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Where Social Justice and Environmental Activists Won’t Go

The Good Men Project

February 7, 2016

by Michael Sliwa

 

 

Social and environmental justice are connected and fighting for those requires being against civilization.

 

When I first began writing and speaking about white privilege and systemic white supremacy, I had a group of fellow activists which I shared a common vision with. Today I’ve attempted to go further down my own personal rabbit hole in search of the roots of our societal injustices while some of my predecessors and contemporaries have become critical of such a journey.

Over the years I have tried to make more connections for folks and myself in my writing and presentations. I’ve come to a place where even many of the most steadfast social justice activists won’t go. They have and continue to speak truth to power concerning our institutions and larger systems but when it comes to looking at the foundation of those institutions and systems many fall silent.

Civilization is rarely on the table when social justice is discussed. That’s not to say there aren’t those talking about the connections between justice and civilization but they are few and very far between. When I began to connect civilization to social justice I lost some folks completely. This could be due to the fact that I may not have presented the material clear enough or well enough, but over the years something tells me there’s more to it. I began to challenge our living arrangement and that for some is not up for negotiation.

 

 

When I say civilization I mean the importation of our goods and services. I mean a division of labor to do so. I mean a hierarchy that requires oppression, violence, killing, environmental degradation and progress to be maintained. I mean the global industrial economy which requires infinite growth on a finite planet to be maintained which of course is impossible.

What I see from many social justice activists is a perspective that views the world through a strictly reform based lens. They want to improve the system. Improving the current state of affairs makes sense. Folks need justice today. What must be considered is a pursuit for the root of our social inequalities and travesties. To pursue the root is radical by definition and therein lies the rub.

Reformists aren’t radicals. They often demonize radicals. They tend to focus on pursuing reform solely within our institutions and systems. Institutions and systems that are the foundations of a hierarchy that requires oppression, violence, killing, and environmental degradation to be maintained. There’s nothing wrong with fighting for change within the status quo but if that’s all we’re doing then we are clearly not trying to find the root of our societal and environmental issues.

 

 

Civilization and in particular, industrial civilization is that root. After all civilization today requires massive hierarchal institutions and systems and they are the pillars of police brutality, incarceration rates, preferential hiring, housing inequities, and an endless list of other discriminatory practices. Some will point to capitalism as the culprit but capitalism and yes even socialism are the children of civilization.

Now one might argue that all of this infrastructure that supports our lives exists because of civilization, to which I agree. There in lies the predicament. If we call for the dismantling of the very infrastructure that promotes and perpetuates massive oppression then we also should sever the head of all we know about living in the world. Being dependent upon civilization is keeping billions of us alive and it’s killing and oppressing people at the same time. What it’s also doing is devouring the very diversity that creates all diversity, biodiversity. This point further cements our predicament.

As activists and as a civilization we are stuck. We want solutions within a framework that is killing the life support systems which provide for our own existence. We want justice in a framework that requires injustice. We want our cake and eat it to. The trouble is the cake is poisonous. It tastes great going down because we see gains in the fight for justice but it also reinforces a system and perpetuates injustice by reforming it instead of dismantling it. We never consider dismantling it because we are fully dependent upon it. We never consider dismantling it because we believe this is the only way to live. Our dependency upon it has taught us that we can solve the unsolvable. Like I said, we are in fact stuck.

 

 

The question of solutions for a predicament has been going on for all of our civilized existence. Predicaments of course have no solutions so civilization is our predicament. How then to proceed? There are plenty of options but they all end badly for not only civilization but for all of humanity. There is no way to maintain an ever growing global economy on a finite planet and therefore there is no way to save 7 plus billion people. Our massive hierarchies have put us into population overshoot. We add almost 238,000 people per day (births minus deaths) and the strain is felt well beyond our own species. Our growing economy grows our population which has given us irreversible climate change. Again our options are plentiful but the outcomes remain painfully the same.

