At no point in Canadian history have we faced such a precarious social and political stability. The profligate consumption that sustains a capitalist order will not last much longer; no matter how much faith we place in markets to rectify other means of renewable energy, transportation, housing, and production.
The popular perception of climate change as a problem projected into the future, a problem (we are told) faced only by our grandchildren, is rapidly being exposed as dangerous folly. Recent studies reveal Arctic sea ice – the so-called canary of climate change – has already collapsed to one fifth of its 1980 level and will likely exist for only one or perhaps two more summers.
The seismic magnitude of methane gas lodged under the Siberian permafrost, a magnitude that dwarfs the total quantity of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, is becoming increasingly unstable by the month. Scientists are now expecting an enormous belch that, in itself, has the capacity to raise global temperatures 1.3 degrees F. And they are expecting it to happen within 4 years.
There is not a single peer-reviewed study published within the past 4 decades that contradicts this steady and inexorable march toward systemic collapse. Most resources have passed their peak, crop yields are rapidly diminishing, temperatures are soaring, marine life is barely holding on (with an estimated six kilos of plastic for each kilo of plankton in our oceans today). And all the while, human populations are multiplying, and thus pollution is multiplying, at a rate much greater than any other time in history, adding millions of mouths to feed and house with each passing year.
This degeneration signals what many writers, including liberals like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, and John Ralston Saul to the more radical dissidents like Derrick Jensen, Michael Parenti, and Clive Hamilton, describe as an age of profound moral and spiritual crisis.
And there’s nothing president Obama, the Liberal Party, the NDP or even the Green Party can do to reverse the tide of change.
A new configuration of political power in the US and Canada has arisen, one in which the popular aspirations of citizens are treated with contempt by a political elite whose sole responsibility is the perpetuation of their own class interests.
This presents us with an entirely new framework of political activism in the 21st century. Instead of busying ourselves with the vacuous stagecraft of political theater, instead of investing efforts into elected leaders to carry out the radical transformations required to avert disaster, we need to confront these problems head on, employing an approach to revolutionary politics that is identical to all the great transformative movements of the past.
It begins by speaking the truth.
This is the subject of Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Writing amongst the neocolonial programs of the 70’s, Freire’s denunciation of oppression and his resulting proposition of “problem posing education” is rooted in his experiences during one of the greatest onslaughts of Western exploitation in Latin America.
The book was a seminal text for Occupy and is widely recognized across the resistance movements in Europe.
Freire’s critique of institutional schooling, and specifically his examination of what he calls the “paternalistic teacher-student and student-teacher relationship” endemic to contemporary universities, is the genesis of many young people’s enthusiasm when reflecting upon their own experiences at these institutions.
We (and I’m writing from my generation) are being introduced into a world in which the prospects for a decent future, a future in which Earth’s ecosystem is able to sustain our species, are stark, ominous, and bleak.
We have lived our entire lives in this strange sort of atomization, a regimented materialism, and technological determinism. We feel a great amount of anguish at university, where we are fed this mantra of personal happiness measured through wealth and prestige. The major media outlets, including just about every major political party, foster a visceral hatred among my friends, who recognize the severity of climate destabilization and resource depletion but are unable to reconcile these issues with the ambiguity of the dominant politico-economic system.
And this discontent, rooted in our disdain for institutional systems of power, can shed light on the lack of voter turnout in this province, what has mistakenly been called “political apathy.” Our support for non-profits, our willingness to be arrested or jailed for a moral cause, our rebellion against university, and our contempt for all major levers of power has never been more fierce.
We are the generation who fueled Occupy, a generation who is sick of the empty clichés and sloganeering of party politics, who can no longer obtain a real education in the humanities, who are repulsed by the escalating bureaucratization of education, a generation that has no patience for the artifice of legal instruments that can now condemn a peaceful demonstrator to 10 years in prison for wearing a mask at a protest.
Yet, we are a generation deeply perplexed and bewildered. Our lack of structure and guidance has undoubtedly led to the overwhelming nihilism that engulfs us. There is nowhere we can turn to discuss, much less debate, the array of mounting social and environmental crises.
And this is the psychic fuel that generates a lot of the excessive drug abuse, mental health issues, and general widespread collection of grievances that run through my age group like no other time.
It was Erich Fromm, a German sociologist, who said “This suffering due to impotence is rooted in the very fact that the human equilibrium has been disrupted.”
Once universities are sanitized of all pertinent issues of justice, the human heart begins to ossify. We become saturated in abstraction, aimlessly navigating through a sea of incoherent standardized test scores and rigid curricula, curricula that does not conform to our own innate yearnings for existential knowledge and relevance. And when this process takes root, moral paralysis prevails.
Freire’s work on critical pedagogy comes from this understanding. His problem-posing education is an attempt to employ a grassroots approach to learning that breaks through the confines of academic authoritarianism. It is a fundamental methodology that procures to the very essence of learning itself.
The nature of this methodology is rather simple. Subjects, ostensibly the oppressed, gather in groups no larger than 20 and utilize a dialectical form of inquiry whose central task is the illumination of what is called ‘praxis.’
Praxis is the relationship of theory to action. To understand and therefore act upon one’s knowledge, subjects must be able to relate their theoretical framework of ideas to the material reality around them.
They must engage in this form of dialectical exchange in a respectful and structured manner, being able to distinguish opinion from fact, objectivity to subjectivity, and so on.
And if certain conditions are met, and if these subjects share a thirst for knowledge, curiosity conducive to dialogue will inherit a life of its own, transforming the minds of subjects from a gloomy pessimism into an exciting optimism. Indeed, it was C. Wright Mills who said “In the face of such misinformation, some simple facts and analyses become a radical act.”
There is a vast void waiting to be filled here in the West. A political vacuum in the consciousness of Canada. This chasm, which is widening day by day, is the result of indifference to the relentless ideological litany pumped out from all dominant systems of mass communication. We are hungry for an authenticity of thought, some simple and honest analyses, facts and understandings.
This hunger for genuine thought has been successfully anesthetized by the sophistication of Western propaganda, entertainment through spectacle, cheap manufactured goods pouring in from China, and the exponential rise of electronic culture.
In short, our passivity is perpetuated only by the venality of our capitalist system. Once the opiates of consumer society begin to run dry, we will begin to witness, bubbling up around of the fringes of civilization, a social anxiety that does not appear prevalent during times of stability.
And if we do not embrace this vision of hope, of an intrinsic humanity limited only by the oppressive forces of dehumanization; if we do not embark upon a grassroots movement that embraces the anti-authoritarian approach to education; if we do not brace ourselves for one of the bleakest periods in human history and continue to define human existence through a narrow framework of commercial success and prestige, through accredited university courses and business distinction, then we will ensure the demise of global civilization and help thrust its 7 billion inhabitants into a new dark age … an age more frightening and apocalyptic than any other time in history … and prehistory.
It is therefore imperative that we begin to spark this dialectic process of which Freire speaks and set in motion a local movement of resistance that bypasses corporate convention and fortifies the global counter-veiling narrative.
Significant steps have been achieved already. And it is our moral duty, as beings united by a common cause of compassion and love, to help our fellow rebels eviscerate the beast of corporate capitalism.
Tristan A. Shaw is a 21 year-old student who is a prolific reader and writer on issues concerning the state of governance in North America. He resides in British Columbia, Canada, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.