What a distraction an election is from serious pursuit of our human responsibilities and sensitivities. We are increasingly aware that industrial civilization is on a collision course with life itself on the Planet, and the modern Eurocentric nation state’s political economies such as in the USA are coordinating the plunder toward our extinction as the plutocrats and oligarchs live in the illusion of opulence. Perhaps they feel invincible like cocaine addicts.
This awareness is made much more distressing, at least to me, because our modern individual and collective consumption patterns form the political energy that both drives the plunder from our dependence upon its continuation, while we fork over our money to the plutocracies and oligarchies that gleam huge profits from our addictions and dependencies.
I say that our dignity as human beings trumps concern for longevity. I find no dignity at all in thinking and living according to the assumptions and values of our political economy – a total imperial economy that dehumanizes everyone while it destroys everything.
Albert Camus, writing in 1946 reflecting on WWII, described the absurdity and dangerousness of the state, the illusions of the efficacy of violence, and the decline in political persuasion to achieve justice. The state, like the old church, has subjugated humans to its tyrannical authority. He offered the prescription that it is now a moral imperative for humans to choose to be “neither victims nor executioners.” Camus: “In the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being.”
My reflections have included reading more of Ivan Illich and Michael Foucalt and I am struck and impressed by their suggestion that we are in the midst or on the eve of an epistemic break – “a sudden image shift in consciousness in which the unthinkable becomes thinkable”, and “a rupture in consciousness” the equivalent to a “catastrophic break with industrial man’s image of himself.” Perhaps this is what evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould described as what happens once in awhile in all of evolutionary history – “punctured equilibrium.”
Somehow I think we are at this “epistemic” moment in the long unfolding journey of human evolution, with the last 6,000 years or so of what some describe as “civilization” being extremely regressive/repressive (patriarchal vertical power, slave labor, violence, military enforcement of obedience to the hierarchy, expansion of territory, etc.). I think we, at least some of us, know this, and are stumbling (at least in my case) as to how to redefine our relationships with one another and power, as we recover our humanity from the conditioning that so many of us were successfully dehumanized in.
I am so estranged at this point that I refuse to fly in airplanes, refuse to ride most of the time in fossil fuel cars, refuse a handheld electronic device, etc., such that I am somewhat isolated by my own choices. Meanwhile I am also seriously compromised: my partner Becky has just flown to Viet Nam for the 5th time as she works on the Viet Nam Friendship Village in Hanoi dealing with the Agent Orange victims caused by the USA many wars ago, and we are communicating by electrons via email. Go figure.
So, I am revisiting the whole way humans (including myself, of course) relate, or not, to power. I just read one account of the collapse of the Mayan civilization circa 900 AD in which it appears that the vast majority of workers who were struggling to keep the kings and their palaces well fed with food, clothes, and trinkets, as they themselves were receiving fewer calories, simply walked away and refused any further cooperation/complicity. Some died, as others went to the mountains to subsist. But the kings starved. And in my several trips to visit with the Mayan Zapatistas over the past 17 years, I am relating to the offspring of those Mayans who refused cooperation 1200 years ago, and continue to do so today since their 1994 revolution coinciding with NAFTA coming into effect. So withdraw of support for and complicity with the state is a model of empowerment. The Zapatistas live very simply as they refuse any payments for utilities or taxes to the state, yet they celebrate everyday their liberation to dignity from their previous cooperation with their own slavery. As they say, “our dignity is everything, longevity without it is horrible, unthinkable now.”
And then I am reminded again of Gandhi’s 2-prong approach for liberation from living under empire: strategic moments of visible risk taking acts of noncooperation while, more importantly, building the local food and simple tool sufficient communities from below, i.e, relocalization, extricating one’s dependency upon the imperial overlords.
All this to say I cannot take any US elections seriously, certainly not at the national level, while striving to regroup here in Portland, Oregon, piecing together components of more regional sufficiency and simpler living, perhaps part of the epistemic break. I am rooting for collapse as a necessary element of survival, even as I likely go down with it. I now think of myself as an apocaloptimist, and a neolithic conservative, even considering paleolithic features. But, I am clear, dignity trumps longevity.