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Politics & 21st Century Discontents: Change It

We’ve Got Trouble People

We are in a real pickle. Trouble with a capital “T”. Up the creek without a paddle. A clusterfuck of epic proportions. Why? What’s going on?

Humanity, organized civilization and all our relations – birds that fly, fish that swim and zero-to-four-legged biological cousins of myriad categories and descriptions – we stand on the brink of destruction. Whether thru the next decade or so of intensifying climate chaos and mass extinction-collapsing food webs, or sudden and devastating nuclear or other acts of war, we find ourselves up against a wall of potential destruction. What’s the key?

Capital. Class. Race. Gender. Identity. Energy. Food. Water. Poverty and inequality. Migration and deprivation. The issues of our crisis and our peril are utterly overwhelming. A modest and hopefully constructive suggestion: at the very root of all these existential challenges and threats, both originating the devastation and preventing remediation on any truly effective, mass scale, is one basic attribute of our humanity and our politics; no one (me included) likes being told that our behavior is a problem, and that one way or another it has to change.

That is, our behavior has to change, not simply because somebody is complaining or demanding it, but because of the nature of our condition and the inevitable consequences. If we don’t change, this situation will force changes that we won’t like at all.

Whether the particular issue is our continued addiction to fossil fuels for agriculture, transit, indoor comfort and everything else; neofascist white nationalism, settler colonialism and violence; insane leaders; war and peace between relations in the human family; economic development that enriches and improves society as a whole, rather than polarizing winners and losers; production of goods and services, or reproduction of the species and our so-called civilization; media, fake truth and mass psychological manipulation and extraction of value from vulnerable and unprotected People. Whatever. In our terribly fraught century, it’s all coming to an irresistible head; rapidly, violently and intensely. And at the root of all the political heat and noise around it is the hidden, simple reality: none of us wants to change even tho we obviously have to, or we’re gonna flip this overcrowded lifeboat.

Three immediate consequences follow from this analysis:

1. As to my own and each of our behaviors, it’s absolutely vital that we do everything in our power to avoid and minimize the problems we cause for others. And when we cause such problems, as we inevitably do just by living, we must keep busy consistently, proactively and continually doing everything in our power to make amends;

2. As to others’ behaviors, altho they don’t want to hear it, real political action in the 21st century demands that we model, make and continually insist upon the necessary changes. We have to change how we live. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is trying to fool themselves or others about the real nature our situation; and

3. Accepting the need for changes, and going with it, will make things somewhat better. It really will.

How do We Know That?

Start with a couple of the things that divide us: class and race. English historian E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class depicts mass, historic agency in the 19th century as class formation. There have been many kindred neo-Marxist revisions of class in terms of how we make change ever since. In myriad ways and contexts, gender, generation, race, community and other features of our potentially revolutionary diversity in Power can be “classes”, when we go into action. Understood and acted on, class power is our ultimate weapon. That’s why they don’t teach it in school.

American critical race scholar Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist insightfully distinguishes the “racism” Americans commonly discuss as a negative insult, when it’s simply descriptive of our racist reality, nation and systems. Therefore, there can’t any non-racists, only racists or anti-racists. Wield class power in the service of anti-racism and watch our contemporary clown car of wannabe fascist dictators scuttle for the exits.

Class and race, put them together; the need for real world agency and the need to choose a side for justice. The things that divide us in our collective unconscious, whatever they are and however they change over time, inevitably call on our agency and our choice. They’re ultimately under our own control, but even more important, that makes it real hard for us to hear that our behavior is part of the problem and it has to change. The only thing harder will be the deadly consequences of not hearing it.

Crucially, once we “get” the need for change we can start the healing and getting better if – and only if – we make the right choices and develop our agency. All social movement history proves this essential point. Movement power might not be able to make the revolution or smash domination in all its noxious forms today, but experience shows it’s the only thing that ever really makes anything much better. That’s how we know this.

Beyond the Immediate Consequences

Let’s revisit our three immediate political consequences of the imperative for, and the difficult challenges of, change in our crazed times.

First, those basic constraints on creating problems via our personal behavior collectively mean we have to transcend capitalism. We can’t be not hurting others and making up for historic injuries to them all the time and be capitalists. Good riddance to capitalism, should have been done long ago!

Second, change means survival. No change, no survival. Be straight, persistent, courageous, creative and relentless for system change, against climate change. The youth are already leading this movement brilliantly. Do your part. It’s a matter of your life or your death, and however it comes out you’ll be better if you do your best!

Third, although the future is uncertain as ever and terrifying as hell, part of whatever this necessary post-capitalist future turns out to become is always available to us in the core of our essential humanity. Our agency and our choice. Choose to claim the space, time and personal commitment to radical solidarity the times call for! Of course it’s hard. Of course there are no guarantees. Of course no one likes to hear they must change their problematic behaviors, but that’s life, and we have to be as radical as reality!

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Tom Stephens is a coordinator of the communications working group of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM).  Their web site is at: http://d-rem.org

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