Die-in at Lismore City Hall

Well our trip on the Titanic just got a lot more dire.

I’m relieved the election season is over so we can get back to talking and thinking about bigger picture things, but I’m aghast at how our federal and state elections turned out. I feel the kind of out-of-control terror one would feel in a speeding car with a drunk at the wheel recklessly celebrating foolish risk-taking. The horror of seeing the right-wing politicians and much of middle Australia high-fiving an election that to them means they have been spared of having to take serious climate action. The words ‘pyrrhic victory’ have never been more apt. You may win now but only to see it all burn eventually.

The late Anthropocene is certainly a scary time. We have the science, we know the problem, we have the means and technologies to respond, but we don’t as a species seem to have the neurological capacity to collectively perceive our predicament and respond in a timely way.

I am not saying all is doomed, it’s just increasingly likely to be so on our current trajectory. Fortunately complexity theory has taught me that the closer we get to the edge of chaos the greater the capacity for the life-system to generate innovative outputs, the greater the chance of at least some of those taking root and the greater the chance and/or risk of abrupt shifts in how the system operates. All very reassuring from a system perspective maybe, but not necessarily all that reassuring from the perspective of individual, or social survival.

I am haunted by a musing that cultural and neurological features that assisted human and social evolution are now dangerously past their use-by date, but still dominant in how we perceive the world. When we were just another species struggling to survive on this planet, nature was bigger than us, and the well-being of ourselves and our tribe of fellow humans was the most important thing to think about. Our anthropocentrism (human-centredness) may have helped us to survive then, and our collective habit of social conformity gave structure and cohesion to our emerging societies.

But now we find ourselves in a time of human-induced ecological emergency, still clinging to a human-centred conformism that paradoxically may lead to our own extinction. Historically our cultural identities were built on shared conformities. We tolerated the outliers as long as we perceived them as productive, atypical savants, our scientists, witch doctors, shaman, artists and more recently our eco-centric environmentalists. In that conformity we also oppressed and eradicated otherness where it had no apparent use to us or scared us.

As we approach climate emergency we are seeing a descent into two massively dysfunctional psychological responses to stress: conservatism and its more violent brother, fascism. The fear of change is manifesting as a vain nostalgia for an imagined golden past and a rising desire to ostracise or destroy anyone perceived as standing in the way of that glorious pointless embrace of denial. Denial of science, denial of risk and denial of the need to respond.

What we are conforming to as a society has become toxic, a form of destructive mass psychosis. Corporate capitalism, a form of artificial intelligence, has worked out ways of channeling our human-centred conformism to suit its self-destructive pursuit of ever-growing profit. The algorithm contradicts physics and climate crisis is just the first canary in the coal mine to show us that. The rapidly accelerating extinction crisis is another.

It is no longer a time to conform, it is a time to rebel for your very survival. I have watched keenly the emergence of Extinction Rebellion in the UK and Europe. I applied a critical mind to the framing, the science, the research and the aims and strategies of the movement and I was surprised to find that someone had done their homework very well. Here was a movement prepared to look the climate crisis in its burning dragon-like eye, feel the necessary grief, step over the luxuries of false hope and commit to determined action, courage in the face of completely uncertain prospects for success. But furthermore, to do so with a deep enduring and fundamental commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience.

In the framing as well is the key to engaging the neuro-typical heart of humanity, concern for our own species. If we are going to engage the vast bulk of people, it still needs to somehow be about people.

The march to extinction is simply one where we are marching other species in front of us as we stampede the precipice. Every species we lose damages the structures that our own survival depends upon. The loss of bees and its impact upon human agriculture and food security is probably the most obvious example, but there will be many more.

The time to identify that we are in an emergency is upon us, and when governments fail, when electoral systems fail, civil disobedience has been proven many times to be the only safe yet effective path to trigger fundamental change. If we can’t do it nonviolently then we will fail anyway, as violence only feeds fascism. So we need to accept that our current social trajectory is terminal, we need to commit ourselves to radical action, but accept as well that we also may not succeed, or at least not succeed as well as we may hope. It is in the humility to take right action, with no guarantee of success that we can endure the frustrations that can turn movements to violence.

We are in a global extinction event, we may or may not transform humanity, but with what we have left we have no rational choice left but to try, peacefully, courageously.

Extinction Rebellion has already launched in your region, please go to https://ausrebellion.earth/about/ and listen out for the emergence of local groups.

Thank you for caring about our planet.

This article was first published in the June edition of the Nimbin Good Times.


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