Talking ’bout revolution on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve puts some people in a rah-rah kind of mood, and others get pensive and reflective.  Although I’ve done my share of partying in the past, this year I’m feeling pretty subdued.

The rainy weather outside doesn’t help matters.  Yes, we’ve got a cold nasty rain going on this year in New England–not a snowflake in sight on December 31.

And it’s depressing to open my email inbox and find hordes of outstretched hands from excellent NGOs, begging for last-minute donations.

As someone who has often been in the position of asking for donations to fund various initiatives I’ve worked on, I know that these end-of-year gifts can literally make or break a small organization.  They’re the lifeblood that keeps so many worthy causes alive.

Of course, we all know that if we give to these organizations we can write down our taxable income and give less to the federal government, and many people take satisfaction in being able to direct their giving, instead of sending it into the amorphous federal pool to be redistributed according to the whim of our so-called representatives in Congress.

So why am I resisting giving this year?

I am just irritated with the system that starves worthy social and environmental causes while lavishly feeding the maw of the military industrial complex.

I am irritated that the Democratic Party keeps asking me for small donations of $15 or $25, sums that actually matter to me, sad to say–while at the same time courting the big corporate interests whose millions of campaign spending will control the election.

I am irritated that no matter how much each of us gives, it’s never enough to solve the problems that face us.

And I’m beginning to think that money is not the answer.

It’s such a revolutionary thought, and yet once out of the box it seems so clear.

Just as giving a dollar to a beggar on the street may help that poor guy get through one more night, but does nothing to solve the bigger problems that landed him on the street in the first place, throwing money at the dozens of worthy charities that are hunting us all down today is simply not going to effect the kind of deep systemic change our society and our world needs.

It’s not about money.

Yes, it’s true that corporate money has corrupted our political system.  But just as fighting violence with more violence only escalates the conflict, trying to fight big money with more money will accomplish nothing because we’re still allowing the guys with the deep pockets to set the agenda.  We’re being reactionary, and our thinking, along with our dollars, stay inside the established sociopolitical framework.

In the coming year, we need to quiet down the ambient noise in our minds–the shouting, the screams, the piteous begging, the brash hawking of wares, the political sloganeering–and do some deep thinking about the ways in which we have been limited by the system we grew up in.

It’s time to re-establish our priorities, as individuals, as a nation, and as a global society.  Throwing good money after bad accomplishes nothing when the values that drive the system are warped and destructive.  We’ve got to go deeper in our approach to change.

Yes, I’m talking about revolution this New Year’s Eve.  Not reform.  I’m talking about going all the way, because we’re at an economic and ecological breaking point now.

We have little to lose, and so much to gain by decisive action.  Think about it.

“Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine”

I believe that we are coming to a crossroads as a nation.

Since 9/11, we’ve been traveling down a road bristling with guns, military technology, paranoia and fear.  Though most of our aggressive energy has been aimed outside our borders, there has also been a steady preparation for mass violence within the U.S. as well.  In the decade since 9/11, our national police forces have been armed with military hardware, and have trained extensively in riot control, with the results that we saw for the first time during the recent Occupy protests.

In the peaceful town of Fargo, North Dakota, report Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting, “Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret.”

Billions of federal tax dollars have been spent nationwide on this kind of military hardware for police, in the name of Homeland Security.

Security from what?  Security for whom?

Short of an all-out military invasion by a foreign force, which seems hugely unlikely, these weapons can only be meant to confront an insurgency within our own borders.

Are we thinking about a civil war, then?

Are these police being armed and trained to protect the interests of the 1% against the raging anger of the 99%?

A year ago it would not have occurred to me to ask these questions.  But obviously the Homeland Security crowd was already thinking ahead and planning for a time when such armor and weapons would be necessary to “maintain security” and “uphold law and order” on the home front.

Yes, they must have been aware, even as they were cashing in on our ignorance, that there would come a time when no more could be squeezed from the bottom two-thirds of American society.  When there would be so many homeless, so many poor, so many disenfranchised, that these people would feel they had no other recourse than violence, and nothing left to lose.


A new report by the National Center on Family Homelessness found that “more than 1.6 million children – or one in 45 children – are homeless annually in America. This represents an increase of 38% during the years impacted by the economic recession.”

I’m sorry, but that is just unacceptable in this country, which likes to think of itself as the wealthiest and most enlightened society on earth.

When you add up all the trials and tribulations being visited on the poor in this country–and “the poor” is a vast category that gets bigger day by day–and you weigh billions in Homeland Security anti-terrorism outfits for police against dwindling food and shelter for children–well, something just isn’t right here.  There’s something rotten in the state of America.

