"Healthy feet can hear the very heart of holy Earth."
“Todos os pés que sejam saudáveis podem ouvir o próprio coração da Terra Sagrada.”
Olhai meus irmãos, chegou a primavera; a terra recebeu os abraços do sol e em breve veremos os resultados desse amor!
Cada semente despertou e o mesmo se passa com toda a vida animal. É através desse misteriosos poder que também nós temos o nosso ser e que do mesmo modo consentimos aos nossos vizinhos, mesmo aos animais vizinhos, um direito igual que temos, de habitar a terra.
No entanto, ouvi-me, minha gente, nós agora temos que tratar com outra raça – que era pequena e fraca quando os nossos pais a encontraram pela primeira vez, mas agora é inumerável e esmagadora. Por estranho que pareça, tem propensão para cultivar o solo mas o amor da posse é uma doença entre eles. Essa gente fez muitas regras que os ricos podem quebrar mas não os pobres. Tiram dos pobres e dos fracos para alimentar os ricos que mandam. Afirmam que esta nossa mãe de todos nós, a terra, é deles e separam-se com vedações dos vizinhos, e desfiguram-na com os seus edifícios e o seu lixo. Essa nação é como uma torrente furiosa que salta das suas margens e destrói todos os que estão no seu caminho.
Não podemos habitar lado a lado. Há sete anos apenas, fizemos um tratado no qual nos era assegurado que o país do búfalo seria nosso para sempre. Agora ameaçam tirá-lo de nós. Meus irmãos, devemos submeter-nos ou devemos dizer-lhes: “ Matem-me antes de tomar posse da minha Terra Natal…”
Assembleia do rio Pó em 1877 discurso de Tatanka Yotanka (Touro sentado)
Takanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull)
Behold, my brothers, the spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love!
Every seed has awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our neighbours, even our animal neighbours, the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land.
Yet hear me, my people, we have now to deal with another race - small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possessions is a disease with them (. . .)
They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own, and fence their neighbours away; they deface her with their buildings and their refuse (…)
They threaten to take [the land] away from us. My brothers, shall we submit, or shall we say to them: "First kill me before you take possession of my Fatherland."
Tatanka Yotanka (Sitting Bulls) speech at the Powder river council, 1877.
Love poses a threat to our political system. It is difficult to convince a person who has a lot to live for in their personal relationships to be willing to fight and die for an abstraction such as the State; for that matter, it might even be difficult to convince that person to pay taxes. It poses a threat to cultures of all kinds, for when human beings are given wisdom and valor by true love they will not be held back by traditions or customs that are irrelevant. Love poses a threat to society itself. Passionate love is ignored and feared by the ruling class, for it poses a great danger to the stability and pretense that they covet.
Love permits no lies, no falsehoods, not even any polite half-truths, but lays all emotions bare and reveals secrets. You cannot lie with your emotional and sexual response; situations or ideas will excite or repel you whether you like it or not. One cannot be a lover and a responsible, respectable member of today’s society at the same time. Love will impel you to do things that are not “responsible” or “respectable.” True love is irresponsible, irrepressible, rebellious, scornful of cowardice, dangerous for the lover and everyone around them, for it serves neither god nor master.
— CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective, “Join the Resistance, Fall in Love!”
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Heavy Reader: 1948
The scientist in me wants to find logical explanations for why people kill each other and do not simply share and care for one another ...
On 9 April 1948, my mother’s friend in school (both 18 at the time in teacher school in Jerusalem) chose to go back to her village of Deir Yassin. That was the last time my mother saw Hayah Balbisi who was killed in a massacre. April 9th is a day before Good Friday in our Eastern Christian Tradition. My mother, who is now 82 years old, told me not to travel and that she has been having bad dreams. I reassured her even though my own heart sends me negative signals. Deir Yassin was not the first or the largest massacre committed by Zionist forces during that era of ethnic cleansing. But it was prophetic and emblematic for us because its deliberate effect was magnified to scare the villagers (even some survivors were paraded in the streets of Jerusalem and loudspeakers told of more impending massacres). Dozens of massacres were indeed committed just in the six weeks leading up to Israel’s creation and more after. 534 villages and towns were depopulated in the bizarre 20th century attempt to transform a multicultural/multireligious Palestine into the “Jewish state of Israel.” 67 years later massacres are still being committed whether in Gaza last year or in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk. Yarmouk was home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees. It was the largest Palestinian refugee camp. It was besieged and starved. People ate grass and over 200 died of starvation. Now the fanatical forces calling themselves the Islamic State entered the camp, burned Palestinian flags and spread their terror on the remaining civilians. Necks were cut and women were raped. Different but connected perpetrators.
These and other thoughts race through the mind from 11,000 meters above the ground on my way to Paris. A flight was canceled and I had to fly to Athens, then Larnaca (Cyprus), then Paris. Larnaca airport is full of Israelis because that is the closest European airport to Lod (renamed Ben Gurion) Airport. Cyprus is used also as a transit point for the tens of thousands of Mossad agents that travel back and forth to some 140 other countries. Countless teams of assassins passed through this airport I left behind. I also think of other massacres committed in places I know well (like Kenya) or places I do not know well (like the deliberate downing of an Iranian civilian aircraft by the US and that of a German airplane by a terrorist on French soil). But then I thought, “how can I gain a bigger perspective on our lives and all these tragedies?” Here, we are tiny creatures among 7 billion “humans” that have spread around and damaged this beautiful blue planet. A planet that is small in a small inconspicuous solar system, one of billions of solar systems in this galaxy, itself a small galaxy among countless galaxies. Maybe we take ourselves too seriously, I thought. How can I help get people to know that there is enough resources to feed everyone (now over a billion go hungry). The scientist in me wants to find logical explanations for why people kill each other and do not simply share and care for one another. I try to convince myself with my own words to visitors to Palestine: lighting a candle is better than cursing the darkness, first do no harm, travel the path of your conscience even if few are doing it, etc. Maybe lack of sleep makes my mind wonder into Buddhist philosophies (joyful participation in the sorrows of this world) and to mystic philosophies (Rumi’s words come slushing around my brain). These thoughts are like shields to help us in this stark reality. The reality is that the vast majority of people on this airplane and the thousands I left behind at the airport do not know and do not care. Yarmouk, Deir Yassin, Tantura, Sabra, Shatila and others represent a heritage for us Palestinians and the few other humans who care. A country was robbed, 7 million of us are refugees or displaced people. Zionists are happy they succeeded in getting Arabs and Muslims to kill each other whether in Yemen or Syria. As the pilot announces descent to Paris, I think of the French equivalent of the Balfour Declaration (Jules Cambon’s declaration of French support for Zionism was also issued in 1917). But I know I am a minority and most people on this airplane are thinking of their next meal, of sex, of work obligations, of other thoughts. Perhaps that is how it was and how it will be. Perhaps all we can do is try our best (successfully or not) to create a ripple effect for a better more peaceful world. Perhaps that’s what I and fellow volunteers at the Palestine Museum of Natural History are trying to do. Perhaps, as the old song says: in the end only kindness matters.
It is good to be here in beautiful Paris with Eitan and Tal and all the other good people. But I already miss my mother and miss Palestine.
