controlled by oligarchies have both ravaged environments immensely, and both have had industrial growth at the heart of their belief system. They both constitute, for author Jonathon Porritt, a super-ideology: industrialism. Here’s Porritt:

“[Capitalism and Communism] are dedicated to industrial growth, to the expansion of the means of production, to a materialist ethic as the best means of meeting people’s needs, and to unimpeded technological development. Both rely on increasing centralization and large-scale bureaucratic control and coordination. From a viewpoint of narrow scientific rationalism, both insist that the planet is there to be conquered, that big is self-evidently beautiful, and that what cannot be measured is of no importance.” (3, quoted in Dobson, 2007, p. 18)

The only politics that matters is how the human race uses and protects its lands and waters for the betterment of our own societies, our future children, and our fellow plant and animal species. How we can in small groups, clans, tribes, and perhaps even bioregional city-states grow enough food, collect enough clean water, gather materials for shelter, use appropriately scaled technology, and foster a vibrant culture among peaceable citizens. This philosophy goes by many names: sustainability, deep ecology, ecocentrism, etc.

Indigenous cultures have been practicing these skills for millennia, passing on oral traditions and ecological and agricultural knowledge so detailed it would make the Library of Congress look insignificant in comparison. Much of this knowledge and ancient wisdom has been lost to the sands of time, victim of the uprooting of cultures because of colonial wars, epidemic diseases, the techno-reductionism of modern health and science, capitalism, and Christianity’s missionary engulfment over entire continents, and more.

Ideas surrounding ecocentric politics, liberty, and democracy are being questioned from new radical perspectives, although Western media blacks-out massive progress: in Ecuador and Bolivia, the socialist parties in power are immensely raising standards of living and education, while improving rights for the environment and indigenous groups. In Spain, Podemos’ combination of direct and digital democracy, and its citizen circles used to debate local and municipal issues are redefining European politics. In the state of Chiapas, Mexico, Zapatistas led by the EZLN group have been busy for the past twenty-one years opening schools and hospitals, redistributing farmland for struggling farmers, saving diverse rainforests from logging and grazing, and imparting deep ecological values to its youths. Also, the EZLN are committed to passing on their own traditional Mayan culture within a framework of egalitarian deals, communalism, and socialist beliefs, distancing themselves from the whirlwind of neo-colonial capitalism that lords over most of North, Central, and South America.

What is also interesting is that many of these new perspectives and leaders are not committed to the ossifying processes that soon results from traditional political parties and the levels of bureaucracy that ensue. Groups like Bolivia’s MAS party and the EZLN have begun to embody the ideal of direct, grassroots participatory democracy. This is because it is only the people of a nation, its citizens, and not the faceless multinationals and their political figureheads, who are able to understand that inequality, injustice, and environmental degradation are a direct result of corporate-induced poverty, resource consumption, a loss of choices in the public sphere, and lack of regulations and care for the Earth.

The Paradox of Modern Education: Liberation versus Indoctrination

Today, modern Western education systems are playing a dual and contradictory role: edifying our youth and steeping them in critical ecological knowledge and value systems, while at the same time indoctrinating them into a corporate and conformist lifestyle by teaching them to obey and buy the products of the multinational companies pillaging the Earth.

Possibly the most intelligent tract concerning modern-day mindlessness when it comes to education is Paul Goodman’s devastatingly accurate Growing Up Absurd. Written back in 1960, Goodman torched the official out-of-touch education system, and laments the disaffected youths who feel excluded from capitalism and the anomie that emerges. Still immensely relevant today, Goodman explains the sheer naivety and blind spots of western pedagogical methods:

“Social scientists … have begun to think that “social animal” means “harmoniously belonging.” They do not like to think that fighting and dissenting are proper social functions, nor that rebelling or initiating fundamental change is a social function. Rather, if something does not run smoothly, they say it has been improperly socialized; there has been a failure in communication. … But perhaps there has not been a failure in communication. Perhaps the social message has been communicated clearly…and is unacceptable. … We must ask the question, “Is the harmonious organization to which the young are inadequately socialized perhaps against human nature, or not worthy of human nature, and therefore there is difficulty in growing up?”  (4)

Goodman’s analysis of juvenile delinquency, the lack of hope and prospects for young people, as well as his treatment on many issues including the structural racism of the prison system, and the missed revolutions in modern society are devastatingly accurate today. Education which focuses on world cultures, equality, indigenous beliefs, sustainability, and love of nature for its own sake and not human instrumental needs, teachings outside the Eurocentric worldview, will foster an ecocentric outlook, and progress then can be made towards a peaceful world community.

