no (global) future

We are reposting this text in fragments (as is our nature) in relation to the resurgent theorytwitter buzz. All comments and discussion welcome.

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Desert, by Anonymous

Author’s Note

I have written Desert as a nature loving anarchist primarily addressing others with similar feelings. As a result I have not always explained ideas to which I hold when they are, to some extent, givens within many anarchist and radical environmental circles. Hopefully I have written in an accessible enough manner, so even if you don’t come from this background you will still find Desert readable. While the best introductions to ecology and anarchy are moments spent within undomesticated ecosystems and anarchist communities, some may also find the following books helpful — I did.
  • Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (London: HarperCollins, 2008).
  • Fredy Perlman, Against His-story, Against Leviathan (Detroit: Black & Red, 1983).
  • Christopher Manes, Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1990).
  • Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World (London: Penguin Books, 1991).

Forward!

Something haunts many activists, anarchists, environmentalists, many of my friends. It haunted me. Much of our subcultures tell us it’s not there, that we can’t see it, hear it. Our best wishes for the world tell us not to see it. But for many, despite their best efforts — carrying on with the normal activism, the movement building, living both according to and as an expression of their ethics — despite all this, the spectre gains form. The faint image grows more solid, more unavoidable, until the ghost is staring one in the face. And like many monsters of past tales, when its gaze is met — people freeze. Become unable to move. Give up hope; become disillusioned and inactive. This malaise, freezing, not only slows ‘activist workload’, but I have seen it affect every facet of many of my friends’ lives.
The spectre that many try not to see is a simple realisation — the world will not be ‘saved’. Global anarchist revolution is not going to happen. Global climate change is now unstoppable. We are not going to see the worldwide end to civilisation/capitalism/patriarchy/authority. It’s not going to happen any time soon. It’s unlikely to happen ever. The world will not be ‘saved’. Not by activists, not by mass movements, not by charities and not by an insurgent global proletariat. The world will not be ‘saved’. This realisation hurts people. They don’t want it to be true! But it probably is.
These realisations, this abandonment of illusions should not become disabling. Yet if one believes that it’s all or nothing, then there is a problem. Many friends have ‘dropped out’ of the ‘movement’ whilst others have remained in old patterns but with a sadness and cynicism which signals a feeling of futility. Some hover around scenes critiquing all, but living and fighting little.

“It’s not the despair — I can handle the despair. It’s the hope I can’t handle.” [1]

The hope of a Big Happy Ending, hurts people; sets the stage for the pain felt when they become disillusioned. Because, truly, who amongst us now really believes? How many have been burnt up by the effort needed to reconcile a fundamentally religious faith in the positive transformation of the world with the reality of life all around us? Yet to be disillusioned — with global revolution/with our capacity to stop climate change — should not alter our anarchist nature, or the love of nature we feel as anarchists. There are many possibilities for liberty and wildness still.
What are some of these possibilities and how can we live them? What could it mean to be an anarchist, an environmentalist, when global revolution and world-wide social/eco sustainability are not the aim? What objectives, what plans, what lives, what adventures are there when the illusions are set aside and we walk into the world not disabled by disillusionment but unburdened by it?

