Extinction Rebellion – Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night

On the 31st October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. The awareness of this action’s long-term significance may have escaped him at the time. With swathes of people turning against the Catholic Church, which had been the most powerful force in Europe for countless years, any doubts about its effect cannot have lasted long.

On the 31st of December 2018, Extinction Rebellion issued a “Declaration of Rebellion” against the British Government. The event was passionate and inspiring. One hopes it will have a similarly galvanising effect as Luther’s hammers had upon the Church. Indeed, it will need to if we are to survive the ecocide standing before us.

This time of year has a feeling of rebellion. The haze of Summer, which somehow seeps well into September, starts to lift. Suddenly we are plunged into darkness and our clocks go back. An extra hour’s sleep never feels quite enough. Halloween is a time for Trick or Treat – far more of an American tradition than a British one. There’s something anarchic about the whole idea that I find appealing – the act of sanctioned, carnivalesque begging. Is giving sweets to strangers paying homage to that sense of hospitality we fear losing, or are we symbolically paying tribute to monsters we have no way of controlling?

Imagine if this practice happened constantly throughout the year? The Trick aspect of Trick or Treat is presented as a last resort if children do not get the treats they want. But really Trick is more of a word for the whole masquerade of Halloween, and its anti-authoritarian semblances, for dressing up as ghouls and ghosts. Halloween is about joyful anonymity through masquerade. It feels in some sense like an age-old protest. Or at least an exorcism of bad spirits.  

Costume parties run into November. And in Britain unlike the US we have Guy Fawkes Night. When I was a child, it always struck me as unpleasant to celebrate someone’s execution with bonfires and burning effigies. It took an imagination like Alan Moore’s to reinvent the Guy Fawkes imagery as an act of rebellion against a future British fascist state in his comic V for Vendetta to symbolically spin something out of Guy Fawkes’ vengeance at years of smouldering mannequins. On the night of the 3rd November, I sat in a plush London cinema watching the film version; a tear ran down my cheek at the inhumanity and the cruelty the film portrays. The message is very much that a certain ruthlessness, based on revenge, is if not necessary then at least inevitable for a mass popular uprising. The lead characters “V” and “Evie Hammond” delight in gleeful destruction – art as political violence.

In some senses, the Extinction Rebellion is similar – more subtle and much more forgiving than the swashbuckling anarchist of the aforementioned tale. Rather than taking pleasure in chaos, Extinction Rebellion presupposes that worldwide chaos is already occurring. Waking people up to their fate involves not blaming or taking out our anger on those who stand against us: the government and big business. Their resistance involves presenting us with half measures to global warming: they cannot face up to destruction, they will waver until the last minute to Midnight. It is only through grieving the extinction that is presently happening that we can hope to change the status quo. People do not know what they have until it is gone. Sadness is powerful and also political. Meanwhile, we have to be creative and artistic against a backdrop of violence and destruction. We have to speak truth to the emotions that lay in the realm beyond a climate apocalypse: both a collective mourning for what we are losing and a collective joy in what we are building anew.

Distributed Decision-Making Committed to Living Within the Means of the Planet

”What I stand for is what I stand on” Wendell Berry

Since I last wrote, #ExtinctionRebellion has gone boom!   Shared by Mr Monbiot to Mr Sanders who tweeted it to the World –  what we do now on 31st Oct Declaration Day and in the subsequent direct actions,  really matters.   Just like everything we do that has consequence on the future –  though we are so far removed in time and place, we barely need to think about that – only this time, how this plays out will be replayed to us on a very short feedback loop, over and over again, and the consequences will be deeply present.

I look out on a cloudless sunset skyscape, where contrails blaze across the darkening blue like dragons,  beautiful and dangerous.   I have thought a lot about what this rebellion is asking folks to sacrifice.  Holiday flights.  No big deal, surely.  But what about those whose family are in distant lands?  Maybe growing old and dying.  Are they to deny each other a last chance to clasp hands and hearts?  Supermarkets.  I think of the empty shops in high streets and lack of community hubs across our towns.  I think of the vast over cultivated expanses of tree-barren agricultural land no longer growing food for human consumption.   I think of all our concrete gardens.   Pharmaceuticals.  I get real to the fact that many of my dearest friends’ lives rely on a daily dose of drugs.   And those so close to my heart, who have choices about how they live because of Big Pharma.   There is so much more.  Individual car ownership.   Home heating as winter is coming.   Pure Water preservation.

Remorse.  I swim in an ocean of it.

And still, #ExtinctionRebellion  appears utterly necessary to me.   It is not that these privileges will disappear from our plate immediately.  They are the kinds of policy re-evaluations that will be taken to the People’s Assemblies.    Decision-making will be distributed among real people who have to live with them,  with a firm commitment to living within the means of the planet .  A commitment to assuring there are other than human beings still available to sustain those generations, already born, who will be dealing with the exigencies of life on a planet in deep trauma.

And so, Declaration Day approaches and now has a life of her own.  The laughter of gods echoes through the corridors of our plots and plans.   Where my focus goes now is nonviolence and de-escalation.  I have been arrested for civil disobedience –  grabbed from behind and face-planted in the dirt by police protecting a lorry from my oh so slow walk.  It is not pleasant.  It is not nonviolent.