A Nation of Snitches
Posted on May 10, 2015
By Chris Hedges
A Transportation Security Administration sign at Los Angeles’ main rail terminal, Union Station, urges that suspicious activities be reported to authorities. It declares, “If You See Something Say Something.” (AP / Damian Dovarganes)
A totalitarian state is only as strong as its informants. And the United States has a lot of them. They read our emails. They listen to, download and store our phone calls. They photograph us on street corners, on subway platforms, in stores, on highways and in public and private buildings. They track us through our electronic devices. They infiltrate our organizations. They entice and facilitate “acts of terrorism” by Muslims, radical environmentalists, activists and Black Bloc anarchists, framing these hapless dissidents and sending them off to prison for years. They have amassed detailed profiles of our habits, our tastes, our peculiar proclivities, our medical and financial records, our sexual orientations, our employment histories, our shopping habits and our criminal records. They store this information in government computers. It sits there, waiting like a time bomb, for the moment when the state decides to criminalize us.
Totalitarian states record even the most banal of our activities so that when it comes time to lock us up they can invest these activities with subversive or criminal intent. And citizens who know, because of the courage of Edward Snowden, that they are being watched but naively believe they “have done nothing wrong” do not grasp this dark and terrifying logic.
Tyranny is always welded together by subterranean networks of informants. These informants keep a populace in a state of fear. They perpetuate constant anxiety and enforce isolation through distrust. The state uses wholesale surveillance and spying to break down trust and deny us the privacy to think and speak freely.
A state security and surveillance apparatus, at the same time, conditions all citizens to become informants. In airports and train, subway and bus stations the recruitment campaign is relentless. We are fed lurid government videos and other messages warning us to be vigilant and report anything suspicious. The videos, on endless loops broadcast through mounted television screens, have the prerequisite ominous music, the shady-looking criminal types, the alert citizen calling the authorities and in some cases the apprehended evildoer being led away in handcuffs. The message to be hypervigilant and help the state ferret out dangerous internal enemies is at the same time disseminated throughout government agencies, the mass media, the press and the entertainment industry.
“If you see something say something,” goes the chorus.
In any Amtrak station, waiting passengers are told to tell authorities—some of whom often can be found walking among us with dogs—about anyone who “looks like they are in an unauthorized area,” who is “loitering, staring or watching employees and customers,” who is “expressing an unusual level of interest in operations, equipment, and personnel,” who is “dressed inappropriately for the weather conditions, such as a bulky coat in summer,” who “is acting extremely nervous or anxious,” who is “restricting an individual’s freedom of movement” or who is “being coached on what to say to law enforcement or immigration officials.”
What is especially disturbing about this constant call to become a citizen informant is that it directs our eyes away from what we should see—the death of our democracy, the growing presence and omnipotence of the police state, and the evisceration, in the name of our security, of our most basic civil liberties.
Manufactured fear engenders self-doubt. It makes us, often unconsciously, conform in our outward and inward behavior. It conditions us to relate to those around us with suspicion. It destroys the possibility of organizing, community and dissent. We have built what Robert Gellately calls a “culture of denunciation.”
Snitches in prisons, the quintessential totalitarian system, are the glue that allows prison authorities to maintain control and keep prisoners divided and weak. Snitches also populate the courts, where the police make secret deals to drop or mitigate charges against them in exchange for their selling out individuals targeted by the state. Our prisons are filled with people serving long sentences based on false statements that informants provided in exchange for leniency.
There are no rules in this dirty game. Police, like prison officials, can offer snitches deals that lack judicial oversight or control. (Deals sometimes involve something as trivial as allowing a prisoner access to food like cheeseburgers.) Snitches allow the state to skirt what is left of our legal protections. Snitches can obtain information for the authorities and do not have to give their targets a Miranda warning. And because of the desperation of most who are recruited to snitch, informants will do almost anything asked of them by authorities.
Just as infected as the prisons and the courts are poor neighborhoods, which abound with snitches, many of them low-level drug dealers allowed to sell on the streets in exchange for information. And from there our culture of snitches spirals upward into the headquarters of the National Security Agency, Homeland Security and the FBI.
Systems of police and military authority are ruthless when their own, such as Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, become informants on behalf of the common good. The power structure imposes walls of silence and harsh forms of retribution within its ranks in an effort to make sure no one speaks. Power understands that once it is divided, once those inside its walls become snitches, it becomes as weak and vulnerable as those it subjugates.
We will not be able to reclaim our democracy and free ourselves from tyranny until the informants and the vast networks that sustain them are banished. As long as we are watched 24 hours a day we cannot use the word “liberty.” This is the relationship of a master and a slave. Any prisoner understands this.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his masterpiece “The Gulag Archipelago,” which chronicles his time in Josef Stalin’s gulags and is a brilliant reflection of the nature of oppression and tyranny, describes a moment when an influx of western Ukrainians who had been soldiers during World War II arrived at his camp, at Ekibastuz. The Ukrainians, he wrote, “were horrified by the apathy and slavery they saw, and reached for their knives.” They began to murder the informants.
“Kill the stoolie!” That was it, the vital link! A knife in the heart of the stoolie! Make knives and cut the stoolie’s throats—that was it!
Now as I write this chapter, rows of humane books frown down at me from the walls, the tarnished gilt on their well-worn spines glinting reproachfully like stars through the cloud. Nothing in the world should be sought through violence! By taking up the sword, the knife, the rifle, we quickly put ourselves on the level of tormentors and persecutors. And there will be no end to it. …
There will be no end. … Here, at my desk, in a warm place, I agree completely.
If you ever get twenty-five years for nothing, if you find yourself wearing four number patches on your clothes, holding your hands permanently behind your back, submitting to searches morning and evening, working until you are utterly exhausted, dragged into the cooler whenever someone denounces you, trodden deeper and deeper into the ground—from the hole you’re in, the fine words of the great humanists will sound like the chatter of the well-fed and free.
There will be no end of it! ... But will there be a beginning? Will there be a ray of hope in our lives or not?
The oppressed at least concluded that evil cannot be cast out by good.
The eradication of some snitches and intimidation of others transformed the camp. It was, Solzhenitsyn admits, an imperfect justice since there was no “documentary confirmation that a man was an informer.” But, he noted, even this “improperly constituted, illegal, and invisible court was much more acute in its judgments, much less often mistaken, than any of the tribunals, panels of three, courts-martial, or Special Boards with which we are familiar.”
“Of the five thousand men about a dozen were killed, but with every stroke of the knife more and more of the clinging, twining tentacles fell away,” he wrote. “A remarkable fresh breeze was blowing! On the surface we were prisoners living in a camp just as before, but in reality we had become free—free because for the very first time in our lives we had started saying openly and aloud all that we thought! No one who has not experienced this transition can imagine what it is like!
And the informers … stopped informing.”
The camp bosses, he wrote “were suddenly blind and deaf. To all appearances, the tubby major, his equally tubby second in command, Captain Prokofiev, and all the wardens walked freely about the camp, where nothing threatened them; moved among us, watched us—and yet saw nothing! Because a man in uniform sees and hears nothing without stoolies.”
The system of internal control in the camp broke down. Prisoners no longer would serve as foremen on work details. Prisoners organized their own self-governing council. Guards began to move about the camp in fear and no longer treated prisoners like cattle. Pilfering and theft among prisoners stopped. “The old camp mentality—you die first, I’ll wait a bit; there is no justice so forget it; that’s the way it was, and that’s the way it will be—also began to disappear.”
Solzhenitsyn concluded this chapter, “Behind the Wire the Ground Is Burning,” in Volume 3 of his book, with this reflection.
Purged of human filth, delivered from spies and eavesdroppers we looked about and saw, wide-eyed that … we were thousands! That we were … politicals! That we could resist!
