Politics of being

Many know much about politics, many do much about politics. But those who are knowing and those who are doing, what are they being? In their knowing better than others, are they being hierarchical? In their doing more than others, are they being reactive? Both would only grow the power of those in power. What we need is a politics of being one. From being one, we know equality and we act with concerted power.

 

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Virtual reality

Satellite images reveal that Earth remains blue and green, the colors of water and vegetation — a revelation because, like most people, I live in a city, where nature has become invisible. Water is diverted underground or otherwise hidden from view. Vegetation is ripped up and replaced with buildings, parking lots, and roads. It is a small city, population 43,000, and yet one could grow up here and not realize one of New England’s biggest rivers cuts through our city center, within walking distance of bustling Main Street yet inaccessible thanks to the strip malls, railroad, and highway making our lives oh so convenient. What forests and lakes have been specially preserved in the region are accessed through motor vehicle, road, gas station, and parking lot, and shared with hikers, hunters, fishers, and boaters. The National Forest is labelled “The Land of Many Uses.” Our relationship to Earth is so mediated and instrumental that we do not experience nature even as we consume it.

 

No escape

We each oppress, and each of us is oppressed. That is the nature of our Matryoshka-doll hierarchy. I buy clothes cheaply because they were made under conditions approximating slavery. But I do not have much of a choice to do otherwise. I could spend extra time and money to shop for clothes made fairly, though that is asking a lot since I am required to spend most of my time working and most of my money sustaining my ability to keep working. And then I would still oppress in myriad other ways. Clothes made under fair labor conditions would also have to be sustainably sourced and manufactured, and everything else I purchased would need to meet the same standards — all food, all technology, all transportation, all health care, and so on. And one must consider not only how one’s money is spent, but also how it is earned. To live in our world is to exploit.

Perhaps I could live in a different world, not participating in our economic system. I could join or create some alternative economy, disconnected from the world I know — a price so high that most people will not do it, in which case what is the point of doing it myself, so that my conscience may be clean while the rest of the world consumes itself? And even then, could I avoid exploitation? Or is it too late, because my having the ability to opt out of the system is itself a luxury afforded to me as a beneficiary of historical exploitation? That is the nature of our Etch-A-Sketch path dependency. The conditions permitting me this fantasy of a world in which I do no harm — my health, education, freedom, my very existence — are the spoils of privilege, the end goal of all oppression.

Is the best I can do to live in this world consciously, to identify its system of oppressions, perhaps to find cracks in the structure and glimpse some possibility of another way? Is even that an expression of privilege, a way of exempting myself from guilt, a pretense of superiority?

Missing the target

Mass shootings always raise the call for improved mental health treatment or at least restricting people with mental illness from the ability to own guns. The logic seems compelling, for how could one open fire on a crowd of innocent people were one not mentally ill? Thus if only we control people with mental illness better we can prevent these tragedies.

Note the Precrime logic a la The Minority Report: arresting people before they become criminals. And compare the problem with the proposed solution. The problem with mass shootings is violence. The solution, premised on associating mental illness and violence, is controlling people with mental illness — how? By violence. By compelled medication, institutionalization, and imprisonment. By chemical, physical, and architectural restraint and isolation.

That is not to say that people with mental illness should be free to own guns. On the contrary, no one should be, including military and police forces. Consider the violence that these armed forces have perpetrated abroad and in minority communities, not in the isolated, self-immolating fashion of mass shootings but in a systematic manner calculated to reshape the world for the benefit of the powerful.

Columbus the slave

In movies and books, the European colonizers are inept in the New World, helpless in their armor and equipment, buffoons compared to the natives who demonstrate a command of their environment without commanding it. But inevitably the sheer brute force of European will overcomes the natives and nature. We take this dynamic as demonstration of our superiority, if not in grace, at least in power, over the beautiful but doomed people living in innocent harmony with nature.

But today we see these stories were not complete, that history had not ended. Our dominion is an illusion sustained only as long as we can exploit each other and nature. One climate disaster after another reveals that in purporting to dominate nature we are dominated. When we assume a position of superiority, we doom ourselves as much to inferiority. When we strive to control another, the other controls us. Only when we posit a oneness with all supposed others can we be free.