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January 7, 2017 (updated January 29, 2017)
Dear New Mexico friends:
We are living at the end of an age. A huge storm, bigger than any humanity has ever known, is barreling toward us. Already the wind is rising, the barometer falling. The first rain bands have arrived. We cannot see far into the dark clouds massed on the horizon. Everything we have known is starting to change, radically.
We live and work partly in one world that is vanishing, and partly in the brave new world that is taking its place.
At this critical juncture, we are all being exposed to a constant din of propaganda from many sources -- primarily from the US state and its vast "Wurlitzer" of compliant media clients and repeating outlets, and of course in another sense from commercial advertising, but also from "progressive" and liberal blogs and elsewhere.
At the Study Group we are deeply concerned about the propaganda coming from Democratic Party and "progressive" sources. Partisan propaganda from these sources is particularly damaging to prospects for success on the issues we care most about. Today, Senator Heinrich gave the keynote address at a New Mexico meeting of "progressives" aimed at "taking back democracy." How shameful! Remember, there was no stronger advocate for nuclear weapons among Democratic congresspersons than Congressman Heinrich.
In yesterday's note I said: "Our present highly-militarized society and failing global empire will not be able to deliver on any significant progressive or environmental agenda whatsoever, or even to maintain a viable civilian economy." Senator Heinrich's political priorities are deeply antithetical to any progressive agenda.
We have all just seen liberals and progressives allied with the CIA and elements in the Green Party in what amounted to an attempted coup d’état in the Electoral College, with very little self-consciousness of what that meant. I have never seen anything like it in my life.
These, like Trump's electoral victory, are indicators that these are not normal times. "Normal" times are now in the rear-view mirror, for good. They were behind us before the election, but few saw just how far from prior political assumptions the world had moved -- how much of the old world had already crumbled. This year will see more upsets. People will hear and ask, again, "How can this be happening?"
Like it or not (and few of us do) we now live in a revolutionary time, and not just in a single dimension either.
From this frontier and height of land, we can see several different frames of reference for interpreting events, making choices, and establishing priorities in our moral and political lives. We could prioritize racism, or gender issues, or nuclear disarmament, or inequality, or war and peace. We could group these concerns and try to find common ground in the inherently divisive terrain of identity politics through what is called these days "intersectional" politics.
It sounds spiffy, but by itself "intersectional" politics is nothing more than old-fashioned, lowest-common-denominator, let's-all-get-along politics. This makes it a handy tool of manipulation for center-right Democratic candidates. The earnest template provided by "intersectional" activists is, for politicians, a set-up for "triangulation as usual."
Crucially, the "intersectional" politics of looking for common ground among diverse issues and constituencies provides no information about priorities. Priorities are necessary. When they finally appear, the superficial harmony disappears and the stage is set for lesser-evilism (again).
For our children and for nature to survive we need much more than this.
We who are mortal, if we would be mature and fully human (menschlich), we must from time to time consider our lives and actions sub specie aeternitatis (“under the aspect of eternity”). That full humanity is just what Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Joseph Rotblat, and their collaborators spoke of in the Einstein-Russell Manifesto of 1955 against nuclear armaments and war.
There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death. (emphasis added)
Today, our long inaction in the face of converging environmental and social disasters requires us to consider our lives and actions from another perspective as well. All that we are and do, and would do, must be weighed sub specie Terrae, with a capital T -- from the perspective of Earth.
This is not a new idea. It is much older than human civilization. It's in us even now.
Ecological vision, encompassing climate concerns and society, is now the most fundamental, integrative, and important reference frame for interpreting current history and our role in it. It is by nature radical -- of the root -- and it roots us as well. It is almost entirely absent from public discourse.
Said differently, the biggest story and struggle of our time and our greatest, most salient struggles, lie in the nexus of climate, energy, economics, and environment. These connected crises have now thoroughly converged, although this is obvious to few.
Our collapsing climate; the rapid energy transition driven by declining conventional oil and gas resources and quickly required to save a habitable earth; the dramatic environmental impacts of energy choices and climate deterioration as well as the environmental measures we may take in response; and finally the radical economic and social implications of these harsh new realities – this tight nexus will dominate human affairs, openly and cryptically, from this moment forward.
We now need to anchor all our politics, including nuclear disarmament politics, in the work of saving our only home and the creatures in it, who have come this long way with us and made us who we are.
This is not just "another issue." It is the master predicament that we and our children are facing. We are facing it right now, in this decade.
Climate collapse must be halted and reversed before critical thresholds are passed, lest it become unstoppable.
These thresholds are upon us now. The collapse of Arctic albedo (reflectivity) due to shrinking sea ice is already leading to dramatic Arctic warming. The consequences of this, if continued, could be irrecoverably catastrophic to life and civilization. The moment for emergency action is already here. (See also: The Crisis at Hand, the Emergency Mode, & the Need for Full-Scale Mobilization, presentation at 350.org, Jun 27, 2016.
Our time, attention and resources are finite. Prioritizing some things means de-prioritizing others. We could make a long list of political practices on the "progressive" left which could and should be de-emphasized, starting with all forms of identity politics.
Disarmament is not one of the things we can de-prioritize. Without ending militarism and empire, the climate won't be saved. Those who advocate slow disarmament under current global power and neoliberal economic arrangements are advocating, in effect, the end of the world.
Those who tend to temporize, like Obama, tend to be irrelevant or worse.
Besides, events in multiple spheres are running much faster than incrementalist approaches now.
"So what can we do? What precisely are you suggesting?"
- Try to understand what is going on, not just react to the latest propaganda from a position of ignorance (as many writers on progressive blogs are doing). Read critically. Discuss. "Question more," as RT's motto goes.
- Clarify your own intentions, assess your capabilities as you understand them, and prepare for new commitments with your family and household. Harmony and peace, inner and outer, are high desiderata in their own right and bring freedom of action.
- Connect to others, especially with trusted friends. New ventures involving risk go best with a high degree of trust.
- Decide to mobilize some fraction of your time, energy, and resources and to make this a part of who you are, in a deep sense. Such decisions are very powerful and liberating.
- "Rinse and repeat" as experience, clarity, connections, knowledge, and commitment change and grow.
"Much more specific, please."
- You can apply to join the Study Group team as a volunteer. We will need a commitment of at least 10 hours per week from you. Talk to us; we want to make sure we are right for you, and vice-versa.
- You can volunteer with other organizations, enhancing them qualitatively and quantitatively (as you would this one).
- You can organize a niche for a full-time activist at your church (or even at some businesses), as we have discussed in previous letters. Full-time, eyes-open, independently-supported organizers and activists are a rare and precious breed.
- You can decide to devote a year of your life as a full-time volunteer, at the Study Group or at another organization. Talk to us about this.
- You can arrange speaking opportunities for us, or arrange a house meeting. Talk to us about this. Face-to-face meetings are of particular importance in the internet age.
"You didn't provide specific things to do." No, I didn't. I don't want to give the impression that a flash-in-the-pan effort, one of a thousand such atomized efforts, without a supporting community and infrastructure, without reflection or knowledge, and without a longer-term commitment of any kind is going to succeed.
Especially if you are involved in any of items 6-10 above, we'd like to invite you to discussions at our "World Headquarters." Solidarity and camaraderie are very important at this time. Without discussion and mutual exploration we will not be able to get past the propaganda in which we are immersed. From our schedules it seems that early evenings will be the best (if not the only) time for these discussions. If you want to come, the first step is to tell us a) that you are interested and b) when you cannot come.
Greg Mello, for the Los Alamos Study Group