Rain-happy (top photo)
HOPE! I don’t mean sweet misty-eyed delusion (the artificial substitute), but the real stuff that you could gather around and use to build serious functional things. Anyone remember how great it truly was? The profound confidence that with patience and steady effort, things would gradually get better in all kinds of ways, for pretty much everyone? Well I certainly remember hope – in the culture at large, and in many transformative subcultures – and also the huge array of creative interpersonal possibilities opened up by those passionately generalizing generosities. That’s why I am so interested in (obsessed with) finding strong new reasons for us all to feel unifying and solution-enabling hope together once again. I am convinced that we can still extend our humane compassion, grow stronger and more wise – ever more subtly discerning and enabling – by doing the good big work together. But ‘together’ is going take us some serious effort, to rebuild.
It wasn’t that long ago that hope for general social progress was very common in the west – but it definitely left the building a few decades ago – and now we have the odd spectacle of watching many people overseas who live tougher less-rewarded lives than ours, reporting much greater levels of hope and optimism about the future than we feel. It’s not about where you are – the crucial question is – are you on your way to something better or worse over time?
We in the west are definitely on our way to a lower-intensity lifestyle, whether we like it or not – and I’m not trying to be provocative by saying so. The simple fact is that we’ve been taking too much for a very long time – and though wishing is fun (and we do an awful lot of it) thermodynamics still rules. You can’t create matter or energy from nothing, and you can’t ever use any of it, without wasting a bunch (recycling does not ever undo our consumption – but adds to it again).
I know I’ve taken shots at the culture war before – but I have good reasons for tilting so recklessly (making all of the angriest and least forgiving enemies at once) ;o) I know first-hand how crazy and damaging that ‘war’ has been – and I am convinced as a lifelong compassionate humanist, that our present factions are actually blinding, and thus endangering us. I could start from small or big and work my way in the other direction – but I’ll offer the personal side first, so you can see I’m not on about white male privilege thwarted, but rather social continuity betrayed, in a frighteningly general way. (And to let you judge and weigh my stridency for yourself).
If you asked my folks (divorced and remarried for decades) they and their new spouses would all tell you they were sensible progressive leftists, solidly against poverty, corporate domination and unfair exploitation – also feminists, dedicated to justice for silenced victims. But thanks to their choice to join a commune when we were tiny, my brother and I never even got a grade-school education. Instead, we were made the pawns of a megalomaniacal psychopath who had no business being anywhere near kids, and were stuck being hurt by him for year after year without respite, involvement in the outside world, or any hope or means of escape.
Bringing more light into the front of the house
One might think a parent would try to make up for such a crippling traumatic experience early in their child’s life by offering healing, encouragement, and key educational enablement later. But one would be wrong. To this day my brother and I, while clever enough, struggle hard to get by and prove our merit as working class intellectuals in an increasingly credentialist world, excluded from many opportunities which suit our skills perfectly, and others take for granted. (The fact that three of the four spent their professional lives in education – and surely know the lifetime earning value of high school and university, just makes it weirder)
They are comfortable middle-class people with paid mortgages and investments – who have always taken every possible benefit from the very same capitalism they disdain – and still show no awareness of responsibility (or even simple friendship) for the unfortunates they not only personally produced – but were directly responsible for educationally crippling, as kids. So – why do we not all take candy from a baby, then invest it on the market? Why not trade a kid off to a convincing predator, walk away and return to a state of non-parenthood again? This is the land of freedom and the individual above all, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t we feel free, good and justified, even if we create orphans of disinterest?
AH! There it is – this guy isn’t really political at all, he’s projecting his own personal upset back out on to the world. An easy conclusion, I will grant – but please go just one step further with me and consider this. Yes, I freely admit I am a little bit crazy, especially compared to those who are extremely well adjusted to our present situation (itself, objectively crazy) – BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN I’M WRONG ABOUT WHAT I CAN SEE FROM DOWN HERE!
To be sure, my folks are extreme examples of latch-key dissociation – scornful like older siblings, unfairly stuck looking after someone else’s kids, for as far back as I can remember. When I am in trouble or feeling great pain, their reaction isn’t a kindness, reaching warmth or compassion, but rather indignation and outright anger. Who does he think he is, anyhow? What right does that jerk think he has, to disturb my comfortable ordered world and upset me in this way?
Very simply – this is why political correctness is fundamentally wrong-headed – abusers honestly think that expressions about the pain they caused, are aggressive unfair acts being done to them! Shut that stupid victim up – their painful truth is hurting me!
The whole idea that we make social progress by banning discourse, instead of getting better at it so that we can convince more to our side, is based upon the theory that virtue is authority-borne – granted to and imposed upon us from above by government – which is not just a misunderstanding but a profound betrayal of the most basic progressive principles, left and right (those always were our basic individual rights as people, and we prove it by claiming them back simply and proudly, and then exercising them responsibly, with our good fair judgement).
The question of whether we are or are not each other’s keepers really is crucial – and those on the left and right who believe it is someone else’s job to raise their children, and more generally, to see to all of their broader social responsibilities, are all utterly wrong. The epic-scale proof is in the pathetic state of the world around us, as governed by this why should I? principle. The richest generation in human history has left us rudderless and desperate, common institutions gutted, simple consideration and even honour itself, now almost obsolete. Not because the kids coming up don’t have it (they actually have more character than we’ve seen in generations), but because they rarely see it modelled. So few of the senior exemplars we provide them are worth emulating!
