Friday, April 25, 2014

“In Defence of Inaction”

I think Dave Pollard sees it very well.
“In Defence of Inaction” by Dave Pollard

I have, of late, had a falling out with many of my fellow
'progressives', similar I suppose to that of Paul Kingsnorth, who is
being savaged  <> by Naomi Klein and others for giving up on the environmental movement and non-local activism, and by humanists for losing faith in our species' capacity for innovation and change.

I should say at the outset that I agree that our political and economic
and legal and educational and social systems are dreadful, unfair,
teetering, and totally inadequate to our needs. I agree that this is a
world of horrific inequality, inequitable and unjust privilege, massive
suffering, and outrageous patriarchy. I agree that corporatism and
corruption and propagandist media are rampant and destructive and
destabilizing. I agree that militarized police and torture prisons and
drone killing and massive global surveillance are repugnant and a
fundamental threat to our personal safety and security and the very
principles upon which our nations are founded.

And I fully acknowledge that the fact I'm white, male, boomer generation
and relatively wealthy provides me with enormous privilege compared to
others, including relative freedom of movement, freedom from fear of
harrassment and assault, and greater social, political and economic

But when I hear arguments that "we need" to stand up for our 'inherent'
rights and freedoms, and wrest 'control' of the levers of power from the
obscenely wealthy elite, and denounce and protest injustice and
inequality, and acknowledge and renounce our role as privileged
oppressors, as the first steps to a true social revolution in and
political and economic reform, leading, somehow, to a radical
redistribution of wealth and power, and a more just society, I am
reduced to despair.

I used to believe people, and perhaps some other creatures, had 'rights'
and 'freedoms'. I believed that someone was in control. I believed there
were answers to the predicaments we face.

But now I realize that there are no rights or freedoms. The concept of
rights and freedoms is a sop that the rich and powerful of this world
use to appease the fury and frustration of the poor and disenfranchised.
The 'granting' of rights and freedoms means nothing, because they can be and are taken away whenever those in power choose to do so, and are
simply ignored when they interfere with the exercise of power or
accumulation of wealth by those who allowed them to be granted.

We don't have freedom of expression, or speech, or assembly: Under the
current surveillance state I can be stopped, arrested, held indefinitely
and incommunicado, tortured, 'disappeared' or simply killed, by a drone
or in a secret gulag, whenever someone in power decides I'm a threat to
that power.

Likewise, there is no 'upward mobility' for just about any demographic
segment of our human population worldwide; most people are trapped,
socially and economically, right where they are, no matter what may
happen to the place where they live.

There is no true democracy, anywhere: the real decisions are made in
secret meetings between bought politicians (many of them in power
fraudulently or due to gerrymandering and other corruptions of the
'democratic' process), who represent only their rich and powerful
donors, and the bankers, lawyers and corporate executives. The 'laws'
and 'regulations' are just smokescreens to make it look as if the
people's interests are being considered.

There are no rights of recourse against corporate abuses: most
industries are oligopolies, and corporate law is designed to protect
them and their wealthy shareholders and executives from the wrath of
outraged citizens, while enabling these corporations to sue citizens who
pose any threat to their profits or 'leadership'.

All that's happened over the past three decades is that the illusion of
rights and freedoms has largely disappeared, as those with wealth and
power ratchet up the rhetoric that militarized police, torture prisons,
ubiquitous surveillance and the oppression of dissent are 'necessary'
for public safety and security (especially the safety and security of
the rich and powerful).

There are no rights or freedoms. There is only power, and its exercise
in the interest of further enriching the rich and further concentrating

I used to be outraged and angry about all this, but now I'm just letting
it go. It's just too easy to see this as a moral struggle, as a fight
against pathology, greed, and tyranny. I don't think it's that simple. I
think everyone's really trying to do what they believe is best, not only
for their loved ones but for everyone. I know some of these people, and
their stubborn, destructive wrong-headedness is completely
understandable to me (from their strange but deeply-held worldview).

Increasing concentration of power doesn't mean is that there is an
'elite' in control of everything in our society. Vast wealth and power
does not translate to control, especially in a world where all our
systems are collapsing simultaneously: our economic systems, running on the fumes of belief in perpetual industrial growth; our nearly-exhausted energy and resource systems, utterly dependent on ample and cheap oil (one barrel of oil replaces /12 person-years/ of labour, and we
currently use /100 million barrels/ per day); and our climate systems,
which have long passed the tipping point to catastrophic change
comparable to that of the 'ice ages' (though in the opposite temperature

The rich and powerful are as much prisoners of these massive, complex,
crumbling systems, as much cogs in the machine, as the rest of us: they
just get better wages and benefits than the rest of the inmates, and
will until the systems fall apart, at which time they'll be no better
off than anyone else.

No one is in control. The enemy, if there is one, is not a cabal of
elites, but a set of co-dependent collapsing systems that every one of
us has a vested interest in trying (insanely) to perpetuate. Systems we
have all helped co-create and are almost all dependent on.

