Sunday, April 22, 2018

General Agreement

I have joined a DSA "working group" set up to formulate a coherent strategy for the organization as concerns climate action. The proposal is to research the history of the climate justice movement and the different players (NGO's, Blockadia, UN COP, etc..)then try to identify ways to be more effective going forward.

I just re-read an essay by Andreas Malm titled Revolution in a Warming World and noticed lots of convergence with my own thinking on strategy. So I would love to see the working group give it a read. Here are some of the main points: "Any climatic spark will always burn through relations between people on its way to an explosion."
Here Malm points to Syria as an example, a place where severe drought heightened already existing tensions and precipitated the implosion of a society. In other words a "climatic impact is articulated through a particular social formation." Malm then claims that because "it is getting hotter at work", class conflict is heating up, at least in the so-called "developing world". Which brings us to the concept of "uneven and combined development", or the way capitalism takes on different modes in the Center and the Periphery and here Malm uses the Russian Revolution to support his argument that war induced threat of famine led to the crisis and the revolution's authoritarian turn. "Climate change is likely to be the accelerator of the twenty-first century, speeding up the contradictions of late capitalism"

This, of course, was Naomi Klein's basic thesis as well, a la Shock Doctrine, that the crisis contains a kernel of opportunity, a very rare opportunity for radical transformation. Many liberal and moderates will call for "adaptation" and peaceful ways to "transition" incrementally but that isn't how it is going to go down. Humans have a remarkable capacity to only see what they want to see until the catastrophe actually grabs them by the throat and starts shaking. Even then they might turn to religion or meditation or fentenyl.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Citizen Participation

I was just invited to "comment" on a proposed expansion of a coal mine. This is part of the "public process" which must legally take place before the coal company starts digging; they apply for a permit, the State decides whether it meets their "standards" then they invite citizens to comment. Sounds pretty damn democratic!

The first thing you need to do is step back and consider a few things like: Mining more coal? Really? Cause I thought there was a climate emergency? So isn't the proposal itself insane? But once we have decided to "participate" in moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic ( to immerse ourselves in the mad dance) we see lots of strange rules. Our comments can't consider how many deck chairs, we can only comment on the configuration: rows, circles, randomly scattered perhaps. We aren't allowed to consider the cumulative arrangement of chairs, only the ones on the deck. In other words there are lots of little parameters already set up by the capitalists and their lobbyists outside of which your "comments" are meaningless, not worthy of consideration by the powers that be.

The beauty of this "process" ( from the capitalist perspective) is that is sucks up tons of activist energy and directs it into a bureaucratic, regulatory black hole. These hearings and decisions all take forever and if you can't take time off work to go attend you get to feel guilty and thankful at the same time that a handful of committed, retired folks can go waste their time for you. This "participatory process" also serves the important function of re-legitimizing "democratic capitalism" as a fair, open system of governing. Look at how they want to include our voices!

Of course at a psychological level it causes all sorts of dissociation and trauma as you get sucked into an "irrational rationality". Arguing about how much poison you should be giving your grandchildren can only result in a psychotic break leading to "President Trump" and reality TV shows and religious cults and mass shootings and Texas. Golf. Christian rock.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

More Elections

The email from says : "the 2018 and 2020 elections will be some of the most important in our lives." So following the disastrous route taken by the labor movement, the climate movement will invest all its energy in the Democrats. The party of Pelosi and Schumer will talk a good game about a new green capitalism of jobs and economic growth and consumption and who knows, the party might even win back a majority in the Senate (if Trump is caught humping a fifteen year old), and liberals will smile with self-satisfaction and say "see you silly revolutionaries, the system really does work just as designed". But don't expect anything close to the radical action required to avert climate catastrophe. Look instead for a new emphasis on nuclear energy ( years of endless debate) and geoengineering (they will let NPR take the lead on this). Maybe a few billion will get put into the Global Climate Fund to help with useless "adaptation". Some solar energy, a few electric cars, another UN COP agreement to reduce emissions.

But after the first year the conservative backlash will grind all action to a halt and all the movement energy will have been dissipated and another generation of activists will go back to their game consoles. You know the drill, anyone backing a carbon tax is labeled a socialist and Capital goes on strike and the economy goes into recession and the fascists point to all the global chaos and on and on it goes. Stuck on the merry-go-round of "capitalist democracy", the terrifying nightmare where you helplessly watch yourself repeat the same mistakes over and over and over. The pathology of disavowal whereby you know you are trapped but you act AS IF you aren't.

I can imagine Bill Mc Kibben and Naomi Klein looking at each other and saying "Well, really there is no alternative", then with slightly embarrassed smiles, heading off to write fundraising letters. And in a tragic twist, we can say that Bernie Sanders and his "political revolution" are to blame for perpetuating the illusion of "progressive" government, an illusion in which DSA and are now fully invested.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Capitalist elections

In a capitalist democracy "the people" supposedly express their "general will" through capitalist elections. In this sense, The American People chose the tweeting clown prince, the Russian people chose their buff macho prince, the El Salvadorian People just chose a neoliberal, the Italian people chose neoliberals, etc, etc...These results would suggest the interests of Capital and the interests of the People around the globe amazingly just happen to coincide perfectly! Who knew?

Because who can contest the Will of the People, given freely through the miracle of the ballot box? So when Joe Biden considers a possible run for the presidency, or Clint Eastwood or Rebecah Mercer or even me, it demonstrates the wisdom of an inclusive, pluralist system where ideas are debated and contested in the public sphere and the majority eventually rules.

As opposed to that outdated, decrepit system in Saudi Arabia where a royal family just passes down rule through inheritance. How illegitimate! They should let The People decide, like they do in Turkey or Niger or Brazil. Yeah.