The Anatomy of Power

The modern nation-state faces a series of contradictions, not just in health, agriculture, and education. It simply is becoming more impotent as solving problems in mass society due to layers of bureaucracy, inflation of the currency which makes every social service more expensive to implement, the hollowing out of community services due to privatizations, etc. And problems of an interconnected, interdependent, globalized world lie outside the reach of the state. In Daniel Bell’s words, nations “have become too small to solve big problems, too big to solve small problems.”

States in the 21st century are most likely to function and thrive by governing horizontally: with many connections between workers unions, local politicians, civic groups, environmental non-profits, etc. In this way, local production takes precedence over mass-manufactured goods from China and places halfway across the world, lowering greenhouse emissions. Thus practices of bioregionalism are employed, and what experts might call the “topology of power relations” is changed to include environmental concerns and forms of eco-cultural restoration. Culture can then recreate itself around annual agricultural and ethical-responsible means of production, and recreate its connection to time and space: rather than continuing exclusively under the atomized Gregorian time system and borders imposed by conniving politicians, our world culture can work, play, and sink into the ever-present moment, what the Aborigines call the Dreaming.

If power is already beginning to be dispersed tribally, and through bioregional processes, are there any examples we can point to? Certainly, in the West, the case of the breakup of Yugoslavia, referendums in Quebec, Scotland, the fight for a referendum in Catalonia, all qualify as sub-national tribal entities reasserting their right to self-rule. Further, in the region of the former Soviet Union, the cases of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, East Ukraine, and Crimea, while they are often vilified as a form of ethno-nationalist fascism originating in the Kremlin, are undoubtedly due to the tribal allegiances shared between these fragile mini-states and the Russian motherland

There are even wannabe theorists in the US who claim to have identified the tribal identities in the USA, such as Colin Woodward and Joel Garreau. You can find the facile representations of their findings here and here. Both authors appear to be older, white, privileged, and seemingly unaware that US culture is very homogenous, and perhaps didn’t consider that there are vastly less cultural differences between New York and California, a 3,000 mile trek, then, say, the short hop between Brussels and Amsterdam. Further, unsurprisingly, Garreau does not even have any territory set aside for the First Nations, the Native Americans whose ancestors lived here for millennia, while Woodward only includes land in Northern Canada and Alaska for First Nation status, apparently oblivious to the 333 federally recognized Indian Nations in the US that are not in Alaska.

Badiou’s Rebirth of History

Occupy

The most striking examples of tribal, sub-national, mass movement intuitive wisdom towards rebellion and revolution against corrupt nations can be found in the 2011 Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and Spain’s Indignados. In all three instances, it was an activist minority who ignited popular dissatisfaction against corrupt regimes: in the West, oligarchic capitalism, in the Arab world, the figure of the Western-backed strongman, the dictator. For philosopher Alain Badiou, each of these dedicated protests represents a historical riot: an attempt to portray a political Truth to the world. Further, these acts showed that they represented the true will of the people, in the most general and universal terms: even though they accounted for a tiny minority, mainstream media regularly referred to Egyptian protesters at Tahrir Square as democratic, as representing the will of the people.