We had chosen well; the chain would snap if we tugged at this link—the stoolies, the talebearers and traitors! Our own kind had made our lives impossible. As on some ancient sacrificial altar, their blood had been shed that we might be freed from the curse that hung over us.
The revolution was gathering strength. The wind that seemed to have subsided had sprung up again in a hurricane to fill our eager lungs.
Later in the book Solzhenitsyn would write, “Our little island had experienced an earthquake—and ceased to belong to the Archipelago.”
Freedom demands the destruction of the security and surveillance organs and the disempowering of the millions of informants who work for the state. This is not a call to murder our own stoolies—although some of the 2.3 million prisoners in cages in America’s own gulags would perhaps rightly accuse me of writing this from a position of privilege and comfort and not understanding the brutal dynamics of oppression – but instead to accept that unless these informants on the streets, in the prisons and manning our massive, government data-collection centers are disarmed we will never achieve liberty. I do not have quick and simple suggestions for how this is to be accomplished. But I know it must.
By Bron Taylor
Between 30 November and 11 December 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris, France. Commonly known as COP 21, the goal is a legally binding agreement by all the nations of the world to reduce and adapt to anthropogenic (human-caused) climate disruption. Given decades of inaction and mounting scientific evidence that global warming is threatening human societies and promising massive species extinctions, the stakes could not be higher. Time for effective action is fast running out.
Since the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, there is little reason for optimism. Every major meeting that was supposed to produce concrete results has failed. The politicians, oligarchs and corporate elites who are the key decision makers at these meetings pursue economic and national interests antithetical to the well being of most earthlings, human and not. Unfortunately, environmental and social justice activists, who have sought to pressure these elites, have been ineffectual. What may already be too little, too late, will certainly be too little, too late, if the tide does not turn quickly.
Has the time come for a massive wave of direct action resistance, one similar but more widespread than that sparked by Earth First!, the first avowedly “radical” environmental group?
The radical environmental movement, which first emerged in the United States in 1980, controversially transformed environmental politics by engaging in and promoting civil disobedience and sabotage as environmentalist tactics. By the late 1980s and into the 1990s, when the most militant radical environmentalists adopted the Earth Liberation Front name, arson was increasingly deployed. The targets included gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, U.S. Forest Service and timber company offices, resorts and commercial developments expanding into wildlife habitat and universities and corporations engaged in research creating genetically modified organisms. Examples of such militant environmentalism can be found throughout the world, and they are increasingly fused with anarchist ideologies, which grow wherever there is a perception that governments, even supposedly democratic ones, do not work for everyone’s well being but for a select few. Increasingly, activists consider whether direct action resistance is necessary, and some even contend that the time has come for insurrection.
Many of those attending the Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet conference in Berkeley, California in November 2011, apparently thought so. Some 500 people attended this conference, which called for a new “deep green resistance” movement in response to intensifying environmental decline and increasing social inequality. The format of the conference was a scripted dialogue, or what might be called political performance art, with the writer and activist Derrick Jensen posing questions to a series of environmental activists and writers, including, most prominently, the activist and award-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy.
The tone of the meeting was sober and its messages radical. Succinctly put, the speakers issued the following diagnoses: Electoral politics and lobbying, as well as educational and other reformist conversion strategies that give priority to increasing awareness and changing consciousness, have been ineffective. Such strategies do not work because for 10,000 years agricultures have been established and maintained by violence. This violence has foremost targeted foraging societies (and later indigenous and poor people), nonhuman organisms, and nature itself. Fossil-fueled industrial-agricultural civilizations are especially destructive and unsustainable. Democratic movements have been overwhelmed by the increasingly sophisticated ways that elites justify and enforce their rule, promote materialism and the domination of nature.
In concert, the conference speakers offered radical prescriptions. They called for direct and aggressive resistance to plutocracy and environmental destruction. The immediate objective, several of them contended, should be to bring down industrial civilization—which, they claimed, has structural vulnerabilities. Specifically, they urged those gathered to form or support secret cells that would, as their first priority, sabotage the energy infrastructure of today’s dominant and destructive social and economic systems. It is also critical, they contended, that activists avoid pacifist ideologies and even carefully consider whether, and when, the time might be ripe to take up arms to overturn the system. After the most inflammatory of these statements, at least a third of the crowd rose in standing ovation.
It is not necessary to hold an anarchist or anti-civilization ideology, however, to wonder if electoral politics, lobbying and educational efforts, or litigation-based strategies are enough. Indeed, one reason that many mainstream activists sympathize with these radicals is that they often share a despairing view, given their failure spur decisive action by nations and communities in response to climate disruption.
Is it time, then, for resistance? Has it been effective or counterproductive? If effective or potentially so, which kinds are, under what circumstances, and by whom? What should be the posture of mainstream environmental organizations toward those who engage in it? It is clearly time to break the taboo against talking about resistance, and to consider what lessons can be drawn from decades of experimentation with direct action resistance.
This is ethically fraught terrain. To be as clear as possible I shall begin with a forthright statement of the premises underlying my subsequent analysis.
First, sometimes it is permissible or even obligatory to resist even legally constituted laws and policies. This statement is uncontroversial when it comes to long settled social conflicts. In hindsight at least, nearly everyone would agree that the Confessing Church’s resistance to the duly elected Nazi regime and its laws, was not only morally permissible but obligatory. To this a host of additional examples could easily be added, such that Mohandas Gandhi was justified in leading the resistance to British imperial rule, as was Martin Luther King Jr. in his often illegal pursuit of full citizenship for African Americans, and even Nelson Mandala and the African National Congress’s insurrectionary strategy to topple South Africa’s Apartheid regime.
Once it is acknowledged that laws and policies have been and can be unjust, whether to resist becomes a muddier moral terrain. When laws are enacted through democratic processes, of course, they are generally considered on first appearance to be legitimate, so any decision to break them ought not be taken lightly. Such a decision often requires someone to choose between competing goods, between moral principles that ordinarily would not be in conflict but that can be in specific cases. The best laws try to anticipate exceptions and complexity, including by fashioning penalties that recognize moral ambiguity and unusual circumstances. Breaking into someone’s home, for example, is normally and properly judged illegal, but in the case of a fire, it becomes permissible so that lives can be saved.
Criminal codes at their best carefully consider the intent of the accused, and penalties increase according to a crime’s maliciousness. But exigent circumstances are not usually factored into criminal statutes. Nor do lawmakers always anticipate and incorporate into law, as they should, new circumstances or understandings. It is not uncommon, therefore, that deeply ethical and well informed people will decide that some laws are inadequate, outdated, or just plain wrong, that the processes for changing them are too corrupt or the time too short, and that the stakes just too high to justify obedience to them.
Second, it is wrong for one species to dramatically reduce Earth’s biological diversity, and preventing anthropogenic species extinctions should be a high moral priority. This ethical premise has been defended on many grounds, a survey of which is not possible here, but they include prudential and anthropocentric concern for human welfare, biocentric philosophy or spirituality and diverse religious grounds in which protecting species is a religious duty.
Third, the best available consensus science indicates that our species is precipitating a rapid decline of biological diversity, and this process is accelerating due to anthropogenic climate change. It is also clear that political systems have not halted these processes.
Fourth, and finally, since species that go extinct are lost forever, the stakes are high and an exigent response is urgently needed. Political systems have utterly failed to arrest biodiversity decline, nor are they poised to respond quickly and effectively.
