Monday, November 25, 2013

What is Worth Protesting?


Not everybody in the world is an asshole.  There are a lot of sincere and concerned activists out there working hard doing what they believe is right.  Protesting against Monsanto, the fossil fuel industry, austerity policies, wars, and animal cruelty are all good things.  And fighting for a higher minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, a fairer tax rate, easier access to education and legalized cannabis all show that their hearts are in the right place.  However, without aiming for the root causes of these problems there isn’t any real chance to achieve what they want.  A lot of them don’t even seem to know what they want, only what they don’t.  We’re facing a highly complex predicament that most busy people don’t have time to fully investigate, thanks partially to the assault of propaganda from vested interests in a misinformed public.


I want to discuss why these protests have been so ineffective but first let’s look at the effect all these changes would have if activists were successful.  Imagine that the tax burden increases for the rich, the wealth gap narrows a bit, enough jobs are created for everyone to stay employed, minimum wage is raised proportionally to inflation (which is the least any worker should accept considering that if adjusted to match worker productivity as well would be around twice that), renewable energy is subsidized and the price of emitting carbon is raised closer to its “true cost” giving incentives to businesses to create more energy efficient products and to consumers to buy them, employers are required to pay women as much as men, farms become organic, wars cease, and everyone has access to free healthcare and higher education and permission to buy medical marijuana if a doctor gives the ok.


What that means is that the upper class is now funding the corruption that the lower classes were before, more money goes to people who spend it quickly as opposed to those who have more than they know what to do with (those who hoard most of it), more products are produced and consumed stimulating the economy, women are further encouraged to pursue a career in the same dispiriting and destructive industries that mostly men have been subjected to so far, “our resources” remain in foreign countries forcing recycling to become as close to zero-waste as possible (probably not very close),  more people attend brainwashing universities and over-medicate themselves to a zombie-like state, anyone can buy small amounts of an easy to grow plant at exorbitant prices and anyone who accidentally burns their house down while trying to secretly grow it inside (it’s still expensive enough for people to kill each other for it) won’t have to flee the scene for fear of arrest.


Well, I can’t say that wouldn’t be an improvement.  It’s kind of like taking the long, winding route to the dentist’s office.  And even that might be too kind an analogy.  It might be more like taking the normal route while receiving fellatio from the passenger and listening to a New-Age mantra repeat itself on the radio the whole way.  “I am a great person.  I am a great person.  I am a great person…..”  Basically you feel better even though you’re headed for the same outcome.  The easiest way to elucidate what I mean is to point out that a thriving green economy as envisaged by mainstream liberals is basically just consumers buying twice as many gadgets that each waste half as much energy.  It’s hardly worth the effort.  What they’re missing is that an economy which depends on growth is inherently unsustainable no matter what the energy sources are or how equally wealth is distributed or even how happy and nice everybody is.  Limits still apply.


In my last post I described the need for degrowth in some detail.  To summarize, we have a dangerously stressed ecosystem that the world economy pretends it can live without.  The natural resources that become our products are diminishing and pollution and greenhouse gases are threatening our habitat.  Part of my conclusion was that our money system, which necessitates growth by loaning money into existence as interest-bearing debt, and the capitalist system, which encourages growth by rewarding those who are most productive, have to go.  This needs to happen for any of the other changes that protesters focus on to have any real effect.  That means that this needs to happen first.  Yet, hardly anybody even dares to bring the idea up for discussion.  As a result, the majority of protests are just congregations of people delaying the damage of problems that they will ultimately fail to stop.  This is because even they still depend on these problems existing.  Remember all the iPhones in Occupy?  And look at me, typing this on a computer and posting it on the internet to be read by other computer users. 


You can’t have less consumption, less pollution, and less military conflicts with a perpetually growing economy providing more jobs, high-tech medical procedures and a higher standard of material wealth for everyone every year.  Therefore, my first proposal is to protest the growth imperative itself, realistically focusing on fractional reserve banking and not so much on capitalism yet.  Whether that takes the form of End the Fed or Transform the Fed, the idea that growth isn’t desirable just needs to be drilled into the majority’s heads.  I was actually hoping that this would be what the Occupy Movement decided to focus on when they started trying to limit their demands.  It never really became the focus of more than a few fringe groups though.  The emphasis remained on things like student debt, corporate personhood and increasing taxes on the rich.  Again, all good things but impossible without addressing the root problem. 


I can’t honestly say that I believe a new or updated form of the global industrial economic model can be made sustainable.  I’m trying to focus on what I think can be accomplished with protests though.  Charles Eisenstein, David Graeber and others have some alternative economic ideas worth looking at, most with rosy names like Sacred Economics, The Economics of Happiness and The Circular Economy.  Transitioning to one of these models, or more likely some perversion of one, could at the very least buy some time for more pillows to be thrown in front of the brick wall ahead of us. 