Activists are used to long and slow struggles for justice. What they’re not used to are predicaments. I could go into the variety of choices to address our situation like revolution, abandonment, or even the ill fated reforms but I can only think of one option that goes Beyond Civilization as author Daniel Quinn’s book title so eloquently states. This option goes beyond us and more importantly beyond our species. It cuts to the heart of the matter.

You see we can still fight for justice in our daily lives but at the end of the day instead of limiting our scope to only our societal struggles, maybe we can move towards the exit of such inherent civilized privilege by considering our connections to everything that supports our own existence. In other words, speak truth to power but realize we must let go of all we have become reliant upon in order for it to make any difference in our collective planetary community. Being anti-racist means being anti-civilization. Being a feminist means being anti-civilization. Being a proponent of immigrant rights means being anti-civilization. Social and environmental justice are connected and fighting for those requires being against civilization.

If we can leave any legacy maybe it can be an answer to philosopher Alan Watts question, how do we leave the world alone? We can do this by becoming part of the world again but that’s a place most will not go. The trouble is nature doesn’t negotiate so our living arrangement options aren’t really options at all but a predicament we all must face.

Justice awaits.

 

 

 

[Mike Sliwa is a husband and homesteader. He taught high school for 12 years and left his career for a simpler existence. Currently he and his wife are living off grid, perfecting their durable living skills in rural New Mexico. Mike speaks about a wide variety issues concerning simple living, white privilege, abrupt climate change, Near Term Human Extinction, and other consequences of the civilized industrial global economy. He’s also a co-host for the radio program, Nature Bats Last on the Progressive Radio Network (Prn.fm) and co-founder of the social justice speaking agency truality.org.]

 

FLASHBACK 45 Years, 1971 | “Human Nature: Justice vs. Power”

“Human Nature: Justice vs. Power” debate (1971) (Excerpt)

Michel Foucault:

“…It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.”

 

The Lies of Rehabilitation

Wrong Kind of Green Op-Ed

December 2, 2015

By Forrest Palmer

 

obama federal prison 2

Recently, Barry (more commonly known as President Obama) made history in being the first sitting president to visit a federal prison while in office. He received major kudos from some mainstream press outlets and many people on the liberal/left for doing this. During his time there, Barry had a televised conversation with a few inmates that was broadcast on a special for VICE news. In Barry’s dialogue with the inmates, they told him about the particular circumstances regarding their incarceration, which revolved around drugs, unfair mandatory sentences and an imbalanced justice system that wasn’t fair to them because of their ethnicity (foremost) and class (secondary). In order to put a silver lining on the details of these men and their time behind bars, the news special describes how a number of the inmates are learning a trade in prison, with the example of welding being the one focused on in this documentary. To illustrate how these men are being “rehabilitated” in prison, Barry actually visits a welding shop to interact with a number of incarcerated individuals who are working there and discussing with Barry how they plan to be successful after leaving the prison in their newfound trades.

But, here is where the intersection of what the Western world considers a beneficent act meets the delusion of industrial civilization. As these men are learning nothing outside of a few menial tasks for a slowly collapsing society based on manual labor and the products that it yields in a dwindling range of acceptable everyday jobs, the question is never broached by Barry or VICE news or anyone else as to the availability of these jobs in a sustainable, environmentally sound society. So, the assumption is that there will always be a place for these men in society because the continuance of industrialization is a given by those who have a Western mindset, which encompasses the typical person residing in this society.

