Fred Hampton, the assassinated Black Panther, once famously said: “School is not important and work is not important. Nothing’s more important than stopping fascism, because fascism will stop us all.”
That quotation has been running through my mind lately as I have been reading news about Climate Change. Replace “fascism” with “Climate Change” and you have a spot-on description of the state of the world today. Things have gotten that dire.
Before you accuse me of misappropriating Hampton, let me point out that Climate Change is fascism: fascism made manifest ecologically at the global scale. And actually, I would expand Hampton’s scope so that “us” includes all the non-human life on earth, its ecosystems, and even the soil beneath our feet. The amazing web of life — made up of “all our relations” as the Native Americans put it — is the “us” that fascism-induced Climate Change is stopping.
This is not a “doom and gloom” essay. Instead, I will picture what meaningful action would look like. For more information on the effects of Climate Change present and projected, I have provided a list of websites, below.
Suffice it to say here that the scientific jury is in and the verdict is clear: the world as we have known it is passing away. Relative climate stability is being replaced by volatility and extremes, and it will only get worse. The ways that we provide food, shelter and other necessities for ourselves will not be viable for much longer. If this planet and its residents are going to survive, we humans need to abandon our current lifestyles and create new ways of living.
Indisputably, Hampton was right to call for revolution in 1969. We would be right to go further than that and make one happen now. If we do not, Climate Change will indeed “stop us all.” I know that “revolution” is a big word. Can’t we just take this slowly, step by step, utilizing new technologies to make things better? The answer is no. As Guy McPherson put it: “Further attempts to use the tools of civilization to address a predicament created by civilization cannot be expected to succeed.” It is impossible to “change the system from within.”
We can no longer afford to depend on fossil fuels and industrial technology. The fact that we got ourselves into this situation in the first place shows that we never really could. Proposals to make our current living patterns “sustainable” with renewables are fantasies. More simplicity is the answer, not more complexity. We must speak of “returning” not “progressing”.
John Michael Greer recently wrote: “if it’s going to be necessary to change things — and it is — then it’s time to start thinking about options for the future that don’t consist of maintaining a miserably unsatisfactory status quo or continuing along a trajectory that’s clearly headed toward something even worse. The first step in making change is imagining change, and the first step in imagining change is recognizing that ‘more of the same’ isn’t going to cut it.”
I agree. So what will this revolution look like? What are some of the changes that we must make? That is, what is “not important” and what must be “stopped”? For starters:
- School and work, just like Hampton said: Money must no longer be required for housing, food, water, essential medical care, or the education needed in the new times. All debt will be forgiven and no new debt created. Everyone must be freed from worries about how to pay for the necessities of living so we can focus together on the tasks at hand. Capitalism — the set of social relations currently entrapping us — must be extinguished to reveal the cooperativeness endemic to our species.
- The “FIRE” sectors: Finance, Insurance and Real Estate. I would call them “leeches,” but I don’t want to insult the innocent segmented worms of the phylum Annelida, who are only following their own nature. Will anyone miss the bankers, actuaries and underwriters when they’re gone? It seems doubtful. Will there be a place for them in a world where we are concerned about the actual rather than the abstract? No. For too long, they have sucked up real resources for their own enrichment, to the detriment of us all.
- The U.S. Military: This is the monster that makes the U.S. “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” (Martin Luther King) and which is the largest single consumer of energy on the planet. We must, to willfully misappropriate the right-wing rhetoric of Grover Norquist, “get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Doing so will free up many resources for remaking our lives.
- Big Agriculture: A huge polluter, responsible for 1/3 of global greenhouse emissions, when the manufacturing of its inputs (like fertilizers and pesticides) and the processing of its outputs (such as packaging, transportation and storage) are included. Small-scale, human-powered farming will likely be the stop-gap, which will require a double-digit percentage of the population to implement. Ultimately, however, a return to pre-agricultural food systems is the only truly sustainable option for a healthy planet.
- Meat Eating: In the U.S.A., an astounding two thirds of all cropland is devoted to growing feed for animals. If everyone in the U.S.A. switched to a vegetarian diet, the reduction in carbon emissions would equal the effects of taking 46,000,000 cars off the road. A vegan diet, of course, has the lowest carbon footprint. These statistics don’t speak to the barbaric cruelty of the meat and dairy industries or how our participation in the slaughter effects us culturally and personally by erecting a barrier to reconnecting with the planet in a truly respectful way.
- Private Property: Currently, there are few limits in place to prevent property owners from destroying the ecosystem on their property. For many, many thousands of years, humans held land in common and stewarded it for the common good. This benefited not just humans, but also the other creatures that lived there and — most importantly — the land itself. The experiment in private property that began in European culture with the Enclosure Acts, has been a failure and must be abolished.
- The Corporate Media: The U.S. corporate news media forbids meaningful coverage of real issues. It must be stressed that this does not represent its failure; rather, this is how it successfully plays its role as the bullhorn of fascism, and as such it is irredeemable. The entertainment media is complementary, presenting stupidity as spectacle (and burning an inordinate amount of resources to do so). Together, they create a false sense of reality not merely by lying or spinning distractions but by their insidious ability to trick the mind into thinking that illusion is real. As Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message.” The media itself, as media, fosters an obsession with abstraction and an attendant disconnection from the material. Moving pictures and text on a screen are not even as substantive as the smoke and mirrors of old. There is no “there” there. This is the brainwashing that the media accomplishes: a false perception that the unreal is actual. The revolution will not be televised or streamed because it will be too deep, too sharp, and too dimensional for a form that is so shallow, so dull and so flat. We won’t miss it when it’s gone.