My mind goes to the nonviolent direct action training  Rising Up are rolling out to support volunteers.  I took the role of a police person in role play and felt the frustration and irritation grow as the activist in front of me refused to move, in the face of all my cajoling and persuasion and even my rising ire.  The one next to me cried, and still did not move.  It was hard to keep calm and rational.   I listened to the sharing of experiences  of my affinity group – how they stayed grounded and calm and held their positions –  deep breathing;  rooting to the Earth;  flowing like water;  repetitive statements;  songs.

Ah, songs.  I am resonant to the power of songs – the way these magically manipulative mouths of ours have been gifted capacity to carefully shape sacred sound into words layered with meaning and history.  This is a tactic I used to great effect when I spent 24 hours in a holding cell after the slow walk arrest.   Cells have incredible acoustics and I would sing for an hour – not always songs, sometimes  tones or mantras, til the vibrations were bouncing round the tiny plastic room.  Then, in the silence after the sound, when every cell in my body was resetting itself to the highest vibrations resonating around me, I would lay down and sleep – for hours.  Deep, nourishing , restorative sleep.   When I woke, I began the whole process again,  until hours later, I was released,  calm and wide awake, to the welcoming arms of the wellbeing team who met us with food and tobacco and music to shake to.

Song.  What a powerful tool in the armoury of nonviolence.  We will have songs on Declaration Day.  Songs to bind us together in nonviolence and connectedness.  Songs to raise our energies and songs to help us calm each other.  Songs to voice out loud our commitment to make a stand for where we stand.

So, bring your singing voices, rebellioneers.  Leave behind the system tools of anger and aggression.   However many come, we are a small minority of people who will sing our way back to a world that works for all life on Earth.

by April Griefsong

 

 

Making our power visible in the face of extinction

By Matt Byrne

I am alarmed by climate change. As I put my children to sleep, it is the one thing that truly makes me fearful for their future. The rest we can work out or stumble through but this one is bigger than us –  we need help. I can feel the alarm, hammering away inside my chest, as I hold them closer for a fraction longer before placing them down in their cots for the night.

Humans have been altering the climate for thousands of years. The advent of agriculture in the Holocene geological period (around 11,560 years ago) created the conditions to keep planet Earth in an extended interglacial. The widespread adoption of farming helped stave off the glaciers, so to speak. Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution and we see some geologists arguing that we have now entered the Anthropocene period, in which mankind’s impact on the environment is the dominant force[1]. The last 100 years have seen a 1 degree centigrade rise; the heating is speeding up and we are stepping on the accelerator. I am alarmed.

Yes, we need a movement; yes, we need to resort to civil disobedience to push for change in a society where it is not truth but money that speaks to power. Those of us without access to bulging wads of cash have another currency – mass mobilisation. The question is, when so many people think that reversing climate change is an issue that is simply too big for them, on an overwhelming scale, how do you get them onto the streets? Or at a minimum, supporting those in the streets and taking the small but necessary steps towards improving the health of the planet today and every day. How do we get past the denial, the doom, the stasis?

About eight years ago I accompanied indigenous groups in Colombia reclaiming land that they had lost to paramilitary forces. Once evicted, the lands were used for palm oil plantation. The choice they were given, if any, was often a legal fiction, to have “shares” in the new palm oil company. The groups returning to their lands would mark out plots, defend it with a sign and a single piece of wire or string, a humanitarian fence if you like, to reclaim their land, their space, their freedom and dignity. It took a lot of courage and trial and error but collectively they overcame.

So, how do you get your mother, your granny, your friends, your enemies (maybe more importantly your enemies) to overcome their fears and onto the streets with you? Perhaps psychology has the answer. The unwieldy but cleverly titled book What we think about when we try not to think about Global Warming. Towards a New Psychology of Climate Action (Stoknes)[2] offers us four simple strategies to go about it:

  1. Be social. Make climate change urgent by showing its impacts on your community closer to home. The melting of distant glaciers or forest fires in California will not stress you too much if you live in Exeter. Climate change is closer, though, if we sense it in the air we breathe.
  2. Be supportive. There are positive things we can do. Prophecies of doom can and do discourage and overwhelm people. A greener earth is a healthier earth, a greener economy creates new jobs and drives creativity. Rewilding and reforestation are easy for most people to be on board with, we can be ecosystem gardeners. That doesn’t seem so terrible does it? Now, get your shoes on!
  3. Be simple. Yes, march and while on the way, recycle and refresh yourself afterwards with a water saving showerhead. There are hundreds of small nudges that can shift people’s behaviour greatly, if we identify them, we can share them.
  4. Share stories. We thrive on stories, and great stories can and do shape our identities. Find your heroes and tell everyone about them.

We need to act because all the scientific research and evidence in the world does not seem to be shifting people or policy. If that isn’t evident from the muted response by governments to the most recent IPCC report, or the downright blatant rejection by others, see the UK’s and Australia’s responses in both word and deed.

