Tag Archives: citizenship

Escaping ‘Fortress Earth’

23 Nov

 

 [Prefatory Note: the essay below is a response to a stimulating visionary exploration of how the future might be reconstructed so avoid the current drift toward what Paul Raskin in Journey to Earthland dubs as ‘fortress earth.’ My response is one of many that can be found at the following link: http://greattransition.org/publication/reflections-on-journey-to-earthland. The link to the landing page of the initiative is http://www.greattransition.org/publication/journey-to-earthland. Raskin’s Journey to Earthland can be ordered from this Website or via Amazon. The essay itself, published here in its original text, can be properly cited as Richard Falk, “Reflections on Journey to Earthland: The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization,” The Great Transition Initiative (November 2016), http://www.greattransition.org/publication/jte-reflections-falk].

 

Escaping Fortress Earth

Reading Journey to Earthland is an extraordinary experience. Paul Raskin is not only a master navigator of the complexities of our world but someone who conveys a vision of the future that manages to surmount the unprecedented challenges facing humanity at several levels of social, cultural, and ecological being. His vision of a humane future for the peoples of the world is fully sensitive, as well, to the need for transforming the modernist relationship with nature based on domination, exploitation, and alienation that has resulted in an ecological backlash that threatens our well-being, and even raises doubts about the survival of the human species. And perhaps most remarkable of all, Raskin not only depicts a future that is convincingly portrayed as necessary and desirable, but also shows us that its attainment is within the domain of the attainable, although not presently politically feasible. Raskin is also realistic enough to acknowledge that his whole project is vulnerable to a counter scenario, Fortress World, which could with tragic results supersede his vision of a humane and sustainable future.

 

To make Raskin’s ideas about a desired and desirable future a viable political project is the underlying mission of JTE. To succeed with such a mission requires mobilizing sufficient support based on a credible conception of why we are not foolish to enlist in the civil society movement dedicated to take us from where we are to where he wants us to be

In an important sense, the book falls outside the typical genre of futurist writing because it is preoccupied with how to close this gap between the necessary and the feasible, and in the process situate a desirable future within the realm of the attainable. It is in this regard, with a certain exuberance of expectations, that Raskin pins his hopes on the emergence of a robust global citizens movement that will challenge the status quo by mobilizing people around the world sufficiently to reach a tipping point that allows a new political consciousness to take over enough venues of governmental, economic, cultural, and spiritual authority to facilitate transition to the humane future being advocated. There is no doubt in my mind that this book is a culminating expression of Raskin’s own journey, as well as an indispensable gift to the rest of us, providing the best available set of conceptual tools to engage interactively with human destiny and, especially, to see bright shafts of light beyond the darkness being produced by present trends. In what is essentially an extended essay, Raskin sets forth concisely, with flourishes of intellectual elegance, all we need to know and do to achieve this benevolent future.

 

JTE describes the contours of a desirable future, including the adjustments that must take place at the level of values and consciousness, essentially a turning away from consumerist and materialist conceptions of the good life without relinquishing the gains of modern science and technology. What Raskin envisions is a more spiritually enlivening sense of the meaning of life to be realized qualitatively through leisure, enjoyment of nature, inner serenity, and a satisfying lifestyle that is liberated from the tensions and anxieties of a typical capitalist life experience. The society thus envisioned would no longer be appraised by the quantitative criteria of growth and wealth, which have led to gross disparities of life circumstances—extremes of poverty for the many and wealth for a few—disparities that can only be sustained over time through reliance on manipulation and coercion.

 

Raskin imaginatively shapes a socially attractive future based on post-materialist core values and the accompanying need to gain political empowerment through reliance on the renewed energy of persons awakened to this challenge and inspired by the potentialities of the journey. He is clear about the need for people in civil society to be the main vehicle for realizing this transformative vision, and is convincingly skeptical about such a desirable future being achieved by existing economic and political elites whose consciousness is largely a captive of the modernist embrace of neoliberal structures, militarism, and a materialist understanding of the human condition. In a fundamental respect, Raskin’s call to action rests on an ethics of responsibility that asks each of us to join in this great work of composing a different future than what is being shaped by the dominant macro-trends of the world as now constituted.

 

We need to keep in mind that a desirable future remains possible despite present trends appearing to prefigure a disastrous future (that is, Raskin’s Fortress World). Under these circumstances, we who believe in the JTE vision need to be responsive to a double challenge—first, the strong responsibility to act, and second, the duty to learn to become trusted navigators throughout the long journey to Earthland. This burden of civic responsibility is the essential feature of what it means to feel, think, and act as a global citizen, inspiring a pilgrimage from the here-and-now to the there-and-then. Because this is a hazardous journey to be undertaken without the benefit of a map that charts the proper route, I have described the ideal global citizen as “a citizen pilgrim,” an image that Raskin also affirms, which disavows dogma and blueprints of the future, and is reliant on innovation, flexibility, and a readiness to make course corrections en route.

 

Let me turn to raise a few questions that might prompt further reflection and commentary. I have read JTE while on a lecture tour in Pakistan, and have been struck by the relevance of social location. I spent several days in Karachi, a security-obsessed, impoverished, yet vibrant city of over 22 million people, most of whom are struggling with the multiple urgencies of daily existence while the privileged elites seal themselves off from the masses in heavily guarded gated luxury housing. True, there are many young idealistic persons in Pakistan devoted to human rights and environmental protection who are active in an array of local communities, but these brave souls are often threatened by religious extremists who reject any solution for the torments of the present that are not centered on a prior embrace of fundamentalist versions of Islam. I found that social priorities in Pakistani society are overwhelmingly preoccupied with the immediate and the local: paying for the necessities of a bare life, opposing forced evictions from their homes in the city to make way for a shopping mall or a gentrified neighborhood, protesting the assassination of a social activist who was perceived as a threat to religious zealots, and lending emergency assistance to the victims of a natural disaster—flood or earthquake—by providing desperately needed medical supplies, food, and shelter. What I am asking myself, while hoping for guidance from Raskin, is whether Pakistanis can read JTE without dismissing it as the musing of a Westerner not faced with the intense existential pressures that dominate the lives of most residents of Karachi, and much of the Global South, as well as many inner cities in the North.

 

In effect, how relevant is social location and cultural ambience? Would Raskin write the same book if his consciousness had been shaped by a lifetime of struggle in Karachi-like circumstances? These questions raise others. Is there more than one journey to Earthland? Are there alternative Earthlands? Do we need a multi-civilizational articulation of desirable and possible, and hopefully convergent, futures written by ethically and spiritually sensitive individuals who see the world around them and a preferred future from within the imaginative spaces of their varied social locations and cultural milieus?

 

Are there practical ways to overcome or diminish this reality characteristically prevailing in the West with that in the Global South? What might deepen understanding, and even help reduce the obstacles, would be to convene a worldwide gathering, perhaps an online forum, of public intellectuals from around the world to engage in a continuing dialogue on the main theses of JTE. The objective would be to produce a collective response to JTE, or if that proved to be impossible, then to solicit alternative visions of desirable planetary futures, including the politics of transformation. Along the way, a global community of citizen pilgrims would form, and set its own agenda. Would it not be illuminating and potentially transformative to have such a gathering, either digitally or preferably in a face to face format, dedicated to planning “a journey [or journeys] to Earthland”?

 

On the basis of recent experience in various parts of the world, I believe that political and economic systems as now operating would do all in their power to break the will and organizational integrity of any global citizens movement that managed to get off the ground. I happened to be in Tahrir Square in Cairo two weeks after the Egyptian people made history in 2011 by suddenly rising to overthrow a corrupt and oppressive tyrant, Hosni Mubarak. There was much popular excitement in the aftermath of this historic occasion, the thrill of an empowering nonviolent populist movement giving rise to confidence that the future would bring to Egypt a democratic political order, a far more equitable economy, and respect for the dignity of individual Egyptians. And yet, two years later, the Egyptian people again exhibited their agency, but this time to support a bloody coup against the elected political leadership that has brought to power a more repressive military governing process in Egypt than had existed during the three decades of Mubarak’s dictatorial rule. This improbable political reversal reflected the strength of counterrevolutionary forces that will do whatever it takes to prolong the ascendancy of the old order that privileges dominant elites at the expense of the citizenry as a whole. Applying this understanding to the vision of Earthland, isn’t it important to envision the future from a less linear, and more dialectical standpoint, as the unfolding of an epic struggle between opposed worldviews and their civilizational embodiments? In historical periods of transition, contradictory responses reflect forces of deep discontent and alienation on one side while exhibiting the aspirations of the hopeful and compassionate on the other.

 

This leads to another concern. In the aftermath of the Cold War, there was a widespread belief that democratization was the inevitable wave of the future. After the collapse of the Soviet Union (and Russia’s subsequent eagerness to be part of the neoliberal world order) and the opportunistic participation of China in the capitalist structures of trade and investment, it seemed that there was an emergent planetary future premised on a victorious combination of market-oriented economics and constitutional democracy. Almost three decades later, it is evident that something has happened to that firm ground of political legitimacy on which we seemed to be standing after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We are now increasingly living in an era of the popular, and not just the populist, autocrat who, once elected, administers a strong state with an iron fist. That is, peoples in many countries are electing leaders by democratic means that are blatantly dismissive of human rights and political freedom, and oblivious to the mounting dangers of climate change.

