Friday, June 25, 2010

Seize The Future. Part 1

"I don't see any future for whale species except extinction," Payne said. "This is not on any body's radar, no government's radar anywhere, and I think it should be."

Where the sentence above is concerned, I'm afraid that we humans could just as easily substitute the term mankind for whale species.

Plan of Action

Over a century ago Vladimir Lenin composed a famous tract entitled What is to be done. The pamphlet was, of course, about what needed to happen to enact a communist political program in Russia. Today, the human species faces a far more important-at least to my mind- and daunting task than the one Lenin outlined. What humanity is faced with is nothing less than altering the way we inhabit the planet.

Last week, in a nationally televised speech notable for its lack of gravitas, President Obama asserted that "the time is now" to make a shift in our nation's energy arrangements. Plainly, such an idea is nonsense from the standpoint that the time for such a shift was generations ago, but, we humans, both at the individual and the collective level, rarely make bold changes until (usually for reasons of survival) we are forced to. Bearing in mind that A.) it is quite likely too late to ward off catastrophe, which I choose to define as an accelerated massive die off of human, animal, and plant species, and B.) that the task of radically changing how we power our homes, package our food, travel to work and play, fertilize our soil, build our dwellings, and generally take care of ourselves on an individual and societal level is overwhelming in prospect, I would like to offer that our first steps, because they will be the most difficult, are, almost certainly, the most critical.

One thing we mustn't do is look to government to act as a leader let alone a facilitator of reform. Government has proven time and again that they are retrograde and obstructive to progressive and essential reform. In fact, part of the necessary change will involve living, to the best of one's ability, beyond the reach, literally and figuratively, of elected and appointed officialdom.

For generations, Republicans of yore, and presumably those who still think of themselves in what now seems like a hoary and absurd political affiliation, were committed to a program known as "starving the beast". This concept generally meant, and must still mean, destroying all non corporate friendly government functions by dint of choking off their funding. In large measure- excepting hysteria tinged rhetoric by "right wing" cadres that assert that President Obama is some sort of crypto-Marxist- proponents of "starving the beast" were very successful. In fact, they were so successful that, with very few exceptions, the banking sector and a few other malefactor industries, have now managed to co-opt the entire Federal Government to such an extent that it is the rest of us who are being figuratively and literally starved.

Towards (a sort of Luddite) Resistance

As much as one can, one needs to live one's life in a way that defies anything that smacks of a well established cultural norm, because entrenched cultural norms are, quite frankly, killing us. By eschewing institutionalized cultural norms I do not mean that, starting tomorrow, we should all discard such endeavors as building nuclear families, or creating a network of friends, or holding memberships in civic or charitable organizations. Far from it. What I have in mind are cultural practices that support and bolster the maintenance of materialistic existence of the sort that systematically eats away at basic social networks that are vital to the maintenance of local community. And if it's not clear now, it will, in due course, become clear that the creation and maintenance of robust local communities will be vital to our individual and collective survival. Having said that, I would like to add that the irony of my preaching such a message on a blog read by people who live far away from where I, and my family, dwell is not lost on me.

To say that we are subsumed by devices and products that are utterly devoid of all but the barest utility is hardly an exaggeration. I really don't know where to start by way of cataloging and describing a phenomenon that, for the purposes of this post, I'll refer to as horrific technological waste, but, however one wishes to refer to this monstrous and seemingly all encompassing condition, it is, indeed, a menace that is almost impossible to exaggerate. I submit, for example, that the omnipresent sub culture of the cell phone-yes, dear readers, I, too, own one- may be, to date, the single most infamous progeny to ever emerge from the steaming cauldron of horrific technological waste. We must endeavor to divest ourselves of this sort of gargantuan cultural junk as if our lives depended on it, because, quite frankly, they probably do.

In keeping with that sentiment, we must also strive to become, with respect to daily necessities, as self sufficient as possible. I imagine you've all heard this line before, ad nauseum, so forgive me for, as it were, piling on when I say that, where possible, grow your own food. And if you can't grow your own food, then support local operators that do. We should do this for the simple reason that even though it will almost certainly entail a greater strain on our personal finances, the price for not doing so is simply too high.

Humor me when I advocate avoiding, if possible, the purchase of items packaged in plastic. Likewise, where you can, use public transport instead of a car. Equally, when and where you can, walk rather than availing yourself of public transit. Most importantly, at least where the subject of personal transportation is concerned, avoid, if possible, owning an automobile. I'm sorry to report that better and more fuel efficient cars aren't the answer. Far fewer automobiles of all kinds are much closer to the answer, at least until such time as autos are powered entirely by means that are vastly more fuel efficient than anything available presently.

