Within the field of activism, one is discouraged from claiming certain
truths. It is now only to be expected that if you appeal to others that “The
world is being murdered!” you face the usual reproach—“We can’t truly
murder the world; there will always be bacteria of some sort; life will prevail;
etc.” Never mind that this logic is false: climate scientists claim that runaway
climate change could produce a lifeless Earth similar to Venus, with a carbon
saturated atmosphere incapable of supporting life.. More crucial though is to
recognize the emotional-political disarming in these reactions. It is as if the
underlying message reads “Things aren’t as bad as you say they are, since if
they were, everything I’m doing now becomes meaningless; I would have to
call everything I know into question and consider serious political
confrontation!”We see this habit elsewhere with certain progressives.
It seems so typical that most of us know the situation by heart. As we discuss the kind of world we’d like to inhabit, the ways cultures prior (and present) resemble our desires, someone inevitably steps in, regarding themselves highly as having seen through this deception. “I think we have to be careful”--
it usually starts this way—“not to romanticize other ways of life.” We should again focus not on what they directly say—of course there’s no utopian society conceived in the traditional manner—but instead on the message riding beneath: “Things couldn’t be that much better than they are now, since if they could, I’d have to then acknowledge that our civilized lives have been stunted, that we’re immersed in a global tragedy, etc.”
Statements of this sort attempt to ground themselves in the guise of rationality, which is a common characteristic of a Left still unable to abandon certain Enlightenment ideals (see Dream review). As if afraid to
dream again, a considerable number of leftists settle for the current social-political-economic framework, attempting only to work within that structure. The job of any activist today—and this is possibly the simplest distinction between radical and liberal theory—is not to operate within the given coordinates of social reality but to change the very coordinates themselves. One doesn’t struggle against capitalism by first accepting the premises of individual property rights, infinite growth, or free trade; and so on. We will not stop until the land is safe, until life can flourish; whatever stands in our way—capitalism, industrialization—is secondary. We’re told that our beliefs are naïve, unrealistic, failing to conform to the conditions of reality. It is at this point that one knows they’ve hit a chord, since if our strategy assumed only that which is declared possible by the dominant worldview, we wouldn’t get anywhere. Or—to say it differently—the dominant ideology refers only to itself; it never points to the way out.
Forget what you know. (It seems today that we know too much.) Why not risk a little—try thinking again. There’s a much deeper reading of the worn-out phrase ‘question authority’; it’s not asking you to ignore those silly puppets (some call them politicians), but to question those very systems of knowledge and belief we’veinternalized ourselves, the very water in which we swim.