And yes, we are at a crossroads.

It may seem to some that I am over-reacting, but this is the way it feels to me: if we continue following along docilely on this daisy path that we’ve been led down by the architects of corporate capitalism, we are like the Jews of Germany in 1940, peacefully gathering our belongings and getting on that train to Auschwitz, or marching cooperatively out to the forest to be mowed down by machine guns into the mass grave.

We know enough now to know that the powers that be do not have our best interests at heart.

We’ve been sickened by their chemicals, and our health care system seems geared to treat sickness (at a profit) rather than to promote wellness.  Our oceans, air, soils and drinking water have been contaminated and rendered toxic. Our taxes have been used for guns and landmines instead of schools and social welfare.  Those who have gotten rich in this system have done so on the backs of the poor and those who cannot defend themselves: the natural world above all.

Are we going to continue down this path?

Or are we going to gather our courage at this crossroads, and strike off in a new direction?

A lot of people are asking this question now.  Over on the New Clear Vision blog, Charles Imboden suggests that the Occupy movement has ignited a renewed “commitment to direct democracy and shunning of ‘representative,’ republican forms of decision-making (so often susceptible to corruption and corporate influence) [which] can be further strengthened as the foundation of the egalitarian, ecological society.”

As one of my readers commented today, what would happen if they held an election and we just didn’t show up?

I don’t know if there is a way to cut ourselves loose from the federal government and its taxpayer-supported state terror apparatus.  Thoreau tried, back in the 19th century, and was promptly thrown in jail.

His letter from prison is worth re-reading today.

“Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority?

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice …is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.

As we gear up for next year’s Presidential elections, we must take these wise words of Thoreau’s to heart.

But we must also be aware, as Thoreau certainly was, that there are other paths to take, outside of the machine.

We stand at a crossroads.  Each of us must make up our own minds, in our own time.

How much longer will we continue to docilely feed the machine our tax dollars, and march peacefully where they lead us?

Methane Burps and Political Disenfranchisement: People, Wake Up!

There are two pieces of news that have me really worried today, one environmental, the other political.

The environmental news, predictably, is about global warming.  I suppose most people have heard by now about the giant methane plumes being released into the atmosphere from the melting Arctic permafrost, but did you realize the scale of what is going on?  Here is a quote from the scientist who has spent more time than anyone else actually observing this issue in the Arctic, Dr. Igor Semiletov:

“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr Semiletov said. “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal.”

As Andrew Revkin notes in his excellent Dot Earth NY Times blog, ““Given that methane, molecule for molecule, has at least 20 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide, it’s important to get a handle on whether these are new releases, the first foretaste of some great outburst from thawing sea-bed stores of the gas, or simply a longstanding phenomenon newly observed.”

Dr. Semiletov and his team caution that it’s too soon in their research to answer this question definitively.  But it stands to reason that melting permafrost and sea ice would provide an escape hatch for methane that had previously remained sequestered for millennia.  It seems likely that this trend will continue and worsen in the coming years.  Global warming, here we come.

The other news I’m fretting over this morning is the massive Republican attack on voter franchise in the U.S.–also on a vast scale, and with potentially disastrous results.  As Amy Goodman spells out in a column today on Truthdig,  “Across the country, state legislatures and governors are pushing laws that seek to restrict access to the voting booth, laws that will disproportionately harm people of color, low-income people, and young and elderly voters.”

This has been going on for at least a year now, and only last week did Attorney General Eric Holder finally act to declare one such state action, in South Carolina, unconstitutional.  The Democratic Party is finally waking up to the sinister plot afoot by the Republicans to steal the election they are unlikely to win in a fair fight.

We know what right-wing Republicans stand for: unfettered big business, dismantling of social safety net programs, Boss Tweed-style oligarchy of the wealthy, and an “are there no workhouses” Scrooge mentality towards everyone else.

Is this the country we want to become?

The United States needs to regain its stature as a beacon of hope in dark and dangerous times.  The stakes are so high now; the danger is so real and so close.  Although I have been writing about the importance of strengthening local “transition town” resources, we cannot afford to ignore big politics, because of the undeniable power possessed by federal and state governments, which can be used for good or for ill.

Although we can’t do anything to control those methane burps, we can work to shape and direct our political systems towards moving full steam ahead to transition to renewable energy and prepare for the systemic climate change that is already upon us, whether we want to admit it or not.

As the Occupy movements regroup in the New Year, I want to see the young people of this country stand up for their rights and the sane governance of our country and our planet.

Occupy the Elections must become a rallying cry for the coming months.