Making the aforesaid changes amounts to a case of we can take these steps ourselves with some modicum of control over the process or we can cede any potential for autonomy that still exists, and expect to be dealt with in an arbitrary (and most likely) harsh manner as exigent circumstances dictate.

End of Part 1


Debra said...

This is a really interesting post, Edwardo, and I'm going to do you the favor of digging into it a bit, so we can discuss.
I am really excited that you are moving out beyond rant, because ON AN INDIVIDUAL LEVEL, I think that your ATTITUDE is very important to changing the perceptions of your readership too. And that is REALLY IMPORTANT.
I seriously suggest, once again, that you dig into Barzun's book, where you will see that the issues that we have in front of us at this particular point in our civilization are... IDENTICAL to the issues that our ancestors faced. What makes government legitimate or illegitimate, WHO should run government, etc etc.
All our talk has precedent, and the ANSWERS we seek can PROFIT from the historical perspective, I ASSURE YOU. Even though I am well aware that climate change is a NEW problem facing us, well, the way we see problems and treat them, that is OLD. And should be investigated.
Back to your post.
I have been struggling for quite some time now to draw people's attention to the FACT that we are born extremely DEPENDANT beings, and that that dependancy (not autonomy...) simply shifts in the course of our lives. Of course... starting from the time we can WALK, that dependancy shifts considerably, but, well... man is a SOCIAL animal, and surviving ALONE, well... the wolves will get you. They got our ancestors, too..
So, I think that if our GOAL is to become completely AUTONOMOUS, we will fuck the species and the planet up as completely as we have done up to this point. Because the ideal of autonomy (accompanied by the unadulterated adoration of the INDIVIDUAL) is a big part of the problem of what got us into this mess initially.
Think about it... all those atomic INDIVIDUALS riding in their atomic little CARS with their air conditioners on to do their atomic little JOB with the masses as the backdrop ??
And I think that you have some rather.. RADICAL solutions that could hasten taking us to the brink.
For example...
Touting the idea of growing your own food rather than... buying local produce at the farmer's market...
Why not... grow SOME of your food ? If you have the time and inclination to do so, because, well, agriculture is HARD WORK, and this year one of my crops did not come up because the weather was too cold. A long time ago, some nice, even more wingnut person than I, suggested that our ancestors LIVING ON/OFF THE LAND did not NEED an insurance culture... and I asked him what he thought about FAMINE, for example ??
But... you CAN find solutions that are not RADICAL REACTIONS to the status quo.
I buy MOST of my meat from a local "producer" who raises sheep, cows, pigs, and the slaughtering is done in a humane manner right next door to her.
And.. I feel good about that. I am not eating VERY MUCH beef, for example. But, a little.
I think that the simple desire to SCALE BACK and not eliminate will take us further than radical reaction.
On the subject of public transport and walking/biking.
I like biking. It... uses less energy than public transport, right, and the car ?
Yep, BUT... the bikers, ONCE AGAIN, are on their little atomic bikes, pedaling away ALONE to get where they wanna go. And they almost never say "hi" or smile when I greet them...
And.. that does NOT foster social cohesion.
And social cohesion, and cooperation, well THEY ARE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY FOR ME RIGHT NOW.
And Western society, particularly American society, is light years away from social cohesion.
So... ALL the "solutions" we find SHOULD take into account social cohesion as probably our BIGGEST PRIORITY.
Because... there will be no lasting change without social cohesion. And social cohesion is NOT POSSIBLE with the masses. Na.

Edwardo said...

Deb, try not be shocked when I say that I agree with pretty much all that you've said. With respect to growing our own food, I take it as a given that only a very few will be able to supply anything close to their entire requirement. And for the reasons you assert- fostering community- it is probaby just as well that we do not become atomized little agrarians. As for bike riders, well, they do act anti- socially at times, but perhaps that will change when their number increases as the bite of Peak Oil intensifies.

Anonymous said...

Edwardo, that sums it all up - the problem and the prescription - with precision.

Sun Tzu said that where we can be as water, we can erode the foundations of rock, and that's far more effective than trying to meet rock with rock (especially if we could only muster a small stone).

That's how I view the subversive potential of relocalization.

And that's just the "negative" aspect of it.

Positively, it's how we'll redeem our humanity - our communities, our democracy, our holistic place on earth, our spirit, our freedom.

Debra said...