One reason is because there are two types of power here – hidden and invisible. Hidden power is the back door dealings, the lobbying, the horse trading, the old boy’s network. Such vested interests do not need evidence to operate. Invisible power is more insidious, causing the relatively powerless to internalize and accept their condition.[3] The #MeToo movement is a great and welcome example of invisible power becoming visible.

We need to act. We need to move. Moral psychology has developed the analogy of the hive. We are 90% chimp and 10% bee. In our minds, we each possess a hive switch[4] and once flipped, it allows us to transcend our individual self-interest and feel the power of the collective, the power of the group, to be part of something larger than our individual selves. We have all experienced the flipping of the switch, be it through the simple awe of nature, the ecstatic energy of dance at a rave, or through the traditional use of hallucinogens (such as Ayahuasca) to mark the transition to adulthood. In a group dynamic the flipped hive switch fosters love, trust and equality. It offers us another strategy to cement the movement through collective actions – let’s bring back raves,  forest sit-ins, you name it! I would get outside for that and I think we could convince a lot of other people to do so too.

[1] For more I recommend this; Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin’s The Human Planet. https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/298/298037/the-human-planet/9780241280881.html

[2] https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/what-we-think-about-when-we-try-not-to-think-about-global-warming/ or the ubiquitous Ted Talk summary is here: https://www.ted.com/talks/per_espen_stoknes_how_to_transform_apocalypse_fatigue_into_action_on_global_warming

[3] You can download Duncan Green’s book How Change Happens for free here: http://how-change-happens.com/

[4] You can read about the hive in Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind. Why good people are divided by politics and religion” https://righteousmind.com/ The last chapter will make you rethink conservatives!

A FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING EXPLOITATIVE SOCIETIES

Written by Karl Lam

Orginal article found Here

INTRODUCTION
Human beings are capable of high levels of cooperation, love and caring. However, for thousands of years most of us have been living in societies that systematically suppress these human qualities. These inhuman social systems now function to sustain themselves, the systems, not the people within them.

Our societies are organised so that almost everyone derives some material benefit or sense of security from the exploitation or subordination of others. It is a network of inhuman relationships that has persisted and reproduced itself but which serves no human purpose. As human beings, even ‘the elites’ are victims of these inhuman social systems.

In this article I look at exploitative societies, how they arose and what now holds them in place, to assist in the development of effective policies and programs for transforming them into fully human-centred societies.

I look at the role of mistreatment and oppression, and how, by dividing us, they derail attempts to change the inhuman structures. I also look at how oppressions – such as racism, sexism, classism, anti-Semitism, and so on – arose, and how they became part of our cultures, our societies and our unconscious minds.

Oppressive attitudes and behaviours aren’t individual ‘character defects’, but are part of a wider and more fundamental problem in our societies. Oppression and mistreatment operate in individuals mostly at an unconscious and emotional level but, because they are often unconscious, we have also unwittingly built them into our cultures, institutions and social structures. Transforming our societies will require understanding how mistreatment and oppression work, both at the emotional level and at the structural level.

Blame and punishment tend to perpetuate the root causes of mistreatment and oppression, both at the emotional level and at the structural level, and so are entirely counter-productive.

WHERE DOES MISTREATMENT COME FROM?
Exploitation is a particular kind of mistreatment, so it will be useful to look at where mistreatment, in general, comes from.

If you are mistreated as a child (or simply witness the mistreatment of others) and you don’t recover from the emotional hurt of that experience, then you become vulnerable to acting out either ‘end’ of the mistreatment later in your life.

That is, you become vulnerable to acting out your original role – that of a child being hurt: fearful, passive, not standing up for yourself, etc. You also become vulnerable to acting out the role of the person who hurt you (or others) – by hurting someone else, often in a similar way. Often, you won’t notice that you are doing this. If you do feel something, it’s often how you felt when you were originally hurt. So, you may feel like you are the victim, even as you hurt someone else. This can be very confusing!

All of us are vulnerable to mistreating other people because we were all mistreated (or witnessed mistreatment) when we were young and we haven’t recovered from those experiences. If you grow up in a society where sexism, racism and other oppressions are present, you can’t avoid witnessing mistreatment because it’s built into ‘normal’ interactions. It’s hard to face how much mistreatment every child in our society is exposed to, and that we all now act it out at other people, but it seems to be true of everyone.

Quick Audience Survey
Whenever I give talks on this I do a quick audience survey. I ask people to raise their hand if they do any of these:

Have you ever been irritated with someone? Or impatient?
Do you ever feel like you have to win? Or at least not lose?
Do you ever want to have the last word? Or be seen to be ‘right’?
Do you ever react angrily to someone? – Or snap at them?
Or stay distant, cold or uncommunicative? Or quietly withhold your full cooperation?

I raise my hand to all of them. Most people in the audience tend to laugh and raise their hands in recognition.

These all result from being on the receiving end of, or witnessing, hurtful behaviour. If you do any of those things, you could ask yourself ‘Where did that come from?’

Not understanding that every child, and so every adult, has been affected by this has led to much confusion about human nature.