Survival is not an academic skill

Yesterday I wrote that I intend to devote my second half of life (OK, let’s be real, we’re talking about  more like my last third of life at this point) to parenting and trying to change our global social systems to be sustainable and non-exploitative.  That intention rolled around in my head overnight, and I began to wonder how my role as a college teacher fits into this scenario.

Can I use my vocation as a teacher of comparative literature, media studies & gender studies/human rights to change the world?

As if in response to my unvoiced question, the inimitable professor Stanley Fish published an op-ed on the NY Times website last night, in which he used the occasion of the upcoming Modern Language Association annual convention to reflect on the state of the higher-ed humanities profession.

I’ve participated in many an MLA convention in my 25 years or so of professional involvement in the field of comparative literature, but this year I am not attending because my panel proposal, entitled “Strategies of Resistance: Women’s Writing and Social Activism in Iran, South Africa and the United States,” was not accepted.

Professor Fish’s analysis of the 2012 conference Program gave me a good insight into why my proposal, which I thought was comprised of excellent papers by well-qualified scholars, was rejected.

“Absent or sparsely represented,” he says, “are the topics that in previous years dominated the meeting and identified the avant garde — multiculturalism, postmodernism, deconstruction, post-colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, racialism, feminism, queer theory, theory in general.”  My panel would have fit nicely into at least three or four of these categories.

The new hot topics at the convention this year, says Prof. Fish, can be lumped under the umbrella term “digital humanities,” which covers “new and fast-moving developments across a range of topics: the organization and administration of libraries, the rethinking of peer review, the study of social networks, the expansion of digital archives, the refining of search engines, the production of scholarly editions, the restructuring of undergraduate instruction, the transformation of scholarly publishing, the re-conception of the doctoral dissertation, the teaching of foreign languages, the proliferation of online journals, the redefinition of what it means to be a text, the changing face of tenure — in short, everything.”


The problem with this brave new direction in literary studies is that even while it reaches out to the world through digital portals, it seems to have lost all interest in the real world beyond its own narrow and insular ivory halls.  Other than “the changing face of tenure,” which is certainly a meaningful labor issue for the small percentage of Americans who are college/university professors, there is no indication that the young literary Turks all fired up about the digital humanities care at all about material conditions for people, animals or the environment.  Politics becomes cyber-politics; people become avatars; electricity simply flows, and food appears like magic in supermarkets or restaurant dishes.

Let me be clear: I am no Luddite when it comes to digital technologies.  I’m writing a blog, after all, and I regularly teach a class in digital media studies, which changes radically every time I offer it because I try to keep up with the rapidly transforming media landscape.

But to me, digital technology is a vehicle, not an end in itself.  I want to involve myself in digital media and the digital humanities to further my material, political goals of remaking the world.  Otherwise it’s just so much more mental masturbation.  We don’t have time for that now, if indeed we ever did.

And here’s where I come back around to my starting question of whether my role as a teacher will be useful to my larger political goals of transitioning to a safer, kinder, happier human and inter-species landscape.

It depends what I teach, doesn’t it?

For years now I have been teaching a series of classes on “women writing resistance” in various areas of the world–Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, the U.S.  The political writings of strong women who have successfully resisted both private and public oppression have taught me and my students so much about what it takes to stand up for one’s principles and put one’s visions of positive social change into action.  We’ve also learned a lot about the price activists often pay.

In the years ahead, I want to continue to use my vocation as a teacher to explore literature that is not afraid to speak truth to power.  I want to seek out visionary texts that look ahead fearlessly into the future and light the way for those who are following more slowly and cautiously down the path.  I want to amplify the voices of authors who advocate for those who do not have the same privileged access to the literary stage.  I want to become one of those authors myself.

I should not be surprised that this direction is of little interest to the crowd inside the insular tower represented by the MLA.  What was it that Audre Lorde said at another academic conference, long ago?

Survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with others identified as outside the established structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish.”

Yes, Audre.  I’m with you.

Seeking balance in a bipolar holiday season

I have felt quite bipolar this Christmas season.

On the one hand, I have been going through all the familiar routines and patterns that I have observed at this time of year since earliest childhood: the planning, the extra shopping and cooking, the merry-making with friends and family, the sharing of gifts, especially for the children.  This is the way my parents always celebrated the winter solstice–not with any religious context, but simply as a festive time to light candles and keep a warm hearth against the winter dark and chill, bringing friends and family into the circle of friendship and good cheer, and exchanging gifts almost as a way of symbolizing the abundance accomplished in the previous year, and hoped for in the future.

