by Tristan A. Shaw
Writer, Dandelion Salad
British Columbia, Canada
August 11, 2013
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.
Shift — Beyond the Numbers of the Climate Crisis + Coalition Of The Willing
Worldwide Social Activism Demanding Change by Graham Peebles
Global Heat Emergency by Alex Smith
Chris Hedges: The Empire Is Imploding + Q&A
How Can We Face A Future Of Climate Change If We Have Forgotten Our Past? by Lesley Docksey
Noam Chomsky: The Corporatization of the University (2013)
Pingback: Chris Hedges: The Power of Hope – Dandelion Salad
Pingback: We Must Keep Despair At Bay In The Siege Waged By The Forces Of Destruction And Greed! – Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Chris Hedges: Know That If We Resist We Keep Hope Alive – Dandelion Salad
Pingback: The First Thing They Steal Is Courage – Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Fling Back Despair! – Dandelion Salad
Pingback: The Man From the North: The Three Thefts by Rivera Sun – Dandelion Salad
Pingback: The Nature of Reality by Tristan A. Shaw | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Embracing the Specter of Systemic Collapse by Tristan A. Shaw | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Introduction to Intelligibility by Tristan A. Shaw | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: The Great Unknown by Tristan A. Shaw | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: The End of an Age by Tristan A. Shaw | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Liberty and Strategy for All by The Man From the North | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Shutdown Solution: Opt Out of Tyranny by David DeGraw | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Who Cares About The Planet Anyway? by Chris Williams | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: What is the Social Cost of Carbon Emissions? + Why Climate Deniers Are Plain Wrong | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Saving the Earth from Ourselves + IPCC report: Human-caused warming is ‘unequivocal’ | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Robert Reich on ‘Inequality for All’ + Jacob Kornbluth: Growing Income Divide Threatens Society | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Chris Hedges: Every Form of Resistance is Never Futile #OWS #NDAA | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Chris Hedges: #OWS was a Tactic; It’s Not Over | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Despite All Our Rage, We Are Still Just Debt Slaves In A Mental Cage by David DeGraw #OWS | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Rivera Sun’s The Dandelion Insurrection reviewed by Guadamour | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Why Labor Unions Need to Join the Climate Fight by Naomi Klein | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Extreme weather, more extreme greenhouse gas emissions beckon urgent activism by Patrick Bond | Dandelion Salad
Pingback: The Stimulator: Capitalism Will Save The Planet | Dandelion Salad
This article comes close, but no cigar. our passivity should not be blamed on capitalism … that is only an symptom of a deeper problem. the problem of Canada as well as US and the world is WE THE PEOPLE. the will of the people is the problem.
Passivity is like the sin of Sloth. the goal of many in Occupy was simply to get a job in a cubical. this is more uniformity. if you can crush them buy them off. Since most people seek the path of least resistance, then they are like the frog in the slowly boiling water. People just settle for what they can get are really not interested in social and economic change. if they were they would change themselves and be purged of their passivity. they would take steps to be pro-active and admit to being passive all along.
no blameshifitng. we have met the enemy and it is us.
But, my friend, how can we blame the destruction of the global biosphere on an innate human impulse? There is a pluralism of human civilizations in the history of this planet, a diversity of people’s cultures, beliefs, customs, etc. Some have been grounded in reciprocity, some in rapacity, some without a singe recorded incident of murder, some with violence so ingrained as to render the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants as mindless murderers and savages.
To single out a negative attribute, one whose only predominance is determined by environmental factors (in a psychological sense), is to ignore the true nature of human nature.
In Latin, it is called “post hoc ergo propter hoc”. It means “after this, therefore because of this.” It is a common logical fallacy: you blame a human action on a innate human nature, and your only justification is the observation of that human action — which does not help explain that action in any way whatsoever.
Thanks for commenting.
Tristan , thank you for your reply . Now that i know i am having a conversation with an intelligent person , i think it proper to bring in Aristotle’s principle of Causality to explain my point .
Aristotle talked about the actual and the potential . this infers free will ( later developed by Aquinas ) in relation to the relation of human nature . Here in lies a paradox that a common syllogism or deductive logic and reasoning cannot understand when it comes to the cause and effect of innate human nature .
The paradox is this : Man in the ”actual” is born innocent ( let us agree for discussion sake with Locke’s ”Tabula Rasa) . However , Man’s potential has shown itself time and time again to move in a destructive downward spiral , as Mark Twain
states ”the damned human race”.
…so therefore, at first glance my first response to your article seems to be overgeneralizing and breaking all of the rules of the study of socio-anthropo understanding of various cultures by a broad based painting a brush concerning the nature of human nature. But, if the paradoxical dance of actuality and potentiality breaks the deadlock between the Pelagian verses Augustine view of human nature .
This is why the Medieval Renaissance and the translation of Aristotle ‘s work in Toledo, Spain is so important to a post modern view of today’s quandary. To bad very few scholars besides Rubinstein and Giles are bringing it to the forefront.