- Thoughtless child-bearing: An extreme decrease in the birth rate is an absolute necessity. Contraception, including freely-chosen self-sterilization, must be universally available and strongly encouraged. Accompanying this, a dissolution of patriarchal family structures in favor of collective child-rearing and elder-tending will reintegrate generations and reinvigorate social vitality. (Here is an example of one such vision.)
This is only a partial list, offered as a taste, to give an idea of the scope of the challenge before us. It describes some of what would be necessary to embark on what John Michael Greer calls “intentional technological regression,” which is honestly the only choice that we have to make, although we aren’t making it yet.
How will such a revolution be sparked? Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Will a bottom-up, grassroots movement of people stop fascism? I am pessimistic about the odds of that. More likely, in my opinion, is that the climate itself will be the agent making the demand that cannot be ignored. Regardless, there will come a time, sooner or later (and probably sooner than many people would want), when the reality of Climate Change can no longer be denied and its effects make our ability to carry on business-as-usual impossible. Then, ready or not, the revolution will be upon us.
I would like to believe that, properly motivated, people have it in them to rise to the challenge. “Soft as butter as they can be, and yet sometimes as tough as old tree-roots,” is how Gandalf the Wizard described hobbits in J.R.R. Toliken’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Perhaps this applies to humans, too. It’s not like many people are happy with the status quo anyway. Most people are craving a different life with more meaning and purpose, even if these feelings are usually repressed and only come out in adolescent ways at the wrong targets when they are expressed.
What do we do in the meantime? As much as I would personally like to see the above institutions toppled for the common good, it is beyond me — or any reader here — to do so. I am not even making a call for this revolution. Yet, we can embark upon the task of preparing ourselves. I suggest two ways of doing this, one “outer,” based on responding to the changing external circumstances, and the other “inner,” based on working on oneself.
Develop a skill
Fossil-fuel burning machines and factories have been producing our necessities for many decades now, and the arts and crafts of living by hand are nearly lost, at least in the U.S.A. We must relearn how to grow food, build shelter, and make tools, among other things. Fortunately, such activities are rewarding in and of themselves, regardless of what the future brings when. They can also help you to develop discipline and an attention to detail, which will be essential when things are different. I have a friend in Portland who, understanding that the status quo won’t last forever and that different ways of living are likely to emerge in her lifetime, taught herself hand-sewing. She has made many things, including garments and bags, that are both useful and highly aesthetic. Additionally, much of her material is recycled. I am the happy recipient of a pair of warm woolen slippers and a hooded cloak that were produced by her talented fingers. Come the revolution, people like her will keep clothes on our backs.
Start with the things you believe are “important” in your own life. Are they? Hampton declared work and school to be unimportant, and they are considered sacrosanct by many. What things are you holding onto as important that are far more trivial than those? Your appearance? Your high tech toys? Your social status? The majority of people here in our techno-industrial culture are obsessed with nothing except the unimportant. This is true for every class demographic and across the political spectrum. Attempt to liberate yourself from it. Even one step away from it, if taken truly, will grant rewards in increased clarity and a greater ability to deal with change. It will also begin to alienate you from your peers, but keep in mind the sage words of Jiddu Krishnamurti: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Fascism is indeed “profoundly sick” but it cannot stop you from pursuing your own way in your own inner self.
Hampton stressed that the Black Panthers were not racist and that everyone who was aboard with the program was welcome, regardless of their color. This is also true of the revolution to stop Climate Change. The effects of Climate Change do not discriminate by color, creed, sex, or any of the other categories. Therefore the revolution cannot discriminate by them and must welcome all willing participants equally. Otherwise it will fail.
In the interest of fostering this real cooperation, people in the U.S.A. will need to dismiss their ridiculous cult of the individual. Giving it up will be a hard pill for some to swallow, though it has always been a fabrication anyway, born of an imperialistic privilege bought by committing genocide. The plain truth is that our personal differences don’t make a difference in the big picture of salvaging survival from the mess we’ve made.
If any humans survive the coming upheavals, they will be flabbergasted that people in our time spent time worrying about who was buying our wedding cakes or who wouldn’t sell us one. For the sake of our collective survival, we would benefit if we started dismantling these edifices of the indulgent ego immediately.
The cloying claim that people are like snowflakes — that everyone is unique — is not a pretense we can uphold when what we need is an avalanche. Indeed, eventually people will find great relief in dismissing self-centered bootstrapping and embracing community-based collaboration. The former is a fantasy, the latter is authentic living.
Climate Change demands what King called a “radical reconstruction of society itself” and, I would add, a radical reconstruction of the self. Personally, I yearn for both, and would be delighted for a teeming multitude of comrades in those causes: to be one worker bee among many in the joyful labor of returning to free, healthy living on the buried bones of Fascism.
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Sites for educating yourself about Climate Change
Hampton spoke about the importance of education for revolution and again his words should be applied today. Too few people know that Climate Change is even happening, let alone how bad it is, or how quickly it is worsening. I have been following the topic closely for a few years, trying to keep myself educated, and I am shocked more frequently now than when I started. The news is that much more grim, the rate of change that much more rapid. Here are some sources I recommend for educating oneself.
Climate Central: excellent for beginners. Regularly updated with easy-to-read stories and excellent graphical representations.
Robert Scribbler’s blog: Often technical, but a must-read for breaking news about current Climate Change events.
The Guardian Newspaper’s Climate Change portal: Well-written journalism covering Climate Change issues around the world.
NASA’s Climate Change portal: Good science, well-presented, despite the political pressures that the agency faces.
The Huffington Post’s Climate Change portal: The issues presented in an accessible way for a popular audience.
Skeptical Science: The tag line for this page is “Arguments from Global Warming Skeptics and what the science really says.” An excellent resource for arming yourself in the discussions you will be having with friends, family, and neighbors when you start bringing up the topic.