By Jesse D. Palmer
So much of our world is unsustainable — the weather is going crazy, cities are too expensive for regular people, mainstream politics are an endless spiral of distracting chaos, income inequality keeps getting more extreme, there’s camping on every sidewalk. People stare into their phones in a state of anxiety and isolation, replacing facts with propaganda while abandoning privacy and time to think. While some people are checking-out or in denial, others are lashing out in rage and despair — in extreme cases shooting up schools or joining hate groups. Things can’t keep going like this, which is precisely what “unsustainable” means.
We’re on the edge of a cliff — which can be exciting if your going hang-gliding but scary if your about to be pushed off. We need to decide if we’re going to be crushed beneath the massive shifts that are upon us, or if we want to help steer the course of events. If so, we’ll need to be organized and have vision.
The only real answers are coming from the underground. We need to start paying attention to fun and life, not profit and technology. Cultures are tools that can enable human beings to live more fulfilling lives so we can explore each of our unique talents and appetites. But this culture has it all backwards — people have become tools serving the system’s abstract goals of production, efficiency, speed, consumption and standardization.
Why is fast food the norm and slow food a pleasure reserved for the rich? Eating food is our most basic natural, animal function and we evolved to enjoy food — to enjoy it slow — to savor every delicious bite. Meals are times to build social connections with rambling groups of comrades, to tell jokes, to build sexual tension. The system selling us a fast lunch so we can rush back to work is unsustainable environmentally, spiritually and politically. So instead, we’re taking back the pleasure of growing our food, of cooking it, of eating — of direct experience rather than having the system do for us the very experiences that make us living beings on a living world.
We need to cooperate and make decisions for ourselves rather than letting the system break us into ever smaller managed, isolated, lonely boxes. We’re replacing corporations with coops and replacing condos with communes. The stuff we do with our days should matter both to the world and to the people doing it rather than just being a job we hate that serves the elite. When we cooperate to make stuff, grow food, or build households, we exercise direct participation in the decisions that relate to our lives rather than being powerless workers, voters or consumers.
The nuclear family is as toxic and unsustainable as it sounds because kids and parents need complex connections with adults who aren’t their parents of all ages — and people without kids shouldn’t have to live without the chaos and energy that kids and childrearing generate. The arbitrary separation of families from each other and everyone else — each armed with their own car and their own washing machine — is unsustainable environmentally and emotionally.
We need to reject the artificial separations between the way we live, the economy, politics, the technology we use and the environment — they’re all on a continuum and we can’t fix one part without fixing everything.
Limiting disastrous climate change and thereby perhaps postponing our own extinction isn’t impossible or unthinkable, unless we want to preserve all the broken, unjust, joyless aspects of the present system. Why on earth would we want to keep things that aren’t working the same at the expense of this world’s beautiful ecosystem? That would be crazy — and therefore unsustainable.
If we want to limit carbon emissions, that means we need to immediately block new fossil fuel infrastructure, and begin dismantling what’s already around. This isn’t so hard because it aligns with what makes us happy, healthy and engaged with other people and ourselves. Who wants to be stuck in their darn car or sold the lie that cars represent freedom and sex appeal? It’s time for less cars, more bikes, denser cities, no more airplanes and less kids per person — but yes let’s keep having kids and raising them as ziblings (*unrelated siblings) in big purple communes.
Has anyone else noticed how the rise of Uber means there are more cars on the road day and night and you see people hunched over phones in idling cars fucking everywhere? At least turn off the motor if you’re just sitting there — it wastes gas and it smells. And really just take the bus or walk. Everyone hates the idea of the oceans filling with plastic, which begs the question “can we please stop buying more plastic already?” The hour is far too late to hope other people will make the changes that we need to make on our own. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t holding the bosses and corporations responsible for the reckless, poisonous options they peddle — this isn’t up to individuals to solve on their own. This isn’t about being green consumers — we reject being consumers of any color.
Perhaps the most unstable aspect of this system is the way 1% of the population owns more than half the world’s wealth — and climbing. This inequality causes so much day-to-day suffering and is so easy to fix with what we were taught in kindergarten — learn to share! Inequality on this scale is unsustainable and is responsible for diverse dysfunctions — health problems, rising nationalism, violence, mental illness, housing displacement.
In cities, everyone’s anxious because housing is scarce and unaffordable which we summarize as gentrification. It is past time to redistribute the wealth so everyone can afford a place to live. Even if we make a land trust, where’s the money going to come from to buy the neighborhoods? Let’s seize and share the land instead — much less paperwork.
The recent wildcat teachers strikes provide a tiny glimpse of how it’s done. We need to stop begging the elite for crumbs and point out the obvious — this shit doesn’t work and we can do better. We need to move beyond protesting against stuff, and instead spend our energy creating positive change.
The current ways are finished — none of the system’s ways are either natural or inevitable. This isn’t about single issue politics — because all the various systems of hierarchy, sexism, racism, capitalism, technology, short-term thinking, worship of efficiency in areas that don’t demand efficiency and artificial barriers between the head and the heart, between human beings and nature — all these things are killing us and killing the earth.
When everything is falling apart and no one can figure out what might happen next, it’s scary but even more its exciting, sexy, and a damn relief. The collapse we’re in the midst of is long overdue.
The trump regime confirms the dramatic nature of the systems’ disintegration. He offers nothing but division and distraction yet the mainstream power structure, the media and the Democrats are so spiritually, intellectually and politically bankrupt that they are powerless to stop an orange-painted fool.
A society that kills the earth is killing itself and deserves to go — being unsustainable is self-limiting. Because life is fun and I love so many things humans have created despite all our obvious flaws, I’m optimistic that this phase of history will transition and something radically different will emerge soon enough. But make no mistake — banks don’t burn themselves down and social collapse needs all of us as active, creative, joyful participants.
We might find that the one thing that is sustainable — that can last over the long haul, thrive and grow richer and more satisfying the longer we practice it — is the counter-culture and our resistance to the death-system. The web of do-it-yourself, funky, humble alternative institutions that our communities are building voluntarily, without funding, without asking permission, based on values the mainstream doesn’t take seriously like love, pleasure and beauty — these pursuits aren’t dead ends. Making them your life’s work doesn’t entangle you in contradictions between your own needs and the needs of the earth or others around you, but rather takes you places you didn’t know you needed to go. Let’s let our minds wander while we share good times so we can appreciate these wild times together.