 

In every corner of the world, right-wing ultra-nationalist, militarized governments that promise to bring order and security are being chosen by voters over those that offer the rewards of democratic pluralism and responsible attitudes toward climate change, nuclear weapons, and other challenges of global scope. Whether it is Putin in Russia, Abe in Japan, Modi in India, Duterte in the Philippines, Erdogan in Turkey, or Sisi in Egypt, the pattern of popular authoritarianism is evident even if explanations in the various national settings are quite diverse. This distressing pattern of regressive politics can also be seen in the resurgence of proto-fascist parties in Europe, arising in the wake of mass discontent with existing economic and social policies. Their anti-immigration and chauvinist priorities prefigure the character of a Fortress World. The Brexit vote in Britain and the Trump phenomenon in the United States are likewise illustrative.

 

In other words, in even the most benevolent transition from the modern to the planetary that Raskin so clearly depicts, it is important to appreciate that bad things are bound to happen along the way. Such awareness guards against disillusionment. This surge of populist passion for ultra-nationalism from below and securitization from above poses a serious challenge to the JTE project. Maybe it is necessary to begin asking ourselves whether under the pressure of the times we, the peoples of the world, can abide the uncertainties of substantive democracy (human rights, diverse political movements)? In effect, how should this global crisis of democracy be properly introduced into a discussion of the role of the global citizens movement that is integral to Raskin’s transformative hopes?

 

It is possible that this disturbing populist trend currently sweeping the globe will be short-lived, dying of its own deadening weight. There are definite steps that can be taken to restore public confidence in democracy and human rights, which seem indispensable features of a humane Earthland. It is important that the dynamics of economic globalization become committed to diminishing inequality within and among states. It is also necessary to balance a preoccupation with the efficiency of capital and the statistics of economic growth against the goals of ending poverty, addressing climate change, and creating conditions of work and human and ecological security that enhance the quality of life for rich and poor alike. Other kinds of constructive policy initiatives include reducing the waste of resources on militarization and ending reliance on forcible intervention in foreign societies without proper UN authorization.

 

A further relevant effort would be the recognition that some of the pressures being mounted against democracy in the West arise from the mass migration of desperate people seeking to escape from war torn conditions and the havoc caused by global warming. Until the root causes of these migrations, and the accompanying terrorism generated by extremist political reactions, are addressed, it will not be possible to reverse this right-wing populist trend. These migrations occur when conditions become intolerable, and the pressure to escape to safer places becomes so intense that desperate persons willingly take huge risks. When large numbers of such people in need arrive at the borders of prosperous countries in the West, especially given manipulated fears that terrorists are lurking in the midst of the migrants, right wing demagogues have a field day. The most constructive response patterns are to do all that can be done to remove the conditions that give rise to the intolerable conditions, that is, deter migration at its source.

 

I suppose, in the end, I am saying that there are some issues that need to be more fully addressed before people outside the still relatively liberal democratic West can be expected to sign up for the journey to Earthland. In effect, in places like Pakistan where the struggle to find out how to be a constructive national citizen seems such a current preoccupation for those who seek to be politically responsible, an essential challenge is how to present Raskin’s message of the responsible global citizen in forms sufficiently relevant that it is sensitive to the fears, hopes, and concerns of this part of the world.

 

In conclusion, it may appear captious to expect more when JTE already gives us so much. At the same time, when Raskin raises hopes this high, it becomes even more important to begin the journey with eyes wide open. Otherwise, the prospects of early disillusionment are high. Remembering that this is a planetary journey already underway in a variety of forms may be of some help, along with the realization that there exist multitude points of entry throughout the planet. The recognition of this multiplicity ensures that a truly global citizen acts inclusively toward the range of civilizational identities.

 

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Reading Claudia Rankine On Race

1 Jul

 

We white people have lots to learn about racism in America no matter how progressive our attitudes toward race. I realized this some years ago when I found Toni Morrison’s Beloved so grimly illuminating in depicting the cruelty experienced after the abolition of slavery by our African American fellow citizens left in a malicious shadow land of unknowing, a reflection of white indifference. It made me abruptly realize that I had never effectively grasped the intensities of hurt and pain of even close black friends afflicted or threatened with affliction as a result of societal attitudes of hatred and fear that lie just below the surface, behavior socially conditioned to be ‘politically correct.’ White consciousness was preoccupied with the condemnation of hideous events that capture national attention, but remain largely unaware of the everyday racism that is the price African Americans of talent and privilege pay for ‘success’ when penetrating the supremacy structures of society that remain predominantly white.

 

I recall some years ago being picked up at the airport in Atlanta by a couple of white undergraduates assigned to take me to the University of Georgia where I was to give a lecture. On the way we got onto the subject of race, and they complained about tensions on their campus. I naively pointed out that the stars of their football and basketball teams were black, and since white students were fanatic collegiate sports fans at Southern universities, wouldn’t this solve the problem. I assumed that these black athletes who won games for the college would be idolized as local heroes. The students taking me to the lecture agreed with my point, but claimed that the black athletes refused to socialize with whites, displaying an alleged ‘reverse racism’ that the white student body resented. In explaining this pattern of multi-culturalism to me, whether accurate or not I have no idea, these young Southerners did not pause to wonder whether this reluctance by campus blacks, including the sports stars, to mingle socially might have something to do with the history of race relations in the South, and not just the history but an of nasty earlier experiences of racism as well, and not just in the South, but throughout whole of the country, and that this was their reason for choosing to be racially aloof!

 

It is with such thoughts in mind that reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Greywolf Press, 2014) became for me a revelatory experience, especially against a foreground filled with such extreme reminders of virulent racism as lived current experience as Treyvon Martin, Ferguson, Charleston, and countless other recent reminders that the racist virus in its most lethal forms continues to flourish in the American body politic. The persistence of this pattern even in face of the distracting presence of an African-American president who functions both as a healing ointment and as a glorified snake oil salesman who earns his keep by telling Americans that we belong to the greatest country that ever existed even as it reigns down havoc on much of the world. On a more individual level, I can appreciate the extraordinary talent, courage, and achievement of Barack Obama, hurdling over the most formidable psychological obstacles placed in the path of an ambitious black man. Yet looked at more collectively, it now seems all too clear that the structures of racism are far stronger than the exploits of even this exceptional African American man.

 

What makes Rankine’s work so significant, aside from the enchantment of its poetic gifts of expression, is her capacity to connect the seemingly trivial incidents of everyday race consciousness with the living historical memory and existential presence of race crimes of utmost savagery. In lyrically phrased vignettes Rankine draws back the curtain on lived racism, relying on poetic story telling, and by so doing avoids even a hint of moral pedantry. She tells a reader of “a close friend, who early in your friendship, when distracted, would call you be the name of her black housekeeper.” [48][*] Or a visit to a new therapist where she approached by the front door rather than the side entrance reserved for clients, and was angrily reproached, perceived as an unwanted intruder: “Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?” When informed that the stranger was her new patient the therapist realized her mistake, “I am so sorry, so so sorry.” [115].

 

Or when as a candidate for a university job she is being shown around a college campus by a faculty member who lets her know why she has been invited: “..he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.” She shares her unspoken reaction that is the main point: “Why do you feel comfortable saying this to me?” [66] The repetition of these daily occurrences in her recounting let’s us better understand why an African American cannot escapes the unconscious barbs of soft racism no matter how intelligent and accomplished a black person becomes in ways that the dominant society supposedly values and rewards. She invokes the inspirational memories of James Baldwin and Robert Lowell, not that of Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela, or even Malcolm X, as brilliant wellsprings of understanding and defiance, acting as her undesignated mentors. This experience of racism in America has been told with prose clarity and philosophic depth by my friend and former colleague, Cornel West, in Race Matters, a similar narrative of citizenship that Rankine conveys through poetic insight and emotion, allowing readers enough space to sense somewhat our own poorly comprehended complicity. Reading West and Rankine together is one way to overcome the body/mind dualism, with West relying on the power of reason and Rankine on the force of emotion.

 

As Rankine explains with subtle eloquence, what may seem like hyper-sensitivity to episodic understandable stumbles by even the most caring whites is actually one of the interfaces between what she calls the ‘self self’ and ‘the historical self,’ a biopolitical site of self-knowledge that embodies “the full force of your American positioning.” Such positioning is a way of drawing into the present memories of slavery, lynching, persecution, and discrimination that every black person carries in their bones, not as something past. And as Faulkner reminds us over and over again, the past is never truly past. On this Rankine’s words express her core insight: “[T]he world is wrong. You can’t put the past behind you. It’s buried in you..” [307] Summing up this inability to move on she observes, “[E]xactly why we survive and can look back with a furrowed brow is beyond me.” [364] The mystery, then, is not the failure to forget, but persevering given the agony of remembering.

 

The longest sequence in the book is somewhat surprisingly devoted to the torments experienced by Serena Williams in the course of her rise to tennis stardom. Rankine, who in other places suggests her own connection with tennis, thinks of Serena as the “black graphite against a sharp white background.” She recounts her early career struggles with eminent umpires in big matches who made bad calls, trapped in what Rankine calls “a racial imaginary.” Serena feels victimized because black, and on several taut occasions loses her composure under the intense pressure of the competitive moment, raging and protesting, and then being called “insane, crass, crazy.” [193] While Rankine appreciates that Williams is likely to be considered the greatest woman tennis player ever, she still views her primarily as bravely triumphing over the many efforts to diminish her.

