There has to be more to the progressive movement than a set of shared beliefs. While worldwide we are around 25% of the human population, we are outnumbered by the combination of 25% conservatives, ideologically opposed to and determined to undo everything we try to do, and 50% (and growing) afflicted with anomie, who either think political belief and action is useless, or just don’t care.
We progressives urgently need to pick up the pace of change, and to do that, we need to do much, much more than just vote. We need to acknowledge that most political power worldwide is firmly in the hands of an elite who are happy to control most of the world’s wealth and power and use it to acquire even more. Some of those wielding that power masquerade as progressives — running under Liberal, Democratic, Labour or People’s party banners, and talking a moderate progressive line just before elections, but their actions, most of them quiet and done in back rooms or written into legislation no one reads or understands, are designed to retrench, to prevent substantive change. Even more of the world’s political power is in the hands of those who are not elected at all — corporate leaders who simply buy politicians, and buy mainstream media, and with them, acquire far more political power than is represented by the ballot box.
So progressives need to acknowledge that, unless they devote most of their time and energy to activities other than electing and lobbying politicians, they will continue to accomplish nothing. Indeed, they will accomplish less than nothing, since in the meantime the corporate and political elite will be busy dismantling, rolling back, bribing their way out of, and circumventing laws and regulations, a much easier process than getting them passed, and enforced, in the first place.
As much as I admire what George Soros and Daily Kos are doing, it is largely futile. I would guess that the money leveraged for neo-conservative and neo-liberal causes of all kinds, when you add in those of right-wing religions, big corporations looking for concessions and favours, and anti-regulation ideologues, would have to be at least a thousand times greater than what the handful of rich altruistic progressives like Soros could muster. And the progressive political parties and the progressive blogosphere are utterly preoccupied with getting people who they think represent their values and interests elected, which, even if they were wildly successful, which is doubtful given the agnostic political realities of the day, and even if most of those politicians didn’t turn out to have a very different and more status quo-preserving agenda from what they campaigned on, would not begin to offset the political power of the unelected.
Progressives need to find another way to bring about change. The effect of strikes and demonstrations, the traditional progressive alternative means of expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo, has been reduced to the point of impotence by anti-democratic laws, anti-democratic enforcement authorities, and media propaganda. Case in point: the response of the majority of Americans to the Latin American demonstrations in the streets earlier this year was to become even more xenophobic and favour more draconian anti-immigrant legislation. So I’m not talking about rallies or sit-ins either — even when the police open fire on demonstrators and when it’s caught on film, the media still spin it is a defensive response to ‘provocation’.
What we need to do instead is starve the status quo. The existing political and economic power structure is like a black hole — it has an insatiable and ever-growing need for consumption to keep it growing. Its Achilles’ heel is that if it stops growing, it dies. It is terrified of anything that threatens its growth, which is why when eBay and Amazon created a vast market for used goods, and file-sharing took off, legislation was quickly introduced to try to kill the Internet by allowing the telecom monopoly to favour big corporations (who pay for the privilege) in the allotment of bandwidth, and to charge huge tolls for all high-bandwidth applications. The fight for what has come to be called Network Neutrality is now the pivotal political battle of our time, ultimately more important than any election. We must not lose it.
Here’s what else we must do to starve the status quo:
This seventh point is the one that drives me crazy, because you’d think with the Internet it would be easy. But the truth is, most of us unwittingly contribute far more to, and hence support, socially and environmentally irresponsible governments and corporations far more than we think. We buy stuff from companies we don’t realize are opposed to everything we believe in (usually because the parent company’s name is deliberately unpublicized). We have no idea what our investment funds are actually invested in. As customers, we are deliberately deceived and lied to, but in the face of that we are utterly unorganized. I buy Consumer Reports because it teaches me a lot about shoddy products and practices, but they can’t even afford to put their information up online free for subscribers. When we shop, we have no way of knowing by who, how, or sometimes even where products are made, and whether we’re helping or hurting working people and the environment when we buy them.
What we need, as I’ve argued before, are networked but local free-for-all consumer information exchanges, that tell us our choices and the impact of what we plan to buy, and share information and experiences with other consumers about the quality and responsibility of products, services, and the companies that provide them.
What we need as well are networked but local free-for-all citizen education exchanges, that allow us to learn from other citizens, at organized face-to-face meetings and seminars, what’s really going on in the world, what we can do about it, and how we can become more self-sufficient and wean ourselves off our addiction to the systems and suppliers who oppose and undermine everything we believe in.
