Off the keyboard of Surly1
Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on July 1, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.
In Praise of Revolutionary Ideas
“The pre-eminent concern of 99% of humanity is the practicalities of daily living – how to pay for food and shelter, education and health care, water and sanitation. There is no time or energy for living, for creativity and self-enquiry, for exploring one’s nature and the world.”
― Graham Peebles
The Diner Forum is that part of the Doomstead Diner mass media conglomerate in which anybody who registers can post anything, or comment on whatever anyone else has posted. One of the things that brings me great pleasure is to post something on the Diner Forum that elicits responses. The other day, I posted this article, and it has already occasioned three pages of comments, and perhaps will occasion more. The article was entitled, “The Need For Revolutionary Ideas” by Graham Peebles. In it, Peebles states:
Worldwide, life is dominated by an unjust economic model – beloved by all colours on the political spectrum, which has infiltrated every area of life. The preeminent concern of 99% of humanity is the practicalities of daily living – how to pay for food and shelter, education and health care, water and sanitation. There is no time or energy for living, for creativity and self-enquiry, for exploring one’s nature and the world.
Neo-liberal economics, or market fundamentalism, has contributed to extreme levels of poverty, social division and criminality. It is largely responsible for the environmental crisis and man-made climate change and has fueled worldwide inequality. Not just income and wealth inequality, but inequality of opportunities of access, influence, power and rights, including the observation and enforcement of so-called ‘universal’ human rights. The right to food, shelter, education and health care, for example, ‘rights’ universally available if you have money to pay for them. Inequality distorts democracy; indeed it denies democracy as it limits participation, corrupts free speech, suffocates dissent and perpetuates the concentration of power.
Do we not need a new narrative to replace the current one, which fails to work for so many?
Why a narrative?
Human beings are hardwired for stories. Over the last several hundred thousand years, the lore and knowledge of our elders, stories about their adventures and the characters who populated them, and the stories handed down to them in turn by their elders, our culture has been transmitted via stories told by people sitting around the campfires. The young hearing them for the first times, the elders hearing them again as a comfort. It is now the summer time, those fortunate enough to go summer camping will reenact a ritual as old as Prometheus when they sit around campfires and share their tales. Right now, some of the people I love best in life are in upstate New York, at a campsite called “Lazy Acres,” retelling stories from a family past and inculcating a new generation with family lore. This is the way we transmit the stories of civilizations both grand and small, passed from one generation to the next. People in Islamic countries memorize the Koran; it is likely that both the Iliad and the Odyssey were handed down out of an oral tradition many thousands of years old, and still extant in the Anatolian Highlands. Stories are the basis for civilization, and collectively, our stories reflect our foundation myths. When reading Peebles’ article, I thought of a book I’d read some time ago by Thom Hartmann, “The Last Days of Ancient Sunlight.” If I recall correctly, Hartman made the case that we needed new prevailing narrative to accompany our new circumstances, in which the burning and waste of “ancient sunlight,” or fossil fuels, would need to give way to a lifestyle supported by current sunlight.
Our culture clearly has such a set of prevailing narratives that reinforce foundation myths of American Exceptionalism, the Invisible Hand, Dominion Over the Earth, and of America as a Shining City on a Hill. What is surprising is the policies derived in support of official myth are often at odds with what the bulk of the people want. Several recent articles, including this one, illustrate the extent by which we are ruled by elites whose agenda is clearly at odds with both common sense and the desires of the ruled. But a trip down that rabbit hole is for another time. Peebles goes on to say:
This current economic model nestles complacently at the core of many of our problems. It has reduced everything to a commodity – including people: the economically vulnerable are marginalised and exploited, traded like cattle, abused and violated. The system needs to be re-evaluated and fundamentally changed – along with the worldwide value system (promoting materiality) that flows from its ideological roots, and colours all areas of living. Arundhat Roy, in a June 2, 2011 interview with BBC, stated: “We have to re-define the meaning of modernity, to redefine the meaning of happiness.” And re-imagine the world based on altogether different values to the divisive ones espoused by the neo-liberal model.
