Human beings are not lemmings–so let’s get organized and get away from that cliff!

This happens to be my 100th post on Transition Times, and to mark the occasion I want to reflect on where I’ve come with this blog project, and what themes have emerged along the way.

When I started Transition Times, back in mid-July, I was away in Nova Scotia, trying not to think about the crazy shenanigans going on back home, where the Republicans were threatening to shut down the U.S. government and destroy our credit rating in the world, rather than negotiate reasonably towards consensus with the Democrats (otherwise known as “the debt-ceiling crisis”).

I was also reading Mark Hertsgaard’s Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years On Earth, along with Bill McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, both of which paint a stark portrait of how the climate change crisis will be affecting our lives in the foreseeable future.

All in all, I was in a pretty gloomy state of mind.

But then surprising things started to happen.

In the middle of the dog days of August, Bill McKibben and began a sit-in next to the White House, protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline and the development of the boreal forests of Alberta (otherwise known as “the tar sands”).

A month later, the Occupy Wall Street movement sprang up seemingly out of nowhere, protesting the government’s collusion with the super-wealthy (otherwise known as “the 1%”) and abandonment of ordinary Americans (otherwise known as “the 99%”).

The Occupy movement spread like wildfire, and the Keystone XL protest succeeded in at least postponing the pipeline and American support of Alberta tar sands extraction, giving the nascent climate change movement a boost and more of a chance to grow.

Along the way a historic hurricane ripped across the Eastern Seaboard, and a freak snowstorm dumped a good two feet of heavy wet snow on leafy trees in southern New England, knocking out power for some folks for days, and even weeks, and reinforcing the unavoidable reality of climate change.

Most recently, public awareness of the militarization of American policing has suddenly taken a giant leap forward, thanks to images of police brutality inflicted on old and young white people of the well-dressed, college-educated variety.  Over in Europe, the debt crisis threatens the dissolution of the euro zone, something unthinkable just a few months ago.

All in all, it’s been a dramatic few months, and blogging my reactions to and thoughts about all this has been a rewarding experience.

I’ve been struck by the power of the World Wide Web as a vehicle for social communication and movement-building.  Just as the Arab Spring showed us how cell phone texting technology could be used to ignite and build, at lightening speed, an effective resistance movement, the Occupy movement has demonstrated the extent to which Americans are plugged into the vast collective consciousness we call the Web.

While the captains of industry sold us smart phones and tablet computers intending to make us more agile shoppers and financial traders, they unwittingly put into our hands the tools of our liberation from the capitalist machine that has dominated us for the past 50 years or so.

Marx predicted long ago that the very instruments that enabled capitalism–globalization and technological prowess–would also be the instruments with which the bourgeoisie would dig their own graves.

In the age of global warming and climate change, this has never seemed more prescient.

But Marx also imagined that out of the ashes of the old world a new order would arise.  He believed that it would be possible for the proletariat, the working class, to create a better world, based on collaboration and compassion rather than ruthless competition.

It seems like Americans are finally awakening out of a long, dark sleep of obliviousness to the ways in which our corporate capitalist economic and governmental system has been leading us down a blind alley, at the end of which, it turns out, is a steep cliff.

Are we waking up in time to back ourselves out of that alley, away from that fearsome cliff?

It is too soon to tell. But those of us who are aware of the gravity of the situation today not just for our society, but for our species and the planet as a whole, need to be out there on the frontlines, both physical and virtual, making the connections that may enable us to successfully build a movement for change and avert disaster.

Human beings are not lemmings, but we are indeed susceptible to being led.  We want to believe that our leaders are competent and have our best interests at heart.  We hold on to this belief even when all evidence points to the contrary.

It’s time now to stop putting our faith in our elected officials and their paid enforcers, and listen instead to our own hearts and minds.  We know what needs to be done to bring the ecological web of life on this planet back into balance.  It is time to reach out to each other and find the determination to get the job done.

Labor Day 2011: in which we watch capitalism dig its own grave, and plant the seeds for a better world

On Labor Day, my students and I discussed “The Communist Manifesto” by Marx & Engels.  We found the Manifesto remarkably prophetic, describing corporate globalization to a T long before either word had been invented, as well as the recurring, ever-more-destructive cycles of boom and bust that Marx predicted would cause capitalism to “dig its own grave.”

We talked about how Marx didn’t envision the final limit to growth being the carrying capacity of our planet, and how the climate crisis may be what finally does the job of sending capitalism over the edge.

But no one could muster much enthusiasm for Marx’s conviction that the proletariat–ie, working folks–would then rise, take over, and make the world a better place.

Looking at the disastrous social experiments in the USSR, China and Cuba, it’s hard to put much credence in Communism as a viable alternative.

It’s also hard to imagine that a social system led by the working class would automatically be any better than the one we have now, dominated by the technocrats and financiers. We’re all human, after all.

Human in our failings–but also human in our creative power to envision new possibilities.

We finished off Labor Day at Simon’s Rock yesterday by having the whole Sophomore class gather to watch “Metropolis,” a visionary film that shows how a young man from the ruling elite is moved by love to become the “heart” that joins the “head”–the technocratic elite–and the “hands,” the workers who actually do the physical labor that makes the vision a reality.

In the allegory of the film, this young, well-educated man provides the missing link, compassion, that can heal a society that has become terribly unhappy in its alienation–the coddled rulers as unhappy, apparently, as the oppressed workers.

It has always been the case that the educated elite have a powerful role to play in social change, if our action springs from the heart.  To survive the coming cataclysms of the 21st century, humanity is going to need all its technological prowess, joined with the age-old wisdom of the peoples who have never embraced western “civilization,” who still know how to make subsistence a happy and healthy way of life.

Head, hands and heart, joining in the common goal of survival.

There are groups now who are forming these kinds of alliances and working actively to create the path towards a sustainable future.  For instance, the Pachamama Alliance, and all the groups who worked on creating the Earth Charter.

The only way capitalism is likely to survive climate change is if the economic elites crack down on the masses with military power–mind controlling hands in heartless fashion. We’re seeing that happen now in various smaller countries in the world.

As a strategy for global domination, I don’t think it will work–it just takes too much in the way of resources.

How much better it would be to have a blueprint for planetary survival based on heart, growing out of our deep love for the natural world that created us and continues to sustain us, despite all we have done and continue to do to destabilize and destroy her.

The Giving Tree is my least favorite book in the world, and I can’t imagine why parents continue to buy it for their children.  Let’s write a new book in which instead of destroying our giving tree, our planet, we nourish her and watch her grow with delight.

Let capitalism step off into the grave.  And let a new world be born, in love, light and laughter.

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