Because I Cannot Be Silent

“George Floyd! George Floyd! George Floyd! SAY HIS NAME!”
Protesters in my city, June 2, 2020

There is nothing I can say that has not been said, more articulately and with more authority.

There is nothing I can add that doesn’t come through a filter of privilege.

There is nothing I can do but fight for justice.

But I have a forum, and I will not be silent on this.

Police murder of black and brown unarmed civilians is a pandemic in the United States. It is a means that entire communities are kept under the sometimes literal boot of white privilege. It is the perpetuation of oppression dating back 400 years.

Atheopagans oppose this.

We are explicit about this in our Atheopagan Principle #7: Inclusiveness. We are all equal in value, we humans, and we all deserve equal respect (at least until our behavior dictates otherwise. NOT because of race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, body shape or size, disability or any other human variation).

I am appalled that there is anyone in my country who would not agree that Black Lives Matter. They matter enormously, and they must be treated as such.

White supremacy is an insidious, poisonous mockery of human pride. It is a revolting attitude. It must be eradicated.

As for the nuances of this, and how this is to be accomplished, I turn—and urge you to turn—to black and brown voices who speak with an authority I cannot.

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

In Which Straw Men Get Punched —More on Halstead/Green

This is getting silly, but more has to be said in this conversation.

Here is a link to John’s latest response to my response to his response. Links to all the other pieces are listed in that one.

I am frankly tired of John’s putting words in my mouth and then arguing with them. He’s an attorney, he knows about logical fallacies, and he should know better.

Let’s just list them, shall we?

  1. I have never suggested that renewable energy will provide as much energy as industrial capitalism consumes now. I am not a “techno-optimist”, as he had it. I am a pragmatist who understands that energy consumption will conform to energy availability, which is an obvious argument that John completely ignores.
  2. The takeaway from Moore’s film is not to bother with renewables. That is a stone fact, and no amount of tap dancing will dispel it. Promoting Moore’s scrap of yellow journalism does no favors for the Earth, for humanity, or for anyone interested in being informed on these topics. Nor is this “tribalism”. It is a simple fact: Moore’s rhetoric is persuasively directed at dissuading the viewer from supporting renewable energy sources.

    John tries to have it both ways by saying that “of course” he supports renewables, but his support for Moore’s screed puts the lie to this claim.
  3. John hand-waves my point that his supposed authorities on “Deep Adaptation” are nobodies that no one is listening to. But he can’t really argue it. It’s not a movement, and it’s making no effort—UNLIKE the Atheopagan movement, which he slurs in passing—to organize and gather public support. Instead, it offers poison to the public, and then feels smug when the public doesn’t want to buy it.
  4. John derides what he calls “the contagion model of knowledge”, ignoring that it is, in actuality, how cultural change occurs. Pernicious ideas are dangerous, particularly when they are not reality-based, like the Doomer scenario. If you don’t think so, check out QAnon.

    No, you don’t fight racist rhetoric with censorship ALONE, but you sure as hell censor it while putting out anti-racist education. Here, John reveals again that he is accustomed— as an attorney would be—to making a solitary argument rather than conducting public organizing: a realm he does not have experience with, but I do.
  5. John proposes that the idea that doing something affirmative in the direction of a positive vision in the face of a crisis, rather than doing nothing, is “stupid”.

    I think that this speaks for itself. John’s rhetoric, and that of his allies, is overwhelming paralyzing, dispiriting and contributing to despair. People don’t “take a beat” when consumed with despair and then pursue a better world in the face of “knowledge” that there is no hope. They just drink a lot, and then commit suicide.