Of course, in the Middle East and North Africa the Arab Spring was about much more than democracy in any representative, parliamentarian sense: besides throwing out dictators like Mubarak and Ben Ali, social justice, dignity, equality, and freedom from Western hegemony were among key issues. The state should not have total power to determine law, taxes, industrial organization: civil society and direct democracy has a role to play as well. For the state, this is non-negotiable. As Badiou puts it:

“A massive popular event creates a de-statification of the issue of what is possible. In general, and especially in recent decades, the state has arrogated to itself the right to say what is possible in the political order and what is not. It is thus possible to ‘humanize ‘ capitalism and ‘develop’ democracy. But to construct a productive, institutional social order normed by equality and genuine popular command – that is completely impossible, a fatal utopia.”  (5)

To Badiou, the instincts of these protesters are correct in the sense that they tend towards universality: the values expressed (freedom, justice, forcing dictators to step down, etc.) not only apply to the nations involved, but are political truths the whole world must accept. This marks our age as an interregnum, or as Badiou says, an intervallic period, a stage between crony capitalism and a possible future world order of justice and egalitarianism. History is being born again out of the Thatcherite-Reagan period of hyper-capitalism from approximately 1980-2011, where greed was good, deregulation and privatization ruled, and the World Bank and IMF plundered the developing nations. The rise of civil society and grassroots democracy will lead to the withering away of the state, to Communism, in Badiou’s mind. For other theorists, ecologism is the preferred term to refer to the future era of politics, for others, bioregionalism, or environmental democracy.

Despite the differences in the symbolic nomenclature, in ideology, there are key similarities between theorists of leftist political thought,  and though they are hesitant to use terminology of the tribe, their principles often align with indigenous groups: smaller organizations of well-integrated peoples living and working together, with forms of consensus, direct democracy, horizontal civic groups, and yes, even tribal and religious elders who will uphold essential traditions, rituals, and spirituality necessary for group survival and cultural enrichment.

Lessons from Anthropology

For cultural anthropologist John H. Bodley, there are three cultural worlds: the tribal, the imperial, and the commercial. Most 21st century states are commercial states, dependent on industrialization, fossil fuels, high technology, global markets and cities, and representative government. Yet as he points out, “Commercialization co-opts both humanization and politicization processes to promote economic growth and the accumulation of financial capital.” (6) Political “elites” agree, although they use vague and convoluted arguments, threats, rhetoric, and would demur from ever saying so in such a blunt manner. For instance, the humanism of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is now seen as idealistic and unworkable by most “modern” Western states. The politicization process begun in the Enlightenment now begins and ends with liberal democracy, which today only buys time for authoritarian capitalism and the oligarchy that funnels money to the one-percent and their multinationals.

The commercial (liberal) arguments that restricting personal freedoms and thinning out the social commons are necessary for civilization are simply cases of falling for one’s own propaganda. The most glaring and infamous recent example being Fukuyama’s The End of History, in which he posits free-market capitalism, liberal democracy, and globalization marked the end of world conflict, the rising of standards of living globally, and  that liberal capitalism was the last and greatest socioeconomic ideology. These are “Delusions of Progress” according to Bodley. Bodley rejects the materialist technological, epidemiological, and geographical reasons for Eurocentric dominance (Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel argument) in the imperial and commercial worlds, and for him:

“The fate of humanity is determined by three variables…the scale at which people organize their sociocultural systems…how people control social power…and their deceptive use of culture to control perception.” (7)

In the imperial states of the 16th century through the commercial states in the 21st, the Westphalian states meet all three criteria for domination of weaker tribes and small nations. Recall the huge organizational scale of Spanish, Dutch, British, and French empires; the figure of the leader, replaced by rulers and later parliaments who demand tribute in the form of taxes to control social power; and the use of culture for dark purposes (consider the hypocritical and murderous rhetoric of Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, Bush’s “War on Terror”, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, etc.).

The Global System, Political Ecologism, and Their Limits

Global institutions like the UN, World Trade Organization, the EU, and their associated NGOs are simply not equipped to handle the flood of crises that scientific and social experts are predicting. And the nation-state will not be ready to handle issues when the floodgates open either. There are calls from a few (mostly ignored) expert theorists to begin planning for what they call the Eco-state, or the Green State (8), which will delegate responsibility of the bottom-up duties of social welfare and assign them to civil society, non-profits, and grassroots citizen groups; and the top-down, streamlined hierarchy of government responsible for natural disasters, tax collection, defense, and integrating trade within the global architecture. Green political ecologism does impart an especially important lesson, one that tribal societies understand implicitly: to expand the moral community to provide political protection for the rights of future human generations, non-human life forms, and the biosphere as a whole.