 

As a tennis enthusiast myself, it is the one portion of Rankine’s lyric that does not ring entirely true, or more precisely, that the race optic misses Serena’s triumphal presence on the public stage that has been accomplished with uncommon grace, joyfulness, and integrity. Unlike that other African American over-achiever, Barack Obama, Williams has attained the heights without abandoning her close now inconvenient associates the way Obama ditched Jeremiah Wright and even Rashid Khalidi and William Ayers so as to provide reassurance to his mainstream white backers. Williams has always continued to affirm warmly her Dad despite his provocative antics and defiance of the white establishment that controls the sport. She held out long enough so that the racist taunts she and Venus received at Indian Wells were transformed into tearful cheers of welcome on her return 13 years later after being beseeched by the sponsors. Williams, always gracious and graceful in victory on the court, with a competitive rage that is paralleled by a fighting spirit that puts her in the winners’ circle even when not playing her ‘A’ game, Serena is for me the consummate athlete of our time, doubly impressive because she does not shy away from memories of the Compton ghetto where she grew into this remarkable athlete and person and while still acquiring the wit, imagination, and poise to speak French when given her latest trophy after winning the Roland Garros final in Paris. Considering where she started from she has traveled even further than Obama, although his terrain entails a far heavier burden of responsibility and historical significance.

 

Somehow I feel Rankine perhaps absorbed by the preoccupations that give coherence to Citizen missed the deeper reality of Serena Williams as a glorious exception to her portrayal of the African American imaginary. I do not at all deny that Williams’ life has been framed from start to finish with the kind of micro-aggressions that Rankine experienced, and indeed a closer proximity to the macro-aggressions that the media turns into national spectacles, but presenting her life from this limited viewpoint misses what I find to be the most captivating part of her life story. And maybe a fuller exposure to Rankine’s reality would lead me to celebrate her life as also one that transcends race as the defining dimension of her experience. What is known is that in 1963 Rankine was born in Kingston, Jamaica, raised in New York, educated at the best schools, and is enjoying a deservedly fine career as award winning poet, honored scholar, and rising playwright.

 

With brief asides, coupled with a range of visual renderings that give parallel readings (Rankine is married to John Lucas, a videographer, with whom she writes notes in this text for possible future collaborative scripts on racially tinged public issues), she brings to our awareness such societal outrages as the beating of Rodney King that was caught on a video camera, and led to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 or the racist aspects of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or a series of more recent assaults, including the diabolic frolic of fraternity boys at a university who joyously recalled the pleasures of lynching or the slaying of Trayvon Martin by a security guard whose crime was followed by his unacceptable acquittal. It is this tapestry of experience that seems to be for Rankine the American lyric that provides the sub-title of her book, and silently poses the question, without offering us the satisfaction of answers, as how these awful tales alter the experienced reality of being a ‘citizen’ of this country at this time; that is, if the citizen is viewed as one who owes loyalty to the state and is entitled to receive human security, protection, and the rule of law in return, how does this relate to the black experience of human insecurity and inescapable vulnerability. Rankine leaves me with the impression that even if these entitlements of citizenship can be somehow delivered (which they are not to those struggling), the grant of loyalty in the face of persisting racism is suspect. Raising such doubts is against the background of Rankine’s surface life as mentioned is one of privilege and success, holding an endowed chair at Pomona College, someone who plays tennis and can afford to see a therapist. Rankine is telling us both that this matters, saving her from the grossest of indignities because of the color of her skin, but not sparing her from an accumulation of racial slights or relieving her of the heavy awareness that she could be a Rodney King or Trayvon Martin if her social location were different or that whatever she might do or achieve she is still haunted by the memories of a ghastly past for people with black skin. In the deep structures of composition and consciousness that informs Citizen is a brilliant and instructive interweaving of time present and past, embodying both the memories buried within Rankine’s being and the present assaults she endures as a result of headlines bearing news of the latest hideous racist incident. Despite Rankine’s own personal ascent she as citizen confronts these past and presents challenges to her being, as underscored by the everyday racism that cannot be separated from the lynchings, beatings, and jail time that the black community as community has experienced ever since being transported to this land in slave ships.        

 

Such displays of awareness are followed by more conventionally poetic reflections on what this all means for Rankine. In lines that epitomize her lyric voice, and that she might be choose for her gravestone:

                        “you are not sick, you are injured—

                        you ache for the rest of your life.”

And again:

                        “Nobody notices, only you’ve known

                        you’re not sick, not crazy,

                        not angry, not sad—

                        It’s just this, you’re injured”

The worst effect of such an injury is an acute sense of alienation that separates

the public self from the private self:

                        “The worst injury is feeling

                                                            you don’t belong so much

                        to you—“

 

Reverting one last time to my own experience from the other side of the mirror, I recall my first intimate relationship with an African American as a boy growing up in Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s. I was raised by a troubled, conservative father acting as a single parent who warily hired an African American man to be our housekeeper on the recommendation of a Hollywood friend. Willis Mosely was no ordinary hire for such a position, being a recent Phi Beta Kappa graduate from UCLA, with a desire to live in New York to live out his dreams to do New York theater, a big drinking problem, and an extroverted gay identity, but beyond all these attributes, he was a charismatic personality with one of the great, resounding laughs and an electrifying presence that embodied charm, wit, and tenderness, demonstrating his intellectual mettle by finishing the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle in lightning speed, then a status symbol among West Side New Yorkers. Willis was a challenge for my rather reactionary father who could only half hide his racist bias and on top of his, was also unashamedly homophobic; added to this my dad was counseled by family friends that it was irresponsible to have his adolescent son’s principal companion be a gay man in his low 30s. I am relating this autobiographical tidbit because despite this great gift of exposure to a wonderfully loving black man in these formative years, who influenced me greatly in many ways, I was unable to purge the racism in my bones, or was it genes.

 

Years later while dating a gifted former black student, whose outward joyfulness acted as a cover for her everyday anguish and deeper racial torment, she let me know gently that I would never be able to understand her because, as she put it, “we listen to different music.” It happened, I had just taken her to a Paul Winter concert that she didn’t enjoy, and so I missed the real meaning of her comment until this recent reading of Rankine’s Citizen. In effect, it took me several decades to hear this dear friend because until recently I was listening without really, really being able to hear! Of course, the primary failing is my own, but it is a trait I share with almost the whole of my race, and probably most of my species, and is indirectly responsible for the great weight on the human spirit produced by low visibility suffering that goes unnoticed everywhere in the world except by its victims. To become attuned to this everday racism, as Rankine shows so convincingly, is also to become even more appalled by the high visibility racism that in our current societal gives rise to public condemnations across the political spectrum.

 

What Claudia Rankine shares and teaches is that every African American citizen must live with the existential concreteness of racism while even the most liberal of American white citizens live with only an abstract awareness of their own unconscious racism or, at best, their rather detached empathy with the historical victimization of our African American co-citizens. Just as blacks have the torments of racism in their bones, whites are afflicted with resilient mutant forms of unconscious racism. We learn through this extraordinary lyric that moving on, for either black or white, is just not an option! And yet it is a necessity!    

[*] The numbers refer to the lot #s on the Kindle edition. Citizen was a finalist for 2014 National Book Award in the Poetry category. The winner, ironically, was Rankine’s teacher at Williams College, who described her pupil as ‘a phenomenal student.’

Changing the Political Climate: A Transitional Imperative

5 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The text below was originally published in Great Transition Initiative

 an online journal of the Tellus Institue, Boston, MA; the best link is: 

(http://greattransition.org/publication/changing-the-political-climate-a-transitional-imperative)

My hope is to encourage discussion of these ideas. Four comments were also

published in Great Transition Project.]

 

 

 

 

 

                        After the final no there comes a yes

                        And on that yes the future of the world depends.

                       

Wallace Stevens, “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard,”

                        Selected Poems (New York: Vintage, ed. H. Stevens, 1972)190

 

Points of Departure

 

            The most daunting challenging of adapting to the realities of the anthropocene era is achieving a soft transition from state-centric world order to a geo-centric reconfiguring of political community to enable the emergence of effective and humane global governance. The dominant existing framework for transnational and global political action is mainly still entrapped in old habits of thought and action tied to the primacy of the territorial sovereign state and myopic time horizons that are too short to shape adequate responses to the deepest challenges to the human future.

 

Empowering these actors to be more humanly and globally oriented and farsighted in their pursuits would generate hopes for a brighter future.[1] Such empowerment depends on a reorientation of individual identities on a sufficiently widespread basis as to create a new type of citizen, called here ‘a citizen pilgrim’ whose principal affinities are with the species and its natural surroundings rather than to any specific state, ethnicity, nationality, civilization, and religion. The hopes and expectations of citizen pilgrims rests on the quest for a sustainable and spiritually fulfilling future for all, and in sustainable harmony with nature. In this respect, humanity is confronting by a combination of unprecedented opportunity and danger: the practical and urgent imperative of fundamental change to meet existing threats and challenges and the prospect of catastrophic harm if an adaptive transition of sufficient magnitude does not occur in a timely fashion.

 

The outlook of the great transition involves two possible successful paths to the future: (1) the reorientation of the policies and practices of governance at all levels, and particularly those of sovereign states and their interaction;[2] or (2) a revolutionary change in the state system

This inquiry presupposes that a ‘great transition’ is necessary, possible, and desirable, but that at present, paradoxically, does not seem feasible. Proposing with all seriousness what is possible, yet not widely seen as feasible, is one way of ‘thinking outside the box.’ More responsively to a concern with world order there is contemplated two transitional paths to the future: (1) a revolutionary change in the political consciousness that shapes and statecraft that facilitates the pursuit of human and global interests. It is also possible that (1) and (2) could up being blended in various waysT. (1) is actor oriented, achieving transition without changing the structure of world order, whereas (2) is system or structure oriented, insisting that needed behavioral changes will not happen without altering the institutional and ideational context within which policies and practices are currently shaped.

