Preliminary Notes on the Anthropocene. A Vision 2

Tim Storrier, Evening Comet Line 2007

[This is the second part of my Anthropocene essay published the day before yesterday. It contains some caveats at the end.]

Opposites cooperate. The most beautiful harmonies come from opposition.
– Heraclitus (540-480 BCE)

Even as it distorts, eliminates or fights them, liberal capitalism has spread its own gravedigger memes: democracy, human rights and the rule of law, individual freedom and dissent, anti-authoritarian and critical thinking, revolution.

These memes are the current, generally very undeveloped, themes and forms of radical dissent which previously took on the (historically premature) guise of socialism and anarchism.

As G.K. Chesterton noted for Christian ideals, free, democratic socialism and anarchism have not been tried and found wanting but found difficult and left untried.

These radically democratic memes, liberated into their own inherent potentials from their capitalist limitations and liberal distortions, are the yeast in the contemporary dough of global popular movements.

The key insight defining the evolving post-capitalist potential of these movements is that there can be no real democracy and human rights in a society while its material basis of production, distribution and communication is organized undemocratically by corporate and state oligarchies.

Due to their own logic, the movements to realise human rights and true democracy will thus at some point either face defeat and/or co-option (a political ‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’), or else they will move from political to social revolution, i.e. beyond a political fixation on the capitalist or dictatorial state and all its jockeying parties, sects and leaders towards the generalized self-management of production, distribution and communication.

The adversaries of the necessary social eco-revolution are the main decision-makers and perpetrators of the unconscious Anthropocene, global poverty, climate chaos and ecocide: the mega-wealthy ruling elites of the transnational corporations and corporate and MacStalinist security states.

The social power of these ruling elites, overwhelming as it may seem, is in fact completely dependent on the belief in, and obedience to, them on the part of a majority of the people.

The almost bloodless collapse of the mighty Soviet Empire once again demonstrated that the withdrawal of belief and obedience, i.e. massive civil disobedience, non-violent direct action and non-cooperation, is all that is needed to bring down a whole political system.

However, in order to also bring down a repressive and ecocidal social system, this civil disobedience and direct action needs to move from protest to construction, to extend from the national political sphere to local communities, the workplaces and the media: citizens and workers can occupy these and run them democratically and ecologically for the benefit of people and planet.

The most dangerous enemies of truth and freedom among us are the compact majority.
– Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

One of the key problems of this transition to self-managed eco-democracy is the fact that people in the industrialized countries have, as urban wage slaves, been radically and increasingly separated and alienated from both self-efficacy and nature, often for several generations.

The unimportance of sustaining ecosystems, wage slavery, consumerism, obedience and social powerlessness have been internalized over the generations by large numbers of people.

In both industrial and industrializing countries majority consciousness is still largely a form of pre-Enlightenment magic thinking. Current bogeymen and hobgoblins may be terrorists, Muslims, migrants or refugees, all convenient screens for paranoid projections of the ‘dark other’.

Pre-modern animist and authoritarian religious thinking is still rife everywhere and manipulated by powerful elites for their own benefit. Modernized forms of fascism, building on such primitive thinking and the weakening or abolition of hard-won freedoms and human rights, are imminent.

As the young Marx envisioned, the humanization of nature (the Anthropocene) would also entail the naturalization of humanity as its complement.

The naturalization of humanity in the liberated, conscious Anthropocene entails the ’ecologization’ of human identities and social systems.

A naturalized humanity would socially be expressed as ecologically literate people self-managing and tending their communities, cultures and economies modelled on, and embedded within, regional ecosystems in a diverse patchwork of networked, perhaps confederated, mosaics carpeting the planet.

As ecocidal fossil fuels, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and industrial agriculture are abolished or phased out, the conscious Anthropocene will soften into the sophisticated gardening of local ecosystems within the varying limits of their renewable energy and materials flows and budgets.

The conscious Anthropocene in cities will probably be more like Havana than New York, Sydney or Shanghai: planetary carrying capacity is such that 10 billion humans cannot live at American or Australian levels of per capita consumption but probably can at current Cuban levels.

The post-industrial and conscious Anthropocene will necessarily mean more cultural, political and spiritual rather than material and economic interdependence. Hopefully there will still be enough energy to power the global mind that is the internet.

Few or no fossil fuels will necessarily mean less transport, international trade and energy-intensive technologies and thus localized solar-based economies of neither affluence nor penury, but of much greater material scarcity yet higher quality of life, equality and democratic self-management, i.e. some form of participatory eco-socialism/anarchism.

Plants, trees, animals, solar energy, clean water and fertile soils, community cooperation and knowledge will again be the prime material basis (or ‘capital’) of our sophisticated eco-communities, economies and spiritualities.

Less quantity will be more quality: much lower per capita consumption of resources will be accompanied by more community solidarity and relationship, more empowerment, more dignity, more varied work, more connection with nature and food growing, more health, more time for parenting, personal interests and cultural activities.

As we seem to be now getting into specific blueprinting, it might be time for some caveats.


Paradise is where I am.
– Voltaire (1694-1778)

To now set up detailed blueprints for eco-utopia is to contradict its radically democratic premises.

Collective creativity, the revolution, is spontaneous and locally adaptive or it is not.

Ontologically, Being, or reality-as-it-is, is spiritually perfect because it contains and embraces imperfection.

There is a deep sense in which, for the individual throughout history, nothing need ever be done to realise ‘paradise’ but realise it is already here and now: to ‘recognise infinity in a grain of sand…’ (William Blake)

To attempt the impossibility of a ‘perfect’ society defines the terror of the totalitarian project.

Like the ancient Greeks, we seek the good eco-society, not the perfect. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

The ‘good society’ and ‘good life’ of living lightly and sustainably on the planet cannot be pre-defined by experts but is precisely the democratic process of self-active citizens directly negotiating what they think this means based on ecological observation and data.

The good eco-society must be rooted in the complexity of humanity and its contradictions and paradoxes, not in some inhumane, moralizing and repressive ideal of perfect humans.

The carriers and incarnations of paradox and irony, poetry and wisdom, not the dogmatic and moralizing strictures of theory and ideology, are, apart from the art and science of ecology, the humane guides to the good eco-society.

Some of the many vocational paradoxes needed by the eco-democratic revolution for the good society will be: non-violent revolutionaries, urban farmers, intellectual gardeners, soft technologists, global peasants, universal individuals, generalist experts, cosmopolitan regionalists, pacifist warriors, poetic workers, proletarian poets. All these already exist in small niches all over the world.

Total consciousness and lucidity are neither possible nor necessary to realise post-capitalist eco-democracy. A greater degree of consciousness among a critical mass of people, however, is.

No democracy without imperfect but aware humans. No deep change without the disinterested attitude of ‘not-doing’ (Taoist and Chan Buddhist wu wei). No revolution without calm minds, non-violence and a sense of humour.

Only despair is boringly predictable (Rebecca Solnit). Who knows what the collective, unpredictable heart, the unconscious, organic and creative process may have in store for us.

It is unreasonable always to follow only reason. (Karol Bunsch 1898-1987).

If the heart is right, it matters not which way the head lies. (Sir Walter Raleigh 1554-1618).

Do we move toward God, or merely another condition?
By the salt waves I hear a river’s undersong,
In a place of mottled clouds, a thin mist morning and evening.
I rock between dark and dark,
My soul nearly my own,
My dead selves singing.
– Theodore Roethke, ‘The Abyss’


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on July 8, 2011.

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