Given these ethical and factual premises, individuals and organizations should consider the reasons for this decline and how to overcome it. Since current laws and political activities have failed to redress the situation and appear unlikely to do so, it is incumbent to ask what strategies and tactics might be successful. Such an assessment should include determining whether strategies and tactics must be constrained by existing laws and prevailing assumptions about what constitutes acceptable political action.
Put more simply: anthropogenic environmental decline in the light of life-affirming values and political inaction demands analysis of the obstacles to effective action, including laws and mores that might constrain it. Given the urgency of the situation, extralegal tactics should be on the table, as they were in earlier causes where great moral urgency was properly felt.
This does not, however, answer the question of whether the time for resistance has come. For this, we would need to diagnose the reasons for the present predicaments, determine what resources can be acquired, the sort of resistance needed and whether a given action or campaign would be morally permissible, likely to be effective, and unlikely to be counterproductive. Venturing answers is perilous, in part, because there is so much complexity and uncertainty in the deeply entwined environmental and human socio-economic systems we seek to understand and affect. Yet the urgency of the situation requires nothing less.
Types of Resistance
Recognizing that social reality never perfectly reflects our maps of it, it is nevertheless useful to proceed with a review of the main types of resistance.
First, but not least, there are many ways that people of conscience resist current trends, including by battling ideas that consider the world to be a smorgasbord for ever-swelling human numbers and appetites and that view human beings as somehow exempt from nature’s laws. More important, there is a revolution going on with regard to understanding the human place in and responsibilities to nature. These are unfolding rapidly and globally, and while the trends have diverse tributaries and expressions, they also have common emotional and spiritual dimensions, including deep feelings of belonging and connection to nature, as well as convictions about the value of all living things. There are, put simply, many forms of cultural resistance to beliefs and practices that do not cohere with science or progressive environmental ethics. These trends are important to note if we are to avoid the disempowering influence of cynicism.
While contemplating the possibility and promise of resistance, it is also important to note that not everyone has the ability to participate in its more radical forms. Economically vulnerable populations, for example, might have few resources or opportunities to directly confront forces they understandably fear or upon whom they directly or indirectly depend. People in such situations, who have much to lose from direct confrontation with workplace authorities or rulers, sometimes engage in what might be labeled passive resistance. Such resistance generally involves noncooperation and noncompliance, such as through work slowdowns, theft, feigned ignorance and sometimes difficult-to-detect forms of sabotage. Such tactics are designed to avoid attention or detection. The focus here, however, is on whether more direct and aggressive forms of resistance are warranted.
For radical environmentalists, the answer is a resounding yes. Despite many differences among them, they generally agree that the agro-capitalist-industrial system is fundamentally destructive and inherently unsustainable, and moreover, the current situation so dire, that direct action resistance is not only warranted but obligatory. They differ sharply, however, over which strategies and tactics are ethically permitted and likely to be effective.
The earliest Earth First! activists, for example, hoped that a combination of public protest including civil disobedience, and sabotage to thwart and deter the greatest assaults on biodiversity, would increase public sympathy and demands for environmental protection. Often but not always, a connection was made between the erosion of biodiversity and cultural diversity (especially as represented in indigenous and peasant cultures), and concern for both animated the efforts. Some also articulated the political theory that creating an environmental extreme would serve as a counterweight to the extreme right in political battles, pulling the political center more toward the environmentalist pole of the right/left continuum, which is where laws and policies tend to end up. Yet others, such as the radical environmental activists who, after a number of their comrades were arrested, concluded that they could save nothing from prison, established the Greater Gila Biodiversity Project in 1989, which eventually became the Center for Biological Diversity. These activists were among the ones who pioneered tenacious litigation strategies, using existing laws and rules written by resource agencies to challenge, with great success, practices they considered destructive. This is another form of resistance, although it is seldom recognized as such.
While these early radical environmental activists maintained an apocalyptic view that modern society would collapse of its own unsustainable weight, their priority was to save what they could of the genetic and species variety of the planet before that inevitable collapse. They welcomed the envisioned collapse, believing it would halt the destruction and give the planet a chance to heal.
This stream of thought thus had both radical and reformist dimensions. The more optimistic activists thought that direct action resistance might help precipitate widespread consciousness change, preventing humans from overshooting their carrying capacity and precipitating the collapse of environmental and thus social systems. The more reformist participants resembled those from more mainstream environmental movements, who consider mass protests, accompanied by nonviolent civil disobedience and sometimes spectacular acts of protest and resistance (such as by Greenpeace), as a way to educate and transform public opinion and thus to change behaviors, laws and policies.
The revolutionary stream of these activists find hope only in actions that would accelerate the collapse of the societies they do not believe can be reformed voluntarily. These activists believe that, given the propaganda power of the elites who are most responsible for the destruction and who control political systems, more egalitarian, democratic and environmentally sustainable systems have no chance of being established until this system is demolished or falls of its own unsustainable weight.
In sum, when it comes to ecological resistance movements, there is a continuum of types, with varying diagnoses, strategies and tactics. One extreme of the continuum of activists, who grew in number soon after the founding of Earth First!, is represented by the Earth Liberation Front, green anarchism, and Deep Green Resistance. These forms can be labeled revolutionary resistance, and they boldly proclaim an intention to bring down, “by any means necessary,” an industrial system considered inherently destructive.
More moderate sectors of radical environmentalism represent a kind of revolutionary/reformist hybrid, which shares many of the critical perspectives about the roots and current drivers of environmental degradation but which draws more eclectically and pragmatically on revolutionary and reformist ideas, strategies, and tactics. These activists do not absolutely dismiss the possibility that, with the right combination of resistance and reform strategies, there could be an upwelling of public support for environmental health and social equity and therefore that a less catastrophic transition toward sustainability might yet be possible.
On the other end of this spectrum is reformist resistance, which endorses demonstrations, including extralegal tactics such as civil disobedience (which can be highly disruptive, as for example when logging roads or highways are blockaded) as well as diverse pedagogical efforts, hoping to sway public opinion and pressure public officials into changing laws and policies while also affecting whether they honestly and successfully enforce current laws and policies. More so than the previous two forms of resistance, here the goal is to force a democratic revolution or restore it where it has been subverted. And the hope is that this could create the conditions needed for dramatic action to address the most trenchant environmental and social problems.
Activists taking this approach may share the critical perspective of the more radical advocates of resistance about agriculture and industrialism, but they nevertheless take a more pragmatic approach, sometimes acknowledging that the current systems are powerful, resilient, and difficult to bring down. Or they may conclude that the threat to human beings, to other species, and to environmental systems would be too great should the current systems precipitously collapse and that therefore such an outcome should not be pursued.
With premises about and types of resistance established, and with humility given the diverse variables in play and the difficulty in predicting the effects of different courses of action, it is possible to venture a broad assessment of resistance strategies. These views are quite properly subject to change, given changed circumstances and understandings.
The radical critique of agricultural, industrial civilization cannot be easily dismissed. It is true that as agricultural societies spread around the world, cultural diversity has dramatically eroded. Agricultures have displaced, murdered, or assimilated foraging peoples, whether through superior numbers and force, through the diseases their lifestyles brought with them, or through processes of settler colonialism. The erosion of biological diversity has gone hand-in-hand with these processes, all of which intensified with the power of the fossil-fuel-driven industrial age.
Modern societies are unduly celebratory of their achievements when they have amnesia about what has been lost and by whom. With an understanding of the tragic aspects of this history and recognition that these very processes are ongoing, it is clear that dramatic actions to halt these processes and engage in restorative justice and healing where possible are morally obligatory.