Rubinstein and Giles? Can you send me a link to something good by them?
I would have to say this: Human nature is an arbitrary phenomenon. It is easy to both prove and disprove certain tendencies in relation to history. However, you are right in referencing this so-called “destructive downward spiral” — our beliefs are probably closely aligned. The real issue under investigation here is not a problem of human agency, per say, it is more related to the nature of complex human civilization and how we function in this particular environment. Which is not good, of course.
So yes, I agree with you. In my article, when referring to “corporate capitalism,” this just happens to be our contemporary evil, an easily identifiable structure that systematically oppresses us. This is my critique of capitalism, which does not shed light on the broader anthropological dilemma of our species, that is, the way we behave when crammed into complex societies. Power and hierarchy seem to be an outgrowth of this phenomena only.
ok Tristan we are rolling . Richard Rubinstein –”Aristotle’s Children ”. An amazing take on how the Moslems, Jews, and Catholics translated Aristotle, and what it means for us today. a stellar work.
Giles –”The not so Dark Ages” a revisionist work that sets the record straight about the misconceptions of a much maligned era from Moderns.
I am glad you clarified your position. it seems that things become problematic in the world of seeking political change when one strikes at the symptom of the situation instead of seeking to uproot the Radix itself.
should we not be politically active. no. but … with a perspective that it may be a stop gap makeshift until the root is dealt with, which is human nature itself.
Very well expressed Tristan, a real call to consciousness.
My view is that Canada took a disastrous wrong turn at the end of the Trudeau era. What promised to be an epoch of integration, innovation and indigenous renaissance in both the heritage landscape and the cosmopolitan arts, turned terribly sour.
North Americans & (some) Canadians are in complete historical denial. Canada will only ever be a satellite clone of the USA so long as it remains indifferent to the continental legacy of the Americas, the biological reality of its exceptionally complex ecosystems and once fluid totemic societies.
The present assumption of national autonomy is just an artificially imposed political trope, a cultural conceit that has no basis in biospheric continuity ~ it is like a frozen moment in an epic journey, a brief paralysis of the “educated imagination” (Frye.)
Consider the vision offered by the “coalition of the willing” https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/shift-beyond-the-numbers-of-the-climate-crisis-coalition-of-the-willing/ or the Qatsi trilogists.
These insights open up the possibilities of spiritual landscapes shaped by the emergent sovereign mind as an expression of coherent organism in ways that were hithertoo impossible, actually inconceivable to our ancestral predecessors.
Very well said. I feel the same way. Hedges’ “Death of the Liberal Class” lays that out pretty good.
We are at a fundamentally unique moment in Canadian (and global) history. A return to this perception of “biospheric continuity” will, I feel, only come from a systemic break down in the processes and mechanisms that perpetuate capitalism.
We are not far away.
Thank you for your gracious acknowledgment. I’d like to think you are right, and my strongest intuition says you are.
However, the misgivings I have are principally twofold. On the one hand, I worry about exactly what we shall reap if we get exactly what we wish for & what it is really that we do wish for? As William James advised, philosophical pretension without vision (that is to say, inspiration from one’s Muse) is pretty thin gruel; but, on the other hand, fully conscious intention (as opposed to an emotionally driven desire for something) can be deceptive too ~ if we do not fully take into consideration the symbolic and cognitive implications of our projections.
I mean, the change we intend may not necessarily translate into the change we expect. Hence the way we communicate is extremely significant, and more often than not, its success may be more a function of subconscious drives and (subliminal) metabolic processes than overt cognition. Perhaps we need to take a leaf or two out of the Bernays song-book, even if only to remedy the harm he has wrought that is synonymous with capital corruption (caput: a head ~ as of cattle; & as Bucky Fuller pointed out, interest equates to offspring, or calves.)
So far as Freire’s praxis idea goes, I’m all for that. If I’m not mistaken, it is not incompatible with Donald Schön and David Boud’s notion of reflective learning, (after Dewy.)
The only danger I perceive in Freire’s method and interpretation, is the risk of signalling the stigmata of “the oppressed” as evidence of an apotheosis of victim status, that might tend to enhance the very psychological hubris and false sense of superiority of that disturbed “perpetrator” mentality some of us seek to overcome. This is my basic argument with “christianity,” as Rocket K. knows only too well!
When this (admittedly desirable) social change comes, what happens to all those demented beings, control freaks, banksters, tycoons, inflated Blackwater goons & religious fanatics? Are they all miraculously healed of their violent afflictions? Do they somehow become useful, responsible citizens, contributing to the enlightened governance of the world(s)? Anything short of this would be some kind of a pact with the forces of evil would it not, or should we seek to subdue to our wills only those devils we can truly know best, by understanding our own deepest tendencies? That is Rocket’s view ~ I think.
