The majority of protesters against Wall Street, like the ones at Tahrir Square, have not to my knowledge spoken about overpopulation or civilization, but instead rail mainly about material deprivation and the absurd monetary wealth of the greedclass. This is healthy, but when demands are too narrow, and they are even possibly met, where are we? Back to the same underlying causes of our conflicts as we face extinction. One reason for confusion and misplaced goals is that oil and energy are poorly understood. The cost of oil is several times higher than the nominal price because of huge subsidies. So the cost is met by paying more for most other products and services. The Egyptians, Tunisians and other Arabs protesting their regimes had been faced with grinding food costs elevated by higher oil prices.
Collapse is a far greater force today than social movements. Nevertheless it is vital to resist extinction, greed, war, materialism, etc. with our bodies and minds. But to imagine we can cure our ills piecemeal or evade collapse is absurd. The system needs to be abandoned, not fixed when it is unfixable. For example, many of the protesters who are unemployed want jobs, jobs that are suspected of being withheld by greedy banksters or Republicans. But even if more jobs can be generated — requiring economic growth that is impossible since the demise of cheap, ample oil supply — why work for The Man?
The real alternative is community economics. This means local food production, making clothes and shelter from local materials sustainably, and doing without the vast consumption of energy that both fossil fools and technofix-environmentalists assume we need. Through bartering and mutual aid, we can dispense with the corporate economy and have better models such as alternative currency, more land trusts (residential and conservation), and rely on credit unions if necessary.
Do we need jobs, or subsistence in community?
Losing jobs is a good historical development when suddenly-jobless people see that material comfort is fleeting and needs to be re-evaluated for what is truly necessary: people drive less, begin to share more, and look to their useful skills such as gardening to avoid buying costly food unnecessarily. But being jobless also enables people to get out in the streets to protest. Unfortunately, the common sentiment is that more money or a “better job” will actually solve individuals’ long-term problems. This is not the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s when The American Dream appeared so reasonable (unless you were a hippie dreamer).
The crucial question is what people are actually protesting. What is their vision for society? No doubt there is great diversity of answers among the protesters. Most of them share the less-often stated priorities of ending the wars and curbing global warming. But are the aims and dreams of the majority of the protesters really up to the task? Fortunately, many realize that individualism is passé.
Number one must be a sustainable culture that recognizes the overdue priority of harmony with nature and restoring the ravaged ecosystem. Only then can social justice be achieved and long lasting. To assume that righting wrongs — struggling over the shrinking pie — will allow us to finally treat Mother Nature right, is folly. Part of the problem is that “green” people define for themselves a convenient limit for change. Consumer society, which means all modern peoples, is shot through with a sense of privilege for enjoying technological conveniences. One Green Party activist in northern California told me, after we had worked together a while on and off campus, and we respected each other’s work, “I’m not gonna live in a fuckin’ teepee.” I was disappointed to hear her say that, not because I wanted her to live in a teepee with me, but because she wanted to keep her relatively high-energy-consuming, suburban lifestyle. This would be okay if there were only a tiny fraction of consumers in existence. But with high population size, her sense of privilege flies in the face of indigenous, traditional ways that tread lightly on the land for uncounted millennia.
It comes down to these questions:
• What are we really willing to change?
• Can we question our way of life and imagine living very simply?
• Do we recognize other species’ right to flourish, or do we believe we can and should grow and grow — to become 10 million benign vegans in a less biodiverse people-farm?” (Not that this is achievable anyway, but it’s a common misconception.)
If we aren’t considering those questions as we demonstrate in the streets, write letters-to-the-editor, blog or comment on blogs, etc., we might “not know what we’re fighting” (“Now there’s revolution, but they don’t know what they’re fighting” – Jethro Tull’s song Living In The Past, 1969).
Michael Moore occupies Wall St. (Stan Rgouski photo)
Website for Occupy Wall St.
Stop the Machine! Create a New World! — the resistance to the 10 year Afghanistan invasion. It officially was scheduled for Oct. 6 in DC but Occupy DC has started. A DC protester’s blog: Communique from Occupied DC: Day One
hub for many cities actions: Occupy Together
Further reading and background — essays by Jan Lundberg: