cartoon by the incomparable Michael Leunig
For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that, no matter where in the world I lived, I don’t think I would vote in the next election. I have always voted, even if it involved voting for the least awful choice, or voting for some candidate who had no chance of winning, just on principle.
My new agnosticism doesn’t stem from bitterness or disillusionment, but rather from learning, over the past ten years particularly, that no one, including politicians, has any control or choice over what they think, believe and do. And it stems from the realization that each one of us is doing our best. Our politicians will believe and do what they have been conditioned to do, and that conditioning so transcends ideological and political lines that it really doesn’t matter, now, who is in office.
So, Canada’s lightweight PM Trudeau Jr buying ruinous pipelines, back-pedalling on right-to-die laws, supporting the seizure and theft of Russian and Afghan citizens’ bank accounts, toadying to Biden’s proxy war in Ukraine, buying cast-off US military equipment at absurdly inflated prices instead of investing in needed public services, etc. He really thinks he’s doing the right thing. He’s doing his best.
Likewise, the doddering Biden, spearheading proxy wars against Russia and China at the risk of nuclear Armageddon, expanding arctic and gulf drilling for oil and gas despite past ecological horrors in both places, bombing the Nord Stream pipelines, accelerating US interference in dozens of foreign countries’ internal affairs, refusing to address obscene income inequality with even modest tax reform, his horrific treatment of immigrants, etc. He thinks he’s doing the right thing too. He’s doing his best.
The alternatives make me shudder, but no longer enough that I would go to the polls to vote against them. Trump had power for 4 years and did no worse than any other recent president. Harper had power in Canada for a decade and likewise didn’t do a significantly worse job than Trudeau.
I have always been a leftist, and as I’ve grown older I have moved even further left. Anything less than unprecedentedly radical new laws, enforced regulations, and considerable sacrifice by at least the wealthiest 20% of the world, will have zero impact on the accelerating collapse of our global economy and ecology. Not only is there no political will for such change, our systems could not manage it even if there were. (Look at the absurd situation we are in with trying to eliminate useless twice-yearly time changes — despite overwhelming across-the-spectrum support for this simple change, we are utterly impotent to implement it.)
I have grown disenchanted with my leftie colleagues, who are for the most part even more preoccupied with the blame game now that the shit is hitting the fan.
The latest villains in this game are “modernity” and “capitalism”. Capitalism was always a bad idea, in my opinion, especially when twinned with radical deregulation of corporations. But capitalism and capitalist are just labels. There is no global cabal of evil or insane extreme capitalists that have conspired for 70 years to oppress everyone else and take over the world. The current extreme inequality in our world is the result of a very large bunch of (IMO misguided) executives, conditioned to believe the US model of untrammelled ‘free’ enterprise and unregulated markets will ultimately result in the optimal distribution of the planet’s resources, and making decisions to strive toward that objective. They honestly believe this is the best way (or the only way) to run a business. And they are constantly conditioning each other to reinforce that folly.
As for modernity, the best definition of this term I have come up with is “whatever is new that I personally think is bad”. That makes this abstract term a convenient whipping boy, since we all think some new things are bad, even though the things we think are bad may be the polar opposite of what the next guy thinks. Yet we can both agree that “modernity” is the problem.
I am increasingly thinking of this (“my”) body in the third person, as something that does what it has been conditioned to do, with “me” just rationalizing those actions after the fact as somehow being “mine” and somehow making sense. Rather than being disengaging, I’m finding this quite liberating.
There is in fact no such thing as “me” or “you”. There is only everything, undivided, appearing astonishingly and inexplicably and always new, and not necessarily for any reason. “Me” is just an illusion, an artefact of the model that the brain constructs to try to make sense of everything, when nothing needs to make sense. “Me” is a placeholder until a better model can be evolved that doesn’t require a “me”, or anything singular, at all.
So while I think capitalism was and is a terrible idea poorly implemented, I don’t blame it, or anyone, for the accelerating economic and ecological collapse that will likely bring human civilization to an end, and may even render our species, along with many others, extinct. These bodies are all just acting out their conditioning, doing their best, very badly for the world. Blaming some group or other accomplishes nothing. IMO it doesn’t even make us feel better.
Some of my leftist friends have asked me: If no one is to blame, and if there’s nothing we can do, are you telling us we should just give up and let the current crop of neofascists take over everything?
And my answer is: You cannot choose to give up (or not give up), and if our collective conditioning is leading to predominantly neofascist governments, then that is what is going to happen no matter what we do or don’t do.
We are going to do, and believe, and think, and feel, each of us, what our conditioning leads us to do, and believe, and think, and feel.
And it’s even worse than that: When I say “we”, I am actually referring to our bodies. It is our bodies that act, not always in the way that “we” (the rationalizing selves captive inside those bodies) would expect or prefer. We would suffer a lot less if we were able to give up the pretence that “we” are in control of those bodies. “We” merely try to make sense of what they do after the fact (and congratulate or blame ourselves accordingly, and unwarrantedly).
So what is any righteous-thinking far-leftie to think, and do? Since what we (fictive selves) think and purport to do makes absolutely no difference to what happens in the world anyway, it really doesn’t matter. But then, we have no choice but to pretend that what our selves think and do actually matter. So what this far-leftie thinks and does, is:
- Pay attention, keep an open mind, listen and learn. It makes no difference, but it is comforting, and sometimes even enjoyable, and even pleasurable.
- Communicate about it with other selves. We selves compulsively try to make sense of things, and when nothing actually has to make sense, and nothing seems to make sense, it can at least be helpful to compare notes. I’m chronicling civilization’s collapse not for fame or to prompt radical action, but because it’s fun and interesting, and what I write may be fun and interesting to other selves, and vice versa. It’s a pretty harmless hobby.
- Identify ways in which the past and current trajectory of events in our world might have turned out, and perhaps might still turn out, much better than could have been expected. But at the same time I don’t hold out any expectations that those ideals were or will be possible outcomes. It’s fine to play the hypothetical “what if we had done this…” game, and a lot healthier than playing the dismal and heart-breaking “what we all need to do now…” game.
- Try to remind myself that, despite appearances, everything that appears to be happening is just a play unfolding outside anyone’s control. If you’re watching a movie or a play and you start to take it too seriously, the enjoyment evaporates and you start to suffer. What I think and believe and say and feel and do has no consequence in this great play, this unfolding of appearances on this massive stage. I (my self) is just one of the dogs barking in the stands at what’s annoyingly happening on the stage. But it’s still fun to watch, and to formulate thoughts and feelings about what’s happening up there, as long as I keep reminding myself that none of it matters.
Of course, I would never disrespect another person who is suffering from some terrible trauma or devastating loss or injury, by suggesting to them that it’s all just appearances and shouldn’t be taken seriously. I spent enough of my first sixty years on this planet suffering from horrific depression, and a good part of that recovering from somewhat traumatizing childhood events, and I can certainly be compassionate towards others’ suffering.
Yet I can still appreciate that this suffering is the result of our selves’ well-intentioned attempt to make sense of things, to exert control. That suffering is, to the self, absolutely real and irredeemable, often a lifelong agony and burden. But while the pain, the terror, the rage, and the sorrow were and are absolutely real, the suffering is entirely of our own selves’ sincere invention. That does not diminish it, but it can explain it.
So if the neofascists win the next election, in Canada or the US or elsewhere, I will understand that that is the only thing that could have happened, given our collective conditioning and the circumstances of the moment. And if something happens that allows a truly radical-left government to try its hand at making a difference, I will be watching with interest. But not with expectation.
I might even vote. But if that’s the case, it will be this body’s decision, not mine.