One pillow that I think could soften our crash, and least controversial of the few I want to propose, would be an improved education system.  Yeah, not exactly a new idea but let me be more specific.  I’m not concerned with buying a computer for every desk, new football fields or the like.  What we need are new ideas.  We need to stop treating education like job training for office work and industries that have no future.  This could be as simple as adding a permaculture class to the curriculum or updating the textbooks of all classes so they no longer glorify technological progress and globalization over everything else (even dictionaries demonstrate subtle forms of propaganda).  I’d rather see high school education greatly improved and businesses required to provide their own training than college education more affordable.  For the vast majority, there shouldn’t be much need for college.  Like I said before, most of the industries kids are being trained for have no future and would never have existed in the first place if our culture actually had respect for anything.  The future depends on people being more self-reliant, meaning able to provide more of their necessities without money, so that’s what kids should be prepared for.  Without addressing the growth imperative though, good luck bringing this change about in a world that wants the complete opposite.


Second, I recommend putting pressure on the current agricultural system.  Protests need to go beyond labeling GMO’s and switching to organic.  Organic agriculture has been eroding soil and emitting carbon into the atmosphere for thousands of years.  It’s the main cause of many of the world’s deserts.  This is an issue as vital as stopping the use of fossil fuels and, like degrowth, it rarely comes up.  We can’t afford to let so much land desertify, which is exactly what will happen if we keep this dying system on life support with chemical nutrients and water from depleting aquifers.  Transitioning to a perennial polyculture model will require many more workers on farms but trying to sell the idea as a way to create jobs would be kind of disingenuous.  Creating these new jobs threatens those who are currently employed producing and selling chemicals.  So I’ll say it again, degrowth is a prerequisite.


Third, and without a doubt the most controversial proposal, is land redistribution.  We need to reverse the trend of urbanization.  There’s no such thing as a sustainable city.  When people live in population densities higher than what local resources can feed, clothe, heat and shelter they have to use extra energy to import those resources from far away.  They require extra infrastructure that isn’t necessary for those in lower population densities, such as sewage treatment.  They also disconnect themselves from the impact they have on the land that those resources come from and therefore lose the ability to make good decisions.  There needs to be incentives and opportunities for people to leave cities.  The perennial polycultures that farms must transition to in order to survive are the infrastructure that make a truly sustainable existence for the human race possible.  They make it possible for us to get our food, building materials, heating fuel and clothing fibers locally.  In my last post I went through the statistics of land and population, showing that if farmland was parceled out to those in cities they could all provide for themselves with less land than we use now (due not only to the distance between resources and consumers but also to high consumption lifestyles and the inefficiency of large-scale farming).  It’s unlikely that most people would choose to live that way themselves and there are some good excuses, like the toxicity of the chemical residues underfoot, but they should at least have the option.  The way things are now, self-reliant people are a threat to corporate profits and growth.  However, people who support economic growth are a threat to all life on this planet.  With how hard it is to get people to change, when someone wants to give up their high-tech crap and give the simple life a try, it should be seen as a blessing.  It should be encouraged and facilitated.  Realistically this would start as workers living on the land that provides their necessities in exchange for doing more labor than they need to do just to take care of themselves.  I’d like to imagine that someday farms will have transformed into self-sufficient eco-villages that aren’t required to provide for anyone else or pay taxes to the state.  That may sound like wishful thinking but I honestly don’t think it’s that outrageous an idea.   We may not have such an easy time getting there but if any humans are alive a couple hundred years from now, they are going to be living this way and they’ll only exist because we acted to preserve their habitat. 


So there you have it.  Those are my basic suggestions for activists out there.  I could throw some other stuff in there, like decommissioning nuclear plants but I don’t think I’d really be offering any new ideas.  And I was tempted to criticize what I’ve seen from feminists and anarcho-primitivists, particularly the rhetoric they use to explain their views to the public.  Anti-civilization and the matriarchy/patriarchy dichotomy don’t exactly resonate with most people.  When people don’t have the time to look into all the arguments, you have to at least speak their language.  I just feel like without changing the message they could use terms like “anti-empire” and “dominator societies” to reach a wider audience.  And articles titled “Why talking about healthy masculinity is like talking about healthy cancer” aren’t exactly helping gain support for your cause.  The goal shouldn’t be to preach to the choir or to ensconce ourselves into some cult so we can feel like a part of something.  I think I’ll just leave it at that though because I really just don’t want to get into it right now.  Maybe that can be the topic of my next post if I do one.  To be honest, I’m kind of hoping that by the time I get the urge to write again, there won’t be any good reason to.

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