This does not mean, however, that the revolutionary prescription of the Deep Green Resistance activists—attacking the energetic infrastructure of industrial civilization—is warranted. Indeed, the claim that this could cause the collapse of industrial civilization is fanciful. Natural disasters (including those intensified or worsened by human activities) demonstrate that as long as energy is available, large-scale societies will rebuild. Even if resisters were to disrupt the system significantly, not only would the system’s rulers rebuild, recent history has shown that they would increase their power to suppress resisting sectors.
Moreover, as many radical activists have acknowledged in interviews—even those who have supported sabotage—the more an action risks or intends to hurt people, the more the media and public focus on the tactics rather than the concerns that gave rise to the actions. This means that the most radical tactics tend to be counterproductive to the goal of increasing awareness and concern in the general public.
When accessing the effectiveness of resistance, it is also important to address how effective authorities will be at preventing and repressing it. The record so far does not lead easily to enthusiasm for the most radical of the tactics deployed thus far. Authorities use tactics that are violent or can be framed as such to justify to the public at large spying, infiltration, disruption and even violence against these movements. Such repression typically succeeds in eviscerating the resistance, in part because as people are arrested and tried, some will cooperate with the prosecution in return for a reduced sentence.
More than half of those arrested did just that during what Federal authorities dubbed “operation backfire,” which led to the arrests and conviction of more than two dozen Earth Liberation Front saboteurs who had been involved in arson cases. One of the leaders, facing life in prison under post-9/11 terrorism laws, committed suicide shortly after his arrest, while several others became fugitives. The individuals convicted drew prison terms ranging from six to 22 years. The noncooperating activists, and those for whom terrorism enhancements had been added to the arson charges, drew the longest terms.
As if this were not devastating enough to the resistance, broader radical environmental campaigns that were not using such radical tactics ebbed dramatically in the wake of these arrests. This was because movement activists who were friends and allies of those arrested rallied to provide prison support, which then took their time and resources away from their campaigns. But it was also because the resistance community was divided over whether (and if so, how) to support the defendants who, to various degrees, cooperated with investigators. Given this history, it makes little sense to base strategy and tactics on such an unlikely possibility that communities of resistance will ever be able to mount a sustained campaign to bring down industrial civilization, even if that were a desirable objective.
The envisioned alternative to this objective—creating or, in the view of many activists, returning to small-scale, egalitarian, environmentally friendly lifestyles—would not be able to support the billions of people currently living on Earth, at least not at anything remotely like the levels of materialism that most people aspire to. So the most radical of the resistance prescriptions would quite naturally lead to strong and even violent counter-resistance.
These ideologies, explicitly or implicitly, make unduly optimistic assumptions about our species, including about our capacity to maintain solidarity in the face of governmental repression, as well as about the human capacity for cooperation and mutual aid. To expect such behavior to become the norm may be conceivable, and it may be exemplified by some small-scale societies, but it is not something to be expected universally, let alone during times of social stress intensified by increasing environmental scarcity.
So despite the accurate assessment about the ways agricultural and industrial societies have reduced biocultural diversity, there is little reason to think that the most radical resistance tactics would be able to precipitate or hasten the collapse of such societies. Nor is there much evidence that such tactics would contribute to more-pragmatic efforts to transform modern societies. In contrast, there is significant evidence that these sorts of tactics have been and are likely to remain counterproductive.
Spiking Awareness of Biodiversity Decline
There are, nevertheless, concrete historical examples where extralegal resistance has played a significant and even decisive role in campaigns to protect natural habitats and change government policies. Examples from diverse sites of contention around the world are documented in Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism. Many other studies have documented the successes and promise of such movements, as well as the failures and often-violent resistance that they face.
These dynamics were all present a few decades ago when activists aggressively, and often illegally, campaigned to halt deforestation in the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains of the United States. Tree spiking, which involves putting metal or ceramic spikes in trees that are slated for logging, was among the most controversial of tactics. First used in anti-logging campaigns in Australia in the late 1970s and in Canada in 1982, radical environmentalists took up the practice with a vengeance in the United States during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Tree spiking was a tactic that, it was hoped, when combined with blockades and other forms of sabotage, would bankrupt logging companies believed to be engaged in unsustainable and species-threatening logging. Failing that, the hope was that logging would slow down when some of it became unprofitable due to the additional costs of removing the spikes.
Although there have been examples of spiking leading directly to the quiet cancellation of a timber sale or to economic distress for a small logging company, the practice did not often, in a direct way, significantly reduce deforestation. It did, however, have another important impact. In a short period of time, the controversy it precipitated contributed significantly to public awareness of deforestation and related endangered species issues. As Mike Roselle, one of Earth First!’s cofounders, later claimed that before they began spiking trees nobody had even heard of the ancient forests or the threats to them. Indeed, before these campaigns the term biodiversity was not in the public lexicon, nor was its value advanced in public discourse. It took these campaigns to bring the very idea of biodiversity and its importance out from obscure scientific enclaves and into public view.
With the occasional destruction of logging equipment, publicity stunts such as banner hangings, increasingly sophisticated blockades of logging roads and the occupation of logging equipment or trees to prevent logging, public awareness of these issues grew. So did expressions of concern (and sometimes outrage) to public officials. In several cases, the resistance gained enough strength to orchestrate large protests that included mass arrests, as when in 1996 thousands of citizens gathered in a sparsely populated area of northern California to protest logging by the Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) in ancient redwood groves. More than a thousand people were arrested for trespassing on land owned by the timber company.
This, plus a decade of resistance to PALCO’s practices, contributed to political pressures to reduce social disruption and the loss of political support, and it led to heightened scrutiny and a citation to the company for violating the law. Eventually, a deal was worked out to sell the most biologically precious old-growth groves to the state of California. Not long afterward, the company went bankrupt and was sold to another firm that promised to protect the remaining ancient groves and manage the rest of its forestland more gently.
This was not the only case in which blockades of logging roads or tree occupations, which were sustained for months and even years, forced concessions from business or resource managers or provided time for attorneys to win injunctions or lawsuits against the logging. Not incidentally, one rationale for extralegal resistance is the often-accurate charge, as validated in the courts in responses to lawsuits, that industries or the government itself had broken environmental laws. Such facts allow those engaged in resistance to contend that they are actually displaying respect for laws by risking arrest and incarceration in their efforts to force companies and the government to obey existing statutes. And when governments and corporations see that they are being monitored, it contributes to improved compliance with environmental laws and regulations.
Sometimes resistance movements put so much pressure on government officials that major victories are won, as when the U.S. Forest Service under President Bill Clinton issued the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in 2001, which protected some 25 million hectares (more than 58 million acres) of federal forestland. Although it took more than a decade of legal battles for opponents of this rule to exhaust their legal challenges to it, this has become the law of the land. It is inconceivable that this rule would have been issued without more than a decade of very strong and often disruptive resistance to the Forest Service’s timber program. Although the rule does not do everything that activists sought, it is a significant advance for biodiversity conservation in North America.
A Time for Resistance?
People engaged in environmental causes around the world, including those who deploy resistance strategies, lose far more often than they win. But there are signs that direct action resistance is growing. Reports of desperate people resisting displacement from their lands and livelihoods for environmentally devastating projects justified under the rubrics of progress and development appear to be increasing in many regions, including in China, South America, Russia and a variety of other sites. Increasingly, those resisting are threatening or even in a few cases resorting to violence, although such movements have generally been the object of far more violence than they have ever deployed.
