The economics profession provides the ideology, the corporations fund the politicians and their lobbyists write the legislation, the congress formalizes the legal cover and the stacked courts confirm it, the Federal Reserve provides the “fractional reserve” lending authority, and the Wall Street “Masters of the Universe” direct capital to drive the endless-growth economy that is killing the planet. The military, of course, assures that the dwindling planetary resources flow to the growth machine and the increasingly militarized police act as an occupying force to “manage” the population.
Where can we find the hope in all this harsh institutionalized reality that is already exceeding the limits of the biosphere? Hope lies where it always has: in the people. When we examine the examples of revolutionary change in history, one fact becomes clear. All successful revolutions (aside from those overthrowing in invading or occupying armies) have been non-violent movements of the people against oppressive regimes of one sort or another. Popular resistance is a powerful force. Real power results from the consent of the governed; that is what frightened the financial and political elites so much about the Occupy Movement. When that consent is withdrawn, elites tremble.
Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall surveyed a wide range of movements of popular resistance to oppressive regimes in the last 100 years in their book, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, and found that a variety of non-violent sanctions – from strikes and boycotts to civil disobedience, street demonstrations, and non-cooperation – exercised by ordinary people, can separate ruling elites from their sources of power to end oppression. Each case was different – from Gandhi’s movement of non-cooperation in India in the 1920’s to Poland’s Solidarity movement in the 1980’s, from Russia in 1905 (before the Bolsheviks) to Argentina in the 1970’s and Chile in the 1980’s to Burma today – but wherever popular resistance bloomed, it could not be stopped.
Today, our problem is the same but also different. What Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism” in his book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, has quietly and incrementally overturned democratic institutions in the U.S., resulting in a elite-managed façade of corrupted democratic formalities that gloss over a pervasive corporate plutocracy.
What does all this mean for a citizen movement to transform the economy to achieve ecological justice, a stable biosphere, and the triumph of human values over economic growth serving corporate power? Because all national institutions are now under unified totalistic control of the economic/political elite, serious change can only come from the bottom up – from the people ourselves. Both collective acts of resistance and re-organization of economic activity in communities are necessary.
Close all your accounts with the Big Banks; open accounts only with local banks and member-owned credit unions. Start employee-owned businesses. Dump Comcast and join or start a cooperative member-owned Internet association at half the cost. Divest your investments from fossil fuel corporations and military contractors. Organize local opposition to water-table destroying oil/gas fracking. Organize your community to establish publicly owned municipal community solar/wind driven electricity and local-regional smart grids. Start community gardens and food coops. Buy local, especially food, and avoid any “food”-product with more than five ingredients. Pay a little more for locally grown organics and buy less plastic junk – the costs and benefits will balance out. Organize to pressure city, county, and state governments to embark on seriously carbon-neutral energy programs. The list can be extended by dozens of actions people can take where we live.
We must change the way we live by taking individual and collective action in conflict with and in resistance to the very consumer culture we have internalized since World War II, but must now purge from our sense of ourselves. We must again communicate with family and neighbors about steps we can take together to stem the tide of ecological catastrophe. The new culture for a carbon-neutral world will look very different as we shape it, but will be fulfilling in ways the alienated consumerism we have been deceived into thinking is the mark of “success,” can never be. And when you consider all those people who are just not paying attention, remember Margaret Mead’s oft-quoted words: “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The inattentive will eventually recognize hope in a new reality forming. The possible is not necessarily the probable. That is up to us. Only our individual commitments and collective actions will make it so.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
2 thoughts on “What It Will Take: Living in a World We Made But Never Expected to See, Part III”
Hi Bob, great blog – delighted you are putting your thoughts out there. I read back through parts 1-3 and generally agree 100%. My reason though for not really being a “hopeful” realist though is that for years now I have realized that these life changes you mention boil down to a severe powering down of the energy we all use. Scientists often use the 80% figure – we need to reduce our overall energy use by 80% within X years (the number varies). And even among the progressive friends and acquaintances of mine – I see no effort to start down that road. They will add solar to their already high usages or buy a Prius – but they aren’t really reducing the total. I have made myself the hated dinner party downer by suggesting to people that they disconnect and stop using their garage door openers for example. You should have heard the outcry (from Liberals) that they couldn’t do that because blah blah blah. They all felt they were entitled to not ever have to get out of their car to open the garage door for special reasons. Really serious hardships like the fact that they came home after dark or they had groceries in the car. I am sarcastic. Same thing for obvious things that everyone could do like hanging their clothes on the shower rod instead of using the dryer or not using an electric hair dryer which is never needed in our climate. You get the idea. Even people concerned about the environment won’t change. I have one friend who when I suggested gently that she didn’t need to use that hair dryer asked with sincere shock “How will I fluff my hair?” And still used the dryer even though she was in my passively cooled house and I asked her to not heat up the bathroom. She was programmed. I am not hopeful because the programming of Americans is so complete. It’s not just the corporations forcing this way of life on us. We the people fight for it and feel entitled to it. Almost all of us.
Anyway, thanks for starting this discussion. I just wanted to point out my observation that some of those who will agree with you will not be able or willing to take that first step. I wish I was a hopeful realist but I’ll just go with the title “Realist”. I am still willing to fight for the right but am not too sure of the outcome. Cheers, Jan
Hi Jan, glad you enjoy my ramblings. I must say I entirely agree with your assessment of the ‘liberal-environmental class.’ The culturally ingrained and blind duplicity is sometimes [often] astounding. The hair dryer and garage door opener examples are so emblematic of the gaping hole in awareness and denial of cognitive dissonance between personal behavior and social [abstract] ideology. That’s why I am so down on the Democrats. On that I would refer to Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion and Death of the Liberal Class. I am afraid that significant change in the people like those you describe will not only be hard coming but rather late. I am currently exploring some ideas around how the kind of cultural change we need can happen…a rather complex difficult topic. But change in personal behavior on a mass scale will not happen except in response to a mass movement. But I am also aware that in past non-violent revolutions it has not taken all that many people to initiate change sufficient to launch a mass movement. Problem here is that we are on a nature-imposed short leash. So much to do, so little time. Much will depend, I suspect, on whether some sufficiently dramatic ecological event[s] can ‘jump start’ collective action. But I agree, the extent of necessary transformation is mind boggling. I was not aware of the 80% figure, though it is quite plausible. Do you have some references for that?