 

Citizens and States

 

            The originality of our age is best interpreted by contrasting the identities associated with being a citizen of a sovereign state and successfully addressing the main challenges confronting humanity as a whole. The horizons of citizenship for most persons on the planet generally coincide with [1]the territorial boundaries of the state and are reflections of the related sovereignty-oriented ideology of nationalism. Security for societies and individuals is mainly understood to be the responsibility of the governing authorities of states. Efforts to entrust international institutions with some of this responsibility has not been successful, especially for problems of global scope in the context of war/peace issues and managing the world economy.[3]

 

            There is an historical transition underway that can be expressed as movement from structures and ideologies that serve the part to those that serve the whole. The political actors representing various parts include

persons, corporations, NGOs, international institutions, religious organization, and states. The whole whether conceived to be humanity conceived of as a species or the global being thought about as to what will sustain life on earth in benevolent ways.[4] Their outlook tends to be dominated by a fragmentary consciousness that seeks answers to various questions about ‘what is good for the part,’ and at best, assumes this will be of benefit to the whole. Such actors do not generally waste their time on questions about ‘what is good for the whole,’ which are most often dismissed as being meaninglessly abstract or piously sentimental. It should be stressed that such trends toward a global polity do not at all ensure a positive outcome from the perspectives taken here; it is helpful to realize that various forms of oppressive centralized governance are also seeking historical relevance.[5]

 

            What is more most people do not want or expect the perspective of the whole to be the basis of policy and action by decision-makers that represent the state, but are insistent that those who decide do their best to protect and promote what will most help the part whether it be country, corporation, religion, or group interests. Citizenship is conferred by the state, which in return expects and demands loyalty, and even a readiness to sacrifice lives for the sake of the nation-state, and certainly the obligation to pay taxes and uphold laws. Citizenship is very much bound up with ideas of a social contract between state and citizen, that is, an exchange of benefits and duties.

 

            Yet we are increasingly aware that the wellbeing of the part cannot be preserved under contemporary conditions without taking proper account of the wellbeing of the whole. The citizen of a democratic state is a composite of juridical and psychological forms. The state confers citizenship through its laws, enabling participation in elections, acquiring a passport, offering some protection abroad; citizenship in this conventional sense is a status that varies from state to state in its particulars. There is also legally grounded expectations of loyalty, the radical deviation from which can be the occasion for accusations of the capital crime of ‘treason.’ At the same time, the citizen of a constitutional democracy enjoys the right to dissent and oppose within the framework of the law and through competitive elections, and as such the identity of a ‘citizen’ contrast with that of a ‘subject’ of an absolute monarchy where obedience is the major political norm.[6] A constitutional state struggles to maintain this delicate balance between the rights and duties of a citizen, especially in times of internal stress.[7]

 

            The crime of treason, giving tangible aid and comfort to an enemy state, highlights the interface between conscience and loyalty in the conventional life of a modern citizen. The second face of citizenship is psycho-political, the sense of loyalty as an existential reality, not a juridical category. When Palestinian citizens of Israel oppose the policies of their government toward the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, they are reflecting a state of mind. Many minorities feel alienated from the state of which they are citizens to varying degrees, and are in effect, ‘captive nations’ resident in states that do not command their loyalty. Treason and espionage pose these issues vividly. When Edward Snowden violated American security regulations by releasing many documents of the National Security Agency and disclosed its surveillance operations he claimed to be acting on the basis of conscience but in a manner that the official leaders of the state viewed as dangerous to the general wellbeing of society. In a globalizing world, in which ethnicities and religions are mixed and interactive, the tensions between the juridical and existential demands of citizenship are intensifying. A poignant example is the plight of Mordecai Vanunu, a worker in the Israeli nuclear facility who many years ago confirmed the reality of Israel’s suspected arsenal of nuclear weaponry, and has been since treated both as an enemy of the state and a hero of humanity, serving 18 years in prison, and even after being released, placed under house arrest in Israel.

 

            What is new is that these struggles between dissent and loyalty is that the issues have now an agenda and context that is beyond the borders of the state. Some political innovations have acknowledged this, especially the idea of European citizenship being superimposed on the citizenship conferred by sovereign governments. So far there is little evidence that those living in Europe are more likely to be loyal to their regional than to the traditional state affiliations, but at least this idea of European citizenship illustrates the layering of citizenship, enabling a person to be a legal and psychological participant in polities bigger (and smaller) than the territorial state that alone qualifies for membership in the United Nations and most international institutions. The layering of regional identities seems beneficial from the perspective of encouraging the development of the European Union as an instrument of cooperation and participation more effective than principally relying on inter-governmental patterns, but it does not meet the most urgent challenges of a planet in crisis.

 

Why Global Citizenship is not Enough

 

Some years ago I was chatting with a stranger on a long international flight. He was a businessman who traveled the world to find markets for his products. His home was in Copenhagen. He spoke very positively about the European Union as overcoming boundaries and national antagonisms. I asked him at that point in our conversation, “Does that make you feel like a European citizen?” His response, “Oh no, I am a world citizen.” I asked him what he meant by that and his reply was revealing: “Wherever I travel in the world I stay in the same kind of hotel. It makes no difference where I am, everywhere I go in the world seems the same to me.”

 

Such an apolitical conception of world citizenship is a direct consequence of economic globalization and franchise capitalism. It is true that if you choose Westin or Interncontinental hotels in the main world cities you can travel the globe without ever leaving home, but this is a rather sterile view of what are the hopes and fears associated with the transition from a world of bounded nation-states absorbed by territorial concerns to a new world without boundaries. It surely leads to a weakening of the bonds of traditional citizenship without generating any new and broader sense of solidarity and community.

 

At the other extreme, is the more familiar image of world citizen as the idealist who experiences and celebrates the oneness of the planet and of humanity, overriding fragmented identities associated with the privileging of particular nations, ethnicities, religions, and civilizations. As with the businessman’s image of being a world citizen the idealist also is embracing an apolitical conception of citizenship in which sentiments are affirmed as the basis of identity and the hard political work of transformation is evaded. For such a world citizen all that needs to be created is presupposed. The struggles of transition, as if by magic wand, are waved out of existence.

 

These conceptions of what it is to be a ‘world citizen’ possess an underdeveloped view as to the nature and value of citizenship. To be a proper citizen implies being an active participant in a democratic political community, extending loyalty, exhibiting approval and disapproval, voting, paying taxes, resonating to cultural expressions of unity by way of song, dance, and poetry, and having certain entitlements relating to reasonable expectations of human security. There is no possibility of having any of these attributes of citizenship fulfilled on a global scale given the way the world is currently governed. Prematurely proclaiming oneself a world citizen if other than as an expression of aspiration, is an empty gesture that misleads more than it instructs.

 

To think of oneself as a European citizen is somewhat more meaningful, although still, on balance, more confusing than clarifying. To be sure Europe has virtually abolished internal borders, war between European states verges on the unthinkable, the Euro acts a common currency for the entire continent, European institutions have broad authority to override national policies and laws under many circumstances, Europe has a regional framework setting forth binding human rights standards and a tribunal to resolve conflicts as to their interpretation, and finally, Europe has a parliament of its own that is now elected by direct votes of people. Yet Europe, too, has failed to establish a political community that elicits widespread loyalty or exhibits much unity under stress, except in relation to an external enemy. Most Europeans remain overwhelming nationalistic in their loyalties, and seek their national government to do what is best for their country, and not give any priority to European interests should they clash with national interests. European citizenship, as conferred by the Maastricht Treaty is at this point more a still unfulfilled promise than a meaningful status in either a juridical or an existential sense.

 

The reality of citizenship is best displayed during periods of crisis, and the European recession of recent years has made people far more aware of the fragility of the regional experiment as it bears on the future of Europe. As the Mediterranean members of the EU succumbed to the economic crisis, the northern European states, especially Germany, began to exhibit discomfort and express condescension. Laments in Berlin were bemoaning why hard-working and prudent Germans should be helping lazy, indulgent Greeks live a decadent life beyond their means. In their turn offended Greeks ask, why should Greeks forfeit their autonomy and mortgage their future to an anal retentive German fiscal policy that has learned none of the lessons of economic recovery from the experience of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

 

In contrast during the same experience of sharp recession in the United States, the debate centered on such issues as banks being too big to fail or why Wall Street rather than Main Street should receive bailout billions, rather than on the recklessness of Alabama as compared to say Connecticut. The point being, that in the United States, despite its deep federal structure, there is an overriding sense of community at the national level. American citizenship is meaningful in ways that European citizenship falls short, and world citizenship can hardly even perceive the problem.[8]

 

In other words, some of the political preconditions for European citizenship are present but the most vital are still absent, while the political preconditions for world citizenship are almost totally missing.

There are some good reasons to be confused about this latter reality. After all the United Nations was established to prevent war among nations, and we indulge language games that allow us to talk about ‘the world community’ as if there was one. A closer look at the way the world works makes us realize that the United Nations, despite the rhetorical pretensions of its Charter, is much more an instrument of statecraft than an alternative to it. We also need to be aware that almost all governments continue to be led by political realists who view their role as serving short-term national interests and are privately dismissive of any encroachment on these priorities that derive from notions of ‘world community,’ even if based on international law and morality.