OPPRESSION IS ORGANISED MISTREATMENT
I called attention to some less harmful forms of mistreatment, above, to illustrate how we have all been affected. But this mechanism has meant that mistreatment, and an ensuing vulnerability to mistreat others, has been passed down to each new generation of children for thousands of years. At the same time our societies were growing larger and more complex. Mistreatment of individuals by other individuals evolved over time into structures of power and dominance. These power structures organise and encourage different groups of people to act out mistreatment, based on unresolved childhood hurt, at other groups. This is a significant part of the organised mistreatment we now call oppression. It is a self-perpetuating system that serves no human purpose.

Oppression is organised mistreatment, but the organisation of the mistreatment has arisen more through a complex interaction of unconscious and unintended actions than through conscious human intention. Even when intention was involved, it was driven by an acquired vulnerability to re-enact mistreatment. No one is to blame for this self-organising system.

Another way of saying this is: through no fault of their own, every individual has acquired a vulnerability to mistreat others. However, social structures have evolved where different groups of people have been assigned different platforms to mistreat others. For example, men have been assigned the platform of sexism that organises and encourages us to mistreat women. Each of these platforms also evolved justifying narratives (including ‘scientific’ theories) that typically dehumanise the target group.

[This model explains why apparently-successful revolutions often reproduce oppressive structures. When the revolutionaries become the new leaders they suddenly find themselves in a new position. The acquired vulnerability to mistreat others, that they and we all carry, suddenly has a new platform.]

PUNISHMENT AND BLAME ARE COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE
Everyone in our societies has been loaded up with a vulnerability to mistreat others, and then assigned one or more platforms that organise and encourage us to do it. However, some groups of people are disproportionately blamed and vilified for this. For example, white working class people tend to be singled out as the racists, and blamed for their racism. Black men and Muslim men tend to be seen as the sexists, and blamed for their sexism.

Part of the oppression of these groups is that they are labelled as ‘the oppressors’. This is confusing because they are acting oppressively. But they are also an easy target for being labelled the oppressors. We are all part of this system, but we are not all singled out for blame. For example, the sexism of white men, or the racism of white middle class people are not held up for public vilification in the same way.

This mechanism of blame damages the groups being singled out, but it has a much wider and more damaging effect. When a group of people is blamed for acting out oppression, everyone else moves away from them. We try to make sure we aren’t seen to behave in similar ways, for fear of being the next targets.

Given the harsh blame that we see aimed at others, it’s easy to see why many of us become defensive at any suggestion we might carry similar attitudes and behaviours. Most of us try to hide where we carry this vulnerability to mistreat people, and its organised form, oppression. Often the best we can do is to pretend it’s not there, hope it doesn’t show, and avoid situations where it might. If (when) we are pulled to mistreat other people, we are also pulled to conceal or defend the wrong things we have done.

It can become attractive to find groups of people whom ‘everyone’ agrees are ‘the oppressors’, or ‘the bad people’, as it directs attention away from ourselves. This then perpetuates the problem.

Recovery
We humans seem to recover from the vulnerability to mistreat others when we can release the emotions from hurtful and confusing childhood experiences. This involves crying, laughing and talking about what happened to us. This works best in a caring and supportive environment. Emotional release often allows us to open our minds, re-examine our behaviour, and reject misinformation about ourselves and others. It’s very difficult to do this when we feel like we have to hide our thoughts and behaviours, or defend ourselves. Blame and punishment tend to lock oppression and mistreatment in place because they prevent the necessary conditions for emotional healing.

There is a difference between preventing and interrupting mistreatment or oppression (which are necessary and important) and blaming, vilifying or punishing someone for it (which are counter-productive).

PART 2
DIVISION
For thousands of years we have been living in societies where the mechanism of ‘divide and rule’ has been used to control and exploit people. Divide and rule means turning different sections of a population against each other so that each section sees the other as their immediate problem. They fail to see that they are being used by someone else. They fail to see that if they were united it would be impossible to exploit them. The enormous power latent in any group of organised people is neutralised by turning it against itself. In effect, the divided population controls itself and facilitates its own exploitation.

Divide and rule has been used on every ‘scale’, from whole nation states down to individual people. Examples include the British Empire’s control of India and competition over limited privileges within a workplace.

Many people are familiar with the concept of ‘divide and rule’ and that it has been used to facilitate domination and exploitation in certain situations. But the division has been more widely and deeply destructive. It has been built into our societies and cultures. It has become embedded in our minds and our identities. In fact, our identities – who we think we are, who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’ – are essentially divisions.

This long history of division has distorted our understanding of reality. It is hard to see that we have many interests in common with other people, that we can work towards mutually beneficial goals and that what we ‘lose’ by sharing we regain many times over through the power of cooperation and organisation. This individual outlook has become so accepted and normal it is widely seen as ‘reality,’ or at least ‘human nature’.

INEQUALITY
Deep and lasting divisions seem to occur when one group acquires, or is given, a higher status and power over another group.

From the ‘oppressed’ group’s point of view, how can you trust a group of people who systematically mistreat you, and deny (or can’t see) that they do it? How can you trust a group of people who have shown themselves to be untrustworthy by repeatedly treating themselves and their interests as more important than you and your interests? How can you unite with people you can’t trust?

For the ‘oppressor’ group, how can you unite with people you don’t value or respect – or even see? Or who seem to be angry with you ‘for no reason’? How can you unite with people if you are not willing to give up your privileges over them – privileges you have come to depend on for your sense of security or self-worth?

