Kleptocracy passes for democratic governance with the approval of the very people who purport to oppose big government for stealing from hardworking individuals. But it is not primarily government that steals from us; it is the holders of private wealth who appropriate natural resources, labor, and political influence to secure and grow their wealth.
To see connections that were obscured from view, to understand the oneness of what had seemed separate — to glimpse freedom.
Take a place where you go shopping. Even if you know how to get there from memory or GPS, locate it on a physical map. Examine its geography, its relationship to the features of land and water surrounding it. Follow those features until you understand their relationship to you. Or study its biology, research its history. See how the place where you shop is but a facade superimposed upon the whole that connects us all.
The same applies to ourselves. Not that we are all the same as each other. On the contrary, we are always different even from ourselves. Like clouds. Look at the sky, at a cloud overhead. Don’t just look, watch. It is not the same cloud for a moment. It is continuously in the process of expanding and condensing, of changing in shape and form, of coming and going. Slowly it breaks up. Where you saw one cloud there are now three, four, five — Was it really a cloud when you first observed it, or was it but a former part of a whole cloud becoming other than itself? Now the five clouds have spread farther apart and disappeared into the blue.
There is no other because there is no self.
We all make up each other, in both senses: we comprise one another through the force of influence, yet we also project distinct identities upon each other. Seemingly stable forms like “I” and “it” are given the appearance of stability and form by the technology of conceptual thought. Like all technology, concepts manipulate the world for a purpose, and thereby limit what is altered to serve the purpose. An ever changing, ever indeterminate complex of experiences gets reduced to a stable, delimited set of experiences called the self. We are taught to pursue the “interest” of this simplification, this illusion of self, rather than challenged to expand the concept of self, to break down its arbitrary boundaries, to invent new technologies of thought.
We should be giving thanks to the Native Americans who taught European immigrants to survive in the New World. To the black people who constructed our economy as slaves, reconstructed it as freed men and women, gave us the civil rights movement, and now fight against state violence in the forms of police and penal brutality. To the immigrants, Mexican and Vietnamese, Jewish and Muslim, people from all over the world who have created our culture. To the women who have reproduced our country generation after generation and today lead the resistance against abuse of power. To Mother Nature for literally everything.
But would such thanksgiving imply an appreciation for the gift itself, the gift of our existence in today’s world? How embarrassing to acknowledge that such sacrifice and oppression have enabled our petty, mean, polluted, exploited existence. I do not give you thanks. I give you apologies.
But in an effort, again, to see the positive coupled to the negative (an effort that feels forced, Herculean even, but I hope in time will feel more natural): Shame and regret imply a standard of value without which life would be neutral, Purgatorial. I could not hold these negative perspectives without their positive complements. I feel embarrassed by exploitation because I believe in freedom. I feel sorrow about violence because I believe in harmony. It is not just that I wish we had freedom or harmony; it is that I know they are real, they are powerful, they are worthwhile; I have experienced their beauty, their love, their laughter. Without such compelling values to fight for, there would be no reason to fight against. More depressing than outrage against injustice is resignation to it. Thus can I say, for the creative possibilities of nature and culture: I am grateful.
It may come as a surprise that humans do not will our own multiplication. We will only power — over other species and other humans. Americans want to prevail over non-Americans, Chinese over non-Chinese, and so on. We view population increase not as the goal but a means toward such prevalence. We actually want to prevail over others with as few in our in-group as possible, like the .01% who dominate the 99.9% in our economy. We prefer the dominated groups to have more people whose bodies and minds to exploit for capitalization of power (although this strategy carries risks; the more slaves one owns, the greater the slaves’ potential to overthrow). Thus our ecological/economic crisis of overpopulation derives not from our will to reproduce the species as widely as possible but from our will to concentrate power as narrowly as possible. We treat people like livestock by the millions on an industrial farm as opposed to relatively few but free-ranging cows; the former are fat and numerous, but the latter are free.
It may come as a further surprise that I find this perspective encouraging. It means there is a solution to our crisis besides self-negation. We do not need to restrict the freedom to procreate; we need to unleash the freedom to create ourselves.
While it should not be reduced merely to a political stratagem (for it may be no less than a civilizational reckoning with the abuse of power, or with power itself), the #MeToo movement appears to be a brilliant intensification of the women-led resistance against Trump. Consider the effect, at least temporarily, on the careers of men outed as sexual predators: successful businessmen, entertainers, journalists, are no longer employed despite their success; their success is no longer legitimate. The more men who fall, in more and more positions of power, the more normal it becomes to delegitimize those who abuse their power — the more doomed Trump will be. Unlike abusers of power who are more accountable to liberals (Weinstein, Spacey, Franken, etc.), he may still survive for the term(s) bargained for, but the contradiction between his status as predator and president will be all the more heightened. As a result, his position of power will grow more tenuous, his legacy less assured. For this reason among others, the movement must proceed with full force, without reservations, without exceptions, until it seems that the last man standing is Trump. Then, the impotence of what he represents may be exposed for all who do not avert their eyes to see.