by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ July 12, 2020
The American tragedy, as a segment of the planetary crisis, will not end in recovery. We need to abandon all hope of restoration. Whether beds we have made and must sleep in or sandwiches, we have made and must eat, pick your preferred metaphor, and get on with it.
People have been saying this for some time. As always, with significant change, the realization is slow to dawn and needs endless repetition to trigger awareness. As anyone who has worked in marketing knows, the first three times you tell people something, they will remember nothing. It takes four repetitions before you can expect an acknowledgment that some distant bell may have been rung.
Human social knowledge is cumulative and gains mass only with repetition. This need is the understanding behind Hitler’s Big Lie and the endless repetition of conspiracies on Fox News and all other propaganda media. That is the unfortunate route to collateral damage in human society. We have failed to develop critical skills to distinguish between reality and fantasy as well as between lies and logically viable, if not true, statements.
So many societies and the US is the elephant-sized example, are left with repetition as the default indicator of truth. So, unlike mass media propaganda, reality must rely on more and more people saying what they have discovered for themselves. Despite the best and most sophisticated techniques of faking this type of repetition in social media (thousands of twitter bots repeating the same story), people eventually figure it out.
The fat lady is about to sing. We’ve waited so long that some have decided the fat lady might never take the stage. We’re still not sure if Trump is the fat lady or only her warm-up act. God help us if Trump starts to sing. It doesn’t matter as the pandemic has closed the theater, and Trump is there all by himself. The show is very much over.
What we are now realizing is that not only is the show over, but bulldozers are about to eliminate the theater. There is a certain delicious irony here as bulldozing Palestinian homes is a popular form of Israeli oppression much admired by America’s propagandized White population.
The point is that things have changed in almost every way imaginable. The climate crisis, the slowly emerging permanent pandemic, the demographics, and the final failure of borders and old-style nationalism are all combined into a large bulldozer making our world history.
These are tough times, and the learning process will be slow until the bulldozer arrives on your doorstep, and then it will go very quickly. But there are levels to this disaster and to how people will come to realize that restoration of their familiar world is not going to happen.
The most critical dimension is one about which we, in the Modern world, have the weakest understanding. That is the most fundamental privilege that our species has relied on for incredible success on this planet; we could deal with our world as a passive object to plunder. This interpretation of reality was the inevitable outcome of our rise to a scientific age.
Complexity and the changing relationship we have with our planet are complicating our lives. We, this is especially true in America, have succeeded despite our inability to understand a timeline longer than six months. Five years is as far as our future goes, and that is usually only tied to budgets, transactions, and capital amortization, not ordinary people.
Our planet is now reacting actively to what we have done, and those actions are, effectively, rejections. In terms of climate, pandemics, food resources, and livable environments, we face centuries of growing rejection. While we can, most easily, think of this biologically just as our bodies marshall antibodies to control and reject microorganisms, that is not how we need to understand this new condition.
This catastrophic era is a consequence of how Western civilization implemented the scientific revolution from Galileo through Newton to the modern nation-state’s economic and political structure. Over four hundred years, this came to dominate the planet to great, apparent success. As we have seen repeatedly over the last fifty years, we have begun to learn that success was purchased, to use our preferred metaphor, at great expense to our planet and our species.
The transition from the closed world to the infinite universe, in the classic work by Alexandre Koyré, gave us physical power over our planet while depersonalizing it. This objectification also established a value-weighted timeline moving from local and physical to future and global. Local became negatively provincial tied to location and nature as intimate agents with the future becoming positively progressive by making everything objective and exploitable.
While the rise of urban civilizations over the last ten thousand years began devaluing the non-urban, the ancient recognition of the spiritual link to a personified environment was carefully maintained. The acceptance of this link was true even as empires rose and conquered vast areas. Successful empires relied on respect for local spiritual and animistic traditions that recognized the land and all life as active agents who must be understood and dealt with fairly.
Imperial China, the oldest and most advanced civilization many times, pulled back from the objectification of our planet in favor of a traditional balance. The same is true of India as the other dominant ancient civilization and seems to be also the case in the great cultures of Africa and the Americas. Only western Europe, for many reasons, made this stunning break.
All eras come to an end, and the tremendous Western age is facing a planetary and cultural bill that looks well beyond our ability to pay. We cannot even understand that the ways that made us all more prosperous and powerful are no longer applicable. The oligarchic elite, as an inevitable result of capitalist evolution, recognizing this failure is refusing to change and has abandoned all pretense of supporting the other 90% of the population.
We have a growing disaster and chaos driven by the elite’s control of police state systems to incite racism and antiquated nationalism to cripple the population. The lure is the hope of, yet, some rewards from the globalized future that has abandoned them. Those easiest to lure are the more conservative and provincial who is closest to the earth tradition in many ways but can see it only as tribal ownership in imitation of the global depersonalized form.
What needs to change is moving our focus to the local to rebuild, not nation-states, but city-states tied together in alliance with our terrestrial plane for the benefit of all life forms. We must remove borders and nationalities to recognize the rights and active agency of all around us.
The pressure of massive disruption, climate, and pandemic related, must be addressed both locally and at the planetary level. That cannot happen with tools that lack relevance to the reality we now inhabit. The desperate attempts to ignore the climate crisis or to pretend to acknowledge it but insist on continuing harmful practices are all products of an elite attempting to escape the present with all the loot by supporting the local (past) versus global (future) world model.
Our languages must change. As I and many others have said, the words we see daily repeating the old politics of left versus right, and tribal/national groups versus all make productive change impossible. That is the goal of those words and the agents that use them.
We need to rediscover the power in our terrestrial places but in a new way that can be planetary in scope. Recognizing and respecting the agency of our planet with all sentient beings as our shared environment must be our future. From this perspective, all the old problems of exploitation, unequal asset distribution, national conflict, and willful destruction become issues to work out and solve.
With the focus on local or Terrestrial and not on a distant Global future, we can find common ground. See Bruno Latour for more information.