Thursday, August 30, 2007

Not Building Anything

I think the largest failure of the environmental and anticapitalist movements has been the failure to create an attractive vision of what an alternative world could look like. Instead we have been effectively stuck with pictures as painted by the capitalist media whether it be the vision of socialist street battles and a 1984 like world governed by corrupt party officials. Or the vision of a sustainable way of living associated with physical struggle, poverty and starvation. The public has been trained to view any non “free market” system as suspect and doomed to corruption and failure. The notion that Darwinian competition governs every action has become almost completely ingrained in the publics mind as the natural order.

The perception that anything but capitalism is doomed to failure is of course fostered by all our major institutions our family structure and the media. This isn’t surprising in the least. What is though is the way environmentalists and anti-capitalists play to their socially acceptable role as conscience for the population. We are constantly perceived as criticising the public for overconsumption and not doing enough. We are defined as in opposition to things and have based our movements on constant struggle often for little tangible reward. This struggle for little direct reward ensures that our numbers will remain small, and by choosing to fight problems which have no direct relation to our lives we ensure that those on our side will inevitably feel weak and powerless. Because we spend all our time opposing this or that problem we do not provide for either the needs of the people on our side or the needs of the communities we live in.

Environmentalism is by it very nature about fighting, but lacking connection to land or place we are fighting for abstractions such as “community” or “the environment”. How many of us feel deeply rooted to a particular place or know what lives in our own backyards. Because our struggle is not rooted in where we live the battles are never for our own benefit. Because we are fighting for the rights of West Papuans or the Amazon Tribes we never reap any of the benefits of our work. This limits our numbers to those people who are able to empathise with people living hundreds or thousands of miles away. It also means that we never directly feel the affects of our work and we never get the social rewards associated with success in our culture.The environmental movement fails to meet many real human and social needs so it is no sup prise that a large number of our people turn to governments, charitys or other capitalist power structures for the success, stability and support they provide.

Im not suggesting that we become ligestylists only doing actions when they make us feel good, or that we only engage in action which is not confrontational. But if the struggle we are engaged in is not directly relevant to our lives we will never build up our numbers. Spending our days in doomed pickets outside multinationals and marching down queen street ignored by all but tourists with cameras isn’t working. We must look at how we can fight for our streets and neighbourhoods for the toxified landscape we live on. Instead of attracting support with images of violent struggle we must present a vision of a future worth fighting for. Instead of guilt tripping people about their destructive lifestyles we showed them that another way of living is possible.

Unfortunately though even long time environmentalists lack any vision as to how an ideal society could work or what another way of life could look like. They may know that cars may have to go and that food should be produced organically but beyond this a clear picture of how a better world could function is strangely lacking. Walk into any bookstore and you can find dozens of books on this or that environmental problem but books on how to reshape society are impossible to find. Permaculture design books are probably as close to a vision of a different society as you can find but even these books have become increasingly focused on the individual farmer or individual gardener.

Chances are even most devout urban greeny will have no idea how to live sustainably. Turn the power and water off and take away the ability to shop at the local supermarket and no matter how many stalls they have done they will be in the same dire straights as anyone else.. And if this is a devout greenie supposedly aware of how to live simply then what of the majority of urban technoslaves - helpless without a steady input of highly processed highly destructive products.

The public have far to much to lose for them to join us in our calls for 80% cuts in carbon emissions or our calls to turn off huntly power station. And we do not seem to have anything to offer them in place of our current industrial system. In fact calls for an anticapitalist world often involve merely seizing the current industrial system and running it for the good of the workers. Unfortunatly it doesn’t matter to the atmosphere whether it’s the peoples coal or Solid Energy’s coal we are burning.

I think that if we are to become mainstream we must step beyond the role of black clad saboteur or eccentric hippy. We must learn what a new society could look like, identify what the benefits of this transformation could be and start talking to our friends neighours and family about this vision. We must abandon the role of once a week protesters and start creating living alternatives to capitalism within our community. We must create systems apart from and in opposition to industrial capitalism which serve the needs of our human and non human neighbours.Industrial Capitalism cannot be brought down by yelling loudly or painting intricate banners, Industrial capitalism will only disappear the day it is no longer necessary


Anonymous said...

What is lifestylism, exactly? I've seen that word a fair bit and have zero idea of what it's meant to stand for.

Anyways, been reading your blog for a while now, it's been making me feel human. So thanks.

John said...

Lifestylism refers to people that are involved to a limited degree in social change movements but are only prepared to do things when it suits them. It also implys that the people are just doing things because it makes them feel good and fits in well with their image as a liberal conscious person but they dont actually care very deeply about the issue.

Glad to hear you like it :)

Dena Braves said...

Found your blog today because you list 'Strangely Like War' as one of your favorite books. It's already one of my favorites and I haven't even finished it yet. Anyway, this post caught my attention and it seems to me you are describing the need to affect change in 'our own backyards' as it were. If so, I think that means organizing and getting involved in local politics - not something many of us are willing to do, I think.

John said...

Yea its one of my all time favourite books :)

I think we should be involved in community organising but I'm not so sure local politics is the place to be. Local government is geared to maintaining unsustainable infrastructure and the current top down organising structure. I think we can be more effective organising independently of the local gpvernment structures.

I do realise that local politics and local government are not the same thing, my apologies if u meant other forms of local politics.