This is why hierarchies, or small gradations of power and status, have always been necessary to maintain systems of divide and rule.

Some of these hierarchies have a layered structure and others cut across each other. An example of layered hierarchies is social class, where the large-scale divisions of owning class, middle class and working class are themselves sub-divided into many layers. Examples of cross-cutting hierarchies are where race divisions, or divisions between men and women, cut across class divisions and cut across each other.

Dividing the population into these complex, cross-cutting hierarchies has meant that almost everyone has come to occupy a position that is both ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’ at the same time.

Each distinct oppression (each type of racism, each ‘layer’ within classism, and so on) produces its own separate division. The result is that each individual ends up divided from every other by one or more relationships of mistreatment or privilege. However, we don’t have the same relationship to the ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’ parts of our position. We more often notice and feel strongly about where we are mistreated, but rarely notice, and often deny strongly, any suggestion that we might mistreat others! [See Part 1 for a discussion of unawareness and denial.] Everyone ends up thinking that the problem is other people.

Growing up in such finely divided societies leaves most people feeling that no one can be fully trusted and not understanding that we all have many interests in common. Under these conditions it often appears better to acquire or retain small material advantages or status for oneself or one’s group, than to reject these in order to build unity with others.

OPPRESSION
The critical role of inequality in forming divisions allows us to understand oppression differently. Irrespective of how they originally got started, all oppressions (such as sexism, racism, classism, and many more) now serve a higher function: to keep the population thoroughly divided and confused, to make it impossible for any movement to form that is large enough, united enough or clear enough in its aims to challenge the established order. The mistreatment, damage and exploitation of the oppression are almost incidental – it’s simply that arranging for one group to systematically mistreat or exploit another has proven to be the most effective way to keep people divided, confused and powerless.

Sometimes oppressions were invented specifically to divide two groups, but others simply evolved [See Part 1].

Some examples:

The racism we see today was originally invented in order to divide white people from the darker skinned peoples being colonised by Europe at the time. In the absence of racism, too many white men in the colonising armies ‘went native’ and refused to kill. Today, within ‘developed’ nations, a major function of racism is to divide the majority of working class people from various others to keep them preoccupied with a false sense of danger or competition.

Similarly, sexism creates a division between all females and all males. Women can’t fully trust men, and men find it hard to respect women, and often trample over women’s interests in favour of their own. This division then sabotages relationships in any situation where males and females might live or work together – that is, almost anywhere – for example, within families, workplaces or liberation groups.

Homophobia, or gay oppression, sets up heterosexuals to target gay people, and so divides heterosexual people from gay people. But the division goes wider: fear of being labelled and targeted as ‘gay’ makes it hard for the majority heterosexual population to form very close, trusting same-sex friendships, and so divides male from male and female from female. Particularly for men and older boys, the threat of gay oppression means that showing caring towards another male is, or feels like, risking violence, humiliation and isolation.

The main function of anti-Semitism is to set up some Jews as the immediate oppressors of the non-Jewish working class (or another oppressed group), so that oppressed peoples (and their allies) become preoccupied with ‘the Jews’ rather than accurately understanding the whole exploitative structure.

PART 3
THE MIDDLE AGENT MECHANISM
Middle agents are people or groups who end up controlling an oppressed group on behalf of an overall oppressor group, and in doing so, become the ‘visible face’ of the oppression. Because they are the nearest and most obvious oppressor, and are the ones actually doing the ‘hands-on’ harm, they attract attention away from the overall oppressor group.

Examples of middle agents are mainstream politicians, the police, the army, lawyers, teachers, social workers, managers and some union leaders. There are many others – almost everyone in an oppressor role ends up playing a middle agent role of some kind (for example, men). Also included are corrupt regimes in resource-rich countries, whose role is to oppress their own people on our [the dominant country’s] behalf. Sometimes a cultural group comes to occupy a middle agent role, for example (a section of) Jews in Medieval Europe; Israel in the Middle East; South Asians in East Africa, ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia or Scottish Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Middle agents tend not to understand that they are middle agents. That is not necessary for the arrangement to work. All that is necessary is that a situation exists where, merely by pursuing what appear to be their own interests or feeling that they need to defend themselves, a group ends up carrying out the policies of a more powerful group and – just as importantly – taking the blame for these policies.

People in middle agent roles tend to identify with the interests of the overall oppressor group, or at least with the established social and economic order, even though they are being used by it. The privileges they hold are provided by the overall system and they see its apparent strength as protection against the resentment and hatred of those they oppress on its behalf. They don’t understand that a significant part of their own role is to take the blame for oppression and, in extreme circumstances, to be sacrificed in order to protect the established order.

The middle agent mechanism is effective partly because it’s confusing, and it’s confusing because it doesn’t fit into simplistic understandings of oppression: are they oppressed or oppressor?! Are they the good people or the bad people?! It’s worth looking at an example in more detail: anti-Semitism.

