No Choice But To Resist

Image of Ken Ward in 2016 Valve-Turners action, from the film The Reluctant Radical

Aurélien’s latest article is about moving past despair and hope and doing what needs to be done to actually make a positive difference, no matter how small or temporary, in spite of everything.

He starts on this cheerful note:

It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before: a sour, disillusioned, almost nihilistic attitude, that extends well beyond anger with our broken political class. In my observation, in several countries, people have mostly just given up. They are beyond anger, and most of all beyond hope. There is no belief in even the possibility of a turn for the better, and a pervasive sense that we are near the end, and that things are falling apart now quite quickly. As I’ve suggested on a number of occasions, this decline goes beyond just government, to encompass the private sector, the media, education, and just about anything else that requires a bit of organisation and a dash of competence. So as somebody put it to me this week: “everything is shit and nothing works.”

Well, yes. I have noticed this attitude and demeanour among those blessed with the time and inclination to think about their situation. That’s most of the people I tend to run into in my privileged life, but I suspect it’s not most people in the world — people who are just desperately and ceaselessly muddling through their awful, high-stress, impossibly-busy lives. I’ve been hearing this plaint since at least as far back as Derrick Jensen’s famous 2006 Orion article Beyond Hope.

The place beyond both hope and despair is not a place of acquiescence, Aurélien asserts. It is, rather, a place of resistance, marked by an insistence on refusing to go along with the outrages we see, even though that resistance is, as the Borg would say, futile. It’s about doing what Adam Gopnik calls “a thousand small sanities”. And it’s about that terrible word grace.

The lessons of history suggest that we cannot just give up. It is not in us not to resist. It is in our nature to resist, even when it is hopeless. We have no choice in the matter.

So then — How do we resist? I think the answer to this depends on our situation, our circumstances and our basic character. For some of us, Aurélien says, it starts with the simple realization that we cannot do this anymore. So there is what I have called a “walking away” (a term coined by Daniel Quinn) happening — a refusal to participate in activities that we know, deep down, are contributing to collapse or some other immediate outrage. A gradual dropping out from the systems that no longer serve us, if they ever did.

For others, more driven by a personal moral compass, resistance starts with the realization that, in spite of everything — including personal danger, public opprobrium, loss of friends etc — we are going to do this because it is the right thing to do.

Others may be driven by an insistence on always being able to face their children and grandchildren with pride about what they did to make their generations’ world better, or at least mitigate how quickly and drastically it became worse, in spite of everything.

No matter what drives us to resist, Aurélien says, it comes down to “a question of identifying what we can do that might actually be productive and helpful, and getting on with it, even if it’s not very glamorous”. He goes on:

We have to look around and see what we can do, and do it. I am personally convinced that the major political and economic structures of the West are past saving. To that degree, there is no point in “fighting” against something which is already falling apart. We need to look rather into our own lives, to resist what we can resist, to undermine what we can undermine, but most of all to create what we can create. Acting in ways not demanded by current neoliberal ideology, acting with kindness, understanding, and genuine tolerance, are a form of resistance in themselves. Giving money to a homeless person is an act of resistance in a way that writing a political blog isn’t.

This resistance he describes, finally, as a form of grace. This is a handy word, kind of like peace, or love, in that it’s pretty hard to argue against it. But what is grace, ultimately? The dictionary defines it as having to do with elegance, refinement, courtesy, goodwill, dignity, politeness, kindness, fairness, and honour, sometimes in the face of great challenges.

But all of this assumes we have some kind of choice over what we do and don’t do. And as you probably know, I don’t think we have any choice, control or free will over any of it. We are all doing our best, and that ‘best’ is entirely determined by our biological and cultural conditioning. Splashing paint on artworks, or kidnaping state governors, are certainly not my idea of a ‘best’ response to a perceived outrage, but I can accept that, with the ‘right’ conditioning, such a response might seem appropriate or even necessary.

So if one’s response to an outrage like the Nord Stream pipeline bombing, the Palestine genocide, our species’ collective response to the pandemic, or our leaders’ response to ecological collapse, is perceived to be either grace-ful and wise, or grace-less and foolish, it’s not as if there was any choice in the matter. Grace, perhaps, is in the eye of the beholder. I thought the valve-turners communicated their outrage, and demonstrated resistance, with consummate grace; others, clearly, did not.

We will do what we will do. There is a point, I think, when each of us reaches the point at which some outrage, as small as a personal insult or as large as civilization’s collapse, can no longer be tolerated and must be resisted. We have no choice as to when that point comes or what form our resistance takes.

For some, like Aurélien, our conditioning will likely lead us to consider, in our actions of resistance, the effectiveness, rationality and dangers of those actions, and to do things that are ultimately “productive and helpful”, though that, too, is a subjective assessment. For many others, their conditioning will likely provoke them to react emotionally, impulsively, and perhaps violently.

What that all adds up to — the cumulative effect of all of our conditioned actions and reactions in the face of any particular outrage, at each person’s ‘resistance’ point — cannot be predicted.

I suspect that, like the actions and reactions we are presently witnessing in response to current perceived outrages, they will not be particularly graceful. But they will be ‘our best’. Stay tuned.

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3 Responses to No Choice But To Resist


    Another article proving the rotten social darwinism that masks as good inentions

    This is why the left is killing itself by 1000 cufs. It has forgotten what it stood for and is now operating on postmodernist autopilot with no clear endgame. I have no regrets sayin to hell with you useful idiots for the globalist shills.

  2. Joe Clarkson says:

    For those with enough courage, the best resistance is sabotage (like the valve turners). I’m sure Edward Abbey’s novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang” was an inspiration for a scattering of sabotage (well before Richard Powers’ “The Overstory”). We can argue about the most effective kind of sabotage, but I’ll put my money on a synthetic virus, or perhaps critical electrical transformer damage or a cyber attack on the grid would do enough. Bring down the grid and everything stops and cities die. I see “Lights Out” by Ted Koppel as a hopeful book.

    For those who just can’t quite join in criminal sabotage, the best option is escape, to flee to some situation that has a chance of surving collapse. Nuclear war during collapse would make survival difficult, but I think it can still be done, especially for those in the southern hemisphere. Doomer-preppers like me choose this option.

    Unfortunately, the ratio of do-nothings to saboteurs and escapists is well over a thousand to one. Moderns will just keep doing anything they can to stay alive in their cities, right up until the point critical supply chains fail. It’s also unfortunate that this inevitable failure / collapse will probably be well after the climate is consigned to hothouse earth temperatures.

    But if industrial civilization fails soon enough, the few people who survive might have a chance for a liveable climate. But it better be very soon.

  3. Vera says:

    Seems to me that one of the best ways to sabotage the system would be to live (and write) as though the plurality of ideas is a good thing. There is much talk about moving away from a unipolar world, to one that has many centers of power and influence. How about assuming, likewise, that many ideas, schools of thought, and viewpoints is a good thing, and far preferable to a monoculture of ideas?

    Just like that, we can leave a lot of current squabbles behind, and focus on the really important stuff, like survival and thriving.

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