 

            Within this framing of global policy, the UN, international law, even international criminal law, and moralizing rhetoric, are all instrumentally and selectively useful in the pursuit of foreign policy goals. The selective application of supposedly global norms makes transparent the state-centric underpinning of world order. For instance, the double standards associated with the implementation of international criminal law suggests that up to now there is accountability for the weak and vulnerable, impunity for the strong, a pattern described as ‘victors’ justice’ after World War II. There has been established in the interim an International Criminal Court (ICC), although the most dangerous political actors forego the option to join. The ICC pursues wrongdoers in Sudan and Libya, while turning a blind eye toward the United States, Russia, China, and the United Kingdom, and their closest allies. There are two clarifications of citizenship present: first, there is no global reach for the implementation of global norms relating to fundamental issues of human security, and therefore no bonds of community binding the person to the world by way of citizenship; second, the directives of the UN and international law are manipulated by major states to serve their national interests, sometimes implemented and sometimes blocked, which represents the working of a geopolitical regime of power rather than a global rule of law regime that would above all treat equals equally. Without a trusted system of laws no sustainable community can be brought into being, and hence no genuine bonds of citizenship can be established.

 

            Such a critique expresses the dilemmas of citizenship in this time of great transition. The most fundamental missing element in this premature projection of world citizenship is time. It is possible to wish for, and even affirm, human solidarity, and to highlight the commonalities of the human species under conditions of heightened interaction and interdependence. Yet such feelings by themselves are incapable of creating the basis for acting collectively in response to urgent challenges of global scope. Such behavior requires the emergence on the grassroots and elite levels of a widespread recognition that the only viable governance process for the planet is one that greatly enhances capabilities to serve human and global interests. The transition is about moving from the here of egoistic state-centrism to the there of humane geo-centrism, which implies a journey and a struggle against social forces that are threatened by or opposed to such a transformation of ‘the real.’ In this undertaking, the citizen pilgrim combines the identity of a participant in a community and the acknowledgement that the desired community does not presently exist, that its essential nature is to bond with a community that is in the midst of a birth process.[9]

 

Material Conditions of Urgency

 

            Throughout human experience there was a strong case for adopting the identity of ‘citizen pilgrim,’ and many spiritually motivated individuals did so in their own ways. What is historically unique about the present time is that the challenge of transformation is rooted in fundamental material conditions relating to human activities, which are the outcome of technological innovations and earlier progress that now is threatening apocalyptic blowback. In other words, it has always been true from an ethical perspective that there better ways for people to live together on the planet, especially under conditions of mutual respect and without collective violence. At times, the failure to adapt to challenges either from natural causes or resulting from conflict led to the collapse of communities or even entire civilizations, but never before has the species as such been confronted by challenges of global scale.[10] There have always been risks of planetary events such as collisions with giant meteors or an unexpected shift in the orbit of the sun that are beyond human agency, and could at some point doom the species. My focus is upon the accumulation of dangerous material conditions that have been generated by human agency, and could be addressed in a manner that is beneficial for the survival, wellbeing, and happiness of the species.

 

            The two sets of circumstances that are the most dramatic examples of such realities are associated with the dangers of nuclear war and climate change. The nature of these two sources of extreme danger are quite different, although both reflect the technological evolution of human society that is associated with modernity, and an outcome of scientific discovery and the human search for wealth and dominion. Along the lines of the argument presented here neither of these dangers can be sufficiently reduced without significant progress with respect to the transition from state-centric to geo-centric world order. At the level of ideology and ideas that requires a ‘new realism’ informing those with governing authority. Above all, this new realism involves a readiness to uphold commitments to serve human and global interests as necessary, even if requires subordinating or defining currently incompatible national and an array of private sector interests.

 

            The further assertion being made is that ‘new realism’ can only be brought into being by drastic shifts in political consciousness that informs citizenship in such a manner that the wellbeing of the species and a collaborative relationship restored between human activities and the surrounding environment. Such a relationship existed to an impressive degree in many pre-modern societies where there existed a sense of mutual dependence in relations between human activities and natural surroundings, and often as well a sensitivity to seven generations past and future that is absent from the modernist sensibility that has tended to take nature for granted, there to be exploited or tamed. Nature being mainly valued either for its resources, as a sink for the free discharge of wastes, and as a retreat from the rigors of ‘civilization.’[11] With scarcities, pollution, and climate change there is emerging a realization that without a comprehensive post-modern equilibrium between human activity and the natural surroundings the future prospects of the species are rather grim.[12] The phantasies of modernity persist in the form of utopian geo-engineering schemes that represent efforts by the old realism to find technological solutions for the problems generated by technology, which is itself is raising serious concern and posing severe additional risks of its own.[13]

 

            The imperatives of transition to a safer, more sustainable world are resisted by the embedded assumptions of the old realism to the effect that military capabilities and war making remain the keys to security, that GNP growth is the indispensable foundation of political stability and economic contentment, that technology and market will find solutions for any challenges that arise before serious threats materialize, and that the correct role of governments of sovereign states is to manage this set of relationships on behalf of national political communities variously situated. As argued here, such an orientation is not so much wrong, as it is anachronistic, and in need of fundamental adjustment. Further that such adjustment is much more likely to take place in a non-traumatic modes, if the expectations of many citizens are altered according to the precepts of citizen pilgrims who subscribe to various interpretations of what being called here the new realism.

 

            It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the obstacles that lie ahead, and currently seem to lock societies into a civilizational orientation that falls far short of the bio-political potential and survival needs of the human species. At present governments seem unable to address the practical challenges posed by such features of the contemporary world as nuclear weaponry, climate change, poverty, political violence, and human security. Existing governance structures and ideological worldviews of both officials and society seem stuck in past modes of problem-solving and are failing to meet expectations of the citizenry.[14] Such a failure is exhibited by such widespread collective behavior as despair, denial, and alienation.

 

 

 

 

Recreating Political Community

 

            The calling of the citizen pilgrim is not meant to be a lonely journey toward a better future. It is intended as a call for an engaged citizenry responsive to the need and desire for a reconstituted future as well as a repaired present. As earlier indicated the commitment to navigating the transition can be conceived of by way of infusing political leadership and the electorate with the values and perceptions of the new realism. Transition can be achieved through a shift in governance structures such that state-centric world order is superseded by a geo-centric world order. Such a reorientation implies stronger globally oriented institutionalization by way of United Nations reform. Alternatively, a geo-centric world order could emerge as the self-conscious result of establishing a new framework for cooperative action that is capable of providing the world with the level of centralized governance that is required, while exhibiting sensitivity to ideas of subsidiarity, decentralization, dispersal of authority, and even philosophical anarchism.[15]

 

            In this respect, the engaged citizen pilgrim is devoted to the here and now of political action (as well as pursuing a visionary future), whether by way of exhibiting empathy and solidarity with the sufferings of those most vulnerable or by working toward innovative steps serving human and global interests. Such steps should to the extent possible reflect the interpretations and understandings of the new realism. Illustrative projects include the establishment of a global peoples parliament with an assigned mission of articulating interests from the perspective of people rather than of governments.[16] Other familiar proposals along the same line are a global tax of some kind, levied on currency transactions or international flights or casino and lottery profits, which would loosen the geopolitical leash that now limits international institutions in their capacity to serve human and global interests. Along these lines also would be the establishment of an independent emergency force capable of quick reactions to natural disasters and humanitarian catastrophes without being subject to funding by states or the veto power of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. These initiatives are not new, but their active promotion alongside avowals of   citizen pilgrimages would manifest modes of participation in political life whose aim was to achieve humane global governance in accordance with the precepts of the new realist.[17]

 

            Such innovations are directed toward overcoming the design deficiencies of state-centric world order, given the current array of global challenges. Because of the still dominant influence of old realism such innovations are vulnerable to various degrees of what might be called geopolitical cooption. The United Nations itself is undoubtedly the best example of an institutional innovation with a geo-centric mandate that has gone awry almost from its inception. The UN that has been geopolitically coopted over the period of its existence in such fundamental respects as to make its defining role being that of stabilizing state-centric world order rather than of war prevention and facilitating transition to a geo-centric

future. This assessment is most evident in the double standards evident in the pattern of UN responses to emergency situations, for instance, in the diplomacy surrounding the application of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm or in relation to the management of nuclear weaponry as between the nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear states.

 

            Another revealing instance concerns the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 over the resistance of the largest and most dangerous states in the world. The fact that a tribunal could be established to assess the individual criminal responsibility of political and military leaders of sovereign states seemed like an important move toward creating a global rule of law in relation to war/peace and human rights issues,

and it was, although its performance has so far been disappointing. The work of the ICC has exhibited the same double standards that infuses the entire edifice of state-centric world order, resulting in a pattern of impunity for the West and accountability for leaders in the South. As such the ICC is ambivalent in its contributions to peace and justice, yet its own institutional destiny is being formed by the uncertain flow of events, and can yet become more attuned to human and global interests. It is that attunement that distinguishes the citizen pilgrim from what might be called ‘a liberal internationalist’ who favors stronger global governance capacity, but lives within a bubble of the old realism and its questionable reconciliation of global reform and geopolitics.

 

Citizen Pilgrims as Nonviolent Warriors of the Great Transition

 

            Prospects for the future depend on altering the outlook and performance of governments representing states, as well as the expectations of their citizenry. This is particularly true for constitutional democracies with strong private sector interest groups. Authoritarian states, especially with control over the economic infrastructure, do not require the consent of the governed to nearly the same extent, and can act or not more freely for better and worse to take account of rapidly changing perceptions. In constitutional democracies the relationship of leadership to the citizenry is very direct, although not necessarily reflecting the will of the people. Special interest lobbying, extensive secrecy and surveillance, and corporatized media all deflect government from a rational calculation of national interests, and tend to obstruct policy deference to long term considerations or to human and global interests. In relation to our two litmus issues it is clear that ‘the military-industrial-think tank complex’ has over the decades protected the nuclear weapons establishment from disarmament advocacy and that the fossil fuel campaign has lent a measure of credibility to climate skepticism despite its rejection by 97% of climate experts.

