Posts Tagged ‘Political Change’

Howdy from Tucson, where the final day of Spring came in at (depending  on which forecast you believe) somewhere between 112 and 114 degrees F (45 degrees C for you furriners). (Update: it was actually 115 F.)

It’s supposed to be even warmer tomorrow (make that in a few hours). (Update: It was warmer: 116 (47 C) ; in Phoenix it was 119. As I write, the high today was a mere 115, and we’re in for a major cooling spell this weekend, where the highs won’t get much above 110.)

About three weeks ago, after our first string of 100+ degree days, one of the local weathermen (Kevin Jeanes on KOLD — and sorry for the political incorrectness, that should be “weatherperson” or “person of weather”) with, shall we say a dry sense of humor, commented that the temperature was “all the way down to 99, and it’ll be even cooler tomorrow at 97.” (Again, for those of you who use a rational temperature scale, that translates to 37 C and 36 C.)

For those who haven’t been paying attention to U.S. climate models, they predict that this region, the desert Southwest, will be the hardest hit of the “lower 48.” And indeed it has been. We’ve been in a prolonged drought for nearly 20 years (broken last year by “normal” rainfall), and two of the last three years, 2014 and 2016, were the hottest on record. We just experienced the second warmest Spring ever, with the hottest March (high and mid 90s temperatures starting around March 1).

So, yeah, global warming is a “hoax.” We need to burn more coal. Donald Trump is an intelligent, honest, compassionate human being. And the unfettered greed inherent in capitalism isn’t a death sentence for the planet.

Things seem bleak, but we’re not totally screwed. There are things we can do individually and collectively to adapt and to counter global warming.

One thing damn near everyone can do is to plant trees. If done on a mass scale, this can reverse desertification. Even on an individual scale, it’s one of the best things we can do.

Gardening is another individual approach that makes sense. It involves far less expense than transporting food for thousands of miles, and involves far less waste. It also yields health benefits via relaxation, if nothing else.

Another individual approach, in arid regions, is to use xeriscaping, using native plants and a carpeting of rocks in place of lawns and non-native plants. This saves water — a lot of it, and it looks better than lawns.

Then there’s water harvesting — again, something damn near everyone (at least every property owner) can do at reasonable cost that will be amortized in a relatively few years. Even if you’re just channeling rain water from your roof and patio into wells for your fruit trees (as I am), it helps.

And then there’s passive solar heating (just think big picture windows facing south with an overhang that cuts off the sun in the summer months) and solar hot water heating (ultra easy — I built a solar hot water heater out of two old hot water heaters painted flat black [stripped of their external metal jacket and insulation], plumbing fittings, an old window, and scrap plywood and 2X4s about 20 years ago — a friend is still using it).

Then there’s ultra-insulation. Think straw bale and rammed earth construction. These energy-saving approaches can be used almost anywhere, and will often result in extremely energy-efficient dwellings.

To go even further on the individual scale, basements make a hell of a lot of sense in desert areas. Temperatures in them are a good 25 degrees F below surface temperatures, and there aren’t even seepage problems in deserts. The only reason they haven’t been adopted on a mass scale in the sprawlopalises  of the Southwest is that land, historically, has been so damn cheap that builders have foregone them in place of slab construction, which yields better short-term profits. If you’re having a place built in this area, think about adding a basement.

As for societal approaches, they’re so obvious that I’ll mention them only in passing. First and foremost, a direct tax on carbon emissions — screw carbon “offsets”: they’re a recipe for fraud; massive public investment in clean energy; energy-efficient transport and appliances; mass investment in public transit, including bicycle projects; tree planting on a mass scale; and subsidies for individual clean energy projects, passive-solar retrofits, water harvesting,  and energy-efficient construction.

Why do I think all of this is important? There are a couple of reasons.

One is that if adopted widely all of this would help save the planet (or at least make the lives of our children and their children better). The other is that it would keep people involved, and at least marginally hopeful. People without hope are easy to control and manipulate. Real, positive change is possible only when people have hope.

If you haven’t already done so — even on the smallest individual scale — please join those of us trying to create real change, please join those of us creating hope.