Yet not everybody buys in. In the Diner Forum, a frequent poster, a petroleum geologist and originator of often contrarian views, demurs as follows:
We don’t need revolutionary ideas. We need folks who will get off their asses and DO things. It has gotten so bad I don’t even care sometimes WHAT they do, only that they do DO. The tube, the phones, the internet, entire generations are growing up without the ability to convert anything, an idea, a process, a hope or dream, into a concrete and executable plan of action.
The changes in behavior to save the planet don’t require more ideas, they require more DOING people. People who pitch the cars for EVs and bicycles, suburban proximity and the advantages it offers in terms of using just enough land to produce some chunk of your own food right there in your back yard, eat less meat, use less water, taking advantage of the telecommunications revolution that allows many things to be done through telecommuting and being the kind of person that an employer would trust to get the job done doing just that.
Patton had this figured out a LONG time ago, a good plan, executed with violence and enthusiasm today, beats a perfect plan next week every time. And we’re developing legions of dreamers and hopers and lackadaisical keyboard warriors. What we need are DOERS.
This poster exhorts us to believe in the magnificence of fracking, or “hydraulic stimulation” as he has taken to calling it (making it sound more like sex play than a despoliation of an existing water table), to provide generous amounts of energy. And is well compensated for his efforts by clients in the extractive industries. So to him and others like him, the aspirations in Peebles’ essay are not valid. Since we are doing just fine here, thank you very much, we’d would prefer you not spend so much think time thinking as doing. Doesn’t Nike say, “Just do it!” So get off your ass, quit staring into that piece of glass if you keep stroking with your finger, and go do something! Do, do, do! Don’t bother thinking. What good could possibly come of that?
Unfortunately “just do it” doesn’t get it done anymore. The story of “drill, baby drill!” has led us here: we have been drilling, mining and transporting coal, gas, oil, etc. and now find ourselves in the place where we where we have been terraforming the earth for the successor species of Homo sapiens. Because the Dominion Over the Earth story has worked so well for so long, and particularly because it enriches an obscene handful of princelings while impoverishing a peasantry who bears the externalized environmental and health costs. We have greater income inequality this country than we have had since the roaring 20s. And since cheap energy no longer fuels the growth paradigm, honest profit can no longer be had. Thus corporate interests lead the effort to privatize the commons, such that our grandchildren will pay a fee to a private interest for every time they use a road, visit what used to be a public park, or go camping. The privatization story is nothing more or less than a recipe for a New Feudalism that will reduce our children and grandchildren to the status of serfs.
But to defenders of the status quo, if one notices these trends and connects the dots to reveal an unpleasant picture, the dot-connector stands revealed as an hysteric and little better that Harold Camping, leading other gullible wretches to a premature doom.
I reject this. I hold with those who are realistic enough to recognize the danger that we face, and optimistic enough to demand that we create a new story. One of sharing, mutuality, interdependence.
Recently I attended church with my daughter, and the pastor’s subject was Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes, a miracle that appears in all four Gospels. The feeding of the 5,000 (or 4,000…or 5,000, “not counting women and children…” but still a multitude… was a miracle indeed. Did Jesus multiply the loaves, or was the true miracle of that distant day that the crowd was moved by the generosity of a young boy willing to share his two fish and five loaves? Perhaps someone pulled out a piece of bread here, a hunk of cheese there, and before long everyone’s little became a lot, enough that the disciples filled baskets with the leftovers. Since thousands of followers had taken a hike into the country, it is not unreasonable to think that most if not all might have packed a lunch.
The story requires an act of faith in either reading: either Jesus multiplied the food available, or the crowd produced it. Might not the real miracle be that faith in a young boy’s act of generosity of can turn us from selfish acquirers, concerned only with our own needs and bellies, to people willing to share the little we have? Perhaps the greater miracle is not a Cana-style Jesus Magic Act so much as the power of Jesus’s story to move a crowd to see differently: to see their fellow beings as a reflection of themselves.
Simple acts of love, faith and devotion can change a crowd, and change the world. We need new stories. Or a miracle.
Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, is the primary admin for Diner social media, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary , a regularly-visiting daughter and an assortment of cardinals, bluejays, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, mockingbirds and whippoorwills. Not to mention the twohees.