 

            Experience confirms that government policy will not shift against such

entrenched policy without a popular mobilization that alters the political climate sufficiently to allow change to happen. In the 1980s this happened in the United States and the United Kingdom in relation to apartheid South Africa. In this case, the ethical repudiation of official racism provided the basis for altering the political climate to such an extent that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, both conservative leaders who valued strategic and economic cooperation with South Africa, were led to endorse sanctions that were important contributions to the eventual success of the anti-apartheid campaign. Nuclear weaponry does pose an ethical challenge, but its main challenge is a prudential one of resting the security of major states and their friends on a conditional commitments to destroy tens of millions of innocent persons in a global setting where conflict and irrational behavior have been recurrent features. It would thus appear to be the case that both ethics and rationality favor phased and verified nuclear disarmament as had been legally stipulated by the nuclear weapons states in the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968.[18]

 

            The global challenge of climate change is more complex, and in some ways exposes more directly the limits of globally oriented problem-solving in a state-centric framework. Unlike nuclear weaponry, there is strong inter-governmental support for the scientific consensus as to the need for mandatory regulations to reduce greenhouse gas (especially carbon) emissions so as to prevent further harmful global warming. For the past twenty years the UN has sponsored conferences that bring together annually most governments in the world to move toward implementing the scientific consensus, and yet little happens. Rationality gives way to special interests and short-term calculations of advantage are given precedence in the policy arenas of government, which means little is achieved. The state system seems stuck, and the old realism seems set to shape human destiny in adverse ways for the foreseeable future.

 

            In such settings the citizen pilgrim offers society a voice of sanity that speaks from the liberated isolation of the wilderness. It envisions a future responsive to the long-term survival of the human species, and maximizing its wellbeing and pursuit of global justice. Some citizen pilgrims may be seeking a drastic revision of the worldview of the national leadership cadres of society in the form of embraces of the new realism of human and global interests, pursued within an enlarged sphere of temporal accountability. Other citizen pilgrims may be thinking of a political community that is planetary in scope that organizes its activities to serve all peoples on the basis of individual and collective human dignity and envisions the replacement of a world of sovereign states with a democratically constituted geo-centric framework of governance—norms, institutions, procedures, and actors.

 

            The citizen pilgrim is not primarily motivated by averting danger and mitigating injustice on a global scale, although such concerns occupy the foreground of her political consciousness. The most basic drive is spiritual, to pursue the unattainable, to affirm the perfection of the human experience within the diverse settings present in the world. As Goethe said, “him who strives he we may save.” By striving, the sense of time comes alive in citizenship and political participation, as it must, if the Mount Everest challenges of the great transition are to be successfully traversed.

           

 

           

[1] I rely upon a distinction between ‘human’ and ‘global’ to underscore the interactive duality of human and earth interests, what is beneficial for the human species and what is beneficial for nature and the environment, implying a fundamental commitment to achieving their collaboration and reconciliation. In other words, the ideological posture recommended and adopted can be described as eco-humanism.

See Robert C. Johansen’s breakthrough contribution seeking to overcome the tetension destructive dualism between the national interest and the human

interest. See National and the Human Interest: An Analysis of U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980).

[2] Global Race to Reinvent the State (New York: Penguin, 2014). The authors persuasively demonstrate the resilience of the European state through time, responding non-incrementally, or by revolutionary leaps, to accumulated challenges

  1. For an intriguing interpretation of the evolution of the modern state and the state system since the mid-seventeenth century see John Micklethwait & Adrian Woolridge, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State (New York:

Penguin Press, 2014). The book examines past reinventions of the state in the face of challengesthat have in the past threatened its viability as a source of human contentment. Their thesis is that such a challenge is currently present as evidenced by the widespread dissatisfaction with government in even prosperous and democratic countries. On this basis they draw this conclusion: “The main political challenge of the next decade will be fixing government.” (p.4) What the authors mean by this is mainly a scaling back of the governmental role and a scaling up of its efficient performance of core security and managerial roles. This is different than what is being argued here, which is enabling government to become responsive to global challenges.

 

[3] For one view of how the state is ‘disaggregating’ in ways that enable it to cope with the challenges of an increasingly interactive world, see Anne-Marie Slaughter, The New World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); there are also many instances of cooperation among states for the sake of mutual benefit, especially in relation to the management of the global commons.

[4] The writings of James Lovelock on the Gaia balances of the earth are relevant, as are the speculations that human activities are undermining the equilibrium that has for many centuries allowed plants and animals to live comfortably on the planet. It is the dawn of the age of the anthropocene that is threatening to disrupt this balance that has facilitated biological evolution since the first glimmers of habitation on planet earth. Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

[5] I would include here various anti-democratic forms of imperial and hegemonic governance. See, among others, Andrew Bacevich, American Empire: The Reality and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002; and especially Michael Mandelbaum’s Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-first century (New York: Public Affairs, 2005).

[6] For wide ranging defense of democracy along these lines see Daniele Archibugi’s important study, Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

[7] Such a struggle has been evident in the United States in the period since the 9/11 attacks. For a critical account of the mismanagement of the balance see David Cole & Jules Lobel, Less Secure, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror (New York: New Press, 2007).

[8] But see California chapter in Micklethlwait & Woolridge for an attempt to ‘federalize’ their critique of what has gone wrong with governance in the United States.

[9] The idea of ‘citizen pilgrim’ is inspired by Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews in which he talks of the pilgrim as someone animated by faith in that which is not seen, and does not exist as yet, and yet embarks on a journey dedicated to a better future in which that vision will be realized, not as an earthly city but as a heavenly city.

[10] The issue of civilizational collapse, and its avoidance, have been influentially explored in Collapse; the question of the risks to the species arising from human activities is addressed in Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change (London: Pluto, 2004); see also Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt, 2014).

[11] See Richard Falk, This Endangered Planet: Prospects and Proposals for Human Survival (New York: Random House, 1972); on the orientation of indigenous peoples, thinking ahead and looking back seven generations, see Maivan Lam, At the Edge of the State: Indigenous Peoples and Self-Determination (Ardsley, NY: Transnational, 2000)

[12] One of the most comprehensive appreciations of the approaching limits of modernity as a legacy of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution is found in James Lee Kunstler;

[13] Clive Hamilton critically explores this search for a technological escape via geo-engineering from the dilemmas posed by adherence ‘the iron law of growth’ (Paelke), population increase, and continuously rising living standards.

[14] Micklethwait & Woolridge, Note 1, are persuasive that national governments are generating widespread dissatisfaction among their citizens, although their focus is upon issues of efficiency and scale as the source of this public mood of alienation.

[15] Some suggestions along these lines are contained in Falk, “Anarchism without Anarchism,” Millennium

[16] See Richard Falk & Andrew Strauss, A Global Parliament: essays and articles (Berlin: Committee for a Democratic UN, 2011).

[17] For elaboration see Falk, On Humane Global Governance (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1995).

[18] See for development of these themes Falk & David Krieger, The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2012); but see Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Nuclear Ethics (New York: Free Press, 1986) for a contrary view.

RUSSELL TRIBUNAL SESSION ON PALESTINE

5 Sep

[Prefatory Note: On September 24 a special session of the Russell Tribunal will examine war crimes allegations against Israel arising from the 50-day military operation that commence on July 8th. The RT has developed a record of examining the criminality of state actors that enjoy impunity internationally because they are insulated from accountability by what I have called a ‘geopolitical veto’ in this case exercised by the United States and several major European countries. Where governments and the UN fail to implement international law, there exists a right of peoples to play a residual lawmaking function. It is somewhat analogous to the residual role that the General Assembly is empowered to play when the Security Council is unable or unwilling to perform its primary role in relation to international peace and security. To fill this normative vacuum the RT has long played made an honorable contribution to what might be called ‘the empowerment of legal populism.’ I encourage attentiveness to this event, including publicizing its occurrence and disseminating the results of its deliberations. As the announcement below indicates, I am proud to be a member of the jury for the session along with a series of truly distinguished and qualified high profile international personalities known both for their professional achievement and for their principled stands as ‘citizen pilgrims’ dedicated to a humane future shaped by global justice.]

Israel’s Crimes in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge – Extraordinary session of the Russell Tribunal

RT Israel’s Crimes in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge – Extraordinary session of the Russell Tribunal th

 

 

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24-25 September – Brussels – Albert Hall, Brussel

 

A few weeks ago, members of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, outraged by Israel’s terrible assault on Gaza and its population, decided to start working on an extraordinary session of the Tribunal that will look into Israel’s Crimes (including War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and the Crime of Genocide) during the still ongoing “Operation Protective Edge” as well as third States complicity.

During this session, that will take place on one day in Brussels on 24th September, our jury, so far composed of Michael Mansfield QC, John Dugard, Vandana Shiva, Christiane Hessel, Richard Falk, Ahdaf Soueif, Ken Loach, Paul Laverty, Roger Waters, Radhia Nasraoui, Miguel Angel Estrella and Ronnie Kasrils will listen to testimonies from Paul Behrens, Desmond Travers, Pierre Barbancey (TBC), Max Blumenthal, Eran Efrati, Mads Gilbert, Mohammed Abou-Arab, Mads Gilbert, Paul Mason, Martin Lejeune, Mohammed Omer, Raji Sourani, Ashraf Mashharawi, Agnes Bertrand, Michael Deas and Ivan Karakashian.

