“Your task is to learn to be patient in an emergency.”

From Paul Kingsnorth’s “What If It’s Not a War?”:

If there’s one thing humans love, it’s war. Even those of us who pretend we don’t like war: really, we love it. We can’t get away from it. Even the pacifists are at it. Even the vegans. The anarchists enjoy it more than the marine corps, at least if they can hide their faces. In my years in the green movement – supposedly a fluffy, caring, co-operative kind of environment – I saw, heard and used more military metaphors than you could shake a stick grenade at. It was always the bad rich guys screwing the planet and the heroic, Earth-loving masses opposing them. When I was a young Earth First!er, back in the nineties, there was a slogan we used all the time. We would scrawl it in oil on the sides of earth-moving machinery when the security guards weren’t looking: The Earth is not dying, it is being killed. And those who are killing it have names and addresses. Yeah! This was exciting and heroic. The names and addresses, of course, were never ours.

Look at any movement for political or social change and you’ll see the war stories proliferating like Japanese knotweed. The 99% must rise up against the 1%! Donald Trump is a fascist and we are the resistance! Ordinary working people must stop the globalist elites! Corporations are causing climate change, and we must fight them! Black versus white, men versus women, elites versus masses, people versus planet: whatever your favoured battle, your choice commits you to fighting. Of course, your team are the goodies. Right is on your side, and the other lot are deluded haters. You are always Luke Skywalker, never Darth Vader.

War metaphors and enemy narratives are the first thing we turn to when we identify a problem, because they eliminate complexity and nuance, they allow us to be heroes in our own story, and they frame our personal aggression and anger in noble terms. The alternative is much harder: it’s to accept our own complicity. The alternative is an environmental campaigner accepting that they are as much a cause of climate change as the CEO of Exxon. It’s a progressive supporter of open borders accepting that they prepared the ground for Trumpism. It’s a European nationalist accepting that their wealth is built on globalisation. We don’t want to deal with this kind of thing. It stops us in our tracks, and the war machine runs on without us. We feel lonely out here on our own. Much easier to run on and catch up.

My favourite war metaphor is the one which pits modern humanity against the Earth itself. I think that civilised, post-Enlightenment humanity has been, and remains, a dark and destructive force. In only a few hundred years we have precipitated a planetary crisis, the details of which readers of this blog will be depressingly familiar with. We have destroyed wildness and beauty and meaning. We have eaten life itself. There is a black magic about our civilisation, I think. If you want me to build a case, I can build a case easily enough. I’ve done it before. But right now I’m more interested in what happens if I don’t.

If it’s not a war, what is it? If we’re not warriors, what are we? Are we monks or hermits? Are we nihilists or hedonists? The thing about war metaphors is that they suck you right in, like wars themselves. If you won’t enroll, you can easily be condemned as a coward: handed white feathers in pubs and spat at on the street. Still, we don’t want a world at war, do we? We want something else. But what? And how?

At the moment, I’m thinking that a trial might be a better metaphor and guide than a war. ‘You might see the situation we are in as an emergency,’ says Wendell Berry, ‘and your task is to learn to be patient in an emergency’. Being patient in an emergency seems harder and more worthwhile than playing soldiers. If I attempt to transmute my favourite war story – people versus planet – into a trial story instead, what do I get? I get a long story of patience and hard work and attention to nature; a story that will outlive me and my children. The poet Gary Snyder has suggested that we are in the early stages of what may be a 5000 year journey towards living well with ourselves and the Earth. All of us, whatever our tribe or team, are on the same journey. That’s a trial: a long, complicated test.

If it is a trial, a long emergency, an intergenerational test of patience, what qualities would we need to undertake it? They would be very different qualities to those – anger, aggression, might, tactical cunning – needed by a warrior. We might need to drop back into the past for a moment and explore some of the non-martial virtues that defined our culture before it was overtaken and half drowned by the siren song of commerce.