    I would suggest that taking a shot—even if it’s a long shot—at a better future is better than giving up.
  6. John congratulates himself for “beginning to live his life for real for the first time” through paralytic despair, yet having granted that he doesn’t really know what the future will bring, his claimed “realness” is just as much “a marketing lie” as what I have on offer, except that what I am offering is empowering rather than disempowering.
  7. Yes, actually, John: I do believe that the core values of Atheopaganism will be embraced by a significant cohort of humans in the future, because unlike yours, they already are. The Atheopagan Principles aren’t some wildly new paradigmatic shift that offers no upside to humanity: they are affirmative values that progressives, of whom there are many, already endorse.
  8. Anyone who thinks that highlighting the choice between renewables and fossil fuels presents a “false equivalence” is clearly not using environmental metrics to judge by. I mean…seriously?
  9. As I pointed out, John’s idea of “activism” consists mostly of ineffectual feel-good activities like environmental protest actions. He says he is “still an activist”, but doesn’t really explain how his activities have any traction with the public zeitgeist.

    And this is the root of the difference between John and me: he seems to think that an idea by itself is an action, and it isn’t. The persuasion of a significant number of others to adopt an idea is an action, and he isn’t doing it.

    His despairing, hopeless, doleful product is the equivalent of offering rotten food for sale. There will never be takers for it. John may have found some kind of satisfaction in “being right” about the future of humanity, but it is one he will share only with a handful of curmudgeonly fellows…and he himself acknowledges that he’s not sure what the future will bring anyway.

    It doesn’t matter whether he is right or not. Humanity will go on, driven—like it or not—by more inspiring visions. Yes, collapse will come, but even in its midst people won’t gravitate to the kind of worldview John promulgates. They will, as humans always have, move in the direction of a vision of a better world for themselves, their children and their communities.

    I say it is incumbent upon us to define that better world as not only better for humans, but better for the planet because, as I have emphasized and John has ignored, humans are incredibly adaptable and tenacious creatures. It is highly unlikely that we are going extinct any time soon. We will eventually, but that time is not now and pretending that it is is abrogating responsibility to the future.

    Much of the vision of the “Doomers” isn’t even minimally rational. Some argue that humanity must revert to a “pre-industrial” state, in blank contravention of the fact that we weren’t living sustainably when that was our level of technology. Others—even more wild-eyed—argue that we must devolve to the Stone Age, ignoring the fact that such powerful technologies as agriculture and the wheel (which means the mill, which means the engine) are never going to be forgotten.

    But most significantly, what John ignores—which I have cited repeatedly—is the very nature of the human organism, which is not to embrace extinction any more than that is the inclination of a virus or a rat. It’s not “human exceptionalism”, as John claims. Life doesn’t do that. If all you have on offer is a graceful exit for the entire species, as John acknowledges, humanity will not embrace what you are promoting. It will never do so.

    Which raises the obvious question: why do you persist with this reality-divorced nonsense? You could just as well posit that humans flap their arms and fly to another planet: it is as plausible as the Doomer (or “post-Doomer”) scenario and vastly more entertaining.

    The only answer I can come up with to that question is that there is some psychological satisfaction that the doom-and-gloom scenario brings to John and those who think like him. Their “analysis” is not about the actual future, or actual humans, or the actual Earth: it is about relieving stress, sense of responsibility, or sorrow at impending loss. It is an attempt to come to grips with the hard realities that face our species by deciding that the worst case scenario is the “truth”, so they don’t have to live with the anxiety of the unknown.

    Myself, I’ll take the anxiety. I’ll take the bet that humanity can get better. What’s the worst that can happen? Only what John and his gang have already decided to endorse.

The Doomsaying Simply Isn’t Helping: More on My Exchange with John Halstead

I really think my friend John Halstead has missed the most salient points of my recent post, “Why the Doomsters are completely wrong”. His response glosses over my most important critiques of his position and mischaracterizes others.

First and foremost, though claiming the space of “speaking truth”, he ignores the thorough debunking of Michael Moore’s recent film, Planet of the Humans, which does the dirty work of the fossil fuel industry by making false claims about the impact and effectiveness of renewable energy sources.

John doesn’t seem to acknowledge the very game we are playing here, which is one of contesting ideas. While he says that “of course” we should pursue renewable energy, he does so while promoting a propaganda piece that leaves the viewer with the sense that we should do no such thing.

The future of the world isn’t a thought problem, and the handful of “Doomer” thinkers that he lists are not particularly influential except with others like themselves. Social transformation is an organizing project, not an academic exercise. And that means that selling—yes, marketing—of key ideas to vast swathes of people will be necessary in order to move in a new direction.

