As it is with so many matters in life, power is the ultimate issue when it comes to creating sustainable, resilient communities.
Do we as a people have the wherewithal we need to successfully transform ourselves to a post fossil fuel world in which we can both survive, even thrive?
The answer to this question is especially important as it informs each and every one of us as to whether our participation and actions in such an endeavor will be efficacious, or just a waste of time. Do we, as average human beings going about our everyday lives in our homes and communities, schools and workplaces, possess the necessary power to create this transformation?
This is not an easy matter for us to address, especially as it’s typically understood as a question not simply of power, as such, but rather, of power-over, of possessing the sufficient force (economic, social, legal -- or simply raw, naked force) to impose our will on life and our circumstances to get what we want.
Down through the years, power has been viewed and practiced as a one-up/one-down configuration, an arrangement that is intended to dominate and control. This invariably has resulted in an adversarial, exploitive and abusive relationship that benefits one at the expense of another. The essence of political power, it is a zero sum scenario, the core of the most basic relationships of our civilization: man over woman, rich over poor, white over black, and so on. Power-over is the way our world has run.
Unfortunately, it has also been the way that people have attempted to correct and change these relationships, to triumph in the us vs them game. Notwithstanding our better instincts, human beings invariably (and understandably) conclude that, in order to cease being one-down, we must become one-up, instead. In an either/or, political world, we believe, there is no other choice.
The irony, of course, is that we end up resorting to a variation of the same power dynamic that was at the heart of the original conflict, to begin with. True, the issue is now dressed up as good guys vs. bad, justice over injustice, and freedom over oppression. But this only blinds us as to what is really taking place. Regardless of the "revolutionary" or "liberating" trappings, and the fact that the actors involved have changed places in the hierarchical scheme of things, the ancient power-over dynamic continues, dooming us to yet another round of this endless, self-defeating cycle.
Nowhere is the world of politics-as-usual and its life-diminishing consequences more apparent than in the climate crisis that we face today. At its heart is the same quest for domination and control that has fatally compromised the better instincts of human beings all along. Since at least the dawn of agriculture, it is this mindless, highly exploitive and destructive, species-specific relationship -- human beings over (the rest of) nature -- that has brought us to the no-exit dilemma we face today. This is starkly illustrated in the current mad pursuit of the very last drop of petroleum that Big Oil is pursuing (and that the rest of us are allowing), through tar sands, fracking and deep water drilling.
If we are to successfully transition to resilient communities, we must avoid this power arrangement, and evolve instead an alternative approach, one that provides us with a genuinely transformative way of life. We must do so despite the fact that our efforts to make this transition to a sane, habitable planet will be seriously opposed by those who profit enormously from the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels.
But contrary to conventional wisdom, political solutions do not successfully resolve political problems. Yes, we must defend ourselves when our lives and well-being are threatened, as they are now by Big Oil and the corporate state; but this must be done, not by assuming an adversarial position, in kind, attempting to triumph-over, but by doing only what is necessary to render them harmless, to removing their threat to our existence. Hence, rather than viewing the defeat of our adversaries as the necessary prerequisite to the world we desire, our approach to them is one of disarming, restraining and pacifying so that we can all live together in a more peaceful, socially just way.
This can only be accomplished through the practice of the values that rest at the heart of our larger purpose -- creating a society whose citizens live their lives and meet their needs by considering the well-being of the life around them, as well as seven generations from now. We do this, not by trying to force others to conform to what we think they should be, but by actually living the vision of a sustainable existence, instead, one that is founded on the acceptance of and compassion for all living beings, including those who oppose this vision.
Acting on our lives in this proactive manner is the essence of empowerment. It is the key that allows us, as a people, to be both self- and community-sufficient. Not only do we increasingly meet our basic needs through our own means, but at the same time we reduce our dependency on those outside forces that we presently rely upon to feed us, provide us with energy and transportation, educate, inform, and entertain us, and to basically run our lives for us. Rather than oppose or fight against, we live our lives in collaboration and cooperation with the rest of the world. An empowered citizenry goes about their lives by being responsible for themselves and to their neighbors, taking care of themselves and meeting their needs both as individuals and communities.
In short, we act like the grown up people we sometimes are, and who we always have the potential to be.
Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions and can be reached at 802.869.2141 and firstname.lastname@example.org