What then would that make “us?” The simplest answer would be ~ true Magicians ~ proud citizens of the metaphysical republic of Genius. So I suspect you are right, we labour under many delusions about human nature, and what life is really all about. In the final analysis, I would suggest, real mastery is probably mostly concerned with the knowledge of boundaries.
David , i put my view above in response to Tristan’s response to my response . As you can see , i am taking the nature of human nature view that is developed by Aquinas ”Summa” in all its Aristotelian causal paradox .
Most people think that i would be the kind of thinker to prefer Plato over Aristotle . The could not be more wrong .
Well I think that you are perhaps missing my fundamental equation to all of this: the banksters and corporate priesthood will get their due retribution once the edifice that sustains them is shattered. My main point is that the social disintegration that besets us will brew a potent array of new social possibilities (i.e., once things break down, we can either descend into fascism or organize an alternative social fabric that will make possible a new life away from concentrations of power and prestige).
But all this is only possible once the pleasures and amenities that sustain apathy is removed from Western life. Without it, you will be stating your case to an audience who does not care to challenge and question and thus change, much like Socrates’ last plea to Athenians in “the Apology.”
This is a good conversation, thanks for engaging so fully Tristan.
So far as retribution goes, I approach your “equation” in metabolic terms. Why squander what can be dutifully recycled, since all waste is a potential resource, including banksters and ignorant fools..
I’m totally with Rocket (& Bloom & Frye & too many learned ladies to mention) on the significance of our classical legacy and (Arabic inspired, from Spain, of course) European renaissance values.
But when we move on to consider (post-Darwinian, -Freudian) instinct, impulse, appetite, ambition etc and talk about human nature and all the rest of the anthropological continuum and evolutionary ecosystemic narrative, then I think we need to be clear ~ it’s all about the instinct for survival tempered by enlightened governance, in short it’s all about Wisdom.
Humans need society, and society needs ethics. The real question for us is not whether we should live or why, but how. I’m not an enthusiastic Thomist to the best of my present knowledge, nor do I blindly follow Augustine or any other alleged christian divine. However I am prepared to hear their perspectives, although I’d sooner walk with Laozi and the Asian mystics.
At “home” here (in my right English mind) I’m most comfortable with Vandana Shiva, Sheldon Wolin, or Karl Popper and the much misunderstood, misread and maligned Aleister Crowley (ie the real Crowley, not the pirated, counter-intelligence, make-believe, or anti-ranti “readers’ indigestible” version..)
So long as we acknowledge free will as a moral imperative, I’m reasonably accepting ~ especially if it is an educated will in the sense of being consistent with the ancient ideas of initiation as voluntary and committed, spiritual discipline.
We are all born into this maelstrom, and must accept the lottery of life, however we also have choices along the way ~ that is, if we are mercifully free from starvation and ecocide, not to mention, drone attacks and suicidal fanaticism…but, we’d certainly have less of this latter if we curtailed the former.
david , yes …free will. volition . choice. the blame game does not cut it . we must change , and then change our corner of the world . all passivity must be dissolved for spiritual and planetary enlightenment .
Good wake up call.
But how do we really spread the message?
What kinds of unconventional measures will it take?
Thanks, Eric. For one, I see that you use Twitter. Please feel free to Tweet any of the blog posts from Dandelion Salad that you like. There is a link at the end of the blog posts that put in the title and url automatically; then you can add any hashmarks that you like to “tag” your tweet.
Did you see this post? https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/shift-beyond-the-numbers-of-the-climate-crisis-coalition-of-the-willing/
Talk one-to-one to everyone you meet.
By this dialectic process. I’m doing all that is in my power to spark this ethic locally. Once you have this type of platform for discussion and inquiry, a place or institute students could turn to, you can harbor the ‘energy’ required to have a unity of action — in regard to resistance of course. I feel, as does Freire, that this is the only effective approach to oppression.
Tristan , developing a consciousness toward change is paramount , though finding an Ethos that all can agree on can be a bit precarious . the way i see a dialectic being effective is what Mill states in ”On Liberty ” ……. when he says that ”it is the collision of opinions that brings forth truth ”.
And in the end, this ‘elite’ will face the same situation as we ‘peons’: extinction.
The scary thing is … they don’t know that. They are illiterate and ignorant beings. They are plutocrats who travel on private jets with swarms of press and celebrities chasing their every move. They don’t read any of the classics, or contemplate any of the important questions in life, or for that matter, know anything in regard to science and the implications of their actions.
I’m reminded of Helen Caldicott speaking about her meeting with Reagan. She was shocked to learn his ignorance and naivety. He didn’t know the health consequences to nuclear fallout, and they believed they could retreat underground and live in private elite bunkers until the dust settled. They are ignorant and stupid people. And they believe they will be the ones whose lives will be saved when this climate crisis unravels.
Tristan , bullseye ! right on my friend –they don’t read the classics. Herein lies the rub .