It is not sufficient to seek the changes we need in our present circumstances by simply expressing our outrage at the political and corporate interests responsible for our dire situation. While the latter may appease us with reforms, these are all crafted within the limitations of the existing power arrangements, and thus don’t speak to the kind of changes that we really need. Understandably, these are not in the interests of those in power as it would seriously diminish, if not eliminate altogether, their privileging of power-over the rest of us and other living beings. Without this paradigm — the power to be in control — they could not oppress, exploit and profit from us as they do.
Real change is only found when we address the root of the symptoms we’re protesting. Until we cease our efforts of engaging in a struggle for a “liberating” and “revolutionary” version of the very same political power that has brought us to where we are today, our efforts will be self-defeating. Because the exercise of power-over is both the origin and daily practice of our civilization, it is not surprising that its activist adoption has fatally compromised our efforts to change some of its various manifestations of civilization’s lust for control.
The unprecedented nature of our times, with its existential threat of near-term collapse, commands that our response be transformative. Only then will we be relevant to the long emergency that we have entered. Rather than engaging in power struggles, we need to forge a new paradigm, one that rather than trying to change what is by exercising power-over our circumstances, we create the alternative by engaging in a truly revolutionary approach of living our lives now as liberated, values-directed beings.
This can only be accomplished , however, by creating the life-affirmative existence we both want and need, as well as withdrawing our participation in our current dehumanizing way of life. And doing so now. As I emphasized in my most recent column about the importance of the everyday, the dialectic of creation and withdrawal must be grounded in the present moment. Otherwise, it loses its transformative power. The “future” we want will only be realized when it is acted upon, right now.
This approach is at the heart of the transformative change required in our relationships. We especially need to act on gender, racial, class, and generation relationships, finally moving beyond the power arrangements that are responsible for so much of the unnecessary pain and suffering in the world, and increasingly creating an everyday level of responsibility and commitment that they don’t presently have.
Our effort at a more consistent values practice is not starting at square one. We have demonstrated over the years a capacity for rising to the occasion when a family member, neighbor, friend, or even a complete stranger is in need. This compassionate, generous potential needs to be expanded, brought to another level now because what is required of us is not for a temporary intervention, but for the wholesome relationships necessitated by the long emergency.
It is precisely the maturing of our moral fiber that can realize a spiritual adulthood, grounded in a consistent practice of our inherent values that empower us to be the good person we are. This is not the power of control, but one that arises from being a liberated, selfless person of integrity who conducts ourselves as such in a world of countervailing power. This is empowerment, which can only be realized by ourselves, for ourselves, in solidarity with a community of other self-empowering people.
Our efforts are manifold, consisting largely of modest steps that are familiar to and perhaps already being done by at least some of us. Making conscientious efforts, for example, at increasingly reducing our cost of living and withdrawing from the religion of consumerism is one example, something that can be accomplished in a variety of ways. From buying used clothing and repairing what is broken, providing more of our diet through gardening and preserving and transporting ourselves by biking as much as we can, to doing without the latest gizmo or fashion and foregoing keeping up with the Joneses, and finally cancelling our credit cards and getting ourselves out of debt may not seem like much in isolation, but as part of a pattern, they represent an emerging transformation most relevant to a collapsing world.
Reducing our material needs also allows us to rethink work and how we earn the income we have felt we needed, to consider, instead, doing something more meaningful and enjoyable, though it might pay less. We could also explore with friends and neighbors the possibilities of sharing and bartering goods and skills. This would have the added potential of evolving into more substantial collaborative, community-wide arrangements of interconnection and mutual aid.
These and many other examples demonstrate how creating and withdrawing are the first steps to becoming a people who learn how to take care of ourselves and each other in a collapsing society.