Walled-off world of detritus
How exactly we got here, how honestly – all of that fault-parsing fury be damned, we must admit the error of universal predation at last, at least – so that we can finally do better! We have to eat the crops we raise, rather than relentlessly consuming the land upon which they grow! Life from our contributions to life – not from entitlement to delegated theft from, or even death for, others – no matter how far away and hidden from sight! But we have a lot of changing to do, if we want the way we live to be more about life and hope than extinction. To finally feel like the good-guy team again – but without having to lie.
Micro-plastic in everything we eat (even Kosher organic sea-salt) isn’t someone else’s fault – stuff doesn’t just go away when you make it (thermodynamics again). Tiny poison pellets in our food is just a symptom of us all being really stupid creatures (not so sapiens after all). So stupid that we actually shouldn’t survive, unless we smarten-up a lot – because if we do our dumb thing much longer, we’ll take everything else down with us.
The disruption of climate itself (being felt brutally by my European chums, right at this moment) isn’t about some giant distant demigod, pouring fire on us from mount Olympus. Corporations don’t drive all those cars – they just keep checking to see if we’re still dumb enough to do it and make them even richer – and so far, we absolutely are – even now that we know for a fact that we’re definitely killing our grandkids future with our junkie habit. But we like it though – and we’re used to it – so – too bad kids!
Do you know a “Serious Principled Solidarity Person?” Not if they have a cellphone – there isn’t a device in the world assembled by labour which is being humanely treated or decently paid. What you know is a partial hypocrite who absolutely will take personal advantage of exploited labour. (Don’t even start on the materials involved – and our holocaust scale cellphone blood-debt to the Congo – not only still unpaid, but still being made worse by our irresponsible interference – lingering multi-faction warfare, millions of displaced and still fleeing refugees – plus Ebola!)
Animal lovers are everywhere now – showing profound care and respect for nature by feeding their treasured family animals “PURE” 100% dead factory animals – while millions of human children can’t even get grain (19x more efficient) for adequate nourishment – and they’ll give you big sweet doe-eyed smiles, with no ironic wink or self-deprecating chuckle of awareness at all – deeply heartfelt nature-loving industrial scale slaughter!
As for eco-warriors who still jet-fly to conferences – thirty years after they themselves said we ALL had to change radically, or else surely die? Since they have shown no capacity for the former – how about that latter option? They’re the ones who made the point, after all – I’m just wholeheartedly agreeing!
Now this bit is crucial – I refrain from a lot of that stuff, but I don’t pretend that makes me ‘good’ – that’s not why I refrain from it, either. My head is stuck in a place of big enduring empathy for those who are hurt and then silenced (not just unloved kids here – but starving kids in the Yemen, also). My friend Nada put it perfectly – “If I had to be vegetarian, I would think about the cow we had when I was a little girl – she was very nice.” Empathy really can help us see giving things up, as getting something worthwhile.
Work to do
But I live in an economy that derives huge benefit from the dirtiest oil there is, and brutal mining practises (labour and toxicity both) around the world – I own that, it would be a lie for me to deny I benefit from it, even indirectly. I’m also quite certain that I’ve got conflict materials in my equipment, and I really do adore a cute puppy, or a nice wandering drive in the country with a friend. What strange wonders does the funny world have to reveal to us today? An approximately irresistible temptation!
So – if I’m not trying to claim personal virtue, why bother swinging so very widely, and offending almost everyone at once? Because I’d rather speak honestly about the world and allow voice to all the victims (even my own), than be a liar who silences my way to feeling I’m essentially good, just for the opinions I hold. THAT is my point – we all need to stop arbitrarily claiming virtue, and pretending that avarice, hypocrisy, cruelty, betrayal, immorality and even child-abuse are the sole province of ‘those on the other side of that big imaginary line’ which enables grand-scale sport-hatred for so many nowadays. It’s just one more appealingly egocentric game we play, to keep us from facing crucial truth, and our own long overdue duty to the commons.
Why bother trading the fun of team-hatred and a binary world-view for all the bother of nuance, skepticism and constant doubt? Because some of us still really want us to make-it – you might even be one of them yourself – and that means learning to do more than just those easy things that make us feel good. The big challenge is to break our psychotic consumerist adiction to a definition of freedom that includes the right to do blind cruelties to others, and transfer all blame to the corporations to which we delegate the dirty work, with our (always voting) money.
Time for us to exchange arrested brat-hood for honesty, modestly, mutuality, hope, purpose and responsible humane connection once again. Loneliness is now an epidemic, this represents heartbreak and waste of potential caring on a tragic scale – joining together in the great work before us is not only the ideal, but also the only viable course we have left – to bond over true purpose, and just maybe rescue every last thing we love.
Or – we can all just sit back and binge-watch misty digital fantasy forests in awestruck wonder while nature itself expires, by all means. As late industrial capitalist tranquilizers go, this new hard-stuff really is awfully cheap, potent and plentiful – HiDef Fentanyl. And you know – if it keeps us all distracted for much longer, it will prove a far more completely and conclusively fatal drug than any opioid could ever aspire to be!