The jury will give its findings on 25th September in the morning during an international press conference at the International Press Center (IPC, Brussels). In the afternoon, the Jury will be received at the European parliament and address a message to the UN General Assembly for its reopening.

To register for the session (free), email us your name and organisation at : rtpgaza@gmail.com

Do mention if you are coming as a journalist and would like to record parts of the session.

To stay in touch with our work, “like” our facebook page! Thanks. (https://www.facebook.com/russelltribunal)

Looking forward to seeing you all in Brussels.

 

Israel’s Crimes in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge – Extraordinary session of the Russell Tribunal

24-25 September – Brussels – Albert Hall, Brussel
A few weeks ago, members of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, outraged by Israel’s terrible assault on Gaza and its population, decided to start working on an extraordinary session of the Tribunal that will look into Israel’s Crimes (including War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and the Crime of Genocide) during the still ongoing “Operation Protective Edge” as well as third States complicity.

During this session, that will take place on one day in Brussels on 24th September, our jury, so far composed of Michael Mansfield QC, John Dugard, Vandana Shiva, Christiane Hessel, Richard Falk, Ahdaf Soueif, Ken Loach, Paul Laverty, Roger Waters, Radhia Nasraoui, Miguel Angel Estrella and Ronnie Kasrils will listen to testimonies from Paul Behrens, Desmond Travers, Pierre Barbancey (TBC), Max Blumenthal, Eran Efrati, Mads Gilbert, Mohammed Abou-Arab, Mads Gilbert, Paul Mason, Martin Lejeune, Mohammed Omer, Raji Sourani, Ashraf Mashharawi, Agnes Bertrand, Michael Deas and Ivan Karakashian.

The jury will give its findings on 25th September in the morning during an international press conference at the International Press Center (IPC, Brussels). In the afternoon, the Jury will be received at the European parliament and address a message to the UN General Assembly for its reopening.

To register for the session (free), email us your name and organisation at : rtpgaza@gmail.com

Do mention if you are coming as a journalist and would like to record parts of the session.

To stay in touch with our work, “like” our facebook page! Thanks. (https://www.facebook.com/russelltribunal)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Citizenship in the 21st Century

20 May

[This post was previously published online at the website of the Global Transition Initiative, which is dedicated to promoting “Transformative Vision and Praxis.” It responds to an essay on global citizenship written by Professor Robert Paehlke (“Global Citizenship: Plausible Fears and Necessary Dreams”), who cogently advocates the formation of a Global Citizens Movement, including indicating how it might become effective. What seems important about such dialogue is the recognition that given the realities of this historical period, it is increasingly necessary for political thought and action to proceed by reference to human interests as well as being responsive to national, local, ethnic, and religious interests and values. A feature of modernity that is being rightly questioned from many angles is the presumed radical autonomy of human interests, especially the modernist illusion that the co-evolutionary dependence on nature and the environment was being superseded by the marvels of technological innovation. One way back to the future is to rethink political community—its boundaries and essential features—from the perspectives of participants, with citizenship being the secular signature of belonging and engagement, and ultimately, the sustainability not just of the community, but of the species.]

 

 

            Reading Robert Paehlke’s carefully crafted essay on global citizenship provides the occasion both for an appreciation of his approach and some doubts about its degree of responsiveness to the urgencies of the present or more specifically its adequacy in relation to the call for ‘transformative vision and praxis’ that lies at the heart of the ‘Great Transition Initiative.’ Paehlke is on strong ground when he ventures the opinion that the planetization of citizenship is an indispensable precondition for the establishment of global governance in forms that are both effective and fair. His insistence that global governance to be legitimate must address ethical issues as well as functional ones associated with sustainability is certainly welcome. He is also persuasive in advocating the formation of a global citizens movement (GCM) that takes advantage of the networking and mobilizing potential of the Internet, combining an initial focus on local challenges while nurturing a global perspective. His deepest sympathies clearly lie with a pluralistic and decentralized GCM that operates, at least for the foreseeable future, without leaders or a common program of action, and as such is likely in his words to be “less threatening” to the established order (p.3). But here is where my analysis and prescriptive horizons departs from his—if a transformative global movement is to emerge from current ferment, then it seems strategic to become more threatening, not less. Flying below the radar is not the kind of praxis that will awaken the human species from its long and increasingly dangerous world order slumber.

 

            I would say that the defining feature of Paehlke’s approach is an implicit belief that with enough patience and persistence we can get to the ‘there’ of effective and equitable global governance from the ‘here’ of neoliberal globalization and state-centricism that is accentuating inequality and human insecurity within and between states. He envisions a transformative movement as possible if prudent efforts are made to induce enough global reform to facilitate the kinds of economic development that manages to deliver equity and environmental protection across borders. There is present in Paehlke’s worldview a sophisticated linear interpretation of world history that is particularly exhibited through changes in the organizational scale of political communities and in the application of technology to the fundamentals of economic, social, and political life. In his well chosen words, the spread of GCM will likely occur “as crises mature and more people appreciate that global governance is where the long arc of human history is taking us—and has been for centuries.” In effect, just as the small kingdoms of feudal Europe became too small to handle the expansion of productive capacities and the enlargement of the market, so in the 21st Century the state is no longer able to be responsive to the magnitudes of the challenges facing humanity, a reality that he hopes the formation and activity of GCM will highlight and circumvent. Paehlke makes clear that his advocacy of global citizenship does not imply either a prediction or prescription that the only appropriate form of global governance is world government. He leaves open to the dynamics of interaction, how transformative governmental adjustments will be made, implying that there are alternative paths to optimal forms of future global governance and that history encourages the confidence that needed adjustments will be forthcoming.

 

            Understandably preoccupied with the inequalities stemming from current patterns of economic globalization, Paelhke believes that a robust GCM will tend to shift political consciousness from the competitive logic of a world of states to the communal logic of a world of people. Such a shift, should it occur in relation to the agenda of global policy bearing on human security would indeed go a long distance toward satisfying the ideational prerequisites of the Great Transition Initiative. But I find it hard to believe that this shift in outlook could come about unless it is actualized by a prior radical and worldwide social movement that shakes the foundations of the established political and economic order. These differing logics also reflect the multiple unevenness of various national circumstances that bear on the wages and safety of workers, and others, as well as fixing the appropriate level of environmental protection. At stake, also, is whether there exists enough common global ground to overcome geographic locus of global policy that has up to this point in modern times given us a world of competing national and transnational interests. How these kinds of tensions can be overcome by approaching policy making from the perspective of shared challenges and opportunities seems daunting, and suggests that the GCM, despite being oriented by Paehlke toward the local, will fail exert much transformative leverage. To exert transformative influence it would have to reorient political consciousness toward the North Star of human interests, which presupposes a qualitative departure from the bounded space of territorial sovereign states whose leadership regards itself pledged to maximize national interests while at the same time, without acknowledgement, promoting transnational financial flows and capital efficiency. The ‘without acknowledgement’ is important as national political leaders must hide the extent to which they are captives of entrenched economic elites and thus need to deceive the citizenry as to why certain policy adjustments cannot even be proposed.

 

            As Andreas Brummel aptly observes, a robust GCM would benefit greatly from the establishment of some form of global parliament, which has been long advocated by those who do not accept the conventional strictures of citizenship as linked to nationalism. Such a parliamentary institution, depending on how it emerged, could begin to articulate global policy from contrarian perspectives to those associated with the outlook of leading states. Especially important would be articulations of the human and global interest, as well as bringing to bear a variety of views not represented by governments acting on behalf of national interests and dedicated to the promotion of transnational capital in all its forms. To develop a transformative consciousness we must first understand the wide gaps between a nationally oriented political consciousness and one that is humanly oriented.

 

            Such a positive outcome cannot be assumed to follow from the mere establishment of a global parliament. As soon as such an institution achieves gains in stature it would almost inevitably become a site of struggle for competing worldviews, including class conflict and a variety of culture wars. I mention such concerns in light of the recent experience of the European Parliament, which has had the roller coaster ride of being long discounted as an irrelevant talk shop before being taken gradually more seriously, and now becoming significant enough to alert reactionary forces in Europe to its political potentialities. These regressive forces are now poised to take over the institution with the evident intention of pushing the European Union further in Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, and socially harsh directions. These risks of cooption and neutralization cast a thickening cloud over the near future of the European Parliament, and in various ways clarify why over the decades the United Nations has so disappointed expectations of those seeking a peaceful and just world order, and seems often to have been the scene of an institutional race to the bottom.

 

            In effect, I am arguing that a reformist outlook, while useful, is not mobilizing in relation to the deeper concerns about the human future. Such a more relaxed outlook as to the global setting implicitly believes that there is ample time and political space for the transformative forces of humanism to work their magic. I find the evidence and tendencies to be quite the opposite. We are living in a time of emergency as far as the human species is concerned. I know this political consciousness has existed previously. Some respected observers, insist that apocalyptic fears are nothing other than a symptom of all civilizational transitions, and that ours reflects the ending of modernity. In opposition, I would argue that the apocalyptic realities of the current challenges make the claim of emergency the only responsible reaction due to the evidence surrounding growing risks of species collapses. I realize that Paehlke is arguing against such world order ‘alarmism,’ which he and many other believe to be politically debilitating. I contend, in opposition, that we must orient praxis toward the real if we wish to act with sanity and in a aroused spirit of dedication.