Why should I be shocked, Edwardo ?
I'm not. Glad to hear that you are not promoting wholescale return to the land for the 6 billion of us on the planet...
Nice post, anyway. ;-)
Maybe you would like to check out my last two posts at Toby's place, on Goethe and melancoly ?
I have some.. spiritual suggestions...

DED said...

Being a Luddite means eschewing all advanced technology in favor of the rudimentary basics. If I understand your point, I believe that you're arguing against our rampant materialism. There's a profound difference.

Debra said...

Na ded, excuse me for doing some shameless self promotion, but I have written a post over at Toby's place explaining just HOW and WHY we are NOT materialistic. (It's not the current post, but it's back there not too far.)
Not at all.
Our society has never been quite so... DEMATERIALIZED as it is right now...

Debra said...

Just read Joe's most recent post. Damn, but that man writes well..

Edwardo said...

Ded, that's why I wrote towards a (sort of) Ludddite Resistance. It is, sort of, because mine is not a blanket position against technology, and it is not based on the traditional Luddite concern which was the displacement of human labor by machInes.

Edwardo said...

Deb, regarding materialism, and whether we are, to a greater or lesser extent, "materialistic", it all depends on how one defines one's terms.

Edwardo said...

Yes, indeed, my homey, JB, sure can write. And his latest is an absolute corker. More precise than a laser beam, and more devastating than a mid- summer's protracted heat wave.

Edwardo said...

I will add that JB, however well he writes, and however much we may agree with him, is, in the end, a big, fat, drunken, ranter.

Debra said...

Aw... what a spoilsport.
Are you jealous of Joe ??...
He may be a big fat drunken ranter, but then, look at Henry Miller.
Have you read "The Air Conditioned Nightmare ?"
And it was written before Joe (or you or I) was born...
I THINK so...

Edwardo said...

Do you want me to be jealous of Joe?

Johnny D. said...

I'm doing those things, Edwardo. Some of them I'm doing better than others. I do have a cell, but I barely use it, and I refuse to become an internet-cell-phone-addicted-freak. I hang around people that are constantly on the internet via their phone, and having a conversation with them is an almost useless endeavor. If I say something like, "Gee, wonder who this song on the radio is by?" Bam. Out comes the phone and the surfing begins. A few minutes later, "It's so and so band." But the phone doesn't get put away then. The surfing and texting starts. It's annoying as hell. Often times I feel like just getting up and going into my computer room and turning on my computer and surfing the net. After a fashion, I suppose they might come looking for me. I wonder how I should reply?

I do grow a lot of our own food. I am out of debt except for the house - which matters not - as I am far from being "upside down" on the home's worth - so far anyway. I bought back in 2002 before the big bubble machine got really cranked up. We do drive fuel efficient vehicles, and they are paid for, so I'm not interested in buying anything else until I'm forced to, or we have a major technological break through.

I could go on, but I just wanted you to know that I'm with you on this. We try to do the little things such as use sandwich bags over and over. We compost. We have a year's supply of food put up, and I learned to make bread from scratch by grinding the wheat in a hand-cranked grain mill and using nothing but yeast, honey, water and oil (and a couple other ingredients that escape me at the moment). So, like I said, I can go on, and I just did, which makes me a rambler, which means now I will shut up because I'm rambling and sufficiently embarrassed for having done so.

Debra said...

Hey Johnny D., go ahead and ramble.
To me, it makes you more.. endearing, less abstract, less of an idea in my mind, and more of a person..
Did you lob that tennis ball over into my court, Edwardo ?...
I'll let it pass.

Toby said...

Excellent post Edwardo, truly! Passion, precision and humility displayed with elegance and grace. I'm only sorry I've stumbled across it so late.

I'm with you 100%, and with Debra too. The whole purpose is for us poor atomized souls to relearn the naturalness and benefits of interdependencies, aka building strong and sustainable communities. Everything you recommend must be pursued with this overarching goal in mind. It is the only way we can survive as a species, and even then the chance is slim.

I am looking into permaculture (have ordered come materials already,) and hydroponics, and will continue working on my own shyness by getting to know my neighbours better. As to most technology I agree fully with your characterization of it as horrible waste, but the problem is not technolology per se, rather our cultural mindset (as you suggest). Should we change our mindset in sufficient numbers, generate sufficient momentum and sufficient cohesion, both 'locally' and 'globally' we'll start using our ingenuity more sustainably.

Way to go! You've made my day. And may I recommend Eisenstein's "The Ascent of Humanity" once more. It's a very important book and a great read to boot.

Edwardo said...

Johnny, you sound like a damn sight closer to perfection than I.

Thank you, very much, Toby. Here's to success with our project.