Each day there are opportunities for resistance, liberation, freedom, creativity, engagement, and meaning. It is easy to miss these opportunities and get distracted and bogged down by day-to-day hassles — stuck in traffic, staring at the internet, emotionally numb, confused, and feeling disconnected from anything important. There are no easy answers about how to live our lives but we all make choices about where we put our time, our energy, and our passion. While you can never guarantee the outcome, if you aren’t even putting time and energy on a daily basis into some kind of alternative to the mainstream economic / cultural / political / technological system, your tomorrow is going to end up similar to your today. By contrast, as tough, frustrating and scary as it can be, putting some of your life every day into the counter-culture and alternatives to the system makes a difference — at least in the way you experience your own life.
You can look at the discouraging state of the world with its wars, oil spills, sweatshops, global warming, and Velveeta culture, and feel lost and powerless. Very powerful corporate and government structures have devised many ways to maintain the status quo. But something has to give. We live on a finite planet — if our lives are reduced to ever-increasing mass industrial consumption while population continues its increase, our species will push ecological systems beyond their limits and we’ll suffer collapse. It may be we’ve already gone too far and this process is already beginning.
The powers that be are betting on a technological fix to the problem of a finite planet that won’t threaten the existing power structure with its unequal distribution of power and centralized decision-making — a way to keep living as we’re living. Even if this was possible, a technological breakthrough would not address the dehumanizing way the system subordinates human needs for freedom, meaning and engagement to the needs of the system.
What we need is a cultural and political breakthrough — a total shift in values and social structures in which human satisfaction, expression and connection with the moment, other people and the earth become more important than acquiring and consuming things and services.
Whereas a government / corporate technological fix requires funding for research in universities and corporate labs, a values breakthrough requires reviving community and creating more vibrant dialog, independent organizing outside of the system’s imperatives, and an explosion of creative and visionary experimentation. Even people with a critique of the current system and a yearning for change don’t yet know what a new world will look like or how we can create one. Our values and understanding is limited by the world we inhabit. Our ability to cooperate and communicate with others — our self-knowledge and capacity for universal love –are always inadequate to the task at hand and in the process of evolving, growing and developing.
In figuring out what to do day-to-day, it can be helpful to keep in mind our most visionary goals and values and then work backwards to figure out how we can live them. People should be able to live decent lives without hurting other people and without hurting the earth. We must have freedom, meaning, excitement, opportunities to fulfill our individual potential, chances to be close to other people, and space to enjoy beauty, the natural world, and pleasure. This means we have to be safe from violence, have self-determination and have sufficient material resources to meet our needs.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the need to keep my greater goals in mind and reverse engineer them to figure out how to negotiate a complex series of bummers at the Long Haul infoshop collective in Berkeley. Actual involvement in any human project is not like a visionary Slingshot article. Instead, it is messy, compromised, potentially discouraging and complex. Things can be ambiguous and sometimes you can’t solve a problem, you can only pick the least bad option. When you get frustrated like that, you need to step back. Instead of getting stuck in each specific problem — which could easily trap you in an endless and depressing cycle of reaction and negativity — maybe you can figure out a way to change the level of discourse. Maybe a positive new initiative can do more good than struggling to fix an impossible knot.
At the end of the day, I would rather be engaged in a meaningful, exciting, deeply human, creative, and yet marginal, dysfunctional and struggling counter-culture than clinging to the status quo that chases absurd goals and is crumbling.