Dave Pollard, author of The Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work on his blog “how to save the world” has what he calls Preparing for Collapse: The New Political Map. It is an interesting taxonomy of the varieties of political animals roaming around in this pre-collapse epoch. (h/t Dicey Troop for the map)
Forget the old political struggles. The major struggle of ideas right now is between those who think global civilizational collapse is inevitable and those who who think that global civilization either can be or will be reformed and saved. The key difference between the two is whether humans can avoid suffering the collapse. The major struggle in practice is between those who advocate individualistic strategies and those who advocate social strategies.
He treats them in order, and the names of the positions are pretty self-explanatory. Here is the list:
C. Globalists and Shock Doctrine Randians
D. Technotopians, neo-environmentalists, and post-humanists
E. Integrals and reprogrammers
F. Humanists, Occupy movements, metamovements, and human consciousness movements
G. Transition movements and the resilience movement
H. Deep green activists
J. Existentialists and dark mountaineers
It’s a very helpful map that can be used in several different ways. You can map groups and organizations to the category. You can map authors or current social and political works to the categories. You can map your commitments to the categories. You can map your moods through the day, week, or year to the categories.
One of the recurring questions in comments is what exactly to do, what is the plan, what agency do we have as individuals in the face of the current seemingly ever-worsening crisis. That as it turns out is a difficult question and subject to howls of derision from anyone not currently in the same category as you on the political map. So of course, folks are reluctant to engage in more than another round or two of exploring the awfulness.
One of the places I shop often is a thrift store operated by a rescue mission. The books placed on their freebie shelves are often worth taking. This past week I picked up Mitchell Cohen and Dennis Hale, The New Student Left, an anthology of New Left tracts and articles that was published in 1966 and republished by Beacon Press in 1967. The earliest writing is from 1960; the latest from 1965. And, yes, it of course includes excerpts from the Port Huron Statement of 1962. The following are some excerpts that spoke to me about our current condition and how there are a lot of elements unchanged from 47-53 years ago.
The radical style [in contrast to the dogmatic style], on the other hand, takes as its presupposition Dewey’s claim that we are free to the extent that we know what we are about. Radicalism as style involves penetration of a social problem to its roots, its real causes. Radicalism presumes a willingness to continually press forward the query: Why? Radicalism finds no rest in its conclusions; answers are seen as provisional, to be discarded in the face of new evidence or changed conditions. This is, in one sense, a difficult mental task and, in a more profound moral sense, it represents a serious personal decision to be introspective, to be exposed always to the stinging glare of change, to be willing to reconstruct our social views…In its harshest condensation, radicalism of style demands that we oppose delusions and be free. It demands that we change our life. — Thomas Hayden, “Letter to the New (Young) Left”, 1961
Tom Hayden, when he wrote those words was 22 years old. Can you pardon some of the romanticism that the hard realities of the 1960s knocked away?
Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living. — The Port Huron Statement, adopted by Students for a Democratic Society, 1962
And yet, here we are alive followed by a new generation with that same sense.
We are citizens before we are partisans. If our immediate success is not built upon friendship, it is bad art. If our community is robustly concerned with the common good, even the immediate success of bad artists will be less likely. But if bad artists should reach high office, our art will have constructed a community that can endure beyond their caprice. Our first concern is with our community. We are needed. We need each other. — Christopher Reiner, “Politics as an Art: The Civic Vision”, 1962
I would argue that at this moment we need to have another discussion about politics as an art. We are forever bring the arts into our expression of politics–from posters to music. What does it mean to consider politics as a performance art–to get beyond the sterility of stale kabuki.
Here is the real contradiction. The bureaucrats hold history as ended. As a result significant parts of the population both on campus and off are dispossessed, and these dispossessed are not about to accept this a-historical point of view. It is out of this the the conflict has occurred with the University bureaucracy and will continue to occur until it is clear that the University can not function.
The things we are asking for in our civil rights protest have a deceptively quaint ring. We are asking for the due process of law. We are asking for our actions to be judged by committees of our peers. We are asking that regulations ought to be considered as arrived at legitimately only from the consensus of the governed. These phrases are all pretty old, but they are not being taken seriously in America today, nor are they being taken seriously on the Berkeley campus. — Mario Savio, “And End to History”, December 1964
Most of the anthology is taken up with documents from the civil rights movement, and especially from the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and SDS’s Economic Research and Action Project. The appendix contains additions in the 1967 edition pertinent to the anti-war movement:
Liberalism faced a crisis. In the face of the collapse of the European empires, how could it continue to hold together our twin need for richness and righteousness? How can we continue to sack the ports of Asia and still dream of Jesus?
The challenge was met with a most ingenious solution: the ideology of anti-Communism. This was the bind: We cannot call revolution bad, because we started that way ourselves, and because it is all too easy to see why the dispossessed should rebel. So we will call revolution Communism. And we will reserve for ourselves the right to say what Communism means. We take note of revolution’s enormities, wrenching them where necessary from their historical context and often exaggerating them and say: Behold, Communism is a bloodbath. We take note of those reactionaries who stole the revolution and say: Behold, Communism is a betrayal of the people. We take note of the revolution’s need to consolidate itself, and say: Behold, Communism is a tyranny.
It has been all these things, and it will be these things again, and we will never be at a loss for those tales of atrocity that comfort us in our self-righteouosness. Nuns will be raped and bureaucrats will be diembowelled. Indeed, revolution is a fury. For it is a letting loose of outrages pent up sometimes over centuries. But the more brutal and longer-lasting the supression of this energy, all the more ferocious will be its explosive release.