 

            The world has had several decades to react and adapt, but has not done so. I would point to the normalization of nuclear weaponry in the security mentality of powerful states and the inability of these same states to act responsibly in relation to the strong scientific consensus as to the menace of climate change, particularly global warming. What these failures of response to such fundamentally threatening developments disclose, above all, is a biopolitical uncertainty as to whether the human species as a species has a sufficient will to survive. We know that individuals have such a will, which is generally extended to embrace family, loved ones, and even friends and neighbors. Also, nationalism has demonstrated the intensity of a national will to survive even at great potential cost to the partial self of nationhood and the larger self of humanity as a whole. The shared security commitment of lead governments to nuclear deterrence during the Cold War expressed an omnicidal readiness to risk the fate of the species, and thereby give an absolute value to the survival of the state and nation. Our hopes for the future depend on determining whether this apparent weak will to survive at the level of the human species is hard-wired into our collective mental processes or is a contingent byproduct of modernity encased in a state-centric and neoliberal world order that can be reconfigured for survival and justice, but not without a difficult struggle.

 

            Despite my appreciation of Paehlke’s hopes for the GCM and the fact that many of his formulations are congenial, I find the overall framework of thought and action too constrained by the assumptions that global citizenship can be understood and enacted as a spatial phenomenon. This includes the bias toward promoting local solutions to the extent possible to avoid dangerous and unpopular concentrations of political power. I would argue that time is as important as space in the reconfiguration of citizenship, especially as the challenges become more severe with the passage of time. For instance, compare the relative simplicity of achieving total nuclear disarmament in 1945 when only one country possessed a few atomic bombs with the complexities associated with trying to negotiate a disarmament treaty with nine nuclear weapons states that have vastly different security priorities and perceptions. Or consider the difficulties of addressing climate change after the planet heats up by 4 degrees Celsius or more by mid-century as compared to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions effectively in the 1990s when the nature of the threat was first convincingly established by the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion. Even those with some sensitivity to gravity of the challenge, such as Barack Obama, are so constrained by the practicalities of politics, that they continue to limit recommended solutions to those that are market-based, and have already been demonstrated to be ineffective. The larger point here is that citizenship must become as oriented toward time and the future at least as much as toward the geographies and peoples now living within territorial boundaries. To capture this sense of space/time I have previously championed the ideal of ‘citizen pilgrims,’ those engaged in a journey toward a sustainable and emancipated future that acknowledges and acts upon mounting threats to human survival as well as tries hard to make the planet more morally, aesthetically, and spiritually responsible.

 

            Paehlke ends his essay by distancing himself from ideological markers of left/right, and by saying that GCM “need not primie facie oppose ‘globalization’ or ‘capitalism’” in its commitment to finding “quick, small, visible victories that enhance the efficacy felt by citizens” in relation to problems requiring global solutions. In his essay there is missing any critique of the links between militarism and neoliberal globalization or between global inequalities and the post-colonial interventionism and force projection of the West, especially the United States. There is a certain originality in Paehlke’s stress on the lack of confidence by citizens in relation to activity in the public sphere given the way state and market function in our world. Yet in the end I find restoring confidence in citizen efficacy and the encouragement of working within the system to be the wrong way to go given what we know, fear, and hope. So conceived GCM is likely to divert our attention while we as a species move ever closer to the Great Transition of our nightmares. In essence, to approach the Great Transition of happier dreams we must begin by distinguishing between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ This may seem divisive, but in a world so hierarchical and divided by class, race, gender, to do otherwise is to retreat disastrously from the realities of political life. It is fine to crave unity, but in the meantime we are entrapped in a series of structures that reward conflict, exploitation, and take disunity and enduring division as endemic to the human condition. At best, we can affirm dialogic modes of being in the world, an engagement with ‘otherness’ in all its forms, but also with the humbling recognition that there are radically different appreciations of what needs to be done.

 

Breaking Free: Choosing a Better Human Future

8 Mar

 

I have long believed that prospects for a hopeful human future depend on radical and visionary feelings, thought, and action. Such an outlook reflects my view that the major challenges of our time cannot be met by thinking within the box, or implementing the realist agenda of doing what it is feasible while disregarding what is necessary and desirable. For instance, with respect to climate change such a conventional approach avoids asking what needs to be done to give future generations positive life prospects, but seeks, at best, to do what seems politically feasible at the moment, that is, far too little. This means not putting a cap on energy or water use, not limiting carbon emissions or prohibiting fracking, continuing to encourage economic growth, and refusing to question consumerism. In effect, this conventional approach does not meet challenges, but at most seeks to defer and mitigate harmful effects to the extent possible. In effect, it opts for a worse human future, and remains in bondage to the deformities wrought by clearly deficient neoliberal prescriptions for human fulfillment.

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Against this background, it was a personal breakthrough to meet Jeff Wilson who is, of all things, a dean of the arts college and faculty member in environmental and biological sciences at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin. This is a small mainly undergraduate university with about 900 students, and is what is called a ‘historically black’ college, established in 1881 by some Christian initiatives, with the specific mission of providing higher educational opportunities for former slaves freed in the course of the Civil War. What makes Jeff charismatic is his radical sensibility that has crafted a most unlikely project that has been receiving increasing media attention—converting a trash dumpster into a place of residence, not in the name of austerity, but all in the name of promoting a vision of sustainable living. For those like me unfamiliar with dumpsters, other than as an annoyance if driving behind a garbage pickup vehicle in a crowded city, the idea of living in a 33 square foot enclosure that must be climbed to enter or leave struck me as a kind of ecological stunt when I first heard about it. Like many first impressions this one was quickly superseded by a sense of awe almost at the point of contact.

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That is, until visiting the site, which is on the campus, and actually a project of a student group, intriguingly named “Green is the New Black,” and part of a vision, appropriately radical, to make black colleges take a national lead in the years ahead in producing green campuses throughout the country in every black school. Getting back to Wilson, it is obvious from appearance and style that he strikes his own pose: he is unusual in dress and deeply engaging and infectionously friendly when it comes to sociability, with lively wit and a robust sense of self-irony. He did not come to this experiment in sustainable living overnight. He had earned a PhD at the University of Canterbury and did post-doctoral work at Harvard, he has written numerous papers published in scientific journals on environmental and biological issues, and won an award as the outstanding teacher in all of Texas when he was still an assistant professor. Through it all, he realized that the academic career of a typical scholar, however dedicated, was not going to get done the job of sustainability given the obstacles.

 

As his girlfriend, Clara Benson, a writer by trade, remembers her first impression of Jeff, “This guy was trouble of the best variety.” And speaking of their affinity transcending differing personalities and vocations, she writes, “We live for the unexpected, the experimental, and the subtly disruptive.” My only skeptical reaction is the use of the word ‘subtly’! Jeff and Clara, as is increasingly customary in our digitized era met in cyberspace, via social media, and before long embarked on a most usual ice-breaking three week adventure journey through the Middle East and Europe with no luggage or even a change of clothing. Obviously, the idea of reinventing how we live together happily on the planet has been gestating in Jeff’s restless mind for some time.  Clara’s wonderfully witty and lucid narrative of their trip together was published on November 11, 2013 by Salon.com, and won such a huge audience that a book and film are presently in the works.

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The Dumpster Project is, first of all, a vivid reminder of unsustainability. It is also a carefully conceived way of showing that there are other alternative ways to organize society. Jeff started living in the dumpster on February 4, 2013, and he and students will continue to camp out there in sleeping bags for a year, relying on solar light and water hauled and then filtered from a nearby river, subsisting without any normal links to water or electric supply. This phase will be followed by adapting the dumpster to the energy and water use of the average American, getting all the appliances to be found in the average home, and measuring their environmental footprints in relation to energy and water use, with the expressed intent of dramatizing the gap between what is possible and what is necessary. And there is the third phase described as the ‘Ultimate Dumpster Home,’ which will incorporate the best of design and innovation to show that life can be fulfilling within drastically scaled down proportions, with the goal being one of creating a net-zero energy home that still manages to enjoy the comforts of a normal home. For further exposition I recommend Jeff’s website <www.dumpsterproject.org><info@dumpsterproject.org>

 

The overall focus, and inspiring imagery, is captured by Jeff’s slogan, “We are the new 1%!” The dumpster takes up 1% of the living space used by the average American family. Further, the energy/water regime is shaped by getting along on 1% or less of what is currently the fashion in America. At a deeper level the new 1% is based on a different kind of leadership—toward a sustainable and hopeful future—that contrasts with the old 1% that feasts on a hyper-consumptive life style, portrayed as decadent and dehumanizing in the recent film, The Wolf of Wall Street. It is a matter of repudiating the elites of wealth while celebrating emergent elites of sustainability, worthy ecological pilgrims of our time. As well, the activist challenges posed by the Occupy Movement’s claim in 2012 that “we are 99%” resonates with the conviction that change comes from the people, and not from governments and bureaucracies. Despite the smallness of the dumpster, the scope of the message is as large as the planet, or perhaps, even the universe.

 

I was drawn to the inspirational value of this brave trust in the power of imagination once it is made actual! In the past, I have written about the importance of engaged citizenship to heal the wounds of the planet, and praised particularly, ‘the citizen pilgrim,’ those who have embarked on a life journey in search of a better future. Citizenship, then, becomes enacted in time and is not conceived only as a dimension of space as, for instance, in opting to be ‘a world citizen.’ It is in this spirit that I acknowledge Jeff Wilson as an exemplary citizen pilgrim!