ANTI-SEMITISM
In medieval Europe our rulers had a long history of inviting stateless Jewish people into our countries to play roles that were carefully chosen and often enforced by law. For example tax collectors, money lenders, court officials and others. In this way Jews were manipulated or forced to become the ‘visible face’ of oppression in the eyes of the general population. The rulers could then maintain a good, clean, romanticised image among the general population by diverting resentment about unfair conditions in the society on to ‘the Jews’. (Only a small section of the Jewish community actually played these roles; most Jews were poor peasants or workers.)

To maintain this system, anti-Semitic propaganda was systematically encouraged, but maintained at a low level, ready to be built up when the need arose. When the repression of the majority population reached such a level that revolt was imminent, it was ‘the Jews’ who were offered up to the anger of the peasants or workers, by the ruling class. In this way, struggles against exploitation have been repeatedly ‘short circuited’, or diverted, and ruling classes have been able to maintain their position – at the expense of Jews.

This mechanism involved those in power offering some Jews special protection and privileges, which were attractive, but which also helped to fuel resentment of all Jews among the rest of the population. When convenient, that protection was easily withdrawn, leaving all Jews in the precarious position of being both vulnerable and hated.

At these times, Jews were killed or driven out of the area. Another part of the overall mechanism involved the rulers later ‘apologising’ to Jews and inviting them back again with new offers of privilege and protection, so that they could be used in the same way all over again.

Similar mechanisms are still active in the modern world. The most obvious example is the role of Israel in the Middle East, where the largely-Jewish state plays the role of middle agent, to control the Middle East on behalf of the West.

The real target is the broad population
The underlying reason for anti-Semitism is control over the broad population,not harm toJews. Jews have simply been used as a means to an end. This mechanism is not unique to the oppression of Jews – there are many other groups who have been used in a similar way, such as ex-patriot Chinese in South-East Asia, South Asians in East Africa, or Scottish Protestants in Northern Ireland.

It is this middle agent aspect of anti-Semitism that is the most important to understand because it has been the most confusing and therefore causes the most damage, both to Jews and to those progressive movements who have been too easily diverted by it.

Though people on the Left of politics often consider ourselves thoughtful around issues of oppression, and will often fight on behalf of many oppressed groups, it has been hard to get a clear commitment to this for Jews. One reason for this – perhaps the main one – is that, because the oppression of Jews involves using them as the proxy oppressor, many of us on the Left have been confused by this and so find it hard to see Jews as oppressed.

Another reason might be that the Left has struggled for well over a hundred years to try to achieve a better society, but has only made slow progress. The gains we do make have often been lost before they can be fully consolidated. This can feel discouraging and frustrating, and can engender strong feelings of powerlessness. It is much more comfortable to avoid feeling powerless in the face of these difficulties by attacking easy targets – not fully understanding that they are offered to us for that very purpose.

PART 4
THE ELITES
You may have noticed that I haven’t said a lot about the top oppressors – the elites, the ‘1%’, the owning class. It will be useful to mention them, while not putting more attention on them than is useful. We can mislead ourselves by attributing to them a power or importance that they don’t have.

On the one hand, they are the major beneficiaries of the economic exploitation that our societies have been organised around – and the internal logic of this economic system inevitably grinds towards them becoming richer and richer. They do actively organise the division and mutual oppression of everyone else in order to maintain their position.

On the other hand they are just human beings. The same internal logic of this economic system also ensures that one small group of people will always end up at the top. If it wasn’t these particular individuals then it would be others. If these people were removed another set would take their place, as has happened many times throughout history. They are not special.

These people appear very powerful. But they, personally, have no more power than any of us. All of their power is enacted by other people. For example, politicians, the army, the police, lawyers, managers and many other middle-agent groups [See Part 3]. In fact we all play a part in this: the only ‘security’ offered by the exploitative system is a position where you exploit others more than you are exploited yourself. In seeking this false security we unwittingly become agents of the overall system.

This top group also have a kind of pseudo-power that is simply the absence of our own power. That is, how thoroughly divided and confused we are in the face of making big social changes – how we feel there is almost no one we can trust fully to stand with us, and how powerless each of us feels as an isolated individual.

So the elites, the ‘1%’, are not our problem. Our problem is the way present human societies function to confuse, isolate and dehumanise every one of us.

THE UNITY DIVIDEND
A huge fraction of all human effort is wasted because we organise our societies on the basis of exploitation. The same is true for the planet’s natural resources.

The power of human beings resides in two areas: each individual’s intelligence, which is potentially huge, and our ability to work cooperatively with others, which is also potentially huge.

It is impossible for a small group of people to exploit a large population if the population retain their full power, therefore exploitation requires sabotaging both individual minds and their ability to work together. (As a starting point this makes no sense, but no one chose this system – it arose out of fear and contagious mistreatment a long time ago.)

This sabotage is usually held within rough limits: too little sabotage and the population become too powerful to exploit, too much sabotage and they become unable to do productive work, so there’s nothing to exploit.

One way to think about divided societies is that people have been turned against each other – that a significant amount of the work we do is, effectively, work against others. If we think of this using the mathematical or scientific analogy of vectors, then it might look like this:
arrows
the black arrows represent the productive effort of one group of humans, and the red arrows the productive effort of another group, then the lengths of the two blue arrows represent the total useful productive output under the different conditions of division and unity. The relative lengths of the two blue arrows suggest that an enormous increase in productive effort may be available to us as a species. We will need this if we are to address the coming crises in the destruction of the environment and the collapsing economic system.

