Last month I reported on the first part of Curtis White’s two-part article in Orion, lambasting self-righteous and passive environmentalists, called The Idols of Environmentalism. At that time I included these extracts:
We can, however, look at ourselves and see all of the ways that we conspire against what we imagine to be our own most urgent interests. Perhaps the most powerful way in which we conspire against ourselves is the simple fact that we have jobs. We are willingly part of a world designed for the convenience of what Shakespeare called ‘the visible God’: money. When I say we have jobs, I mean that we find in them our home, our sense of being grounded in the world, grounded in a vast social and economic order. It is a spectacularly complex, even breathtaking, order, and it has two enormous and related problems. First, it seems to be largely responsible for the destruction of the natural world. Second, it has the strong tendency to reduce the human beings inhabiting it to two functions, working and consuming. It tends to hollow us out. It creates a hole in our sense of ourselves and of this country, and it leaves us with few alternatives but to try to fill that hole with money and the things money buys…Needless to say, many people with environmental sympathies will easily agree with what I’ve just said and imagine that in fact they do what they can to resist work and consumption, to resist the world as arranged for the convenience of money. But here again I suspect we are kidding ourselves. Rather than taking the risk of challenging the roles money and work play in all of our lives by actually taking the responsibility for reordering our lives, the most prominent strategy of environmentalists seems to be to give back to nature through the bequests, the annuities, the Working Assets credit cards and long distance telephone schemes, and the socially responsible mutual funds advertised in Sierra and proliferating across the environmental movement. Such giving may make us feel better, but it will never be enough… We’re willing to be generous in order to ‘save the world’ but not before we’ve insured our own survival in the reigning system…
Even when we are trying to aid the environment, we are not willing as individuals to leave the system that we know in our heart of hearts is the cause of our problems. We are even further from knowing how to take the collective risk of leaving this system entirely and ordering our societies differently. We are not ready. Not yet, at least.
Now Orion has posted the second part of the article, entitled The Ecology of Work. White is so eloquent that, rather than try to paraphrase, I wanted to tease you to read the full article (and to subscribe to Orion) with these additional extracts (emphases mine):
I don’t believe that capitalism can become green, simply because the imperatives of environmentalism are not part of its way of reasoningÖ Ever the optimistic gambler with other people’s money, the capitalist is willing to wager that, while there may be costs to pay, he won’t have to pay them. Animals, plants, [future generations], impoverished people near and far may have to pay, but he bets that he won’t. If called upon to defend his actions, he will of course argue that he has a constitutionally protected right to property and the pursuit of his own happiness. This is his “freedom.” At that point, we have the unfortunate habit of shutting up when we ought to reply, “Yes, but yours is a freedom without conscience.”[And so the world of nature is externalized in our minds to become merely] a place to go for a weekend hike before returning to the unrelenting ugliness, hostility, sterility, and spiritual bankruptcy that is the suburb, the strip mall, the office building, and the freeway (our “national automobile slum,” as James Howard Kunstler puts it).
The violence that we know as environmental destruction is possible only because of a complex economic, administrative, and social machinery through which people are separated from responsibility for their misdeeds. We say, “I was only doing my job”Ö It is only possible to conclude from our behavior for the last two hundred years that ours is not a human society; that it is a society outside of the human in some terrible sense…The kind of work provided by capitalism [is] alienating. That is, it [has] made us something other than what we are. It [has] dehumanized usÖ We all have our place, our “job,” and it is an ever less human place.
We have two options: First, we can simply wait for the catastrophic failure of global capitalism as a functioning economic systemÖ[Or] we can start providing for a different world of work now, before the catastrophe. We need to insist on work that is not destructive…[This requires] leaving a culture based on the idea of success as the accumulation of wealth-as-money. In its place we need a culture that understands success as lifeÖ Most of us want to believe that our quarrel is just with [a few] rogue corporationsÖand not with capitalism as such. But thinking this is simply a form of lying. We deny what we can plainly see because to acknowledge it would require the fundamental reshaping of our entire way of living, and that is (not unreasonably) frightening for most people.