It is by no means certain that these movements will succeed or even survive the repression by authorities that they all too typically face. This will depend in no small measure on whether strong, international alliances are established and whether repressive acts are publicized internationally. Done in a way that minimizes or prevents reactionary counter-resistance and that does not lead to widespread public revulsion, ecological resistance has played and can continue to play a valuable and important role in environmental protection and sustainability.
Indeed, direct action resistance can bring attention to issues in a way that electoral politics and lobbying cannot. It can inspire action and apply political pressure on corporate and governmental officials. Like a rowdy audience or angry coach riding a referee, it can affect the decisions that are made and even whether officials will enforce the law. More significant in the long term is that such resistance may even contribute to shifting the center of public debate more toward the positions of environmentalists.
That mainstream environmental organizations and actors are reticent to acknowledge the positive role of resistance is understandable. After all, they work within the system and by its rules, and it would seem hypocritical to work for laws, policies and enforcement mechanisms while refusing to abide by society’s existing laws. Yet there are many examples of individuals and groups honored today for obeying the overwhelming majority of existing laws while protesting highly consequential and exceptionally harmful immoral laws. Martin Luther King, Jr., for one, claimed that disobeying unjust laws and facing the consequences for doing so actually expresses the highest regard for the importance and value of the law as an institution.
In August 2011, journalist and activist Bill McKibben and his group 350.org orchestrated a protest at the White House demanding action and leadership by the United States on climate change. The action led to 143 arrests that same day and over a thousand that month.
But how much more powerful these protests would be if there were a march on Washington comparable to those during the civil rights era and involving thousands of arrests by individuals demanding action on climate change? And how much more powerful yet if similar marches took place in Brussels, Beijing, Brasília, London, Moscow, Cairo, Pretoria and other centers of power around the planet?
Such a global groundswell of citizens demanding action may be emerging.
In September 2014, The People’s Climate March, with an estimated 300,000 souls, demanded action from the world’s nation states during a United Nations Climate Meeting in New York City. The meeting a part of the process leading up to the upcoming COP 15 meeting of world leaders in Paris in December. Over 100 of the protesters were arrested in a “Flood Wall Street” protest after the march. They sought to focus attention on the disinformation campaigns and lobbying that many corporations have engaged in to confuse the public and thwart governmental action. Meanwhile, solidarity events were held in 162 other countries, adding tens of thousands of additional voices to the chorus demanding action.
The Paris meeting is likely to precipitate the most dramatic action yet. The Campaign against Climate Change, for example, is planning to intensify the resistance, including an effort, involving Parisians and climate protestors gathering there from around the world, to bring the City of Lights to a standstill. Combined with similar actions around the world — perhaps led by student walkouts and hopefully with the support of union members, religious organizations and other members of civil society — they hope to demonstrate that business as usual cannot continue. Indeed, business as usual cannot continue when the environmental and climate systems upon which business, and indeed all earthly activity depends, catapults toward disaster.
Climate change protest could provide a unifying focus for forcing global changes toward social equity and environmental sustainability. And lest this seem fanciful, remember the many precedents where in the past, “people power” has toppled regimes. The global nature of the threat posed by climate change certainly makes it feasible that social protest and unrest could force concerted action on the part of targeted governments and businesses.
Arguably, such protests would be all the more effective if they were protracted and scrupulously nonviolent, while directly disrupting business as usual. Social disruption is often a prerequisite to concessions by political elites. Yet for such a dramatic, global movement to arise, there would need to be leadership from the most powerful environmental organizations, alliance building by them and the world’s religious communities, outreach and integration of labor and other civil society sectors, and careful planning regarding the kind of public theater that would be the most effective. If there is such concerted effort underway of the scale that is needed, however, I am unaware of it. But given how high the stakes are, and how slow the global response has been, it is long past time for the most prominent and respected environmental organizations and individuals to add another dimension to their advocacy for environmental sanity: direct action resistance.
If there are regrets in the struggle for sustainability among those who know the facts and the stakes involved, it may well be akin to the musings of Henry David Thoreau. Toward the end of his life, after noting how out-of-step he was with the conventional wisdom of his day, he commented, “If I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?” That is a timely question for us all.
— Bron Taylor is a professor of religion and nature, environmental ethics and environmental studies at the University of Florida, and a fellow of the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Germany. His books include Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future; for more of his writings see brontaylor.com.
La explosión del consumo en el mundo actual mete más ruido que todas las guerras y arma más alboroto que todos los carnavales. Como dice un viejo proverbio turco, quien bebe a cuenta, se emborracha el doble. La parranda aturde y nubla la mirada; esta gran borrachera universal parece no tener límites en el tiempo ni en el espacio. Pero la cultura de consumo suena mucho, como el tambor, porque está vacía; y a la hora de la verdad, cuando el estrépito cesa y se acaba la fiesta, el borracho despierta, solo, acompañado por su sombra y por los platos rotos que debe pagar. La expansión de la demanda choca con las fronteras que le impone el mismo sistema que la genera. El sistema necesita mercados cada vez más abiertos y más amplios, como los pulmones necesitan el aire, y a la vez necesita que anden por los suelos, como andan, los precios de las materias primas y de la fuerza humana de trabajo. El sistema habla en nombre de todos, a todos dirige sus imperiosas órdenes de consumo, entre todos difunde la fiebre compradora; pero ni modo: para casi todos esta aventura comienza y termina en la pantalla del televisor. La mayoría, que se endeuda para tener cosas, termina teniendo nada más que deudas para pagar deudas que generan nuevas deudas, y acaba consumiendo fantasías que a veces materializa delinquiendo.
El derecho al derroche, privilegio de pocos, dice ser la libertad de todos. Dime cuánto consumes y te diré cuánto vales. Esta civilización no deja dormir a las flores, ni a las gallinas, ni a la gente. En los invernaderos, las flores están sometidas a luz continua, para que crezcan más rápido. En las fábricas de huevos, las gallinas también tienen prohibida la noche. Y la gente está condenada al insomnio, por la ansiedad de comprar y la angustia de pagar. Este modo de vida no es muy bueno para la gente, pero es muy bueno para la industria farmacéutica. EEUU consume la mitad de los sedantes, ansiolíticos y demás drogas químicas que se venden legalmente en el mundo, y más de la mitad de las drogas prohibidas que se venden ilegalmente, lo que no es moco de pavo si se tiene en cuenta que EEUU apenas suma el cinco por ciento de la población mundial.
«Gente infeliz, la que vive comparándose», lamenta una mujer en el barrio del Buceo, en Montevideo. El dolor de ya no ser, que otrora cantara el tango, ha dejado paso a la vergüenza de no tener. Un hombre pobre es un pobre hombre. «Cuando no tenés nada, pensás que no valés nada», dice un muchacho en el barrio Villa Fiorito, de Buenos Aires. Y otro comprueba, en la ciudad dominicana de San Francisco de Macorís: «Mis hermanos trabajan para las marcas. Viven comprando etiquetas, y viven sudando la gota gorda para pagar las cuotas».
Invisible violencia del mercado: la diversidad es enemiga de la rentabilidad, y la uniformidad manda. La producción en serie, en escala gigantesca, impone en todas partes sus obligatorias pautas de consumo. Esta dictadura de la uniformización obligatoria es más devastadora que cualquier dictadura del partido único: impone, en el mundo entero, un modo de vida que reproduce a los seres humanos como fotocopias del consumidor ejemplar.