Though the relative sizes of the black and red arrows were chosen to illustrate a point, I suspect that this represents something like the real situation. I hope to explore this in more detail in another article.

REACHING FOR OUR POWER
People often feel small, insignificant and powerless in the face of large entrenched injustices. To take on big challenges we have to find our power. However, when we reach for our power, very often what we find instead is a pull to mistreat people how we ourselves were mistreated as children (or how we witnessed others being mistreated).

An example is where activists who oppose oppressive policies are pulled to target with ridicule, anger or hatred, the politicians who put forward those policies. The activists are trying to not feel small and powerless by adopting the behaviour of an oppressor. This is always counter-productive because it rides on the same mechanisms that lock the exploitative system in place. It strengthens the hold of these mechanisms on everyone’s minds rather than reducing their hold.

Real human power involves harnessing the creative intelligence of your own mind, and reaching for, organising and inspiring the creative intelligence of others towards truly human goals.

CONSTRUCTING SOLUTIONS
This document attempts to build a new framework for understanding the societies that we live in presently. We certainly need new understandings – our societies systematically break (or dehumanise) every single one of us, in order to fit us into their inhuman structures. Everyone, even the super rich, would have much better lives in societies that serve everyone’s real, human interests. And yet, even though our societies function in no one’s real interests, none of the many attempts to change them have succeeded, so far. We need to understand why.

What will real solutions look like? How can we dismantle the inhuman form of social organisation we have unwittingly fallen into, and transform it into a form that supports and reflects our humanness?

This document doesn’t attempt to provide solutions (that would be impossible), but to lay out elements of understanding that might be used to construct workable solutions. I’ve listed some of these elements below:

Unresolved emotional hurts lead to an acquired vulnerability to mistreat others. These emotional hurts are acquired during childhood through unavoidable exposure to the mistreatment that is endemic in exploitative societies. This vulnerability is currently carried by every single individual in human society, not a separate group of ‘bad people’.
It will be useful to develop methods for healing the emotional hurts that drive this mechanism, and also for preventing it passing on to the next generation of children.
The presently-universal nature of this vulnerability to mistreat others, and other effects of unhealed emotional hurt, have led to wide confusion about human nature.
Exploitation and oppression are simply organised mistreatment. They originally became organised through ‘self-organising’ processes, not through conscious human intention. No one is to blame.
It will be useful to understand how exploitative societies place almost everyone in both oppressor and oppressed roles, and how this functions to create many cross-cutting social divisions. Each person becomes divided from others in many different ways and tends to think the problem is other people, rather than the overall organisation of society. While we are so confused and divided we are powerless to change the overall society.
Effective action on many critical issues, such as the destruction of the natural environment upon which all human existence depends, will require united and broad-based mass movements. The biggest impediment to such movements arising and remaining effective has been division, whether spontaneous or externally provoked. Preventing and overcoming division are vital for the future of humanity.
It will sometimes be necessary to restrain individuals when their acquired vulnerability to mistreat others is too dangerous. However…
Punishment and/or blame of individuals or groups, for mistreating people or having oppressive attitudes of any kind, are completely counter-productive. They result in a denial and defensiveness across the whole society which prevents a wide and open examination of all aspects of the problem and the personal changes necessary at the level of each individual.
Because the desire or compulsion to punish and blame are currently built into our cultures at an unconscious emotional level, avoiding the pull to indulge in punishment and/or blame will be very difficult. However, this is fundamental and it seems likely that attempts to fully solve problems that are, at their base, rooted in emotional hurt will fail until sufficient clarity is achieved on this point.
Whenever any person or a group is held to be the source of the problem (whether it be refugees or ‘the 1%’) – then that gives strength to the actual source of the problem: a system that feeds off of turning people against other people.
Karl Lam

This is a big subject and these articles are only an overview. Also, there is so much more thinking to do, so many discussions to be had and implications to be worked out. Practically, there are so many experimental actions to be learnt from, bridges to be built and people to be reached for.

EXTINCTION OR SURVIVAL? Imagining a Future for our Scorched Planet.

TJFL_GIF

In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a lot of batshit crazy. I suppose I should feel privileged to live in a time of such unprecedented global challenges.

We were taught about global warming in school. It was all a bit flakey back then because the fossil fuel corporations had just started distorting and disputing the climate science. A school of science which incidentally they had pioneered. The basic principles were understood long before I was born. #ExxonKnew

When I started primary school, we were being taught that the apocalyptic climate collapse we’re witnessing now might happen in a few hundred years but if we recycled more and changed our light bulbs and used catalytic converters and stopped using CFCs everything would  probably be OK.

By the time I started secondary school, they were saying this cataclysmic tragedy might unfold in about a hundred years and we should probably all recycle more to be on the safe side. By the time I finished, they were saying maybe 50 years, if we didn’t take more meaningful action.