Far from helping Americans deal with this truth, the anti-Communist ideology merely tries to disguise it so that things may stay as they are. Thus it depicts our presence in other lands not as a coercion but as protection. It allows us even to say that the napalm in Vietnam is only another aspect of our humanitarian love — like those exorcisms in the Middle Ages that so often killed the patient. So we say to the Vietnamese peasant, the Cuban intellectual, the Peruvian worker, “You are better dead than Red. If it hurts or if you don’t understand why–sorry about that.”
This is the action of corporate liberalism. It performs for the corporate state a function quite like what the Church once performed for the feudal state. It seeks to justify its burdens and protect it from change. As the Church exaggerated this office in the Inquisition, so with liberalism in the McCarthy time–which, if it was a reactionary phenomenon, was still made possible by our anti-Communist corporate liberalism.
Let me then speak directly to humanist liberals. If my facts are wrong, I will soon be corrected. But if they are right, then you may face a crisis of conscience. Corporatism or humanism: which? For it has come to that. Will you let your dreams be used? Will you be a grudging apologist for the corporate state? Or will you help try to change it–not in the name of this or that blueprint or ism, but in the name of simple human decency and democracy and the vision that wise and brave men saw in the time or our own Revolution?
And if your commitment to human values is unconditional, then disabuse yourselves of the notion that statement will bring change, if only the right statements can be written, or that interviews with the mighty will bring change if only the mighty can be reached, or that marches will bring change if only we can make them massive enough, or that policy proposals will bring change if only we make them responsible enough.
We are dealing now with a colossuss that does not want to be changed. It will not change itself. It will not cooperate with those who want to change it. Those allies of ours in the Government–are they really allies? If they are, then they don’t need advice, they need constituencies; they don’t need study groups, they need a movement. And if they are not, then all the more reason for building a movement with a most relentless conviction.– Carl Oglesby, “Let Us Shape the Future”, speech to the March on Washington, November 27, 1965
I trust that the holders of the copyright to Carl Oglesby’s speech will not object to my quoting it at length. I assert that its timeliness makes it a clear case of fair use.
So la plus change, la meme chose. What now?
There are two areas that are consistently neglected in political discussions and strategy in the US. They are the areas with the loosest polity and fewest formal institutions of democratic control and yet we run into those neglected areas constantly in thinking about effective action.
The first is the connection between the individual and household and the lowest formal local polity. The second is the connection between the general national polity and global polity. In the US, representative democracy has no real roots in the people. For most people, representatives are not the people they deal with every day. These “men and women of the people” rarely experience what most of “the people” experience. There are exceptions in the small towns in which the least powerful becomes mayor because he has to make sure that the one policeman shows up and does his job and the power company gets the street light payment. What is here is an absence of institutions and consistent participation.
Global polity has lots of institutions; they are all a result of the concert of nations. And as such, they reflect the interests of national elites. How exactly do the seven billion humans on this planet participate in the global decisions that affect all of our lives? How does that polity work–even as a vision?
We need to focus on both of these because they are where those blindsiding issues are currently coming from. From the dismantling of public education in America to the prospect of a global corporate coup through trade agreements.
Think global. Act local. That is a reduction to avoid being overwhelmed. It no longer works to produce a liveable future or avoid nasty surprises. For a lot of us of my age, that puts a current burden of duty that is difficult to fulfill. We desperately need younger colleagues to step up.
Here is the math: 7 billion people; 10 million settlements (at least); 600,000 formally incorporated cities and towns; 206 sovereign states (and that is subject to debate); 5 honest-to-goodness continents (not counting Antarctica). And these conventional regions – North America, Latin American and Caribbean, Europe, Russia, China, Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, East Asia (Koreas and Japan), and Oceania. Those conventional regions are subject to debate.
Were a movement like the Occupy or Take the Square movement to proliferate throughout the global polity, you would have from 600,000 to 10 million (or more) local movements. How exactly does that polity work to make decisions that deal with global-scale realities? How do you make sense of a social network swarm of 7 billion even if there was universal access?
This is a very serious and immediate practical problem in response to the coming global lockdown that seeks to takes away that possibility forever.
We have a huge, huge issue to deal with.
I said last fall that I suspended judgement about the Obama administration’s second term until after the release of his budget. Well, as I suspected the US government is totally broken and beyond any electoral strategy to fix it without a huge nationwide movement that extends into most or all of the 435 Congressional districts. And it will stay that way in 2014 and 2016 unless that nationwide movement suddenly appears. So it makes more sense for folks to work on keeping the movement that exists going and expanding it locally and connectionally until there is a critical mass to begin picking off elective offices from the bottom up. Critical mass for a Congressional seat is 170,000 voters or so. Critical mass for Senators is that small in Wyoming and the Dakotas. Californians, Texans, Floridians, and New Yorkers have a much bigger cliff to climb. Until there is a movement that is generating those sort of electoral numbers, voting is just whistling in the dark. Beyond that there really is not much to say about national politics.
Today 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote these words to clergy who had expressed dissatisfaction with his tactics in demonstrating in Birmingham:
It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
We are moving closer to the point where the 99% have no alternative. Are we ready for that yet?
That is my view from the “Down” handbasket. What are you seeing?
Image of antique map by Photoshop Roadmap released under a Creative Commons license.