What is needed?

Some call it the greed at the heart of the capitalist system, others call it the impossibility of infinite profit on a finite planet, still others call it the dead-urge of our entire industrial civilization. What we can – and should – all agree on, is that we are heading towards the biggest disaster in the history of our species.

Most people are still blatantly ignorant about the amount of damage, and the pace at which the destruction continues (we are losing about 200 species every day; clearcutting, fishing, mining, agriculture, mountaintop removal, dams, tar sands, vivisection, fracking, offshore drilling, toxic chemicals, factory farming, etc). Some people have begun to show traits of fatalism (“I can’t do anything about it, anyway”) or are hoarding supplies to survive the collapse (“preparedness”). Others choose to fight back, in order to limit the damage that will be done by those in power as they’ll do anything to defend what they perceive as theirs.

What is needed is sympathy for the latter group. These people are not violent eco-jihadists, or minority terrorists, even though those in power will never stop demonizing them as such. Quite on the contrary. They are feminist activists, who advocate dismantling a violent ideology of masculinity. These are activists that have come to the painful conclusion that dogmatic nonviolence will not solve this problem (but make things worse as it effectively silences true resistance). They are people who care deeply about the future of our planet, and refuse to compromise.

What is needed is a belief that there is still a way out, that we can defy the deadly logic of capitalism and industrialism. What is needed is the slightest hint of an alternative. That seems easy, but remember that the system will do everything to claim anything we come up with for itself, and continue its destructive path: infinite growth of “green” energy (which is double harmful1), profit-seeking eco-villages, industrial patches to keep the pollution at bay.

Dreams
The power of the dominant culture to claim our ideas and rephrase them in its inherently destructive terms, seems insurmountable. But we will have to try. Never be afraid of sharing your dreams! If you don’t share them, the dreams of the ruling elite, the dreams of the CEOs of Monsanto, DOW, Chevron2, and their henchmen, the dreams of the power-hungry lobbyists, the misanthropic futurist dreams of the Hollywood propaganda machine, and the dreams of your abusers will define our imagination of the future. We need to stop that. If we want to be perceived as who we are: loving, caring beings who have decidedly taken the side of our planet, against the cancer that is destroying it, we need our “propaganda”: we need to nurture the collective dream of a future humanity that lives in harmony.

Dream 1: eco-villages
For most of its history, humankind has lived in villages. Until a few years ago, the majority of people lived in a rural situation. I dream about a future in which humans live together in small groups in permaculture villages that do not consume resources they don’t ultimately replenish. The groups are small enough to guarantee social cohesion and large enough to be efficient in terms of the division of tasks. They have access to the collective knowledge about the design and operation of sustainable systems. The villagers are no longer slaves, not to lords, not to kings, not to capitalists. They live free and rejoice. Art, theatre, music, storytelling, these things form the center of social life, not money, career, fashion, and fear. Villages exchange with each other to their mutual benefit. The education system no longer mimics the factory floor and new generations will be more and more estranged from the fear and greed that defined their ancestors.
While I dream, the machine of the enemy has produced poisonous “arguments” to defuse my revolutionary idea.
– It requires some remnants of industrial infrastructure, therefore it is hypocritical.
– It requires a steep decline in human population, therefore it is misanthropic.

How do we react to that? We dream on.

Dream 2: living on the debris
Over time human population will probably decline as there are not enough fossil fuels to feed 10 billion people sustainably. Such a decline can be extremely violent, with peoples murdering each other in resource wars, but it doesn’t have to be. Industrial infrastructure won’t go away completely. It is important to realize that only a halt in expansion inevitably leads to the dismantling of the system (that’s why it is a cancer).
I dream of us living on the debris of civilization. We are comfortable in dilapidated high-rises without television. People are dancing on the rooftops and balconies3. There are too many of us to resettle to the land, so here we are, living a poetic live on the remains of the failed industrial society. We carry to burden of a perceived responsibility for our ignorant grandparents, and carry it with proud. In the center of our community are art, theatre, music, storytelling. Cities no longer destroy and pollute in order to sustain themselves. There are vegetable gardens everywhere. Ducks, chicken, rabbits are the denizens of former factories. Human population is slowly declining as most people decide to have less than two children. Biodiversity increases as nature recovers. There are no wage slaves, no traffic jams, no office hours in this city. There is street theatre, solidarity, sharing.
While I dream, the machine rolls on and has produced even more poison to stop us from even thinking of an alternative.
– People would never voluntarily give up their “wealth” and god-given right to SUVs, therefore it is undemocratic.
– You idealists don’t mention safety, therefore it is irresponsible.

But we dream on. In dreams, everything is allowed. And it is time that our dreams enter the collective mind, replacing the toxic dreams of the dominant culture (“when we’re done with this planet, we’ll go to the next; technology will find a way out through 3D printing and genomics”). What a dream describes is the result of our revolution, not how we get there. Indeed, in the resulting situation crime rates are low, because the violent culture has been abandoned. In the resulting situation, the majority of people have simply understood what it takes to live together, and they have no reason to harm each other4.

Confidence
We activists don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t have all the answers. We are trying to save what can be saved as this destructive culture approaches its sad climax. It is important not to confuse us with those who have an urge for destruction. But we cannot blame anyone for doing so, as ours are very confusing times.

All we ask you is to make up your mind, and try to listen to the voices from our grandchildren, whose birthright it is to be part of a living planet.


1Wind turbines, solar panels, and hydropower all rely heavily on an industrial infrastructure. Even the strongest propositions, such as those of Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute won’t work if energy still has to be transported over thousands of kilometres, is dependent on the destruction of landbases for mining of rare earth minerals, and has to be complemented by ‘conventional’ energy sources anyway because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

2I can’t possibly mention them all. Take the whole Fortune 500. It is in the very nature of a corporation to do harm. There are some elections of the worst company of the year, such as the Public Eye Awards (that honor goes to Vale in 2012). 
3It is certainly possible to live sustainably in a city. See the experiment of Colin Beavan, the “No impact man”.

Even today, the majority of people won’t harm each other knowingly (of course the destroy each other by participating in the system). Violence is on the decline, as powerfully demonstrated by S. Pinker (“the better angels of our nature”). This might also mean that our society is capable of a leap of faith from an oppressive police State that produces violence by its very nature to the peaceful coexistence of communities.

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Published by

Kamiel Choi

Dutch philosopher and poet, sometimes sharing thoughts on the internet.

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