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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

Welcome to 2019: Buckle Up

In 1968 my favorite Phil Ochs’ song was the title track from his 4th album, Tape From California. I’ve forgotten some of its words, but one stanza remains etched in my mind: “The anarchists are rising, while we’re racing for the moon. It doesn’t take a seer to see the scene is coming soon.” It captured the revolutionary fervor of 1968, but its prediction was not to be.

50 years later, that dramatic prediction is upon us for an entirely different reason.

It is hard to be optimistic about our species’ prospects. In the coming decades almost 10 billion of us face monster storms, more erratic temperatures, rising sea levels and resulting resource depletion that will decimate the productive capacity of the planet. We will endure deprivation on an almost unimaginable scale, and history teaches us that tribalism rises whenever societies face such threats.

I use the concept of tribalism, rather than racism, although the two are deeply interrelated, because I see the former as having more to do with what we identify with and the latter as what we are against, or who we identify as the enemy. It is understandable that people seek to “find their tribe.” We crave the community and sense of belonging this gives us, but it is so easily manipulated to turn people against each other.

Trump is a manifestation of tribalism, as are leaders of many countries from Russian, to Brazil and Turkey. As the seas rise, and the crops fail, the number of refugees, recently estimated by the UN at 69 million, will swell to hundreds of millions, or even billions fleeing misery. Authoritarian leaders will have fertile ground to till as they employ fear to goad people to protect what is theirs from evil hoards of interlopers. What we see now at the Mexican border only hints at what is to come.

On the other hand, our species is awakening to the danger. There is worldwide recognition that we must develop an unprecedented international movement to save the productive capacity of the planet. Masses of Europeans are already involved and indigenous peoples’ resistance, now most pronounced in Latin America but growing in Africa and Asia, has the potential to develop into a world-spanning effort to resist our current capitalist orders’ global death march. Even in our own country, where climate change denial remains powerful, thousands of young people, and their indigenous allies, are dedicating their lives to preventing the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, and the concept of a Green New Deal is gaining momentum.

This as yet amorphous set of movements is the antithesis of tribalism. It celebrates diversity, embraces refugees and seeks to provide sanctuary. It recognizes the commonality of our humanity and envisions a world grounded in cooperation, not competition, in equity over profit, and on living sustainably rather than requiring endless expansion. Fueled by each new climate change-related disaster, it is gathering recruits daily.

These diametrically opposed social movements are growing, and are bound to clash. “It doesn’t take a seer to see the scene is coming soon.” There is hope for a good outcome, but we face a tidal wave of turmoil so it is time to buckle up.
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