 

Heaven and Hell

From the late Hunter S. Thompson:

It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die. A fat man will feel his heart burst and call it beautiful. Who knows? If there is, in fact, a Heaven and a Hell, all we know for sure is that Hell will be a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix — a clean well-lighted place full of sunshine and bromides and fast cars where almost everybody seems vaguely happy, except for the ones who know in their hearts what is missing… And being driven slowly and quietly into the kind of terminal craziness that comes with finally understanding that the one thing you want is not there. Missing. Back-ordered. No tengo. Vaya con Dios. Grow up! Small is better. Take what you can get…

Heaven is a bit harder to figure. And there are some things that not even a smart boy can tell you for sure…  But I can guess. Or wonder. Or maybe just think like a gambler or a fool or some kind of atavistic rock & roll lunatic and make it about 8-1 that Heaven will be a place where the swine will be sorted out at the gate and sent off like rats. With huge welts and lumps and puncture wounds all over their bodies. Down the long black chute where ugliness rolls over you every 10 or 16 minutes like waves of boiling asphalt and poison scum. Followed by sergeants and lawyers and crooked cops waving rule books. And where nobody laughs and everybody lies and the days drag by like dead animals and the nights are full of whores and junkies clawing at your windows and tax men jamming writs under your door and the screams of the doomed coming up through the air shaft along with white cockroaches and red stringworms full of AIDS and bursts of foul gas with no sunrise and the morning streets full of preachers begging for money and fondling themselves with gangs of fat young boys trailing after them…

Ah.. but we were talking about Heaven … or trying to … but somehow we got back into Hell.

Maybe there is no Heaven. Or maybe this is all pure gibberish — a product of the demented imagination of a lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate who has found out a way to live out there where the real winds blow — to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whiskey and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested…

Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll.

“If heaven is about a Mixmaster, then heaven in meaningless.”

Good thread on Twitter critiquing the theology of pro-Trump Christians.  Here’s the first post of the thread:

My favorite line, “But if heaven is about a Mixmaster, then heaven in meaningless.”

Thought for the Day – February 14, 2018

Charlie Pierce observes:

The NRA argument [for gun privileges] boils down to a belief that massacres are part of the price of constitutional liberty.

Yes, let’s call it what it is.  Nothing has changed since Newtown.  As a society, we consider the periodic slaughter of children and other non-combatants an acceptable price to pay for the privilege of owning and using guns.  The polls suggest that a significant majority support “common sense gun control” but look at who we elect to government. Americans have had opportunity after opportunity to elect representatives who would act forcefully to reduce gun violence and we don’t do it. We vote in NRA supporters instead.

Let’s recognize what we do when we do that, condemn it, and choose to act differently. Contemporary gun advocacy is not about outdoorsmen having the opportunity to hunt and it has nothing to do with self-defense. Contemporary gun advocacy is in the tradition of the genocide of Native Americans, terrorism of African-Americans, and seditious conspiracy against democratically-elected government. White supremacy is central to it. More generally, gun advocacy is part of a culture – our culture – that celebrates violence as a means of holding power over others. To be honest, I’m skeptical that more gun laws now would address the core problem. They might help but they’re secondary. Until we stop celebrating and rewarding violence of any kind, mass shootings and other gun violence will persist.

The Adjudication of Fairness

I’ve read a few commentaries which capture my thoughts on Sen. Franken, left-leaning popular opinion, and how Democrats dealt with him. Zephyr Teachout’s piece, I’m Not Convinced Franken Should Quit, is particularly well-stated:

Zero tolerance should go hand in hand with two other things: due process and proportionality. As citizens, we need a way to make sense of accusations that does not depend only on what we read or see in the news or on social media.

Due process means a fair, full investigation, with a chance for the accused to respond. And proportionality means that while all forms of inappropriate sexual behavior should be addressed, the response should be based on the nature of the transgressions.

Both were missing in the hasty call for Senator Franken’s resignation….

This isn’t just about Senator Franken. Other lawmakers have also been accused of harassment. We need a system to deal with that messy reality, and the current one of investigating those complaints is opaque, takes too long and has not worked to protect vulnerable women and men from harassment. And the current alternative — off with the head of the accused, regardless of the accusation — is too quick, too easily subject to political manipulation and too vulnerable to the passions of the moment….

As citizens, we should all be willing to stay ambivalent while the facts are gathered and we collect our thoughts. While the choice to fire the television hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer were the choices of private companies, condemning a sitting lawmaker is a public choice and one our representatives should make judiciously.

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