On the other hand, I can’t escape the awareness of how well this playbook suits the capitalist economic model, which is relentlessly undermining the very abundance it seeks to enshrine, by pushing both the social system and the environment so hard that both are threatened with collapse.

The social conditioning that has made Christmas such a huge secular orgy of buying and exchanging gifts is very hard to break. If you don’t participate, you castigate yourself as a Scrooge, a boring wet blanket.  And you get depressed, too, because everyone else seems to be celebrating and having fun, while you–through your own perverse insistence on non-conformance–are off in a corner, worrying about the end of the world.

Yesterday, after opening presents by the tree and eating a cheery holiday brunch, my kids and I went for a long walk up the mountain that I can see from my front porch, the one over which the sun rises every morning.  Almost at our destination, we came through a narrow ravine in which several huge, craggy, beautifully colored boulders were scattered.

One presented one of those  classic overhangs that we know were used as sheltered campsites by indigenous hunters for millennia before the arrival of the Europeans.  Others were balanced with amazing precision, creating deep caves that we dared not explore in this season of hibernating bears.

There was an unmistakeable sense of age in that gathering of stones. Squinting my eyes, I could imagine the great glacier that had retreated down the mountainside, gouging out the flat ravine through which we now walked, and leaving the huge boulders scattered in its wake.  I could also imagine an even earlier time, when the rocks had been home to myriads of fish, with giant squid sleeping in the caves, instead of snoring bears.  Those great rocks have seen so much earthly history, standing majestically on their mountainside, unmoved by the shallower destinies of the flora and fauna that root on them or pass them by.

For a moment, putting my hand on the cold rough stone, my inner turmoil was calmed by a strong apprehension of the longer view of life on Earth.

It’s true that our current way of life, complete with its winking strings of colored lights powered by huge, dirty, out-of-sight mines, will not persist much longer.  Not with 7 billion people ravaging the globe like a swarm of ravenous locusts.

But these ancient stones have seen upheavals far more intense than what is currently on the horizon.  They have survived as silent witnesses to many cycles of destruction and regeneration.  They will be there, still silently bearing witness, after homo sapiens has become just another level on the fossil record of the planet.

There is strange comfort in this.

I still have every intention of trying to save our species–and so many other current inhabitants of Earth–by advocating for a transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and a shift from a civilization based on endless competitive growth to one based on collaborative stewardship of a steady state economy and a healthy, fully bio-diverse ecosystem. In my second half of life, this is the cause to which I will dedicate myself, second only to seeing through my job as a parent and giving my kids as strong a start as possible with which to face our uncertain future.

But somehow it helps to stave off despair, knowing that no matter how badly we may fail as a species, the planet will endure, and find new ways of prospering, new ways of combining the building blocks of creation into wondrous, miraculously beautiful and clever forms.

That knowledge forms a peaceful ledge on which to perch, between the bipolar swings of the season.  You’ll find me on this perch for the next week or so, quietly collecting my energy and my will for the struggles ahead.


De-coupling our wagons from the locomotive of global capitalism

There is a clear spectrum of response to the urgency of the environmental and economic challenges that face us.

On the one end is the Deep Green Resistance movement, calling for a complete take-down of industrialized civilization, violently if necessary (and it would be necessary, of course–industrial civilization won’t go down without a fight, unless it’s wiped out by natural disasters).

On the other end are those who believe we will be able to find our way into a sustainable world order via technology, ie, renewable energy sources that will keep the capitalist engines burning bright.

On this spectrum, I would have to locate myself somewhere in the middle.  While I see the necessity of deindustrialization, I don’t really want to live through the violent havoc a strong de-civ movement would cause.

But I know things can’t go on as they have been.  We must shift from an economic model built on endless growth to one that seeks to maintain a steady state, both for human societies and for the natural world (as if there were a separation between these two).

We must also shift from the capitalist system of accumulated wealth for the few based on the commodified labor of the masses, to a system in which people’s labor is more directly connected to their well-being, and wealth is not allowed to concentrate in a few disproportionately powerful, distant hands.

The only movement I’ve found so far that is actively working to accomplish a vision similar to what I’ve sketched out above is the Transition Town movement.  The brainchild of UK visionary activist Rob Hopkins, the movement describes itself as follows:

“The Transition Movement is comprised of vibrant, grassroots community initiatives that seek to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis.

“Transition Initiatives differentiate themselves from other sustainability and “environmental” groups by seeking to mitigate these converging global crises by engaging their communities in home-grown, citizen-led education, action, and multi-stakeholder planning to increase local self reliance and resilience.

“They succeed by regeneratively using their local assets, innovating, networking, collaborating, replicating proven strategies, and respecting the deep patterns of nature and diverse cultures in their place.