There’s another term for that, if you prefer: public education. But in essence, it is a persuasive process.

My background is as a grassroots organizer. I can tell you with confidence that the average voter or person has never heard of any of the people that Halstead lists, nor their ideas, and that if they did, they would most likely yawn and turn to something else…or worse, they would listen to them, and give up entirely. A compelling vision is what stirs imaginations and mobilizes political action, and that is the diametric opposite of what Halstead and the Doomers present.

While John describes his own position as “post-defeatism”, it certainly doesn’t look like that from the outside. It looks like it takes a kind of grim satisfaction in indicators of impending doom and gloom, and encourages people to sit and get their minds around the impending disaster rather than to do something. But then he hedges his bets by saying that, despite all his arguments to the contrary, humans should persist in pursuing renewable energy sources.

“Embrace extinction” isn’t a way forward. It isn’t a strategy, nor is it problem-solving. At root, although John says it isn’t, it is throwing one’s hands up and saying to hell with it. John even describes a refusal to adopt this stance as “false hope”.

“How do we live meaningfully in light of this awareness (of possible impending extinction)?” he asks. “What suffering might we be able to alleviate? What beauty might we cultivate?” These are questions one asks when one has given up, and is just waiting to die. They are not the questions that someone who even wants humanity to survive would ask.

They are the questions one asks after one has arrived at Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ final mourning phase: acceptance. We’re all going to die, so let’s have some nice flowers on the table today, shall we? Let’s plant a garden. Let’s be nice to one another. When the water closes over our heads, at least we will have had some nice moments.”

As I pointed out in my piece, this flies in the face of the very nature of the human organism: problem-solving, aspirational, with a soaring imagination. “Let’s have a nice collective death” is not a vision that any significant portion of humanity will EVER embrace. It is therefore intellectual masturbation, not a real-world engagement with the challenges that face us.

Yes, a better relationship with our individual deaths is greatly called-for, certainly in the American culture of which both John and I are a part. But getting people on board with the wiping out of their progeny, works, and hopes for the future is a non-starter. It is the height of elitism to dismiss “the popularity of ideas”—in other words, the great unwashed, the “little people”—just because your ideas won’t fly with them. John’s suggestion that we need to promote the idea of the “end of civilization” is just…well, frankly kind of silly.

I understand the desire to give up. It is a siren song; it lures us with how easy it would be to just stop trying and hoping and to lay down and die.

But that’s not what this species does.  It survives. It has experienced crashes before, and survived them. There is little reason to believe that it will not survive the collapse of industrial capitalism, nor that civilization (living in cities) will end.

John argues that “once you accept that industrial civilization is collapsing, then putting all of your energy into advocating for a transition to renewable energy sources just doesn’t make sense.” First of all, this is a straw man: we must advocate on many fronts, not just for renewable energy, and no one has ever suggested otherwise.

But beyond this, it ignores the cost of not doing so. Yes, windmills and solar panels require extraction from the Earth. But what about their alternatives? Are we simply to stick with heavily extractive, exceedingly destructive and polluting fossil fuels because alternatives aren’t perfect? There is no level of technology that isn’t extractive. When you pick up a stick and sharpen it…well, there’s that much less biomass to create soil with in the area where you picked up the stick.

Doomers who claim to believe that humans can and will revert to Paleolithic levels of technology—I rather doubt they actually believe this, because there is so much technology beyond this level which humanity will inevitably retain, and they are smart enough to know this—are simply wandering into fantasy land. And they are giving themselves an out from being activists for a human future, opting instead to cheer as things get worse.

I don’t find that a moral or useful position. I think that John’s position does a disservice both to humanity and to the planet.

Better that the public embrace renewable energy sources so they are familiar with how they work as the wheels come off industrial capitalism. Better that we do everything we can to curb carbon pollution. Better that we engage the public at large than to congratulate ourselves that we know better than they and no hope is possible.

John and I agree that no one really knows what the future will bring.

That makes it all the more important not to give up.