by Tim Buchanan
CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of violence
The converging crises that are descending on our planet are the direct responsibility of the powerful who preside over civilization today. The political and economic elite of yesteryear would not have known about the effects of burning fossil fuels, but the elite of today have no such excuse. They know very well what the consequences of their actions will be, and continue regardless. In this sense they are very culpable for the future murder of billions of humans, not to mention the trillions upon trillions of non-human animals, and the extinction of trillions of species.
If there is any doubt that the powerful know exactly what they are doing, this myth should be dispelled by very existence of luxury condos, priced in the millions, built in an abandoned nuclear missile silo at an undisclosed location in Kansas (http://www.survivalcondo.com/). The powerful are actively preparing for the disaster that they have unleashed, while the rest of us will be left to die in privation.
The mainstream environmental movement has been selling us a grand lie. The grand lie is the concept of personal responsibility among the powerless. They have sold the idea that we are just as culpable as the powerful because we drive cars, consume products, etc. As if we have a say in how civilization is organized! As if we have leverage against a self-perpetuating 12,000 year old system of slavery and exploitation! This is the grand dis-empowering lie that convinces people that they can avoid certain catastrophe by driving hybrid cars. To believe this lie is to excuse the powerful of their responsibility, and therefore never come to a clear understanding of what our future will look like.
Yet I believe that while confronting these power arrangements we run the risk of falling into a state of anticipatory victimization. Our extinction as a species, in my opinion, should not have any bearing on how we view ourselves in the interim. To hold on to the identity of the victim, we sabotage the opportunity to make the most out of what very well may be our last decades on this planet. Our narrative is such that we are prone to falling into a Post Traumatic Stress (or perhaps I should say Pre-Traumatic Stress) reaction. Dealing with this reaction means that we must reclaim power over our lives, and re-frame our narrative to one of empowerment.
The first step that comes to my mind is that we must not blame ourselves. A major tactic of corporate power, and one that the mainstream NGO environmental movement buys into, is to lay the blame for climate change at the feet of every individual who uses fossil fuels. This has a bi-fold effect. Number one, it removes blame from the powerful, who under this rubric only share as much blame as poor people driving to work at McDonald’s and Walmart. Number two, it derails the environmental movement into a foray of useless spending habits, personal guilt, and at the extreme, suicidal grief and depression. In short, we must understand that this is not our doing.
Overcoming trauma means re-framing the narrative of the traumatic event as to empower the victim. The traumatic event that we are dealing with is gradual and unfolding. This makes even perceiving the narrative as a whole very difficult. However, it also means that we have the opportunity to shift the narrative in real time, as someone fending off an attacker might do. Although our actions may not change anything in the long term, and our species will still be doomed to extinction, we can live our time left on our own terms.
What does this mean for how we live? What would fending off our attacker look like? I don’t make claims to know exactly. I can say, however that our politics are going to look much different than they have in the past . Although I generally refuse to debate to which degree our collective future is set in stone, I do feel comfortable extrapolating current trends. Placing hypothetical situations at the forefront of political thought seems foolish to me, as none of us are clairvoyant. Hypothetically, if all fossil fuels were left in the ground, and no more were burned as of tomorrow, we might have a chance of survival as a species. Hypothetically, a solar storm could knock the grid offline, saving the natural world from further extirpation. Hypothetically, the powerful could adopt humane policies to reduce human suffering during ecological and industrial collapse. We know, however, that these are sordid fantasies. They are sordid because they detract from real suffering being visited upon the natural world everyday, and the suffering of those humans to which the apocalypse is not a distant future event, or a clever metaphor. For many people, the end of the world has arrived, in all of it’s painful indifference to life, love, and any sense of fairness or equality. To paraphrase Orwell, if you want a vision of the future, look at the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I’ve taken this to mean that our politics must necessarily be reaction based. There will be no better tomorrow, no salvation, no retribution or justice. There will be pain, a pain that we will not be able to alleviate, only react to in the interim, before our inevitable untimely deaths. For these reasons I consider political philosophies that seek to create a better world outdated, and I feel we are forced to adopt a reaction based politic.
Reactive politics do not have constraints, they do not adhere to a specific goal, they are unique to the individual, and are therefore indomitable. For each individual with a reactive politics, there is the potential for action. Reactive politics can not be defeated, for it has no desire to win, indeed, winning is seen as impossible, and abstract to the point of protecting civilization from it’s enemies. Revolt, for the reactive individual, is for it’s own sake. Reactive politics cannot be co-opted, they exist only in the moment of action. When wild animals, and wild humans kill civilization’s emissaries, they are engaging in reactive politics. The killing is not meant to culminate into a revolution, nor is it based in an ideology, but is a reaction to an immediate threat. Humans engage in reactive politics even when all hope is lost, as was the case for many of those who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. They chose to die in their own terms, despite the knowledge that their deaths were certain. Over this century, as more and more communities come to see that hope is lost to head off climate change, reactivity will become a common form of radical politics, and the powerful will have much more to fear.
McPherson writes: Assuming I survive the cutting-room floor, I’ll be featured in a televised episode of National Geographic on 1 November 2015. Footage includes Bill Nye at the mud hut. Details can be found here. Mundane trailer is embedded below.