“Transition Initiatives work with deliberation and good cheer to create a fulfilling and inspiring local way of life that can withstand the shocks of rapidly shifting global systems.”

What appeals to me about the Transition Town movement as a strategy for change is that it’s locally based and collaborative.  The first step is getting to know your neighbors, finding out what skills you can share, and taking stock of how you can prepare intelligently to cope with whatever environmental and economic shocks may lie ahead in our future.  It doesn’t dictate a one-size-fits-all model, but rather gives communities credit for being smart enough to figure out their own, locally adapted solutions.

As a society, America seems to be in collective denial about the reality of climate change.  We don’t want to hear that if we continue down the path of capitalist growth based on fossil fuels, the planet will heat up past the point where we could expect life as we know it to continue.  We don’t want to put the pieces together, because if we do, we will be forced to face the fact that we need to change. 

If we could accept this fact, we could begin to talk seriously about directions to take to make that change happen.  It would be nice if we could count on our world leaders to step up and face the challenge squarely, in a concerted effort.  But given the reality of global politics, still based on competition and armed power struggles, it seems very unlikely that we can look to the United Nations, or individual national governments, for the kind of decisive leadership we need now.

So we need to turn to each other, on the local level, and begin asking, as the Transition Town movement envisions, what can we do right here, together, to become more resilient?  What resources do we have, right here, that are not dependent on current systems of international or long-distance national trade?  How can we plan together for a sustainable future?

In a way, it’s an effort to de-couple our personal wagons from the locomotive of capitalist growth, which is proving so destructive to everything in its path, and seems to be on the verge of careening out of control.

I’ve been hearing a fair amount of fear expressed about “going backwards.” When people imagine stepping down from the capitalist growth model, they picture having to give up modern conveniences like advanced medical technologies, ready access to electricity, indoor plumbing, etc.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  We have to work on developing new ways of generating those conveniences, that are less destructive to the planet (the technological fix) and also work swiftly to dismantle those features of industrial civilization that are throwing our whole ecological system out of balance (de-industrialization).

The Transition Town movement calls this “the great re-skilling” approach.  We need to remember older, more sustainable ways of doing things, while also keeping the best of new technologies and learning how to apply them in smarter, more efficient and ecologically sound ways.

There are over 100 full-fledged Transition Town initiatives in the U.S., and hundreds more worldwide, along with many start-up groups forming all the time.  Although all of us seem to have so much to do, and so little time these days, this is really a movement we need to be focusing on now to prepare for the decade ahead.

Given the lack of effective top-down leadership, should we really be wasting our time worrying about national elections, for example?  Or bothering to go to international conferences on climate change?

Or is the smarter thing to do to begin, quietly and with determination and hopeful good cheer, to make our own preparations for a very different sort of future, in our own transition towns?

Solstice reflections: Women as Victims of Violence and as Peace Agents

Winter solstice eve, 2011.

The darkest day of the year, and yet presaging the return to light.  The stars and planets continue to wheel overhead, taking little notice of all the sturm und drang here on Earth.

Tonight there is one image that keeps calling out to me for comment.  It goes by the Web shorthand “woman with the blue bra, Cairo.”

Did you see that one?

Someone captured on camera a brief two minutes of violence in Cairo, Egypt, when an unnamed protester was dragged by military forces in the street, then stripped of her abaya, under which she wore only a blue bra–and then beaten up some more.

WordPress has taken away my ability to post video, so you can watch it here.

It goes right up there with the video from New York City, towards the beginning of the OWS protests, of a police officer spraying peaceful, captive girls in the face with pepper spray.  This video has apparently been watched on You-Tube more than 1.5 million times.

There is something about seeing women being beaten up by masked, uniformed security forces that sets off particular triggers in most of us.  It’s certainly no accident that the Occupy protests swelled dramatically in numbers after that pepper-spray incident, or that more than 10,000 protesters, mostly women, turned out in Cairo following the posting of this image on the Web.

Part of me wants to question why it is that we get so upset when women protesters are attacked.  After all, they knew the risks they were running when they went out into the street.  And what’s the big difference between a man and a woman being beat up by goons, anyway?

But there is a difference.

The difference is that it’s always men doing the beating.

Yes, we have some women in police and military uniforms.  And yes, women can be violent.  But you will have to look long and hard to find cases where women bore the responsibility for killing or attacking civilians, in any circumstances.  It may happen, but it’s pretty rare.

So when we see a mob of men stripping and beating a woman–in a society where nudity is absolutely taboo, to boot–it’s impossible to ignore the full impact of the insult intended.  And in a society where women are forcibly kept out of leadership roles, the message is all the clearer.