1. No (Global) Future

Religious myths: progress, global capitalism, global revolution, global collapse

The idea of Progress was central to the modern Western paradigm and the presumption that the entire world was moving ever onwards to a better future was dominant. The idea of the inevitability or possibility of a global libertarian future originates from that belief.
In many ways Anarchism was/is the libertarian extreme of the European Enlightenment — against god and the state. In some countries such as turn of the Twentieth Century Spain it was the Enlightenment — its militantly pro-science anti-clericism being as much an attraction as its anti-capitalism. Yet the rubbish of history is not so easily discarded and ‘progressive’ revolutionary movements have often been, in essence, form and aim, the continuation of religion by other means. As an example, the belief that universal peace and beauty would be reached through apocalyptic tumults of blood and fire (revolution/the millennium/the collapse) indicates firmly that as an enlightenment ideology, Anarchism has been heavily burdened by its Euro-Christian origins. John Gray was talking about Marxism when he said it was a “…a radical version of the enlightenment belief in progress — itself a mutation of Christian hopes… [Following] Judaism and Christianity in seeing history as a moral drama, that’s last act is salvation.” [2] While some anarchists never fell for such bunkum, many did, and some still do.
These days Progress itself is increasingly questioned both by anarchists and across society. I have yet to meet anyone today who still believes in the inevitability [3] of a global anarchist future. However the idea of a global movement, confronting a global present and creating a global future has many apostles. Some of these are even libertarians and look hopefully to the possibility of global anarchist revolution.
The illusory triumph of capitalism following the destruction of the Berlin Wall lead to the proclamation — more utopian [4] than real — of a New World Order — a global capitalist system. The reaction of many to globalisation was to posit one from below, and this was only re-enforced by the near simultaneous public emergence of the Zapatistas and the invention of the Web. The subsequent international action days, often coinciding with summits, became the focus for the supposedly global anti-capitalist ‘movement of movements’. The excitement on the streets enabled many to forestall seeing the spectre by looking in the direction of the ‘global movement’. But there never was a global movement against capitalism, then [5] , or ever [6] , just as capitalism itself was never truly global. There are many, many places where capitalist relations are not the dominant practice, and even more where anti-capitalist (nevermind anarchist) movements simply don’t exist.
Amidst the jolly unreality of this period of ‘Global Resistance’ some could get really carried away: “We have no interest in reforming the World Bank or the IMF; we want it abolished as part of an international anarchist revolution.” [7] Such statements are understandable if written in the drunk-like exuberance one can sometimes feel on having defeated the police, but they are found more commonly. The self-description of one Anarchist Federation reads: “As the capitalist system rules the whole world, its destruction must be complete and worldwide”. [8]
The illusion of a singular world capitalist present is mirrored by the illusion of a singular world anarchist future.
I love us, there’s so much we can do and be, but there are limits
Anarchists are growing in number. Groups and counter-cultures are appearing in countries where there were few, or no, social movement anarchists [9]previously. Yet an honest appraisal of our strengths and prospects, and those of the communities and classes we are part of, would show clearly that we are not growing “the new society in the shell of the old” [10] , that someday will liberate the world in a moment of rupture. The earth has a lot of places with a lot of people; a reality that can increasingly easily get lost in the web-encapsulated global (activist) village. [11] To want to rid the world of capitalist social relations, or further still civilisation, is one thing. To be capable of doing so is something else entirely. We are not everywhere — we are rare.
Actions, circles of friends, social centres, urban guerrilla cells, magazine editorial groups, eco-warriors, housing co-ops, students, refuges, arsonists, parents, squats, scientists, peasants, strikers, teachers, land based communes, musicians, tribespeople, street gangs, loving insurgents and so, so much else. Anarchists can be wonderful. We can have beauty, and self-possessed power and possibility in buckets. We cannot, however, remake the entire world; there are not enough of us, and never will be.
Some may argue that a global libertarian revolution can succeed without being made, or significantly aided, by overt anarchists so ‘our’ present numbers and resources are null and void. While it’s a given that social crises and revolt are regular occurrences in societies based on class warfare; to put ones faith in the ‘revolutionary impulse of the proletariat’ is a theory approximate to saying ‘It’ll be alright on the night.’

There is unfortunately little evidence from history that the working class — never mind anyone else — is intrinsically predisposed to libertarian or ecological revolution. Thousands of years of authoritarian socialisation favour the jackboot… [12]

Neither we, nor anyone else, can create a libertarian and ecological global future society by expanding social movements. Further, there is no reason to think that in the absence of such a vast expansion, a global social transformation congruent with our desires will ever happen. As anarchists we are not the seed of the future society in the shell of the old, but merely one of many elements from which the future is forming. That’s ok; when faced with such scale and complexity, there is a value in non-servile humility — even for insurgents.
To give up hope for global anarchist revolution is not to resign oneself to anarchy remaining an eternal protest. Seaweed puts it well:

Revolution is not everywhere or nowhere. Any bioregion can be liberated through a succession of events and strategies based on the conditions unique to it, mostly as the grip of civilisation in that area weakens through its own volition or through the efforts of its inhabitants… Civilisation didn’t succeed everywhere at once, and so it’s undoing might only occur to varying degrees in different places at different times. [13]

Even if an area is seemingly fully under the control of authority there are always places to go, to live in, to love in and to resist from. And we can extend those spaces. The global situation may seem beyond us, but the local never is. As anarchists we are neither entirely powerless nor potentially omnipotent, thankfully.
From anti-globalisation to climate change
For many of us, when the turn of the century anti-globalisation surge lost its momentum, [14] the global thinking, and religious optimism went with it. However, in the last few years, an attempt to resurrect the ‘global movement’ appeared amongst us once again — this time around climate change.
The mobilisation at the Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference was billed by many as the next Seattle [15] and some groups have claimed they are “building a global movement to solve the climate crisis.” [16] Greenpeace, for instance, says “climate change is a global public ‘bad’. To solve it requires global collective action… We have no alternative but to build a global grassroots movement, move politicians forward, and force corporations and banks to change direction.” [17] I’ll take it as a given that you the reader understand the naive unreality of such lobby groups but it’s worth looking at those at the less institutionalised end of climate change campaigning.
There are three main tendencies, and sometimes folk wander from one to another. Firstly, there are those that have similar beliefs to Greenpeace — i.e. ‘direct action’ as an awareness raising/lobbying strategy. Secondly, there are those who use the discourse around climate change to aid mobilisation in local campaigns which, though unlikely to have any effect on climate change, at least have practical and sometimes achievable objectives in mind i.e. halting the destruction of an ecosystem/the worsening wellbeing [18] of a community or simply increasing self-sufficiency. [19] Thirdly, there are those nostalgic anti-capitalists who envision ‘climate justice’ as a metamorphosis of the imagined “alter-globalisation movement” [20] (notice it’s increasingly no longer anti-globalisation). An anonymous writer described the last tendency well:

[When activists] try to convince us that it’s the ‘last chance to save the earth’… it’s because they’re trying to build social movements… There is a growing and disturbing trend that has been lingering around radical circles over the last few years, based on the idea that blind positivity can lead to interesting and unexpected successes. Michael Hardt and Tony Negri’s books have provided some of the theoretical bases for this, and it has been taken up by some who want to unite the masses under the banner of precarity, organise migrants and mobilise for summits. For many coming from the left wing tradition, it has been the message of hope that they were wanting to hear, at a time when their ideologies seemed more moribund than ever.

…Theoreticians who should understand capitalism well enough to know better, write that a global basic income or free movement for all is an achievable goal. They may not believe it themselves, but ostensibly want to inspire others to believe in it, claiming that the ‘moments of excess’ generated by such Utopian dreams will give rise to potent movements for change. Climate change… is certainly a suitable testing ground for the politics of manufactured hope, being so alienated from our actual everyday realities. But whilst the new movement politicians — facilitators not dictators — watch their movements grow, there is still a case for living in the real world. [21]

Outside the convention centres the new stars appear more and more like those within. Inside and out the message is that a global future is winnable if only we organise. However, the reality both within ecosystems generally and peoples stomachs in particular is that there is no global singular future [22]and no imaginary community, either of states or ‘multitudes’ (or both a la Cochabamba) [23] can stop climate change.
Given our obvious inability to re-make the entire world the way we might like it to be, some replace the myth of ‘global revolution’ with a belief in imminent ‘global collapse’ — these days usually some mix of climate change and peak oil. As we shall see later (both in the next chapters and our future years) global heating will severely challenge civilisation in some areas and probably vanquish it in others. Yet in some regions it will likely open up possibilities for the spread of civilisations rule. Some lands may remain (relatively) temperate — climatically and socially. As for civilisation, so for anarchy and anarchists — severely challenged, sometimes vanquished; possibilities for liberty and wildness opening up, possibilities for liberty and wildness closing. The unevenness of the present will be made more so. There is no global future.

read more here:

Part 1 :: Part 2 :: Part 3 :: Part 4 :: Part 5 :: Part 6 :: Part 7 :: Part 8 :: Part 9 :: Part 10

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