I Quit

After a month of gnawing on the failure of the People’s Climate March – there, I said it – I am quitting; capitalism, that is. Marches too, to a large extent. So there are myriad ways the September protest was flawed; it was immediately apparent, when only three or four hundred thousand people showed up in New York City. Remember, in the early 1960s more than a million came out for a march in Washington D.C. about civil rights, at a time when the U.S. population was about half what it is now. More than ten million attended the first Earth Day in 1972, triggered by *Silent Spring* and the iconic view of Earth taken from the Moon on Christmas Eve 1968. In 2003, more than ten million worldwide protested the impending Iraq invasion; this time, during the People’s Climate March, estimates of worldwide participation hover around 750,000. I went to the San Francisco Bay Area event held in solidarity with NYC; from the estimated 10 million humans in the nine Bay Area counties, we managed to almost fill a park that holds 5,000. On a Sunday afternoon where the weather could not have been better for sitting on grass and watching speakers use microphones powered by people pedaling bike generators.
So 400,000 got together in the Big Apple and no one got arrested. Nice, peaceful crowd you might say. Or irrelevant crowd, you might say. A dear friend of mine was there; she traveled by train as part of the Code Pink contingent. She also went to the Flood Wall Street action on Monday, where 3,000 people were actually trying to impede the capitalism that is driving climate change, among other evils of that system that we are so mysteriously silent about. I find it so hard to believe: 400,000 show up on a Sunday, carrying their cardboard signs, many having flown in for the event and undoubtedly fueled by a morning coffee made with beans harvested by exploited workers in a cup that used to be a tree and capped with a plastic lid that used to be an indigenous community somewhere out of our sight; and then they all went home. Nothing to see here; no business that needs to be disrupted if we are to save the planet, no corporate leaders who are making decisions that are killing the planet and who happen to live in NYC that need to know, to viscerally understand for once, that their actions are unacceptable. This highlights how the NGOs that *lead* the climate movement are not bent on system change; rather they want to maintain our American consumptive lifestyle, just in a *less harmful* way. They manage us for the benefit of the system, not the polluters: they craft the public’s perception so as to not offend the rich; they limit expression of the pain we all feel for what is happening to our Mother Earth. At least a few of the Flood Wall Street protestors got arrested, including the Polar Bear: “Wasn’t that cute?” But any effective action that might bring an end to the scourge of capitalism, well we just can’t have that now, can we!
Let’s not forget that the reason this particular Sunday was chosen was because there was a meeting scheduled at the United Nations to talk about climate change on Tuesday. Dozens of world leaders spoke. But you don’t remember that part, because the actions on Sunday, and on Monday despite dozens of arrests, had no impact on the policies that capitalism demands.
Among the leaders of the climate movement, Naomi Klein speaks loudly. She released a book that ties Capitalism and climate change together, also in September. I love her writing and I appreciate that she uses the word capitalism in her book and tries to point out its failings. But if you think for a second that climate change is the biggest problem capitalism presents us, then you have fallen for the propaganda that has permeated our awareness for decades: mind control that makes the real issues of capitalism invisible. That means you can’t see, haven’t seen, that capitalism exploits us to our (early) death, depends on slavery and genocide just to make *a buck*, values property over people, and forces us to sell ourselves just to survive. It would mean that if capitalism were to become *green* by beginning to profit from selling environmentally safer products, that capitalism would be OK…oh wait! Most people who become environmental activists start by trying to shop their way to sustainability; buying curly light bulbs, or hybrid cars, or 23-cubic foot *energy-efficient* refrigerators. Apparently we have yet to understand that capitalism is the problem, not the solution.
It is capitalism that encourages us to buy the latest smartphone so that we can tweet about our environmental awareness. It is capitalism that encourages us to sign online petitions against the use of fossil fuel even as more coal-burning power plants start up in China to electrify the factories where workers get paid less than the prevailing average wage, work 14 or 16 hours a day every day sewing your next shirt that you will buy because you’ve already worn the shirts you own *several times*. Those power plants in China, by the way, are the origin of over a quarter of the particulate pollution in the air above Los Angeles today. It is capitalism that encourages us to take on debt just to meet our daily survival needs because the need for profit has meant we have not received a wage increase in real purchasing terms since the late 1960s. It is capitalism that encourages us to ignore the fact that in the U.S., our current national debt and unfunded liabilities like Social Security and Medicare mean that if each and every resident of the country (young and old included) were to work at the current median wage of just over $44,000 a year and put that entire annual paycheck towards meeting the debt, it would only take us 2.83 billion years to pay off our debt. It is capitalism that encourages us to put more and more money into banks so that the purchasers of the banks’ bonds, their *lenders* in other words, lose nothing in the event of a bad investment decision. It is capitalism that encourages us to wait patiently while corporations negotiate, out of sight of the public, *free trade* agreements that ensure no national law or regulation can stop whatever the business must do in order to make a profit; people and environment be damned, profit is the only important reason for business. It is capitalism that encourages us to vote and to therefore believe that our vote is important, even though all the politicians know who the real boss is; the campaign financier. It is capitalism that encourages us to let schools and hospitals be closed in our neighborhoods because we, as cogs in the great machine of capital, are dispensable and don’t need to be healed and don’t need to be able to think critically and figure out why we are so sick and so poor. It is capitalism that encourages us to accept the distractions of media and intoxication so that we no longer feel the pain and fear that results from the atomization of our families, communities, and culture.