Stay at home where you belong, or we’ll do this to you, too.

I’m so glad that the women of Cairo did not take this attempt at intimidation lying down. Just like the women in New York, who took the unwarranted police brutality as a gauntlet thrown down to test their protest mettle.

The question of whether men are in fact more aggressive than women is still a matter for debate in academic circles, but taking a look around the world, it’s pretty clear that men commit almost all the violence in every context.  When women murder or assault, it’s almost always in self-defense.

And yet women are still held back from leadership roles in most societies, and even held back from the peace-making negotiating tables in post-conflict regions.  A big exception is Rwanda, where women have taken a leadership role in rebuilding that shattered society–mostly because the men had succeeded so well in killing each other off.

We have moved past the point in the intellectual history of gender studies where feminists were striving to be “the same as” men.  Women don’t want to be the same as men if it means repeating the same old history of violence and abusiveness.

What we need is to move, as men and women, beyond the violence that has continually plagued human society.

Violence towards each other; violence towards other species and the rest of the world.

The only way to move forward as a species is to disable that aggressive switch, and become the consensus-seeking conciliators we have always been in our finest moments as human beings.

As we return to light this solstice night, this is my fervent prayer: that the aggressive, masculine energy that has dominated this planet for the past 5,000-plus years will begin to shift to a more peaceful, creative, feminine energy, from which both men and women–and the planet as a whole–will benefit.

Let it be so.

1% > 99%: Don’t Mess with the Rich, and Leave Inequality Alone

Why does it not surprise me that no comments were allowed on this op-ed piece from Sunday’s NY Times, which has been rankling at me for the past couple of days?

The authors, one a prof of law at Yale, the other UC Berkeley professor of law and economics, pose as compassionate conservatives who are concerned about the growing gap between the fabulously wealthy 1% and the rest of us 99%.

Their solution?  Impose a new, automatic tax on 1-percenters whose income exceeds $330,000—currently 36 times the median American household income.

“This new tax…would apply only to income in excess of the poorest 1-percenter — currently about $330,000 per year,” the authors (who admit to being part of this bracket) say. Their aim is not to “reverse the gains of the wealthy in the last 30 years,” but just to “assure that things don’t get worse.”

Ahem.  How about making things better???

A stark picture of the lives of those in the median (full disclosure: you’ll find me in this social landscape) was painted in today’s NYT editorial on the middle class: 

“Recent government data show that 100 million Americans, or about one in three, are living in poverty or very close to it. Of 13.3 million unemployed Americans now searching for work, 5.7 million have been looking for more than six months, while millions more have given up altogether. Even a job is no guarantee of middle-class security. The real median income of working-age households has declined, from $61,600 in 2000 to $55,300 in 2010 — the result of abysmally slow job growth even before the onset of the recession.”

You would think that our elected representatives in Congress would be concerned about this dismal state of affairs, and would be doing everything in their power to make things better for those hundreds of millions of troubled Americans, wouldn’t you?

Hah!  No, our reps in the House couldn’t be bothered to pass a bill giving us a very modest payroll tax cut, amounting to about $1,000 per year per median paycheck…because they’re holding out for strings attached that will, for example, fast-track the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Let’s connect more dots here.  According to a recent report by the non-partisan group Public Campaign, “30 multi-million dollar American corporations expended more money lobbying Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, ultimately spending approximately $400,000 every day — including weekends — during that three-year period to lobby lawmakers and influence political elections.”

You know, there would be nothing so wrong with corporations lobbying Congress IF they had the best interests of society as a whole at heart.  But we all know that’s not true. While 2010 was a “record year for executive compensation,” it was also a record year for lay-offs. And don’t even get me started about corporate sins against the environment.

It all comes back to the greed of the 1%.

In an unusual personal aside, the Yale and Berkeley profs confess that their “grandparents would be shocked to learn that the average income of the 1-percent club has skyrocketed to more than 30 times the median income — just as we will be shocked if 20 years from now 1-percenters make 80 times the median, which is where we will be if inequality continues to grow at the current rate unabated.”

So they want to hold inequality to its current levels.  That’s like saying let’s hold global warming to where it is now.  Hello-o?  Both inequality and global warming are at deadly levels right now.  Maintaining the status quo is like setting the throttle in full gear and leaving the wheel to have a drink, while the bus rolls off the cliff.

Professors, you should be ashamed of not having had the courage to enable the comments on your brilliant proposal.

