July 17, 2011

Movement and Psychology/Spirit


Would it be better to die knowing your life had been meaningless, or would you rather have created meaning for it? This question always looms for us, but especially in those bad times where crime and tyranny imposes a long time of troubles on a people, where the stark options are to fight or die, this death being perhaps literal, perhaps “only” spiritual. In such times, part of the task of a political movement is to help the fighters organize their struggle in such a way that they create this meaning for themselves, independently of whatever temporal success they attain.
The kleptocracy itself makes an effort to astroturf a simulation of such meaningfulness. Indeed, even today polls still indicate that Americans think this “country”, such as it currently is, is still the best kind of place to live. But such sentiments are clearly only skin-deep. Except for the rich and a few stupid progressives, everyone knows in his gut we’re headed at high speed for a brick wall. The “war on terror” can’t drum up the requisite enthusiasm. To do what? – Snitching as an heroic deed? All these idiots can do is meekly submit to TSA scanners and an ever-intensifying police state. Not even as active fascist cadres, but merely as passive recipients. No, one can’t muster the true collective civic enthusiasm that way, even in a perverted form. Rousseau had it pegged a long time ago – to have a citizen movement, the citizenry must actively participate. Where they passively abdicate their own function to mercenaries and become mere spectators and subjects, they liquidate themselves as a people. That’s what’s happening today at every juncture within the system and its rump vestige of civil society.
In the end, the kleptocracy is hamstrung by its own ideology that only money has value. So by definition it will have a difficult, perhaps impossible, task in seeking to enlist the spirit. How do you do that when you just told everyone that only money matters?
Our movement, on the contrary, declares that among public actions only what you do out of your moral imperative has any value. (In private actions we have love, friendship, family and community loyalty. In public actions, where these come into play at all, we have only the moral value of loyalty to them.) For now we still need money to survive, so we have no choice but to acquire it. But as far as what it is in itself, we spit on it.
The movement will have many aspects which appeal to many elements of the human experience. There’s philosophical and moral principle. There’s rationalism in accord with the evidence. Food sovereignty is extremely powerful on both counts.
There’s also the appeal to the soul, the attempt to create a deep sense of spiritual meaning. How will this new movement make this appeal? One obvious example, ready to hand, is to revive the Victory Garden ideal of WWII and apply it to our own food relocalization efforts. In theory this can be far more potent today, as today we are literally fighting for our communities and families in a way we weren’t back then. A movement of seed saving and seed banking can similarly be elaborated as Freedom Seeds.
What else is there? For now I’m still in a brainstorming stage, not yet clearly seeing what is to be done. But I’ve long had my idea of transposing the idea of the American Revolution to our present moment. We embody the exact same ideals facing up against the same onslaught as the original Revolution. We continue in its spirit. The original was hijacked and misdirected in 1787-8. Today, facing the climax and final resolution of this hijacking, we must continue the original Revolution. We must take up that fallen torch and carry it to its rightful, historically ordained democratic destination.
Part of how we’ll do this is through the righteous movement for Food Sovereignty, which ties in with our fundamental imperative to redeem our connection with the land. This spiritual grounding in the literal ground itself was one of our most precious human possessions, and one which we so carelessly threw away. People sense this. Even the 60s-70s era “getting back to the land” movement, as premature, unprepared, and even childish as it often was, still captured the imaginations of far more people than actually participated. Today the need is infinitely more critical, we have far more knowledge and resolve, and the time is ripe. I expect that this time, as the public imagination comprehends what’s at stake and what can be done, this imagination will evoke a far more enthusiastic response.
Time banking and other alternatives to money, in addition to their proximate practical effects, constitute the building of a whole new economy, alongside and eventually superseding the system economy. This may be a rich vein of spiritual appeal in itself. My relocalization group has just started a time bank. Last week we had an educational booth at the farmers’ market. In just the discussions we had that day with customers who stopped by (some who already knew us, others strangers to us), my impression was that while they tended to be uncertain about the actual mechanics of the thing, when you said something like “alternative to the cash economy” they responded enthusiastically. They instinctively understood and cherished the idea.
Negatively speaking, anti-corporatism is the struggle of the age. Because corporate tyranny is so far advanced in practice, and seeks totalitarian control in principle and intention, anti-corporate vs. pro-corporate is the dividing line on literally every issue. This stark demarcation, while daunting, can also be a source of strength. Eschatological struggle in itself, the knowledge of being a fighter in the final conflict, is often a potent source of psychological power and determination. We must cultivate this sense.
In the end, what is the age-old “quest for glory” (a term which we often disparage, but which, if we’re honest, sums up much that motivates even the best people), and how is it related to the political animal, politics/volunteering as something not only to be done for its own sake, but in order to be seen, heard, recognized, even acclaimed? This was at the core of the ancient Greek concept of democracy, and it is part of the essence of participatory democracy itself (even if it’s not politically correct to say so). The quest is not stupid or dishonorable in itself. On the contrary it’s part of our humanity. What’s dishonorable is the way it’s been so easily hijacked and perverted to the service of criminal governments and corporations. It is glorious to sacrifice for one’s family, friends, community. It’s stupid and dishonorable to lift a finger for governments, corporations, the rich, any elites.
And what might our affirmative movement look like to the eye, which is also a transmitter to the soul? Here’s one great example from history, excerpted from Lawrence Goodwyn’s The Populist Moment:

In the succeeding eighteen months their new way of looking at things flowered into a mass expression of a new political vision. We may call it (for that is what it is) the movement culture of Populism. This culture involved more than just the bulking of cotton. It extended to frequent Alliance meetings to plan the mass sales – meetings where the whole family came, where the twilight suppers were, in the early days, laid out for ten or twenty members of the suballiance, or for hundreds at a county Alliance meeting, but which soon grew into vast spectacles; long trains of wagons, emblazoned with suballiance banners, stretching literally for miles, trekking to enormous encampments where five, ten, and twenty thousand men and women listened intently to the plans of their Alliance and talked among themselves about those plans…

How is a democratic culture created? Apparently in such prosaic, powerful ways. When a farm family’s wagon crested a hill en route to a Fourth of July “Alliance Day” encampment and the occupants looked back to see thousands of other families trailed out behind them in wagon trains, the thought that “the Alliance is the people and the people are together” took on transforming possibilities.

We must repeat such experiences. But this time we shall win.


  1. What a great post! You can almost sense a future of people getting re-engaged in politics, organizing, farming… life.
    The degradation of what it means to live and be alive is part of what has been accomplished by the degradation and decadence of late-stage capitalism (or just plain old capitalism). People are cynical about politics, because they are not engaged.
    You can’t be engaged in politics as just a voter. That’s the ingenious formula we are living: you are empowered one day every two years, and are a slave the rest of the time.
    To be involved in politics means to be directly involved as a leader and/or follower and actor.
    It’s a small step from voter to passive consumer and debt serf.

    The debt-serf thing is very clever… the whole pseudo-mystical religious aura of debt still surprises me when I find friends and family invoking it: the sanctity of debt to giant rapacious corporations, indeed. But even among the most progressive-minded, you’ll find people getting looks of horror on their faces when you suggest that debt might be, or must be, defaulted on in a jubilee. “But everyone else must suffer as I have,” seems to be the reasoning.
    The paying off of debt also seems to be some kind of heroic journey in our culture.
    But there will be no surplus labor to use for relocalizing agriculture, or a political renewal, until this debt overhang is destroyed.

    Comment by Publius — July 18, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

    • The mysticism of debt on the part of the non-rich (no rich person feels that way; they’ll happily default on any debt the second it’s rational for them to do so) is one of the most bizarre pathologies of our time.

      One of the challenges we face is how to simultaneously declare all existing “contracts” void while asserting the need for new bonds and covenants and debts among ourselves.

      A ways back I started a series which was meant to explore this issue, in the form of commentary on Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals Essay II, but I only wrote two parts.



      Maybe I’ll resume it one of these days.

      I agree completely on how being a citizen, a democrat, a human being is an action. A “democracy” where one’s only significant action is to “vote” once every several years is no such thing. It’s fake, it’s pseudo-democracy. Wolin thought representative government had become corrupted and abused, and he called that “inverted totalitarianism”. But it was really no corruption and no abuse. It was the intended use of fake democracy all along. It merely took the oil surplus to build a complex and powerful enough governmental machine to be able to exercise the full potential of the malevolent doctrine already laid out in Madison’s Federalist #10 and 51.

      Comment by Russ — July 18, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

  2. “Even the 60s-70s era “getting back to the land” movement, as premature, unprepared, and even childish as it often was, still captured the imaginations of far more people than actually participated. Today the need is infinitely more critical, we have far more knowledge and resolve, and the time is ripe.”

    I’d be really interested in reading anything you have to say, or any material you know of, analysing what happened with the Back to the Landers. I was talking to my mum recently about some potential homesteading plans, and one of the first things she said was that my plans reminded her of some American back-to-the-landers who ended up in Cape Breton. She said most of them were young, middle class kids who hadn’t had any experience of poverty, so the possibility of starvation never crossed their minds. A lot of them ended up trying to eke a living out of the same soil that my ancestors who landed in CB tried to- a few inches of topsoil on rock, mostly. Most of them failed, a few of them are still there- the ones that made it were mostly those that opened ancillary businesses like B&Bs, independent publishing companies, and the like. Her comment was that I’d probably have more luck if I stay in southern Ontario, where the soil’s at least half-decent.

    In any case, it seems that the back-to-the-landers contributed a lot to our current understanding of what needs to be done (a lot of organic agriculture techniques like raised beds were popularised during this time, the appropriate tech movement, etc). As a movement, it’s still there in vestigial form. But why did it not gain more steam? Were people just peeled off back into the cities by the still-growing economy? Will it be the final failure of capitalism that makes us any more successful? It would be nice to have some kind of analysis of what happened to these folks to inform our own plans.

    Comment by paper mac — July 19, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    • That’s an excellent idea, paper mac. I don’t know the answer myself, but you’re right that it’s something worth researching. I just made a note of it. (I think I recall Greer writing some stuff about it.)

      Everything I’ve ever heard was basically like you said – they were mostly middle class and could return to that world whenever they chose. They still believed in the infinite growth economy. So when the going got tough, or simply when the novelty wore off, back off the land they went.

      However, not long ago I saw an account of one family who did it, stuck with it, were successful, and their son is a farmer today. Now where the heck did I see that? I’ll try to remember.

      Comment by Russ — July 19, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

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