By Jesse D. Palmer
There are always paths open for making life better for ourselves, those around us and the planet if we can keep our hearts open, value the right goals and seize opportunities. It is easy to feel lost and powerless in the face of seemingly constant crisis — climate catastrophe, poverty, racism, homelessness, war. The system keeps us overwhelmed at jobs that destroy the environment to make a few oligarchs even wealthier. Life shouldn’t be like this.
We need to detach from the machine and refuse to go with the program. The constant rat race makes it hard to find time to envision, dream and discuss where we want to go and how we can get there. Let’s put down the phone and stop running around to the next thing — instead maybe light a candle, breathe, meditate, hold hands and think for a moment.
Alternative values are essential. The system reduces life to chasing money and organizes everything around competition, efficiency, and isolated individualism. People end up like machines serving machines. But we are not machines — we’re animals, we are nature — sweaty, earthy, passionate.
How about we focus on human goals: freedom, adventure, beauty, pleasure, taste, smell, sound and touch. Sharing and cooperating with those we love. Wandering and trying new things — just to experience them ourselves. Keeping close to the earth and getting our hands dirty gardening, building stuff, fixing bikes and turning the compost.
In a culture that worships sterility, obedience and conformism, I prefer to be with freaks and people living life off the beaten track. Sometimes when I’m feeling discouraged with world news, I wonder what can I possibly do? I want to try to share and export the day-to-day experience of living in the East Bay where so many people aren’t worrying about socially approved goals but instead are doing their own thing making art, free piles, music, labyrinths, bike parties.
It doesn’t help to wallow in doom. We’re all human — we’re all in this together. The sharpest things that appear to divide us like borders and politics are just made up. Everyone wants the same things — self-determination, self-actualization, safety and enough to get by. I am so exhausted how the worst humans qualities — greed, violence and hate — dominate our lives. These qualities are actually rare and the exception — most people are decent and most interactions we have with others go just fine. This is not the impression you get if you look at mass media. If aliens visited earth, they would be be most struck by our inventiveness, diversity, curiosity and the way we naturally tend to help each other. The pandemic has pushed a lot of interactions on-line which is not healthy for social relations. How can grassroots radicals organize more opportunities for face-to-face interaction?
One of the biggest dangers flows from dehumanizing other people. When someone is an other, you can treat them carelessly like an object — something to make a profit from or harm. When you see each person as like yourself — part of a we — the question becomes how to build community. Rather than concentrating on ourdisagreements, what do we have in common? Those in power want to emphasize social divisions — rural/urban, red state/blue state, black/white — to turn ordinary people against each other so we don’t unite against this unjust system.
The struggle for a better world isn’t just about endless activist meetings — but only seeking personal satisfaction also gets boring. We’re social creatures — we yearn for a connection to something larger than ourselves. Maybe some people can ignore the pain of the world, but most people notice and it harms us to see so much plastic, droughts, floods and strangers suffering.
Fighting back to create something new requires overcoming our fears — of sticking out, discomfort and risk, or even just spending time that doesn’t end up making any difference. The pay-off is that bravery in the face of domination and destruction can make our lives meaningful when we’re confused and drifting. Enough feeling scared and stuck and frustrated. It’s time to move in a positive direction.