Let me just put a little spin on your title, may I?  Instead of “Don’t Tax the Rich, Tax Inequality Itself,” how about: “Don’t Mess with the Rich, and Leave Inequality Alone.”  Let’s call a spade a spade–and let the debate begin!

The Silence of the Bees

Usually during the holidays I catch the frenzied good cheer from everyone else and wind myself up to make merry.  This year, I just can’t seem to find the spark.

Maybe it’s a case of SAD (seasonable affective disorder).  Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the first holiday after my divorce was finalized, and that new reality is sinking in.  Maybe it’s the gloomy state of the economy, which is certainly negatively affecting my financial outlook.

But I think it goes deeper and broader than these personal issues.

I feel like I’m grieving, but not for any one person.  I’m grieving for the loss of my future, and all of our futures.  Even as I stoutly maintain that we can’t give up hope, and we need to keep fighting, there is something in me that keens, heartbroken, for the huge loss that we all face.

It’s already started, the great dying-off.

I keep remembering a certain perfect May morning in my childhood, when I waded out into the deep, fragrant grass under the old, half-wild apple trees, which were glorious in full pink-and-white bloom.  I lay in a grassy nest under one of the trees–no worries about ticks and Lyme disease in those days–looking up at the blossoms outlined against the startling blue of the sky.  The petals rustled gently in the breeze, and the sound of thousands of busy buzzing honey bees filled the air.  Watching carefully, I could see the bees moving from blossom to blossom, carrying their saddlebags full of bright golden pollen.  My heart swelled with the sheer joy of being alive in that moment, a part of the humming life of that orchard on that beautiful spring day.

Flash forward to last spring, when I went out into the same old orchard on another lovely May morning, and was aghast to realize that not a single bee was working the blossoms of the tree.  The silence was frightening, like the desolate silence of a wasteland, though visually it all looked very much the same.

This is just one small example of so many countless instances of the glorious richness of life on our planet, profoundly and irrevocably being silenced.

So yes, I am grieving.  And I am angry.  And I do not know the best way to try to head off the end that seems so inevitable now.

Sometimes it feels like I’m living in a sci-fi movie, where everything seems so hopeless, the bad guys are winning…and then at the last moment, the heroes sweep in and save the day.  I want to believe that we can be those heroes.  Perhaps it will be like the TV series “Heroes,” where many of us who are preparing ourselves now for the fight will come together and really be able to make a difference.

But I don’t count on it.  Because, in large part, the “bad guys” are us.  We’re doing this to the planet.  The laptop I type on is part of the problem, the electric lights I just strung up on my porch are part of the problem, the car I drive is part of the problem.

What would it mean, really, to stop being one of the bad guys?  To become one of the vast army of everyday heroes needed to save this planet?

I keep asking this question, and I will keep asking it until the answer becomes clear.  I feel I am taking some sort of step in the right direction just by asking the question in this public forum, seeking out like-minded people who may have answers I could not come to on my own.

I know we need each other now, more than ever.  The old individualist way of doing things is part of the problem.  Interconnection should be the buzzword of the second decade of this century.  As the planet heats up, our survival will depend on our being able to cooperate and collaborate on adapting to the new, much harsher environment.

 Sometimes I have moments of hysteria, when I feel like I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and need to decide how I want to spend my last days.  Maybe this isn’t so hysterical after all…this may be a rather sober assessment of the way things stand.

Of course, we are all living under a life sentence, all the time!  But I no longer feel I can count on living into old age, dying a natural death.  Saving for retirement seems like a pipe dream, left over from a 20th century mindset that no longer makes sense.

The only  antidote I know for the grief and depression born of full apprehension of the reality of our very bleak and uncertain future is simply this: carpe diem, seize the day.

Unless we ordinary heroes come together to create a mighty and unstoppable wave of change very soon, the planet will heat up beyond our comfort zone, causing severe weather that will send us floods, famine, conflict and extinctions on a biblical scale.

Yes, ultimately the planet will regenerate, and new forms of life will emerge.  But we will not be here to play our part–to love, appreciate, tend and respect the other living beings on Earth.

It is too soon to give in to grief.  I will shake it off, rouse myself, continue as long as I can to stand up and be counted among the opposition to the terrible destruction that our way of life has visited on so many others on this planet.

Meet me out in the apple orchard, listening for the bees….

Call to Action in Dark Times

This time of year in New England is cold and dark: short days and long, starry nights.  As the planet wheels towards the winter solstice, human beings, for thousands of years, have huddled around fires and turned to storytelling as a bridge back to warmth and the coming of springtime.

It’s no different now, except that now most of us burn oil for our heat, and hang up strings of electric lights to symbolize the return to light.  We watch movies, read books or play video games instead of listening to clan storytellers.

