by Ran Prieur
Welcome to my column! The proprietors of Unknown News have generously offered me a place on their site, and I'm aiming to write this every two to four weeks from now on. Since this is the first, I'll tell you what to expect.
Previously I've written zines, three called Third Hemisphere, three called Superweed, and the latest called Civilization Will Eat Itself. And that's really what I think. I don't expect to convince anyone in a few paragraphs, but after years of tracing back evil, after reading books like Jerry Mander's In The Absence Of The Sacred and Derrick Jensen's A Language Older Than Words, I have come to the perspective that what's wrong with this world is deeper than President George the Third, deeper than Republicans, deeper than corporations, deeper than capitalism, deeper than industrial technology, even deeper than authority. It goes all the way down to ego-detachment, top-down organization, alienation from other life, destruction of competitors, economic "growth," and other aspects of what we call "civilization." (And it must go even deeper than that, because how did it get started?)
Many liberal/lefty perspectives seem very innocent to me. "What a shock that this system or that system lies, steals, and kills. If only the Democrats in Congress would do something!" It's like someone in an abusive relationship, going back again and again thinking it will be different. In this case, the lure of the abuser is the notion that there's something special about civilized humans, about the way we stand "above" other life, the way we insulate ourselves from the uncertainties of "nature" by building big systems controlled from the center, the way we use force from a distance to make everything predictable and planned, the way we replace whatever we find with what we have made, with flat sterile surfaces and cool machines.
The only special thing about civilized humans is that we're making the stupid mistake of the world. Scientists talk about "intelligent life" on other planets and wonder why they haven't found it. It's because their notion of "intelligent" is just a copy of their own particular mental illness. If they knew how to recognize superior intelligence they'd see that it's all around them - birds, rodents, bugs, "weeds," even bacteria are smarter than civilized humans because they know to collaborate with the rest of life instead of trying to enslave it or exterminate it or objectify it as a "resource." What scientists are really looking for out in space is other stupid life, other life that takes more than it gives so it can build great engines to go "create wealth" from more and more places and leave desolation behind. They won't find it, because that way of being does not establish fantastic galactic empires -- it crashes and burns in the blink of an eye.
Unlike some anarchists, I'm not calling for the overthrow of industrial civilization. That's giving it way too much credit. What we call "civilization" is a flight from reality, a momentary extreme deviation from the ways of the whole wide universe, and every attempt at it will fail, no matter what we believe, no matter what we do.
And unlike some eco-liberals, I'm not saying we should have environmental regulations to stop destroying the earth and make this society sustainable. You might as well make a regulation to stop your heart or have a sustainable forest fire. Environmental laws (and industrial sabotage) are as futile as the "war on drugs" because they don't get to the deeper cause, which in this case is the alienating and contractive metaphysics of every "advanced" culture. History shows us that western civilization will make insane war on all life in its reach until it burns out and implodes, because that is what civilizations do.
But unlike many cynics, I'm not predicting the death of the earth, or even the death of the human species. Every total extinction story I've ever heard seems forced and blind, ignoring the toughness, depth, and variety of life on earth and the awesome adaptability of the human race. We're so busy glorifying our habits of planning and control that we forget that our great talent is at the opposite extreme, improvising through the unexpected. Or, the thought of human extinction is a comfortable place to rest after letting go of our paralyzing hope for the present system: If we can't save life as we know it, we might as well curl up and die. But soon it's time to get back up and fight -- for life as we do not know it.
Earth survives, humans survive, this civilization falls. That's what I think is really going to happen, yet almost no one is seriously thinking about that future -- yet it opens an overwhelming world of questions:
How exactly will the system fall? When? How long will it take? What will happen in different parts of the world? Will China or Russia still have empires after the American one falls? For how long? And what then? How will people actually live? Will some of us slide back into destructive and coercive systems? Will some of us live like Indians? Will some of us transcend civilization into a way of being we can barely imagine? How? And how is this all related to the world we're in now, to our battles against corporations and terrorist states and police states, to gay rights or homelessness or the latest big scandal? Should we even bother with political protests? Recycling? Should we all go live in the woods?
I actually have answers to these questions -- but a lot of them are wrong. I plan to use this column to explore this kind of stuff, and I want to hear what other people think, as long as it's not "technology is going to get better and better" or "we must stop destroying the earth now or it will be too late." Too late for what? And what then? What's really really really going to happen? We'll see.