by Martin Murie
(Swans - December 3, 2007) I'm glad Swans published Arnab Roy Chowdhury's eco-topia/green utopia piece because it gives a good grounding for consideration of a radical alternative.
As Chowdhury points out, utopias have been hobbled by the dream of perfection, a lapse I can't account for, because most of our species know from direct experience that nature is unreliable, dynamic, and springs surprises. No species on this earth has ever lived or possibly could ever live in perfect harmony with nature, simply because of nature's dynamism. We can't attribute all misery to human evil or misadventure.
The history of conservation and environmental movements in the United States and Europe has always been flawed by the strangest doctrine: Nature as benign. The movements were further hog-tied by an offshoot of that error, a kind of religion that led so often to passivity and a bypass of activism tuned to what was really needed. It promoted individualism instead. It shucked off responsibility, except for bouts of rhetoric. And so it came to pass that the original conservation movements, succeeded by environmentalism, got saddled by reams and reams of self-centered words celebrating how "I" received from nature a precious union, an uplift, a wonderful putting into perspective the sorrows of "my life," and other passionate outcries to this effect. The message was, and still is, "Go you and do likewise."
There was little space for debate once that rugged individualism got into full swing. The way was paved for the Big Greens, as well as many medium-sized Greens, to join, as subordinate members, the game played by the top political predators. It's an incredibly simple-minded game, The Art of the Politically Possible.
The other game, the principled game, has a hard rule: to win for humanity you must play the Art of the Politically Impossible: grassroots democracy. That impossibility can come to pass, but only through steady, and principled, struggle.
Take a moment to look back to the pre-Civil War Lincoln-Douglas debates. Those two guys at least faced major facts of the situation. People drove wagons miles and miles to watch and listen.
Chowdhury notices the dangerous trends in green utopias, especially the more radical "Deep Ecology" movement, the flirting with fascist doctrine, calling for a substantial reduction of human populations. The implication can so easily be made that this is the first order of business, before we begin the shift to saving the earth.
Unfortunately, there is another dangerous eco-trend, "sustainability," that is spouted everywhere these days. For me that word still has a man-in-charge standoffish devotion, an aggressive custodianship, or management of "resources." But total dependence on clever technological use of resources will not do the job. Nothing short of decisive shifting of the demands the system makes on the way we work and play and travel and raise our kids will do the job.
There is also a real possibility that it's too late anyway. In that case we must buckle down and prepare for the tremendous impacts on the lands and waters and peoples and the other species of the earth.
Seeing through the posings and lies will not do the job either. My suggestion for a piece of the principled vision that we have to create is to make a quick revision in the way we image Nature, stop treating it like a god, a giver of "feel good," a spiritual "resource." To repeat, nature is a dynamic system, prone to shift and change and reverse direction. It is not an herbal medicine. Nature is neither friend nor foe; it is a huge and mysterious force and we are in it and of it, from birth to death. Nature treats us badly, often. We know that. Nature treats us generously, often. We know that too. Absolute lifetime harmony was never experienced by any one of our species and never will be. Well, okay, if you believe in an afterlife, some kind of eternal embodiment in a Supreme Creator's plan, harmony will be your fate. Speaking for myself, I would not want that kind of master-slave relationship.
Here on planet Earth we can work for happiness and justice and an end to war and racism and massive oppression by the few, always remembering, however, that we are part of a cosmic system larger than mere predatory capitalism. We will never stand outside and "administer" it, because we are insiders. Come to think of it, who would want the awesome job of ruling the solar system? Let's give ourselves some slack, consult with each other, show some compassion, and, above all, stop blindly obeying orders from the few who set themselves up as deciders.
The primate tribe is a latecomer composed of a twig on a sub-branch of a big branch of mammals who are themselves late-comers. Other species preceded us in the millions of years of this fantastically evolving planet. Species, most of them extinct, passed on their heritage, impacts on environments included, to others. Finally, only a million or more years ago, US.
We can take a step back, learn from the past. We've had enough of arrogant pronouncements that we cannot and ought not return to the "stone age." That's meant to be a casual dismissal of all history except maybe the last forty years, or less, of presidents, premiers, parliaments. Let us not allow self-chosen experts to toss history. Better to conjure up a fair-sized dose of humility. All that takes is to accept that humankind is part and parcel of a system much bigger than the biggest empire, tens of thousands of times more mysterious and massive and ever-present than the current rulers at the helm of these United States or India or France or any of the nations of the earth.
Then, clearing a bit of space for contemplation, we can look around, study the past, the present, and the future and think for ourselves. Hey, who wants to go along to get along and finally pass on, donating our remains to various food chains of other creatures, without once stepping over the razor wire laid down by obscenely wealthy deciders?
No, let's rebel from that kind of passage through the bitter and the sweet of this life. While we're here, let's go for broke; bring leaders to a strict accounting; clear the way for that impossibility, real democracy. "Powder River, Let 'er Buck."
"Powder River, Let 'er Buck" is a Wyoming rodeo saying.
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