The Election Cycle is an elaborate ritual of catharsis, a proscribed event in which to vent and express opinions (within certain boundaries)and let off some steam. It totally absorbs all the energy and sucks all the oxygen out of "social movements" and directs it into the mass drama, the theater of "political" change, acted out by "non-politicians" for the benefit of the colonizers.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

"Green" Sunset and Blossoms

If you've never seen Sunset Magazine, picture the ultimate bougie/yuppie "lifestyle" orgy, fine wines, exotic vacations, recipes full of ingredients you'll never afford, all in a casual, attractive, relaxed celebration of the best that money can buy. But of course they have to demonstrate some environmental awareness so the latest issue (yes, I have a subscription, long story) has a piece on how the Western states are doing their bit to save us from climate change. Lots of "renewables getting cheaper" and recycling and Teslas. I especially loved the bit about turning "your next vacation into a trip that does a whole lot of good" by using travel companies that buy carbon offsets. And for every bottle of champagne you buy they will donate one to a family in Somalia. Feel better?

Over at the System Change Not Climate Change site they are clamoring for a "campaign" they can be involved in to make their title a reality. One popular suggestion is working to ban disposable plastic water bottles which to my way of thinking fits perfectly into this Green Sunset article. And in fact there are plenty of people already organized to ban the bottles. My problem with this and other such campaigns is three fold. In the first place, you quickly find radicalism and anti-capitalist critique have no place in these efforts and you will spend endless hours arguing over messaging. The second problem is becoming one of a thousand well meant reforms and finding the public thinks of them all as equivalent ( go through the list starting with food issues: GMOs, factory farms, fast food, pesticides/herbicides, packaging, move on into human rights and education and labor and guns and on and on, let a thousand campaigns blossom, each sending me a fundraising letter each month designed to pull at my liberal bleeding heart strings.) So in this sense plastic bottles and climate change and police violence all get thrown into the Great Non-Profit Blender and come out a social justice smoothie.

My third problem with single-issue campaigns is Capital loves them. They actually strengthen Capital the way resistance strengthened the Black Panther suit in the movie, absorbing the energy and storing it to throw back when needed. Yes, says capitalist ideology, you should make better consumption choices and vote with your dollars, that's how we save the planet and bring goodness: buy an aluminum bottle! Demonstrating once again how flexible and nimble capitalism is, how "green" it can be, so why on earth would you want to "change systems"? It is the same strategy they used to crush unionism; accommodation and flexibility and patience.

A Swiss Economist named Rudolf Meidner saw the whole thing play out. Sweden was a country with a powerful union movement that let their power devolve in the hands of social democratic parties, striking deals with Capital and losing the chance to achieve worker ownership. When it had all played out he said "You must have the experience of a total failure of the system. It must be clearly felt by nearly everyone that the current liberal market approach does not work."
So why prop it up?

Friday, March 9, 2018

From Potentiality to Actuality

This Changes Everything was published, with much fanfare, in 2014. Klein's thesis was that climate change presented the greatest opportunity in many decades to enact deep, structural societal change. We are now well into 2018 and the question must be asked: Has anything really changed?

Many will point to various metrics or events; the Paris Accord, the NY City divestment, the stabilization in the rate of emissions, the falling price of renewable energy, etc..and say yes,a great deal has changed. Others cite these same sources and claim they are the illusion of change, that the climate models are if anything more pessimistic now than in 2014. That, barring much more significant intervention, the over-all ecological degradation and creep toward "planetary boundaries" puts us on a catastrophic trajectory. Glass half full/ half empty? Progress or illusion?

Unfortunately the process of investigation/ interrogation of this question is itself fraught with anxiety, fetishistic attachment and emotional investment. Positions harden and are jealously guarded. Motives are questioned and the band-aids ripped off old historical wounds. Klein herself struggled to navigate these tensions, advocating a range of sometimes contradictory positions because guess what- there are no simple solutions. Electoral politics, movement building, protest, activism, theory- she is correct that EVERYTHING changes, including capitalism and Left praxis. The terms of engagement , the field of struggle, perhaps the "structure of experience" itself, all are in flux and yet at the same time the status quo has a revolutionary immutability: the more things change....

What is crucial is to map the terrain accurately enough so you can locate yourself in some sort of relation to an axis or reference points. And in order to do that you have to be able to step back and establish some distance, some critical, reflective non-attachment. And you have to do it in a time of profound urgency. Klein's critique also called out some folks (what she called Big Green) and their failed strategy. It is part of the work and requires some rigor but this is no time for snowflakes and accommodation just to spare people's feelings.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Democracy 101

There was great liberal excitement around the students speaking out for gun control following the latest school shootings. It was declared that "millenials were waking up!" and demanding action at long last. Demanding accountability from their elected representatives. Demanding sanity (following John Stewart). Surely this time, tragedy could be a catalyst for real change.

Not. The mercurial Jester Presidente deflected action by madly dancing around the issue long enough for the media to go to the next news cycle. Congress played its role by parsing terms and dissembling the issue into smaller Spectacles. The bodies are buried and the passionate students who marched and waved signs and gave emotional speeches hopefully learned a basic lesson in capitalist democracy. Because liberals wont.

The smart money invests in school security businesses.

"It's sundown for the union" wrote B Dylan some time ago but the Janus decision will be much more than that. It will be the long awaited victory dance for Capital celebrating not just Occupy and Wisconsin and Citizens United but now, at long last, Right to Work. Some on the Left are trying to spin this as the beginning of a new bottom-up union militancy and we may see more localized struggles such as the West Virginia school teachers. But the question is: what will they have learned from history? What language will they embrace now that they have little left to lose? What will the response be from the DSA? Will "progressives" begin to question their long cherished theory of change or will they drag Bill Moyers out of retirement?