The risk I propose is simply a return to our nobility. We should refuse to be mere functions of a system that we cannot in good conscience defend. And we should insist on a recognition of the mystery, the miracle, and the dignity of things, from frogs to forests, simply because they are. [This] would entail a refusal to play through to the bloody end the social and economic roles into which we happen to have been born. What lies beyond the environmental movement is not only the overcoming of capitalism but self-overcomingÖThe deeper problem is our own integration into an order of work that makes us inhuman and thus tolerant of what is nothing less than demonic, the destruction of our own world.
White is telling us we must do what Daniel Quinn has been telling us to do for a decade: walk away from civilization culture. He acknowledges how frightening the prospect of doing this is. He acknowledges that instinctively we know that this is what we must do. And he acknowledges that what I have called Let-Self-Change is the first, hardest step. It requires that we let go of the only life we know, to pursue, as a matter of intuition and faith, a better way of living, one that, for now, we know nothing about, that we are not equipped for, and which could, in the short run, cause us and our loved ones considerable hardship. We will be like the pioneers first landing on a new continent, except, unlike them, we in our overcrowded world will have to do that pioneering right in the midst of the culture we are walking away from, and liberate the land and ourselves from that culture. And we will have to do it with almost none of the self-sufficiency skills that previous pioneers had.
We will be looking (we are already looking) for leaders who can show us the way. We will look in vain until it is too late, until our culture collapses and we have no choice but to try to create a new one in its ruins, when we will have no resources or time left to do so and when all our energy will be expended just trying to stay alive. We’ll be carried along on the long right tail of all civilizations in their slow, final slide into oblivion.
Though there are no leaders to follow, there is a model on which we could, together with other brave new pioneers, create a new culture, now. It is the model by which every non-human creature on the planet lives, if we only cared enough and paid close enough attention to see it. It is a model where land and the rest of nature and all-life-on-Earth are treated with respect. It is a model of abundance, not scarcity, of living in balance, not in conflict. It is a model of joy, not suffering. It is a model of partnership, not hierarchy. It is a model of caring for, not competing with, each other. It is a model of responsibility, not exploitation. It is a model of steady-state slow evolution, not rapid growth. It is a model of community, not empire. It is a model of well-being and self-sufficiency. It is a model of constant learning and adaptation. It is a model of love and of peace. It is a model where we are always home, and never homeless. It is a model that exists and thrives all around us, in the midst of our culture, yet is not a part of it, is free from it, untouched by it, indifferent to it.
If we learn, quickly and soon, to listen, to imagine, to pay attention, at least some of us might, in community, find the courage (and courage is really just not having any other conceivable choice) to walk away, to live lightly and freely and joyfully, to join our fellow creatures in another, thriving, healthy culture in the midst of our terrible, struggling one. The answer is right in front of us, and our patient, furred and feathered fellow citizens of Earth are calling us, waiting to welcome us home.
I will be writing another article on how we might do this, soon. In the meantime, help me imagine how such a Next Culture, much more radical (in the true sense of the word) than anything White or Quinn has envisioned, might emerge right in the midst of dying civilization culture. What if we just opted out of civilization’s economic and political systems, like the Anasazi and some others who saw their civilizations collapsing did. Renounced citizenship, liquidated all we owned and put it in a shared trust, for emergency use only, by a trustee we could really trust. Refused to recognize ‘ownership’ of land. Commenced a long migration to a land where we could gather natural, healthy food naturally, where we would need no permanent shelter, no heat, no clothing, nothing to buy or own, no place to have to stay. Where we could spread out so that our presence would have a light touch and not oppress the land we occupied. A new triberelearning how to live in balance with the rest of life on Earth.
Can you imagine that?
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
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
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
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
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
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
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:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
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
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
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)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
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A Conversation (Short Story)
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