We are losing badly. The dominant culture is destroying what is left of the world and, right now, our resistance is simply ineffective. I cannot pretend to know exactly how we’re going to turn things around and stop the madness. But, I do believe we must develop a profound sense of urgency.
Wherever we look we’re met with the horror that should produce the necessary urgency. Look to the oceans and you’ll find that the coral reefs are dying. Zooplankton, forming the base of the oceanic food chain, have declined 70% over the last 40 years. Look to the climate and you’ll find we’re boiling the world to death. Even mainstream scientists are predicting a 6 degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures by the end of the century. Look to the animals and you’ll find 50% of all species disappearing. Look to the forests and you’ll find between 8 and 16 billion trees being cut down a year. It’s as if the dominant culture sees the future and is holding the most macabre going-out-of-business sale imaginable complete with the advertisement “Everything must go.”
The statistics I include here are tiny snapshots of the immensity of the problem. The eradication of life in the oceans will be devastating for all of us. Climate change will cook the rich and poor alike. All humans need the oxygen lost through deforestation. So, why is it that more of us are not dropping everything to join the resistance? While we feel the tremors in the foundations of life on earth threatening to bury us all in ash and rubble, why are so many still hesitating to fight for their own survival?
One answer is privilege. As a white heterosexual man, I am a member of the most privileged class the world has ever known. I know how powerful the seductions of privilege can be. So much is given to me through the dumb luck of my genetic heritage. The gifts are maintained through a Faustian bargain requiring that I remain willing to deny the suffering of others and silent about the total collapse forming the devil’s due.
What gifts have I been given? I am given an almost total freedom from fear of rape. I am given a choice in religions where patriarchal gods reassure me that the world was made for me. I am given so-called natural resources to use for my civilized progress. I am given women’s bodies to use for my sexual satisfaction. I am given serenity in the knowledge that – whenever I choose to give up this resistance business – I can fade back into my privileged status. I am given the confidence that comes with looking like the most powerful men in the world.
Worst of all, I am given a version of history and a vision of the future that says things have always been – and will always be – this way. Only, we know that things have not always been this way. We know that a civilized, patriarchal violation imperative is destroying the world for everyone – men, women, and non-humans alike.
In the previous installments of this Do-It-Yourself: Resistance series, I wrote that my path to resistance involved falling in love with the world, developing empathy for all forms of life, and then learning to manage the grief that affects the heart made vulnerable by love and empathy. Love and empathy demonstrate that it is my responsibility as a white heterosexual man to step beyond the comfortable walls of my privilege and into the chilly, but star-filled night where our brothers and sisters dwell in reality. Our brothers and sisters are in mortal danger.
Privilege encourages complacency. For the privileged engaged in resistance, privilege gives the sense that there is still time. Privilege allows us time to engage in things like “spiritual preparation” or “finding myself” or “getting my shit together.” Thousands of species are extinct. 100 more went extinct today. 95% of American old growth forests are gone. 250 trees are cut down a second around the world. Millions of women have survived rape. One in four will be raped in her lifetime. Another one in four will fend off rape attempts.
We must develop a profound sense of urgency to stem this destructive tide. The time given to us by privilege is an illusion. There is no time for oppressed peoples and endangered species. We are in the middle of the fastest mass extinction event the world has ever seen.
Feel that for a moment. Test your heart’s ability to conceive the desperation bound to extinction. Whole species are gone. Whole nations of beings are removed from the world. Whole strands in the web of life have dissolved. Forever. If our resistance is going to be effective, we must act decisively and we must act now.
We are losing badly. The good news is the oppressed are fighting back. The Unist’ot’en Clan of the grassroots Wet’suwet’en maintain a camp physically in the path of proposed pipelines routes over their unceded traditional territories in so-called British Columbia. Lakota Sioux warriors vow they will be dead or in prison before they allow the Keystone XL pipeline to pass over their lands. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger River Delta (MEND) is engaged in armed militant resistance to genocide and ecocide in Nigeria warning the oil industry to “Leave our land or die in it.” The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) states enough is enough and declares war on the Mexican state. Sharks continue their attacks on underwater cables and have caused widespread disruptions of internet service.
The common thread tying these resistance groups is an honest acceptance of the urgency facing us. Resistors have been begging us for urgency for centuries. Things keep getting worse because not enough of us are answering their calls.
The EZLN’s Declaration of War recognized, “…we have nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food nor education. Nor are we able to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor is there independence from foreigners, nor is there peace nor justice for ourselves and our children” before characterizing their declaration as “our last hope.” When will we internalize the EZLN’s truth that hope is in its dying throes?
Olowan Martinez said about the Lakota resistance to pipelines, “When they get rid of the Lakota, the earth isn’t too far behind. Our people believe the Lakota is the earth.” When will we see ourselves as the earth and love ourselves enough to fight for our own survival?
Finally, the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh in his “Plea to the Choctaws and Chickasaws” to fight the Americans in the spring of 1811 issued warnings that have never been more true. Tecumseh said, “Think not…that you can remain passive and indifferent to the common danger and escape the common fate. Your people, too, will soon be as falling leaves and scattering clouds before their blighting breath. You, too, will be driven away from your native land and ancient domains as leaves are driven before the wintry storms.” When will we recognize our common danger and common fate?
For too long, too many have refused to develop the urgency we need to resist effectively. Resist, and resist now. Tecumseh’s warning will come true for all of us if we delay. It is time we refuse to be leaves in the storm.