I spend a lot of time online, researching and checking out resources that readers and friends have pointed out to me, to become more self-educated about what I can and should do. But I’m constantly finding more, and I am overwhelmed at the amount of information that is available and the extent to which the vast majority of us are ignorant of it. I recently got some material from Berrett-Koehler publishers*, a small and distinguished independent publishing company that “advances social and economic justice…through a unique combination of thoughtful analysis and progressive alternatives”. They have a partnership with the Social Value Network, a community of socially responsible entrepreneurs that, like BALLE, I bet you’ve never heard of. BK are best known as publishers of the work of David Korten, Thom Hartmann, Ken Blanchard and Henry Mintzberg, and the recent best-seller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. But here’s some other titles they’ve published that I’d never heard of, and wish I had:
We need to know this stuff! And there are other publishers like Chelsea Green (whose purpose is “to stop the destruction of the natural world by challenging the beliefs and practices that are enabling this destruction and by providing inspirational and practical alternatives that promote sustainable living”) and New Society Publishers (whose purpose is “building an ecologically sustainable and just society not just through education, but through action”) who also have a whole suite of books that all progressives need to read and know about.
So progressives are missing two important things:
The first thing, the program, needs to be built around starving the status quo. That is something that is practical, effective, and well within our power. It begins with working to ensure Network Neutrality is preserved, and then using the seven points outlined above, as individuals and as communities, to liberate ourselves from the political and economic machine that is leading to our collective ruin, and starve this machine to death.
The second thing, the network, needs to be built around better information management. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Wisdom of Crowds has its place, but coping with the vast firehose of information available to us today is not something that can be left to collective wisdom (del.icio.us and its well-intentioned kin notwithstanding). We need to create a bottom-up network, global in scope but locally-focused, that (a) reviews, sifts and evaluates all of the information available to progressives, and creates dynamic libraries of the best available resources on each front of activism, and (b) shares and deploys the learnings from these information resources, not only by promulgating the best available resources lists, but by face-to-face seminars and meetups that teach us all how to make use of this information, and facilitate collective organization and action to make it happen.
Perhaps we could create a model that would enable the authors of this information to be funded to travel from community to community to help in this sharing and deployment process. Imagine Jim Merkel (Radical Simplicity) visiting your community to explain how others have reduced their wasteful consumption of resources and achieved a happier and more fulfilling life. Imagine Ben Cohen or Laury Hammel working with you and others in your community to help you create a sustainable and responsible business. These wouldn’t be book tours, but rather change tours.
If we really want to make the world a better place, we have to start doing these things. Otherwise we’ll just be fighting a continuous rear-guardaction against a much more powerful opponent.
* Full disclosure: BK are seriously looking at publishing my book, The Natural Enterprise. But I’d be praising them even if they weren’t.
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Archive by Category
My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2023)
--- My Best 200 Posts, 2003-22 by category, from newest to oldest ---
Hope — On the Balance of Probabilities
The Caste War for the Dregs
Recuperation, Accommodation, Resilience
How Do We Teach the Critical Skills
Collapse Not Apocalypse
'Making Sense of the World' Reading List
Notes From the Rising Dark
What is Exponential Decay
Collapse: Slowly Then Suddenly
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Making Sense of Who We Are
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Post Collapse with Michael Dowd (video)
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Requiem for a Species
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
If We Had a Better Story...
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Hard Part is Finding People Who Care
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
A Short History of Progress
The Boiling Frog
Our Culture / Ourselves:
A CoVid-19 Recap
What It Means to be Human
A Culture Built on Wrong Models
Our Unique Capacity for Hatred
Not Meant to Govern Each Other
The Humanist Trap
Amazing What People Get Used To
My Reluctant Misanthropy
The Dawn of Everything
Why Misinformation Doesn't Work
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
The Right to Die
CoVid-19: Go for Zero
The Process of Self-Organization
The Tragic Spread of Misinformation
A Better Way to Work
The Needs of the Moment
Ask Yourself This
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
May I Ask a Question?
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
Learning From Nature
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
Making Sense of Scents
An Age of Wonder
The Truth About Ukraine
The Supply Chain Problem
The Promise of Dialogue
Too Dumb to Take Care of Ourselves
Republicans Slide Into Fascism
All the Things I Was Wrong About
Several Short Sentences About Sharks
How Change Happens
What's the Best Possible Outcome?
The Perpetual Growth Machine
We Make Zero
How Long We've Been Around (graphic)
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
Loren Eiseley, in Verse
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self, and Free Will:
No Free Will, No Freedom
The Other Side of 'No Me'
This Body Takes Me For a Walk
The Only One Who Really Knew Me
No Free Will — Fightin' Words
The Paradox of the Self
A Radical Non-Duality FAQ
What We Think We Know
Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark
Healing From Ourselves
The Entanglement Hypothesis
Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What's Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
How Our Bodies Sense the World
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
Mindful Wanderings (Reflections) (Archive)
A Prayer to No One
Frogs' Hollow (Short Story)
We Do What We Do (Poem)
Negative Assertions (Poem)
Reminder (Short Story)
A Canadian Sorry (Satire)
Under No Illusions (Short Story)
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Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
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