As I got older, they  revised it down further, saying probably within our lifetimes. Then the IPCC report. The World Scientists’ Warnings to Humanity. TWENTY THREE years of annual international climate conferences (COP24 will be in December this year). All too little too late and still held back by an industry determined to protect it’s short term shareholder interest.

Now, everything’s collapsing around our ears and it has become difficult to imagine a future in which organised human life on planet Earth is viable. Or life at all for that matter.  It turns out most of the recycling we’ve been diligently doing has been going to landfill and incinerators all these years. Increasing numbers of people believe that we’ve already passed the tipping point. An uninhabitable planet is now baked in to the mix.

Corporate media have starting to make the most monumental U-turn in history: We should now accept that an increasingly chaotic climate is the ‘new normal’. We should be preparing for more heatwaves and sea level rise of 60m. (normally I wouldn’t link to sky news but it’s interesting that even they are now starting to accept the stark reality). It has become undeniable. Much of humanity’s minds are being blown. Like frogs in boiling water, slowly realising our shared fate too late.

The Global heatwave is symptom of early stage cycle of civilisational collapse

Extinction_RebellionThe world’s ‘leaders’ (such as they are) have procrastinated and lied and squabbled and squandered decades that could have made a difference. The farcical folly of the greenwashing industry; recyling going to landfill and incinerators,  ‘catalytic converters’,  ‘carbon trading schemes’ and so on tell us all we need to know about their ‘leadership’ on the issue.

You need only look at the brutal corporate policing of protests from Standing Rock to Preston New Rd to understand how intractable the problem is.

The fact that at least FIVE pacific islands have already been lost to rising sea levels is not yet commonly known or understood. I had hoped that this news might have woken up more people when it happened. Two years ago.

Imagining Hope

I’m suppose I’m lucky to have been engaged with the problem of catastrophic climate collapse and human extinction for quite a long time. I’m not as panicked by it as people who are just coming round to the concept now, so I can at least offer a relatively calm perspective.

An aside: Jaron Lanier tells a great story about how the difficulty we have in imagining a decent future is actually the responsibility of silicon valley tech engineers, who couldn’t draw heads properly with basic polygons back in the 90s. Long story short, they settled on a formula for 3D VR that relied heavily on lone survivor, post apocalyptic scenarios, so they’d have less heads to render. The gaming industry became massively influential on mainstream culture, thus most imagined futures in contemporary culture became post-apocalyptic. It’s a bit of a stretch, given the collapsing everything but a funny story regardless…

Besides sharing funny stories, it seems the most useful thing I can do now is signpost to the best advice; coping strategies and solutions that have been shared with me in my few years on this earth.

  1. Don’t isolate yourself. Choose love and hope over fear and hate. Be kind and respect yourself and everybody else. Remember there are good people. Be one of them. Look out for each other. Be as patient, understanding and forgiving as you can possibly be.
  2. Knowledge is power. Don’t be misled by false hope. Train yourself to think clearly and critically. Challenge yourself to properly inform yourself. Speak and act out against lies and injustice. Focus more on the solutions not just the problems.
  3. Schedule your time effectively. Monumental changes are developing ever faster. Keep your ear to the ground but be wary of the hypnotic, paralysing power of the spectacle. Be as adaptable and fluid as you can be. Remember to make time to rest, practise self care, enjoy and share any lulz that come your way. Lulz are increasingly few and far between.
  4. Engage your friends, family, politicians, businesses and communities on the challenges we’re facing.
  5. Get active. Organise or join existing survival networks. Develop and maintain low-tech futureproofed communications systems, within and beyond your networks. Plan. Prepare.
  6. Expand class consciousness, unity consciousness and the practice of empathy. Be autonomous and take leadership from the most impacted. Don’t fall into the Tyranny of Structurelessness.
  7. Engage in peaceful, non-violent acts of civil disobedience to lobby for meaningful reform of corporate power. Occupy, strike, resist. Join the Extinction Rebellion.
  8. Consume less and as ethically as you can. Vote with your money. Spend less. Reuse, repair and recycle more. Buy local. Boycott the fossil fuel industry and other unethical corporations, starve them of capital. It’s only one plastic straw, bag. bottle. etc but it all adds up. Reject the fossil fuel lifestyle. If you take unnecessary journeys by fossil fuelled cars, buses or planes, stop now.
  9. Go vegetarian, or vegan if you can. Most people can do the former quite easily already. The latter is becoming easier and more accessible over time.
  10. Get off-grid, or switch to a green energy supplier. Grow your own food. Set up independent systems to harvest and filter rainwater.
  11. Go WWOOFING. There are world wide opportunities on organic farms all over the world. Small scale organic agriculture is one of the best solutions to a great many of the problems we are facing. I found WWOOFING to be a great way to relax and rebalance, peacefully cultivating nature while learning and being radically r3VOLutionary!
  12. Be urgent, but calm. Consider what is the most helpful thing you can do in the here and now. Do what you can. Don’t give yourself a hard time about the things you can’t do, or the things you can’t do yet.
  13. Share feasible solutions, love and hope with as many people as you can. Let it out if you need to but remember everybody’s struggling to cope with it all, consciously or subconsciously. Be sensitive.
  14. NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK
  15. Keep it lit, no matter how hopeless it looks.