Political elites are not interested in imparting these deep ecological values: the elites instead appeal to the darkest, craven, lowest-common-denominator voter who refuses to consider lowering their habits of consumption. Everything could be changed by sharply limiting what we buy, lowering meat and especially beef consumption, rationing fossil fuel use, etc.: quality of life would vastly improve, average lifespan would increase, the arts would be rejuvenated, and morally responsible technology would develop.

As long as elites are bought by lobbyists pushing corporate agendas, and electorates are unwilling to see that the “standard of living” does not equate with the amount of things one owns, the green state and the interlocking global framework it requires seems far off. Perhaps the late 21st or the 22nd century will provide the state system needed for ecological stability and interdependence. For now, the smaller scale of the tribe will have to suffice.

Tribal Seeds: Reproducing Culture from Time Immemorial

While great philosophers like Badiou extol communism, and green theorists such as Dobson and Eckersely promote ecological politics, the annals of history and examples of indigenous tribes today can provide a model for the future. As Bodley shows, it is the tribal world that knows how to reproduce culture. Small-scale tribes are less likely to use organize violence as a tool for coercive and deadly clashes with rival nations, and much more likely to use sustainable farming and technology. A sharing and bartering society, with organic, biodynamic agricultural practices nourishing people materially and spiritually, would go a long way towards healing the open wounds of our mother Earth and the ethnic and sectarian tensions plaguing most nations. Rather than keeping food, housing, material and intellectual property under lock and key, a culture of abundance would allow unparalleled access to health, education, and scale-appropriate technology.

All the while, transnational notions of identity allow numerous chances for the cross-fertilization of sub-national groups and tribes. Civic engagement is slowly regaining strength as citizens want to expand communal gardening and agricultural practices, energy-efficient housing and irrigation, and renewable energy projects. As mass movements rally for social justice and direct democracy, the idea of what a tribal nation can be will spark a change in the public, and the struggle for liberation from suicidal capitalism and respect for universal human rights dissolve people’s delusions that a tribe must be xenophobic and anti-democratic.

Tribal society can be insular when it comes to one issue, however: the idea of reproducing culture. Certain rituals and rites of passage remain a closely guarded secret for many tribes, because of their profound mystical and spiritual implications. Shamans and chieftains in indigenous society are trained their whole lives to guide and groom the next generation: there are risks involved when passing through stages of life, and traveling through spiritual realms. Similarly, the industrialized nations face similar risks today, which can only be solved by a tribe, a village, a community. We must invent ways where we can initiate youths and adolescents, mothers and fathers, so that they can develop harmoniously within the social fabric. We must confront the ennui and malaise that the consumer culture has spawned. And hopefully, then we can learn the holy, sacred secrets to reproducing and recreating ecosystems and cultures worth passing on to the next generation.


Notes

  • 1 Amin Maalouf. In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. p. 90. Penguin Books, New York, 2000.
  • 2. Daniel Quinn. Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure. p. 61. Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999.
  • 3. Andrew Dobson. Green Political Thought (4th ed.). Routledge, New York, 2007.
  • 4. Paul Goodman. Growing Up Absurd. p. 10-11. Vintage, New York, 1960.
  • 5 http://ouleft.org/wp-content/ p. 94.
  • 6. John H. Bodley. Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System. (5th ed.) p. 17. Altamira, Plymouth, 2011.
  • 7. ibid. p. 19.
  • 8http://www.amazon.com/Planetary-Vision-Essays-Freedom-Empire-ebook/dp/B01E968NSQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1460761588&sr=1-1ii .Robyn Eckersely. The Green State. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004.

William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. You can find his ebook of collected essays here. His articles have appeared at Globalresearch.ca, Countercurrents.org, Dissidentvoice.org, and Counterpunch.org. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com.