By Jesse D. Palmer
Please take a deep breath with me, and try not to freak out. A lot of people are getting paralyzed with relentless scary apocalyptic news and too much social media exposure. This constant level of negative distraction is causing anxiety, depression, and preventing us from focusing on making coherent plans to fight back. This is not an accident. Those in power want to terrify us. They want to dominate the narrative and framing of what’s going on. They want to keep us focused on reacting to the latest outrage so we’re constantly off balance. Computer companies make money the more we stare at our phones, and so these tools manipulate our emotions to keep us hooked up.
We do not have to live like this – in a world organized around fear, division, scarcity, control and dehumanizing technology. We can create structures based on cooperation, justice, harmony with nature, freedom, generosity, playfulness and connection, not alienation.
The most important shift is psychological – calming our minds and believing in our collective power. The slogan “we are the 99%” is still right on. The unjust system serves a few thousand billionaires at the expense of everyone else. Without our labor, our consent, our going along with the machine, this rotten system can be swept away.
Even though ecological collapse seems overwhelming and too far along to resist, giving up in defeat, resignation and sadness will not help – doing so throws away any slim chances we might have. While the current system is suicidally unsustainable, it might not be too late to save some things. We have the knowledge and technology to get along without destroying our planet – but those in power make so much money and get so much power from the way things are that they are sacrificing the future while we watch, feeling grim and helpless.
Since our collective psychology is the key out of this mess, our first task is to ground ourselves – calm our minds – and think our own thoughts rather than reacting to hypnotizing bad news from our cell phones.
We need to shift our focus to what we want, not what we’re against. And beyond our interior thoughts, we need to articulate our values and discuss them widely with our friends, our family, our neighbors.
It is crucial to recognize that life, other people, the earth, and the experiences our lives offer are good, pleasurable, beautiful, worthwhile and meaningful. While politicians and media emphasize fear, division and hate, most parts of our un-mediated lives are not like that at all.
The people we actually know and interact with day-to-day are mostly okay – spending lives caring about our friends, our pets and gardens, and our family and neighbors. Sure, there are some mean and abusive people out there, and not everything goes great all the time, but overall people are doing their best, taking care of stuff around them and giving a shit.
So when engaging with the ways in which things are apocalyptic – the earth is threatened, the economy is collapsing, armed racists are killing people – we have to balance the awareness of being in a time of unprecedented danger against our lived reality. What type of risk are we really in today? When danger is immediate, one has to jump out of the way, but facing generalized risk means there is a little time to think and plan.
We cannot know what crazy things the world will throw at us next. What matters is not so much a specific 10-point plan, but developing and practicing values that can help guide us no matter what comes up. Caring about other people – being generous not selfish – being creative not boring and grim — and supporting each individual to pursue what pleases them are good places to start. These values lead to mutual aid, cooperation, and relating to others without ownership or rulers. Communities and systems can be organized from each according to ability and to each according to need. We can cooperate to get what we need without exploiting others or concentrating power.
Environmentally sustainable values focus on using land and resources mindfully and only for what we need, not for greed or profit. We need to value beauty and fun more highly than cheapness, speed or efficiency.
Power grabs, increased repression and chaos are related to a dam breaking — releasing pressure built up over decades of wealth being concentrated at the top while regular people’s income and wellbeing has stagnated and declined. The pace of technological and social change has finally become unmanageable, and a way we individually experience it is that everything feels out of control. But this hasn’t come out of nowhere – we’ve been the frog in the gradually warming pot. We’re realizing — I hope before it is too late — that we’re about to get cooked.
The rulers causing these unsustainable conditions are trying to turn ordinary people against each other lest we all unite against them – intentionally stoking divisions based on race, urban vs. rural, employment sector, and other made-up divisions.
When you’re in pain, you want to lash out at someone, but what we need now is solidarity in the biggest sense. Not within groups that are already culturally and mentally cohesive — activist-speak solidarity — but across sharp boundaries. Solidarity with people you don’t feel much in common with based on common humanity, shared suffering and mutual interest. It is hard to know how to get this going — it won’t be possible over the internet which favors echo chambers and antagonism.
The corruption and cruelty modeled by those in power is encouraging sloppy individual bad behavior. Perhaps a response is to be extra compassionate in traffic, in communal houses, in collectives, in families, to folks on the street or at the store. A time of collapse and instability is not the time to tear up our personal bonds when we need them as strong as possible. Experiencing and expressing gratitude for things that are still good rather than focusing on resentment and shit-talking is personally healing and socially helps nurture resilient and empowered communities.
Early in the pandemic lockdown as commerce was put on hold, local and grassroots community, solidarity, and mutual aid suddenly re-emerged. Despite the unfortunately named social distancing, I began feeling closer to those around me than I had before. There were people spontaneously singing and dancing in the streets all over the place. And while a lot of things went online, a lot more people around here are still walking on the streets and often saying hi. A lot has happened since the early days of the lockdown, but that wide collective feeling is something to hold on to, build upon, and harness.
The constant dislocations of the pandemic, economic meltdown, rightwing attacks, wildfires and general chaos are not the revolution we imagined, but we need to recognize moments of rapid and dramatic change when they happen, seize on them, and turn them into something positive.