In America, as in much of the world, the dominant religious stories of this time of year have to do with keeping hope and faith alive in dark times.  Jews remember, with the lighting of the Menorah candles, the preservation of their faith in the 2nd century BCE, after the destruction of the Second Temple; Christians celebrate miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer who would bring the word of God to the people.

All of the traditional religious stories document a continuing human saga of light against dark, with light representing life and good energy, while dark represents death and possible danger.

More contemporary mystics also point to human life as a struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

Rudolf Steiner, for example, the influential psychic who reported many out-of-body experiences where he made direct contact with metaphysical beings, routinely talks about angels and demons in his copious writings, with angels representing the good forces of light and life, and demons being the dark forces of destruction.  Freud too, in a more secular register, described Eros and Thanatos as primal human drives that align along the same lines: light/life/love, dark/death/hatred.

Is there something to all this?

In a scientific age, it’s hard to write with a straight face about angels and demons.  We are trained to see them as figures of speech, metaphors for empirically definable natural phenomena.  To whit: Human beings tell stories about angels and miraculous births at the darkest time of year as a metaphorical way of talking about the winter solstice and the return to light.

Yes.  But there have always been persistent voices telling us that this is not just metaphorical.  That there really are forces of dark that are destructive and forces of light that represent goodness, and that human beings, as the most self-aware sentient beings on the planet, are able to recognize the grand struggle between Good and Evil playing out in our psyches, and on our battlefields.

For instance, take Derrick Jensen‘s latest book, Dreams, in which he talks about his growing belief that there are metaphysical realms that human beings access in dreams, and that in the dream world there are “sides”: the side of life and the side of death and destruction.  As humans, we have a choice, Jensen says; we can choose which gods to worship, those who represent the life-giving energies of the planet, or those who represent the blood-sucking zombies that are leading us down the capitalist/imperialist road to doom.

Even further out along the spectrum of contemporary metaphysical thinkers is Alex Kochkin, who has been sending out dispatches through email and Web for some time now, warning that the end times are coming.  One could mistake Kochkin for an Armageddon-spouting Christian fundamentalist, except that, like Jensen and Steiner, he has no religious scaffolding framing his ideas.

All of these thinkers agree with indigenous shamans the world over that there is much more to human beings than our physical bodies, and that we can interact with higher powers through individual psychic work–paying attention to our dreams, meditating, being open to the realms of human consciousness where, they say, we can connect with what Steiner called “higher worlds.”

Alex Kochkin: “”You” are the result of a portion of your larger being extending something of itself into this level of density. In this case, it is a human bio-vehicle that comes equipped with basic firmware and an operating system. Flawed as the whole package may be, it is still a viable and valuable way for individuations of The All of Creation to reach into its own deepest recesses, even those that have become overwhelmed by the disease of the Dark.”

Derrick Jensen gives the “disease of the Dark” more concrete names: capitalism, imperialism, and the science that justifies and extends the reach of these destructive ideologies that have, since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, been rapidly reducing bio-diversity and inexorably altering our eco-system.

Jensen recalls the Aztec sacrifices to their gods, and speculates that we too are unthinkingly making sacrifices to our contemporary gods of Science and Capitalism.

This is an idea that one of my mentors, Rigoberta Menchu, suggested years ago, talking about how destructive the Euramerican ideologies and technologies have been to the natural world and indigenous peoples: “I often wonder why people criticize the Aztecs for offering human sacrifices to their gods when they never mention how many sons of this America, Abia Yala, have been sacrificed over five hundred years to the god Capital,” Menchu said in her second testimonial, Crossing Borders.

Whether or not there are “higher powers” involved in the life-and-death battles we are seeing played out at ever-accelerating speed in these dark times, it is true that we human beings are the ones with the power to change the course of events we have set in motion.  The fish and the birds and the great bears cannot change what is happening to their environments because of human short-sightedness and greed.  The ancient forests that have stood for thousands of years cannot withstand the bulldozer and the chain saw.  The river that has flowed for eons cannot resist the concrete dam.

Only we have the power of reversing the “disease of the Dark.”  If there are higher powers involved, they are not going to do it for us–they will only work through us.

Which stories are we listening to now as we huddle around our mechanical fires?  The old stories of dominion and destruction, “manifest destiny” and technological prowess leading to “progress” have held sway long enough.  It’s time to listen to stories that are older and wiser than the Judeo-Christian myths, stories that remind us of our deep connection to the natural world that sustains us.

Let every candle lit this solstice season be a call to action on behalf of the life energies of this planet.  And then, let us act, before it’s too late.

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