The Path of Resistance, Because to Feel Something Is to Be Alive

Simple people,people who don’t exist,prefer things which don’t exist,simple things.

e.e. cummings; six nonlectures

Al Gore had a few minor errors of no particular consequence in his movie “An Inconvenient Truth“, but his book “The Assault on Reason” was wildly wrong in at least two important respects:

i) The internet has proven to be a far more useful tool for the climate change Deniers than it has for the science fact community. This is undoubtedly because it is easier to tweet simple things such as “If evolution climate change is real, why are there still monkeys snowstorms?” than it is to understand the facts.

Not that the explanation is that complex, just that it takes more than 140 characters to say and a bit of actual thinking to understand.

ii) What we are witnessing is not an “Assault on Reason”, it is the wholesale abandonment of reason. Democracy requires dialogue, a dialogue that simply isn’t happening, and quite possibly cannot happen when one of the camps has chosen paranoid delusions and willful stupidity as their coping mechanisms.

In their ongoing crusade to believe simple things that don’t exist the Republicans are seeking to do away with the EPAs’ authority to regulate CO2. To that end they called five “expert witnesses” to testify about the science of climate change, an economist, a lawyer, a professor of marketing, and two scientists (both self-styled “skeptics”).

When one of the hand picked scientists failed to read the script that the GOP had spelled out and instead referred to actual science the Denialopshere immediately began disparaging and dismissing him. As Krugman reports:

“But what we had, instead of high seriousness, was a farce: a supposedly crucial hearing stacked with people who had no business being there and instant ostracism for a climate skeptic who was actually willing to change his mind in the face of evidence.”

“So on second thought, I was wrong when I said that the joke was on the G.O.P.; actually, the joke is on the human race.”

Paul Krugman

“I think the joke is on… I don’t know who the joke is on, really. I don’t even know if there is a joke.”

Banksy’s former spokesman Steve Lazarides

There is no joke


There is much discussion in the climate science community about where the messaging went wrong and what can be done to get it back on track, eg:

These and the countless other articles by bloggers, scientists, activists and pundits make many good points. Some important ones are mentioned in the posts I cite, such as the necessity for simplifying the message without being misleading or overly simplistic, being clear and frank about just how dire the emergency actually is, talk and keep talking about it (does the Right ever shut up about a message just because people are tired of hearing it?), that we need to be listening to peoples’ concerns and engaging them, and many more.

This is all predicated on the fact that while the Deniers are loud and shrill, they are not a popular majority (and barely so even within the GOP). The broader public may be unconvinced about climate change, but at least they are potentially open to reason.

Even so, there is a good chance it is too late for that, or that alone at least.

We have known that the threat of climate change is a real, significant and immediate one beyond reasonable doubt for almost 20 years and have done next to nothing to deal with it. We have known that we face an immediate climate crisis for five years and only the rhetoric sped up and took on new force.

The Denier camp is motivated by fear, hence those things often cited as “their reasons” are in fact their rationalizations. They “explain” their incoherent rejection of basic facts in ways that are patently ridiculous, but which are obviously more palatable to them than acknowledging “I can’t deal with reality so I am going to pretend it doesn’t exist.”

At heart these discussions are about how we improve a dialogue that largely doesn’t exist. To the extent that there is a dialogue all of the points being made are important, and to the extent that we can create that dialogue they will be vital. However simply tweaking what has proven insufficient will not make the difference, and certainly not quickly enough to matter.

The methods and approaches being suggested and discussed do need to be implemented, but we no longer have the luxury of years in which to nurture a public dialogue. Besides,  experience suggests that as the crisis deepens the Deniers will just escalate their efforts accordingly, and more people will become frightened.

A time of courage

There are positive signs in the formation of new coalitions working to mobilize and a growing climate justice movement, but that will not be enough either. We need to escalate our methods as well as our energies. Boycotts, hunger strikes, civil disobedience in it’s myriad forms; noncooperation and direct intervention must be the new focus of our actions, of our lives.

Not to replace dialogue, but to restore it.

The intent [of a trial] is to get a dialogue going, not to be defended.

Per Herngren (Path of Resistance 1993, pg 128)

The broader public will not grasp the urgency and importance of the issue until we live it. There is no point attending in a climate action rally only to then drive to a fast food joint for a triple burger with bacon strips. Those around us immediately get our real message even if we don’t.

Resistance cannot simply be something we do, it has be an expression of what we are, in our political actions, in our personal lives.

The Republicans have shut down the US Government rather than cooperate. The Right wing agenda is a simple thing, to preserve the status quo. A status quo that doesn’t exist any more if it ever did, and even if it did it could not be preserved. We must let them know we will shut down society itself until they do cooperate, until they enter into real dialogue conducted openly and in good faith.

W. B. Yeats‘ bleak vision was that

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

With the exception of a single phrase I think that sums up our current situation pretty well. The blood dimmed tide really is loosed in that the climate crisis IS upon us. And no one who has ever seen a tea party rally, the Westboro Baptist Church in action, or the House Republicans in climate change hearings can deny that “the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Two years ago I suggested that things had gotten so bad that the time of fear was over, that we had entered the “time of hope.” But now our innocent belief that public education, dialogue,  progressive leaders and international negotiations could make the difference is drowned.

All that remains to be seen is whether or not “The best lack all conviction.”

We get to determine that.

You and I.

No one else will because no else can.

Yes we are just two people, yes we are nobodies, yes it is not enough, yes it may be too late, and yes there may be no hope.

We have to do it anyway.

We are the best not because we are, but because we must be. Our times demand it. We have to rise to the level of our beliefs, of our truths. We have to find both the conviction and the courage. We have to do it because we feel something, and because to feel something is to be alive.

Simple people,people who don’t exist,prefer things which don’t exist,simple things.
“Good” and “bad” are simple things. You bomb me = “bad.” I bomb you = “good.” Simple people(who,incidentally,run this socalled world)know this(they know everything)whereas complex people—people who feel something—are very,very ignorant and really don’t know anything.

Nothing,for simple knowing people,is more dangerous than ignorance. Why?

Because to feel something is to be alive.”

e.e. cummings (1944); six nonlectures


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