A (Slight) Critique of “The Time Lag of Irreversible Change” -or- When You Talk About Destruction

In this post on Nature Bats Last, Deep Green Resistance activist Joshua Headley makes some strong points about the nature of the trap in which we find ourselves. He cites the melting of the ice caps, the pyrite that is “clean” energy (excuse the mineral extraction joke), and other parts of industrial civilization that are continually tightening the noose. In short, this post is a good summary of the problem.

And that, by itself, is useful. As I’ve written here, paraphrasing Einstein, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the nature of the problem and 5 minutes coming up with solutions.”

And yet, Headley’s insistence that, “Quite literally: we have to completely dismantle the industrial economy, we have to do it soon, and really, we should have done it yesterday” is, sorry, just silly. It’s not that I’m a fan of the industrial economy (which, really, should be “economies,” plural), and any regular reader of mine (all three of you) need not be reminded of such. It’s just that every word in this prescription goes without a definition. Who is “we”? How can one “completely dismantle” an economy? Can the industrial network, if it exists as a monolith, really be dismantled by people?

The idea of bringing down the machine is a quite tempting one to entertain, especially in daydreams while at work. And I also realize that sabotage, no matter how isolated or small in scope, can be fun. As Edward Abbey once wrote about pulling up surveying equipment used to plan the construction of a highway through Utah’s desert: “a futile effort, in the long run, but it made me feel good.”

At the end of the day, I’m completely in solidarity with Mr. Headley. Yes, the problem is infinite growth on a finite planet. Yes, technological solutions are pipe dreams. But so is thinking that people can or even should dismantle our infrastructure. Now, I think people could stop building any more, and that’s a different goal entirely. But really, the fact that the latter objective is also pretty much an impossibility sheds light on the puerile naïveté of the former.

Forget about vague notions of destroying the entire system. We’re in a long emergency. And yet, time is precious—too precious to fritter hours away making unsubstantial, imprecise recommendations.

I think those who care about ecosystems should think about working on real, local things that might help, which usually don’t seem like they’re helping and take years of hard, boring work to put into action (and as I’ve previously written, maybe there are no solutions right now, only ameliorating rear-guard actions). And, no, I don’t mean using our “buying power,” changing the light-bulbs, or taking shorter showers. These ideas are just as silly as “smashing the state.” The last time I checked, doomers were supposed to be characterized by an unfailing realism about the current state of affairs, no?

To be clear, I’m not saying taking apart a cell phone tower or jack-hammering some concrete are categorically bad ideas. I’m just saying that in the process of creating a resistance movement, one can’t skip steps. Dismantling the economy, whatever that means, may be a logical step at some point in the long chain of necessary actions. But right now it’s not helpful to talk about, because it’s meaningless, even as a context. Instead, let’s continue educating people on the nature of the problem, and then (privately) discuss strategy and tactics with as much detail as we can muster, shall we?

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