El consumidor ejemplar es el hombre quieto. Esta civilización, que confunde la cantidad con la calidad, confunde la gordura con la buena alimentación. Según la revista científica The Lancet, en la última década la «obesidad grave» ha crecido casi un 30% entre la población joven de los países más desarrollados. Entre los niños norteamericanos, la obesidad aumentó en un 40% en los últimos 16 años, según la investigación reciente del Centro de Ciencias de la Salud de la Universidad de Colorado. El país que inventó las comidas y bebidas light, la diet food y los alimentos fatfree, tiene la mayor cantidad de gordos del mundo. El consumidor ejemplar sólo se baja del automóvil para trabajar y para mirar televisión. Sentado ante la pantalla chica, pasa cuatro horas diarias devorando comida de plástico.
Triunfa la basura disfrazada de comida: esta industria está conquistando los paladares del mundo y está haciendo trizas las tradiciones de la cocina local. Las costumbres del buen comer, que vienen de lejos, tienen, en algunos países, miles de años de refinamiento y diversidad, y son un patrimonio colectivo que de alguna manera está en los fogones de todos y no sólo en la mesa de los ricos. Esas tradiciones, esas señas de identidad cultural, esas fiestas de la vida, están siendo apabulladas, de manera fulminante, por la imposición del saber químico y único: la globalización de la hamburguesa, la dictadura de la fast food. La plastificación de la comida en escala mundial, obra de McDonald’s, Burger King y otras fábricas, viola exitosamente el derecho a la autodeterminación de la cocina: sagrado derecho, porque en la boca tiene el alma una de sus puertas.
El campeonato mundial de fútbol del 98 nos confirmó, entre otras cosas, que la tarjeta MasterCard tonifica los músculos, que la Coca-Cola brinda eterna juventud y que el menú de McDonald’s no puede faltar en la barriga de un buen atleta. El inmenso ejército de McDonald’s dispara hamburguesas a las bocas de los niños y de los adultos en el planeta entero. El doble arco de esa M sirvió de estandarte, durante la reciente conquista de los países del Este de Europa. Las colas ante el McDonald’s de Moscú, inaugurado en 1990 con bombos y platillos, simbolizaron la victoria de Occidente con tanta elocuencia como el desmoronamiento del Muro de Berlín.
Un signo de los tiempos: esta empresa, que encarna las virtudes del mundo libre, niega a sus empleados la libertad de afiliarse a ningún sindicato. McDonald’s viola, así, un derecho legalmente consagrado en los muchos países donde opera. En 1997, algunos trabajadores, miembros de eso que la empresa llama la Macfamilia, intentaron sindicalizarse en un restaurante de Montreal en Canadá: el restaurante cerró. Pero en el 98, otros empleados e McDonald’s, en una pequeña ciudad cercana a Vancouver, lograron esa conquista, digna de la Guía Guinness.
Las masas consumidoras reciben órdenes en un idioma universal: la publicidad ha logrado lo que el esperanto quiso y no pudo. Cualquiera entiende, en cualquier lugar, los mensajes que el televisor transmite. En el último cuarto de siglo, los gastos de publicidad se han duplicado en el mundo. Gracias a ellos, los niños pobres toman cada vez más Coca-Cola y cada vez menos leche, y el tiempo de ocio se va haciendo tiempo de consumo obligatorio. Tiempo libre, tiempo prisionero: las casas muy pobres no tienen cama, pero tienen televisor, y el televisor tiene la palabra. Comprado a plazos, ese animalito prueba la vocación democrática del progreso: a nadie escucha, pero habla para todos. Pobres y ricos conocen, así, las virtudes de los automóviles último modelo, y pobres y ricos se enteran de las ventajosas tasas de interés que tal o cual banco ofrece.
Los expertos saben convertir las mercancías en mágicos conjuntos contra la soledad. Las cosas tienen atributos humanos: acarician, acompañan, comprenden, ayudan, el perfume te besa y el auto es el amigo que nunca falla. La cultura del consumo ha hecho de la soledad el más lucrativo de los mercados. Los agujeros del pecho se llenan atiborrándolos de cosas, o soñando con hacerlo. Y las cosas no solamente pueden abrazar: también pueden ser símbolos de ascenso social, salvoconductos para atravesar las aduanas de la sociedad de clases, llaves que abren las puertas prohibidas. Cuanto más exclusivas, tanto mejor: las cosas te eligen y te salvan del anonimato multitudinario. La publicidad no informa sobre el producto que vende, o rara vez lo hace. Eso es lo de menos. Su función primordial consiste en compensar frustraciones y alimentar fantasías: ¿En quién quiere usted convertirse comprando esta loción de afeitar?
El criminólogo Anthony Platt ha observado que los delitos de la calle no son solamente fruto de la pobreza extrema. También son fruto de la ética individualista. La obsesión social del éxito, dice Platt, incide decisivamente en la apropiación ilegal de las cosas. Yo siempre he escuchado decir que el dinero no produce la felicidad; pero cualquier televidente pobre tiene motivos de sobra para creer que el dinero produce algo tan parecido, que la diferencia es asunto de especialistas.
Según el historiador Eric Hobsbawm, el siglo XX puso fin a 7.000 años de vida humana centrada en la agricultura desde que aparecieron los primeros cultivos, a fines del paleolítico. La población mundial se urbaniza, los campesinos se hacen ciudadanos. En América Latina tenemos campos sin nadie y enormes hormigueros urbanos: las mayores ciudades del mundo, y las más injustas. Expulsados por la agricultura moderna de exportación y por la erosión de sus tierras, los campesinos invaden los suburbios. Ellos creen que Dios está en todas partes, pero por experiencia saben que atiende en las grandes urbes. Las ciudades prometen trabajo, prosperidad, un porvenir para los hijos. En los campos, los esperadores miran pasar la vida, y mueren bostezando; en las ciudades, la vida ocurre y llama. Hacinados en tugurios, lo primero que descubren los recién llegados es que el trabajo falta y los brazos sobran, que nada es gratis y que los más caros artículos de lujo son el aire y el silencio.
Mientras nacía el siglo XIV, fray Giordano da Rivalto pronunció en Florencia un elogio de las ciudades. Dijo que las ciudades crecían «porque la gente tiene el gusto de juntarse». Juntarse, encontrarse. Ahora, ¿quién se encuentra con quién? ¿Se encuentra la esperanza con la realidad? El deseo, ¿se encuentra con el mundo? Y la gente, ¿se encuentra con la gente? Si las relaciones humanas han sido reducidas a relaciones entre cosas, ¿cuánta gente se encuentra con las cosas?
El mundo entero tiende a convertirse en una gran pantalla de televisión, donde las cosas se miran pero no se tocan. Las mercancías en oferta invaden y privatizan los espacios públicos. Las estaciones de autobuses y de trenes, que hasta hace poco eran espacios de encuentro entre personas, se están convirtiendo ahora en espacios de exhibición comercial.
