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FACING THE MONSTER: WHERE ARE WE?
international | anti-capitalism | opinion/analysis Thursday March 15, 2018 01:21 by Mark - 1 of United By Chaos Network Editorial Group markdrifter.ph at gmail dot com
An Excerpt from Engines of Domination Written by Mark Corske
Nuclear weapons, ecological destruction and climate change, the threat of uncontrollable pandemics, a culture of blind consumption stripped of human values—my theory of political power resulted from a struggle to understand how the world could be in such terrible trouble. Yes, trouble is part of living, and throughout our 200,000 year family history, people have suffered and often perished from countless problems, both natural and man-made ones. But today’s man-made problems are unique in their severity and scale. In this chapter, I’ll take a painful look at these problems, and consider some popular but mistaken ideas about their causes.
The Medusa Effect In many times and places, people have felt that the end of the world was at hand. Yet only in the last lifetime has it become a real possibility, not a supernatural vision. Since the nuclear arms race began sixty years ago, people have increasingly felt that these are “apocalyptic” times, meaning that some disastrous upheaval is imminent. The more recent crises of pollution and climate change have only strengthened these feelings. If events continue to follow their present trends, these feelings are absolutely correct. Our problems may seem too terrible to contemplate, like the mythic monster Medusa who was so hideous that those who looked her in the face turned to stone. The very thought of disasters such as nuclear war, catastrophic climate change, and lethal pandemics, can paralyze the mind—and the will. I call this the Medusa effect. The disastrous processes underway in our world continue because so many people do not or cannot face them, and because many people who do face them feel utterly powerless to change them. But problems too the human emergency terrible to contemplate must be contemplated, if we’re to stand any chance of solving them. Our ancient ancestors survived a great range of severe hardships— including three Ice Ages—often by bravely facing them and taking action. Yes, today’s challenges differ profoundly from those of the past, but we have far greater means at our disposal for understanding, organizing, and acting. We’re up to the challenge. Because today’s problems can seem immensely complex, many people feel that they can’t understand them well enough to find solutions. Yet I believe that our problems are fundamentally very simple to understand. Before I summarize our problems, I’ll describe some ways in which people often avoid facing them—deliberately or not. Emotional Escapes First, certain chronic emotional states can provide escapes from facing our problems. Apathy—indifference, a lack of feeling in circumstances that are charged with emotional significance—can keep us from feeling overwhelmed. “It’s just too much, I can’t deal with it.” Better to feel too little than feel too much. Overeating and anesthetic substances such as drugs, liquor, and television can have the same effect. So can certain practices, from intense physical exercise to spiritual disciplines that seek detachment and inner tranquility. I’m not saying that people deliberately lapse into apathy to avoid facing our problems, only that apathy must be resisted like any emotional difficulty, or else it can become an escape. I’m not saying that physical or spiritual practices can’t play an important part in keeping one’s balance and health while dealing with stressful problems, only that they can become a substitute for facing those problems. At the opposite extreme from apathy, anger can lead to lashing out—at loved ones, strangers, even political scapegoats. It is infuriating to see the world in such danger. The less one can place the responsibility and the less one can act effectively to reduce the danger, the easier it is to discharge the anger in other directions. And while anger gives the illusion of power, it means a loss of control. Lashing out creates its own problems, which then distract us from the greater problems that angered us to begin with. Anger stifled and turned inward can create depression—action is paralyzed, rage turns to despair, the illusion of power becomes an illusion of helplessness.
Depression afflicts many people who are overwhelmed by the condition of our world. But again, like any emotional difficulty, it must be resisted, or it can become an escape. All of these emotional states neutralize us, and apathy, anger, and depression are increasingly common in the United States today. Apathetic people will not act. People who lash out will not act effectively. Depressed people cannot act. We must act. Intellectual Escapes There are also many ideas that can provide intellectual escapes from facing our problems, pessimistic and optimistic ones. On the pessimistic side, if fate or other supernatural forces rule human affairs, then it’s futile to defy them. “It’s always been this way, it’s just the way of the world.” The same holds for doctrines of inevitable historical cycles, or inexorable “laws of history” that operate beyond the power of human choice. Propaganda plays to these ideas, as in Margaret Thatcher’s litanies, “There is no alternative,” and “Globalization is inevitable.” On the optimistic side, many doctrines promise some kind of deliverance by greater powers. Some New Age philosophies hold that despite all disasters to the contrary, a “great transformation” is imminent, a leap of “spiritual evolution” to a “higher plane.” Others claim that benevolent space aliens are in the process of taking control of the world to save us. Some Christians believe that although Satan rules the world now, God will soon intervene with a final cataclysm, the battle of Armageddon in which evil will be destroyed forever and the reign of God will take power with the return of Christ. Those with a comparable secular faith in technological progress believe that discoveries and innovations will somehow carry us through our crises and bring us to a scientific utopia. I’m not saying that everyone who believes such ideas is using them as an escape from our problems. I’m only saying that such ideas can readily serve those who seek to escape. They can neutralize us and keep us from taking action. We certainly need to be saved—but we certainly must not count on someone or something else to save us. I see a kernel of truth in all of these ideas. Yes, as individuals, we are at the mercy of vastly greater powers. It’s far less terrifying to believe that those powers are benevolent than to believe that they’re hostile. And yes, there is a vastly greater power of good waiting to take action: us, the people of the world, organized worldwide against what threatens to destroy us.
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