David Korowicz, in his study On the Cusp of Collapse
explains how our massively complex global human systems are far beyond the control of any coordinated group of people:

Our daily lives are dependent upon the coherence of thousands of direct
interactions, which are themselves dependent upon trillions more
interactions between things, businesses, institutions and individuals
across the world. Following just one track; each morning I have coffee
near where I work. The woman who serves me need not know who picked the berries, who moulded the polymer for the coffee maker, how the municipal system delivered the water to the café, how the beans made their journey  or who designed the mug. The captain of the ship that transported the beans would have had no knowledge of who provided the export credit insurance for the shipment, who made the steel for the hull, or the steps in the complex processes that allow him the use of satellite navigation. And the steel-maker need not have known who built the pumps for the iron-ore mine, or how the oxygen for the furnace was refined.

We cannot hope to 'fix' these systems through political or economic or
legal or educational reform, or putting some more democratically-minded group 'in control' of them. Fighting for possession of the steering
wheel of a car careering over a cliff cannot produce useful change. Even
trying to bring down our economic systems before they do even more
damage is probably futile: It's unlikely to significantly accelerate,
mitigate or delay the inevitable collapse, and I'm not sure its effect
on catastrophic climate change would be substantial either. There is
simply no point trying to change any of these systems; it's a waste of
time, and, as Buddha said "Our problem is we think we have time." But
some would insist we try anyway, so at least "we can say we tried". I
think that's a pathetic argument.

So here we sit, all of us, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, with
no real 'rights' or 'freedoms', no hope of 'reforming' massive,
self-reinforcing and entrenched systems utterly out of our control,
coming apart because they are totally unsustainable, and no credible
knowledge of what might work to even mitigate the imminent and
catastrophic end of the industrial 'growth' economy, the end of the
all-too-brief age of abundant cheap energy, and the end of a short few
millennia of astonishingly stable climate.

The question we must each ask ourselves, I think, is this: /If we
acknowledge that our systems and hence our civilization cannot be
reformed or 'saved', what can we do now that will make a real
difference, for the future, in our communities and for those we love?/

The insanely rational answer to this question, I think, is (a) probably
nothing, and (b) it's too early to know.

So if I seem impatient or annoyed when you ask me to be outraged or
supportive in your movement to reform civilization, I'm sorry. I think
it's too late.

I'm in the process of writing a book of stories of how all of this might
play out, just one scenario, the story of, in the short term, a Great
Migration of billions of people towards the poles in search of livable
habitat (what an amazing, terrifying and liberating journey that could
be!), and, in the longer term, the blossoming of thousands of local
communities, new and unimaginably diverse, self-sufficient, joyful and
utterly alive human cultures, whose total impact on the planet will be,
due to our much smaller numbers and minimal energy and technology
resources, pretty insignificant. I need to write such a new story to be
able to begin to let go of the old, civilized one.

Maybe that's not enough. Maybe there's more I could (I've stopped saying "should") be doing: learning new essential skills and capacities,
helping in the process of rediscovering how to build and live in
community together, healing myself and helping others heal from the
ravages of civilization's innumerable, constant and monstrous stresses,
and just trying to live a joyful, exemplary, modest and graceful life. I
may get around to these things. But for now I'm just writing, watching,
reflecting, trying to figure it all out.

It's too early and too late, I think, to do anything more.


  1. John,
    You captured it: no reason to live; every reason to live now. And the widely accepted premise that there needs to be a reason to live--as in some end game--suddenly seems to be simply a delusion passed down through the ages by the least among us...

  2. Plant trees. That is my initial response to our "predicament", as I sort out my thoughts and watch what develops. We have bene fortunate enough to buy a small farm, and will be moving there soon. We put in around 1000 hazelnuts and chestnuts in a Mark Shepard designed permaculture scheme in 2012, with more to do as we progress. I'm heading local as well, but with the understanding that we will be finding our niche in the local community.

    The Korowicz essay was good. Thanks for the link. Have you followed Dave Cohen at "Decline of the Empire"? He explores the inevitable results of human nature in a similar vein to what you have expressed here. A lot of insight as well as anguish/frustration in his archives. My read is that he is approaching acceptance, he's just still really pissed, and not sure if there is a better response to the coming changes.

  3. I like this piece in general and it expresses well my sentiments on how things are. No person or persons are in control because that you are a “person” is just another ideas that are perpetuated among us humans. Are trees or hummingbirds persons and do they have rights? Of course not. This is the arrogance of our ideas about being special. There is just life expressing itself in myriad ways and we have no special place. But having spare time we like to play with ideas, filtering experience through endless ideas, concocting reasons about why things are the way they are. There are no reasons for what is happening, there is no cause and effect at play, there is only awareness of what is and what is is constantly changing, but not according to any plan. If you think there is a plan, then whose plan is it? How did you find out about it? We imagine that life favors the human being that we are somehow more important than algae, that it matters what happens to us. Who does it matter to? In our minds we see ourselves as tiny separate things in a vast and unpredictable universe of which we are afraid. Out of this fear is born the idea of control.