El shopping center, o shopping mall, vidriera de todas las vidrieras, impone su presencia avasallante. Las multitudes acuden, en peregrinación, a este templo mayor de las misas del consumo. La mayoría de los devotos contempla, en éxtasis, las cosas que sus bolsillos no pueden pagar, mientras la minoría compradora se somete al bombardeo de la oferta incesante y extenuante. El gentío, que sube y baja por las escaleras mecánicas, viaja por el mundo: los maniquíes visten como en Milán o París y las máquinas suenan como en Chicago, y para ver y oír no es preciso pagar pasaje. Los turistas venidos de los pueblos del interior, o de las ciudades que aún no han merecido estas bendiciones de la felicidad moderna, posan para la foto, al pie de las marcas internacionales más famosas, como antes posaban al pie de la estatua del prócer en la plaza. Beatriz Solano ha observado que los habitantes de los barrios suburbanos acuden al center, al shopping center, como antes acudían al centro. El tradicional paseo del fin de semana al centro de la ciudad, tiende a ser sustituido por la excursión a estos centros urbanos. Lavados y planchados y peinados, vestidos con sus mejores galas, los visitantes vienen a una fiesta donde no son convidados, pero pueden ser mirones. Familias enteras emprenden el viaje en la cápsula espacial que recorre el universo del consumo, donde la estética del mercado ha diseñado un paisaje alucinante de modelos, marcas y etiquetas.
La cultura del consumo, cultura de lo efímero, condena todo al desuso mediático. Todo cambia al ritmo vertiginoso de la moda, puesta al servicio de la necesidad de vender. Las cosas envejecen en un parpadeo, para ser reemplazadas por otras cosas de vida fugaz. Hoy que lo único que permanece es la inseguridad; las mercancías, fabricadas para no durar, resultan tan volátiles como el capital que las financia y el trabajo que las genera. El dinero vuela a la velocidad de la luz: ayer estaba allá, hoy está aquí, mañana quién sabe, y todo trabajador es un desempleado en potencia. Paradójicamente, los shoppings centers, reinos de la fugacidad, ofrecen la más exitosa ilusión de seguridad. Ellos resisten fuera del tiempo, sin edad y sin raíz, sin noche y sin día y sin memoria, y existen fuera del espacio, más allá de las turbulencias de la peligrosa realidad del mundo.
Los dueños del mundo usan al mundo como si fuera descartable: una mercancía de vida efímera, que se agota como se agotan, a poco de nacer, las imágenes que dispara la ametralladora de la televisión y las modas y los ídolos que la publicidad lanza, sin tregua, al mercado. Pero, ¿a qué otro mundo vamos a mudarnos? ¿Estamos todos obligados a creernos el cuento de que Dios ha vendido el planeta unas cuantas empresas, porque estando de mal humor decidió privatizar el universo? La sociedad de consumo es una trampa cazabobos. Los que tienen la manija simulan ignorarlo, pero cualquiera que tenga ojos en la cara puede ver que la gran mayoría de la gente consume poco, poquito y nada necesariamente, para garantizar la existencia de la poca naturaleza que nos queda. La injusticia social no es un error que se debe corregir, ni un defecto que se debe superar: es una necesidad esencial. No hay naturaleza capaz de alimentar un shopping center del tamaño del planeta.
#TheoryThursday: "Do not become enamored of power." - Michel Foucault
“Preface” to Anti-Oedipus by Michel Foucault
During the years 1945-1965 (I am referring to Europe), there was a certain way of thinking correctly, a certain style of political discourse, a certain ethics of the intellectual. One had to be on familiar terms with Marx, not let one’s dreams stray too far from Freud. And one had to treat sign-systems — the signifier — with the greatest respect. These were the three requirements that made the strange occupation of writing and speaking a measure of truth about oneself and one’s time acceptable.
Then came the five brief, impassioned, jubilant, enigmatic years. At the gates of our world, there was Vietnam, of course, and the first major blow to the powers that be. But here, inside our walls, what exactly was taking place? An amalgam of revolutionary and antirepressive politics? A war fought on two fronts: against social exploitation and psychic repression? A surge of libido modulated by the class struggle? Perhaps. At any rate, it is this familiar, dualistic interpretation that has laid claim to the events of those years. The dream that cast its spell, between the First World War and fascism, over the dreamiest parts of Europe — the Germany of Wilhelm Reich, and the France of the surrealists — had returned and set fire to reality itself: Marx and Freud in the same incandescent light.
But is that really what happened? Had the utopian project of the thirties been resumed, this time on the scale of historical practice? Or was there, on the contrary, a movement toward political struggles that no longer conformed to the model that Marxist tradition had prescribed? Toward an experience and a technology of desire that were no longer Freudian. It is true that the old banners were raised, but the combat shifted and spread into new zones.
Anti-Oedipus shows us first of all how much ground has been covered. But it does much more than that. It wastes no time in discrediting the old idols. even though it does have a great deal of fun with Freud. Most important, it motivates us to go further.
It would be a mistake to read Anti-Oedipus as the new theoretical reference (you know, that much-heralded theory that finally encompasses everything, that finally totalizes and reassures, the one we are told we “need so badly” in our age of dispersion and specialization where “hope” is lacking). One must not look for a “philosophy” amid the extraordinary profusion of new notions and surprise concepts: Anti-Oedipus is not a flashy Hegel. I think that Anti-Oedipus can best be read as an “art,” in the sense that is conveyed by the term “erotic art,” for example. Informed by the seemingly abstract notions of muliplicities, flows, arrangements, and connections, the analysis of the relationship of desire to reality and to the capitalist “machine” yields answers to concrete questions. Questions that are less concerned with why this or that than with how to proceed. How does one introduce desire into thought, into discourse, into action? How can and must desire deploy its forces within the political domain and grow more intense in the process of overturning the established order? Ars erotica, ars theoretica, ars politica.
Whence the three adversaries confronted by Anti-Oedipus. Three adversaries who do not have the same strength, who represent varying degrees of danger, and whom the book combats in different ways:
• The political ascetics, the sad militant, the terrorists of theory, those who would preserve the pure order of politics and political discourse. Bureaucrats of the revolution and civil servants of Truth.
• The poor technicians of desire — psychoanalysts and semiologists of every sign and symptom — who would subjugate the multiplicity of desire to the twofold law of structure and lack.
• Last but not least, the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism (whereas Anti-Oedipus‘ opposition to the others is more of a tactical engagement). And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini — which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively — but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.
I would say that Anti-Oedipus (may its authors forgive me) is a book of ethics, the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time (perhaps that explains why its success was not limited to a particular “readership”: being anti-oedipal has become a life style, a way of thinking and living). How does one keep from being fascist, even (especially) when one believes oneself to be a revolutionary militant? How do we rid our speech and our acts, our hearts and our pleasures, of fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our behavior? The Christian moralists sought out the traces of the flesh lodged deep within the soul. Deleuze and Guattari, for their part, pursue the slightest traces of fascism in the body.
Paying a modest tribute to Saint Francis de Sales, one might say that Anti-Oedipus is an Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life.
This art of living counter to all forms of fascism, whether already present or impending, carries with it a certain number of essential principles which I would summarize as follows if I were to make this great book into a manual or guide for everyday life:
• Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.
• Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.
• Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.
• Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into the forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.
• Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.
• Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.
• Do not become enamored of power.
It could even be said that Deleuze and Guattari care so little for power that they have tried to neutralize the effects of power linked to their own discourse. Hence the games and snares scattered throughout the book, rendering its translation a feat of real prowess. But thse are not the familiar traps of rhetoric; the latter work to sway the reader without his being aware of the manipulation, and ultimately win him over against his will. The traps of Anti-Oedipus are those of humor: so many invitations to let oneself be put out, to take one’s leave of the text and slam the door shut. The book often leads one to believe it is all fun and games, when something essential is taking place, something of extreme seriousness: the tracking down of all varieties of fascism, from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everday lives.