Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Personal IS The Political

Here's Derrick Jensen, who generally knows precisely about about what he is talking, arguing that, when it comes to the way that civilization is destroying the planet, the personal is not the political.

Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

As someone who dances naked around fires, I do think that such acts can help to bring about changes, including changes such as the Voting Rights Act of 1957. I don't "just" do magic. I've often said that the best magical spell for getting a job is filling out the job application.

I understand Jensen's point, his call for serious activism, his frustration. But the world MUST be re-imagined in order to be changed. Some of the most radical things I've done have involved doing magic to support activists who are physically on the line even more than Jensen is.

And, yet, I completely agree with what he's saying:

Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.

In the end, as even Jensen's said, we need people to take down civilization and we need people to teach others how to use native plants for medicine. We need shamans to talk to the planet for us and we need people to go sit in ancient redwoods so they won't get cut down. And those of us doing one piece of the work owe it to the others not to call the cops. And not to ridicule.

Picture found here.


Lavanah said...

The phrase "transcendental consumerism" came to my attention this week. I've yet to research exactly what it is supposed to mean, but I fear for a society that has need for such a phrase.

Anne Johnson said...

The little borough I live in is trying to win a recycling award. We got pretty new barrels and instructions to recycle all plastic (even wrappings), paper (even stuff like pasta boxes), and glass. The grocery store recycles those little plastic grocery bags and veggie bags.

And we're doing it! The recycling buckets overflow all along my street.

Maybe we are only one town of 11,000 people. Maybe it's only a blip, and we ought to be lobbying the food companies not to wrap everything in so much plastic and cardboard. But what we're doing is better than nothing. I remember when everyone did nothing, what the world looked like then, what the Potomac was like then. The longest road begins with one step, by one person. Let's go.