Industrial Civ 4

The training of these men for jobs such as this without giving them a true sense of what is happening outside of said training is the height of deceitfulness. They are not taught to think critically. During the advent of Western educational system, the basis for it was from ancient Greece. This meant that the focus was on building an individual who had a classical education based on a vast array of topics. Although this was only wholly available to a white, male of privilege in the initial stages of this particular country (Amerikkka), the foundation itself was correct in asserting that teaching the individual a wide breadth of topics is what spawned an informed person. But with the beginning of the industrial revolution, the emphasis devolved from that of a well-rounded individual with an understanding of the world based upon a myriad amount of subjects and topics, both mental and physical in nature, to just a perfunctory task maven who possesses only the delusion of thinking that the individual is well-rounded based upon the financial success regarding this specific task. For example, this is why Uncle Ben Carson, one of the current frontrunners for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, can be a successful brain surgeon, yet know pretty much nothing outside of that particular task and be wholly ignorant on almost everything else in this world while at the same time considering himself an expert and/or genius on the topics of which his ignorance is glaring. This present mindset which is typical was impressed upon the culture because it was the most expedient way of progress for an industrial civilization. Economic growth by way of technological progression can most quickly be achieved by those who don’t question the legitimacy of these advances no matter the detrimental results. This is all due to the collective ingrained ignorance that is prevalent in Western society.

As a way to illustrate this and also turning back to the men in this snippet of prison life of which Barry was privy to view for a short period of time, their entire training in this one task will ultimately lead them to be no better than a soldier who kills for no other cause than the word of his superiors with a totally absent understanding in regards to a valid reason why he or she is killing. It is the absence of this classical knowledge base outside of the technical trade aspects of their tutelage, be it blue collar or even white collar in nature, that will disable them from confronting the ignorance this society instills in the individual which causes them to adhere to the same social principles that are destroying the Earth.

Industrial Civ 3

Case in point, once these people do enter back into civilian life from being incarcerated for whatever period of time with only this one bit of training for a trade that is based on the continuance of industrial civilization, then their entire fixation will be on the continuance of this culture. Therefore, the ongoing climate negotiations in Paris, France during COP21 will not only be of no use to him or her, but he or she will have no choice but to be an enemy of implementation of anything that falls out from it, be it useless bullshit legislation (assuredly) or actual worthwhile mandates (impossible). In essence, whatever global legislation that will be agreed upon must inherently be against his or her ability to survive once he or she is no longer incarcerated but possessing only a skillset learned in prison. Hence, the individual’s only option is to be opposed to any and all legislation that curtails his or her ability to survive since the daily survival of the person will always supersede the long term survival of man as self-preservation of the individual supersedes that of the group at an emotional level if not a logical one.

It is for this reason that the AFL-CIO supported the Keystone XL although supposedly an ally on the front of climate change. As the AFL-CIO is a trade union whose entire existence is due to its accepted role as the protector of the presence of manual labor for industrial civilization in a capitalist society, it is useless as an ally regarding climate change or peak oil or water scarcity or anything else that is a BYPRODUCT of the aforementioned industrial civilization. Outside of a few people, these are the types of jobs for which these prisoners are being trained almost entirely.

So, as much as the trade that these men are being trained for seems like a good thing to those that reside in Amerikkka or Western society or even by those who possess a Western mindset yet not inhabiting this society (which is sadly all too many people residing in the Global South who trade subservience for tacit acceptance), the fact is that they are really being trained to do things that are almost certainly much more detrimental to all societies and the world as a whole than any “crime” that they committed on the outside of the prison of which they currently reside.

Industrial Civ 1

We have reached a moment in time that as the sun sets on this particular civilization and another set of social circumstances will dawn on us for however long man exists, people must collectively discuss things like this which are totally detached from the indoctrination of this society that sadly enables us to adhere to a set of failing living circumstances without questioning anything. The only other path is to continue to prepare people for an existence which is utterly impossible. Yet, be it the prisoner untrained to think external of a single task or the ones on the outside that more easily live every day in this way, the end result of a change in circumstances is inevitable.

The state of the conditions is no longer in our control. The only thing we control at this juncture is the response.

 

[Forrest Palmer is an electrical engineer residing in Texas.  He is a part-time blogger and writer and can be found on Facebook. You may reach him at forrest_palmer@yahoo.com.]