On Nature Bats Last this morning I found an interesting piece from someone helping to blockade the Keystone XL pipeline, called “Protester Motivations” (and thank you for spelling “protester” correctly). The author’s most thought-provoking statement is this one:
While we’re at it, here’s some bonus info; I’m not a “protester.” I’m a human being who gives a fuck, and who hasn’t been morally and spiritually crushed despite the best efforts of those who profit off of the silence and complacency of the masses in the face of genocide. As a person of conscience and soul, I am not willing to stand by as the forests fall, as the waters run black, and as the least among us are continually exploited and made to suffer the most.
Seems fair enough. My only gripe with the post is this little gem:
Personally, my primary motivation for being away from my family and dangling sixty feet in the air is NOT WATCHING EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING I LOVE GO FUCKING EXTINCT! Yes, this is a possibility, if not a probability now! I know that your pea brains function on a need to know basis, and if someone you consider higher than you on the human hierarchy doesn’t tell you to believe something, you won’t believe it, but if you have an iota of cerebral capacity that hasn’t been completely radiated into gray mush by years of state sponsored propagandizing and Pavlovian boot licking, know this: Industrial activity has set in motion a series of events that through positive feedback loops have the very real potential of wiping out the life support systems of the planet.
The motivation is clearly a good one, but I’m not sure who the “pea brain” litany is aimed at, since anyone reading Nature Bats Last is presumably already very far along on the spectrum from average American suburbanite to radical Leftist doomer. Yes, everyone loves making vague demands on vague groups of people, such as “wake up!” and other calls to radically change one’s life in an instant. These calls to thought and/or action are not wrong in the goal they promote, but realistically, nobody reads “wake up!” and actually wakes up, especially if what follows is a list of generalized and impersonal insults.
As to believing what is told to you by those higher up in the hierarchy, that pressure is very real, and indeed forced and backed up by violence or the threat of violence, and is not simply a matter of people being “good Germans.” I don’t drive a car because Ford (or in my case, Chevy) tells me I should drive a car because it’s so great. I drive a car because it’s a reality of living in a city with limited to no public transport, working a job that requires I travel to schools in at least three school districts on a weekly basis. Yes, this makes me complicit in the Machine (as we all are, really), but I don’t do it because my “pea brain” can’t tell the difference. I do it, like most other people do it, because we’ve previously been stripped of our real means to sustainance (the natural world), and thus rely on the industrial infrastructure (including economies) for food and shelter at the moment. I would like to change the position we’re in, and am working to do that as best I can, but in the meantime I drive the car to work.
To be clear, I think blockading the building of the pipeline (or any pipeline) could be a useful strategy, and kudos to those who have done it. I may be joining you, in some capacity, very soon. But let’s start with what we know: that people (myself included) will not radically change their lives overnight. We probably don’t have time for a large enough change, a critical mass of change that would tip ecological scales back into the healthy category, to happen anyway; most people will accept new standards of living as the stability of empire deteriorates and brown water, or no water at all, comes out of the tap. So let’s prepare for that eventuality with eyes open, and try to recruit as many people as possible into the network of activitists and ecosystem supporters. But in the meantime, don’t assume that all people who aren’t out in the streets yet are the enemy, or are stupid, lazy, or indifferent. They’re just people, limping through a capitalist patriarchy, at a time when all natural resources are at their limit.
For example, study after study shows that people increasingly are aware of what kinds of foods are nutritious vs. what kinds are not. People know they need to eat more vegetables, and less McDonald’s. But the trends still show that they don’t make the choice they know to be right; for economic, cultural, and geographic reasons, they still eat just as much fast food. Are these people just stupid? Clearly not. But real choices have to be made, and class determines how many of these decisions play out. If you live in a food desert, your choices for healthy meals that are grown/raised/collected sustainably are limited. And news flash: we all live in food deserts.