Anarchist Cookbook front cover(from The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, Introduction by Chris Hedges, scheduled for October 2015)

All-action revolutionary types often criticize educational work (books, bookstores, infoshops, discussion groups, web sites, videos, theater, music, graffiti, stickers, flyers, posters, etc.–but especially almost any type of  analysis) as being “useless,” “all talk, no action,” or even “cowardly.” Some extend this to other types of political action, such as nonviolent street demonstrations, the building of model communities, workplace organizing, and even nonviolent civil disobedience, and reject them all. In their view, the only real revolutionary action lies in confrontations–in general, the more violent the better–with the authorities, especially the police.

Neglecting the reductionist (and macho) nature of this all-action approach, and its conspicuous lack of success, let’s look at whether it has any validity in regard to educational work.

One reason that many people become impatient with educational work is that the immediate payoffs from doing it are few and far between. It’s entirely possible to spend one’s life doing educational work and to have nothing tangible to show for it.

As an example, a friend of mine has spent nearly four decades working as the unpaid, de facto manager of an anarchist bookstore. During that time, the store has sold hundreds of thousands of books and pamphlets, has served as a free meeting place for innumerable discussion and organizing groups, and has spawned many other projects. Yet the revolution hasn’t happened in my friend’s lifetime. So, have the thousands of hours he’s spent doing unpaid educational work been a waste? Those who hold the all-action approach would say “yes.” I’d say “no.”

One obvious thing all-action types overlook is that those engaged in educational work almost invariably advocate other kinds of political/social change activities as well as education, and often engage in them. Virtually no one advances the view that educational work in itself is enough to bring revolutionary change.

Another obvious thing all-action types overlook is that educational work (often in conjunction with noviolent direct action and, sometimes, even electoral strategies) can lead to incremental reforms. Often these reforms are of the ten-steps-forward-nine-steps-back type, as with reproductive rights, and sometimes they come more suddenly, as with the current tidal movement to end drug prohibition. Again, virtually no one argues that such reforms will bring revolutionary change. Such reforms do, however, tend to make people’s lives better in the here and now, and every step toward greater freedom tends to delegitimatize belief in coercive authority.

But the most obvious thing that those who dismiss educational work miss is that thought precedes action. In insurrectionary situations, one of the key questions–very probably the key question–is what ideas, what beliefs, are in the heads of the people in the streets?

Do they still hold the old beliefs in civil and religious authority? Do they still believe that such authority is “inevitable” and that they (and everyone else) should be subject to it, and that all that’s needed is “better” people at the top? Do they still believe in hierarchy and competition-based economics?

Or have they rejected capitalism and religion but still believe in coercive authority, and simply want to give it to a new “revolutionary” class?

Or have they (at least a sizable conscious minority) rejected hierarchy and coercion in all their forms and want to build a new society based on voluntary cooperation, mutual aid, egalitarian distribution of wealth and labor, and direct democracy?

These are crucial questions, and the answers to them in large part determine the outcomes of revolutionary situations.

Look no further than the Iranian “revolution” to see the results of a mass revolt in which a large majority of those taking part held reactionary beliefs, and still accepted religious, governmental, and capitalist authority. Look no further than the Russian “revolution” to see the results of a revolt in which the most active of those taking part had rejected capitalism and religion but retained faith in authority, and belief in the need for a directing new class of “revolutionaries.”

Look to Spain (1936-1939) for a real revolution. There, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists had engaged in decades of mass union organizing and educational work prior to the outbreak of the revolution. They abolished government and capitalism, and brought workplace democracy, community democracy, and egalitarian economics to millions of Spaniards in large regions of Spain. That they were stabbed in the back by the Spanish Communists and crushed by the combined forces of Spanish, German, and Italian fascism does not diminish their achievements.

And those achievements point to an important lesson: thought precedes action, and the content of thoughts determines actions.

Educational work in itself is not enough to produce revolution. But without it, no revolution is likely to succeed.

* * *

We’ve already looked at voting, vanguard parties, and “simple living” as means to change. Over the coming weeks we’ll look at street demonstrations, urban guerrillaism, union organizing, and housing occupations, workplace occupations, and public-space occupations as means to change.


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