I could go on and on, but I hope you’ve recognized a few, at least, of the problems capitalism presents. If you crave an explicit *remedy* to this monstrosity, you can do worse than to check out Charles Eisenstein’s “Sacred Economics”. Don’t let the word sacred get in the way; we definitely could use a little more remembering how life is sacred and how much better we all feel when we have more sacred moments. In the meantime, let’s stop feeding the beast; buy nothing other than what you absolutely require for survival. And yes, that means no more phone *upgrades*.

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2 Responses to I Quit

  1. Paul Heft says:

    You’re right, capitalism is the main “problem” we have, but it’s not an “issue” that many people can get riled up about–partly due to their ignorance of capitalism. Naomi Klein is catching on, in her latest book she says we “will require a completely different economic system.” But she’s not a revolutionary, she doesn’t make ending capitalism the center of her strategy; rather, she hopes that environmentalists and social justice activists can, joining together, force fast enough decarbonization to save the species’ collective ass, while also winning social justice struggles. Like you, she calls for decreased consumption, but that’s to reduce emissions (since climate change “is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy”), not to starve the beast.

    You will feel better if you radically restrict your consumption, and it may be the most moral choice, but I don’t see how that will stop capitalism. There are many countries where a majority of citizens have much lower consumption, yet capitalism thrives in those settings too. A financial crash (possibly caused by reduced consumption) will wipe out some fortunes and probably reduce emissions, but capitalism is quite resilient, it survives great wars and depressions, and it will survive a crash.

    Somehow a large fraction of humans must give up on capitalism, give up on their leaders, and be willing to take a leap into Charles Eisenstein’s “Age of Reunion”, but I don’t see how that can happen. You can complain that not enough people are marching or disrupting as activists, but that seems to be the way the world is. Any ideas for how to shift such a numbed consciousness?

  2. derektennant says:

    “Somehow a large fraction of humans must give up on capitalism, give up on their leaders, and be willing to take a leap into Charles Eisenstein’s “Age of Reunion”, but I don’t see how that can happen.”
    Agreed, Paul. And I worry as I lie awake each night that only collapse will make it happen. In 2013 I was focused on the exterior: direct action, above and beyond *civil disobedience*, but this year is focused much ore on my inner work. I am not writing nearly as much, certainly not a book, but am experimenting with adjusting my own view of our world. Some would call it shamanic, others crazy; but either way I am learning about a few of the other *worlds* of energy that co-exist in this so-called *material* plane. That is very satisfying; but every once in awhile a little bit of my old self leaks out from between my fingers and dribbles out onto my blog. This was one of those times. This post feels more like a plea for sanity from an insane part of me…of which there are more than one! I am still nowhere near being ready to write about this new perspective, but I am thankful I am exploring new ground when the old ground, pointed to here in this post, is so trampled. i do feel that the changes that are needed start within our human hearts; and to that extent then yes, the changes I make in my own personal consumption habits are necessary. Alone I cannot change the world; but as I change my energy, others are affected. And I can’t be responsible for anyone else, anyway.
    Thanks for your reply; I thought I had shut down my FB connection to this blog, on purpose. Not to shut you out, but to shut FB out. I have left the account open for my Thai family to use to communicate with me, but honestly haven’t even looked at it since taking the app off my phone back in July. Good to hear from you my friend!

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