New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

It Goes Without Saying

July 18, 2011 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Ecology, Economy, Politics, Randall Amster

Articulating a New Narrative in the Shell of the Old

by Randall Amster

It goes without saying … that we take the greater portion of this world as we find it, not as we might like it to be. In this sense, we primarily play the roles of resigned participant or cynical observer where conscience exists, and where it does not the outcome is often manifested in terms of either willful neglect or conspicuous consumption. A relative though not insignificant few in every era will take up the thankless and unscripted task of confronting the status quo in an attempt to turn harsh realities into humane alternatives. Still, despite such efforts, it goes without saying that the impetus for positive change is seemingly outstripped by the rate of ongoing decay.

… that modern humans are the foremost species on the planet, and that the world’s resources are largely viewed as little more than a human life-support system. Our dominant narratives and supporting scriptures confirm the rightful role of humankind as a prolific exploiter. Some will read into this a nascent urge to become enlightened stewards, whereas most will take the lines more literally as a mandate for lawful dominion, enacting an ever-expanding drama that seeks innovative ways to increase exploitation in the service of human progress. While the negative impacts of this ideology have been prophesied and even are beginning to take hold on a human (and not merely geological) time scale, it goes without saying that most are nonetheless committed to the scripted narrative in the implicit belief that it is just, virtuous, and predestined.

… that over time in an essentially finite world such a growth curve cannot be sustained. Laws of conservation and thermodynamics cannot be flouted indefinitely, and at a certain point in time the required human inputs will exceed the available resource outputs. The worst implications of this inevitable curve can be forestalled temporarily through deeper interventions and ingenious innovations, yet these often turn out to be net contributors to the problem since the growth-driven math simply does not add up. Despite our ostensible dominance, human existence is fragile in its utter dependence upon a range of irreplaceable and diminishing components that cannot be fabricated or otherwise conjured. Whereas the survival margin for humankind exists in a relatively narrow band of planetary variables concerning basics such as air, water, and sustenance, it goes without saying that for many there remains an unspoken faith that either technology or deity will bring us salvation in the end.

… that certain sectors profit immensely from this state of affairs, and thus have a strong interest in its perpetuation. For them, the issue is not so much about the fragile dependency of humankind on diminishing external inputs, but more so the matter of exerting control over those essentials. With such hardware dominance come the perquisites of power and the insulating blessings of privilege. In fact, the ravages of decay and diminution promise escalating crises for the balance of humankind that perversely delivers more hungry mouths and starving souls at the feet of those with exclusive control over the available inputs. While some lament this state of affairs and a few even openly contest it, it goes without saying that most will go along with whatever contrived degradations and fomented antipathies are spun from the halls of power, in the unsurprising realization that fear and neediness foster complicity.

… that this interweaving of a deep-seated dominance narrative, an inescapably inexorable rate of depletion, and a perpetual state of capitalized crises threatens to create an uninhabitable world for all concerned, including those who have anointed themselves our masters. While the implications of climatic destabilization and energy entropy will be felt everywhere, the burdens will be unequally distributed, inuring to the increasing immiseration of the already disadvantaged. Attempts will be made to deploy high technology to ameliorate the ravages of the growth/depletion cycle, admitting greater consolidation of power vested in those who regulate the planet’s thermostat and allocate its productive capacities. Life-and-death austerity measures will be emplaced in the name of human survival, with the measure-makers self-exempted based on inherited legacy and cultivated necessity. It goes without saying that some will decry this system of expanding authority, yet it is also the case that most will abide its mandates through equal parts mild incentivization and extreme deprivation.

… that this centralization of survival will embody an odious and brutal scenario, yet it represents a mere extrapolation of the world in which we find ourselves today. The course has already been set, and the seeds sown for a near future of ostensible “controlled cataclysm,” portending a polarized world in which the bifurcation of consumption and production, of privilege and privation, of rapacity and incapacitation, skews along the demarcating lines of surface pigmentation and national supremacy. The interposition of caste and class will be reinforced through ideological acculturation and naked force alike, much as already exists in our midst during this period of apparent trial run. The template is by now coming into sharp focus, with only the variables inherent in nonlinear systems standing at potential cross purposes to the master plan. While for some the inevitability and rightfulness of control goes without saying, others will embrace the vicissitudes of chaos as preferable to the auspices of authority.

… that the future is not yet written, even as its literal roots are evident in the present. The window of opportunity is before us now, but it is precipitously closing with each succeeding cycle of deepening calamity and expanding control. As against this, a new narrative — one that is also grounded in a much older set of tenets — is struggling to gain a foothold despite disincentivization, condemnation, and persecution of its adherents. It is one that strives to reconnect the human timeline to its eternal antecedents of organic existence and imbued experience. The aberration of industrial exploitation and its concomitant indices of power and authority will be restored to their prior place as a disfavored view due to an inherent illogic that sacrifices long-term continuation at the altar of short-term consumption. Still, the lessons learned during this evolutionary dead-end period will serve to inform the reconstituted arc of sane human engagement with the world, and the restoration of tools and norms vis-à-vis technologies and laws will reflect the wisdom gained in the common struggle of apocalypse averted. It goes without saying that such a vision requires great optimism even in the face of grave doubt.

… that in order to extract opportunity from crisis and capacity from catastrophe, we will be asked to sacrifice much and work tirelessly in myriad ways. Embracing the notion that we will get our living right after some calamitous and/or fortuitous event unfolds in a speculative future is to court the very real danger of our extinction. The urgency of the task is compounded by the active undermining of the concrete alternatives at hand. And yet, despite the obvious impetus toward cognitive compliance, a gathering movement is unfolding around the world that is struggling both materially and ideologically to achieve a critical mass of constructive energies. While it goes without saying that this nascent movement is largely unnoticed in the mainstream consciousness, it nevertheless continues to unfurl.

… that it is incumbent upon us to seize this narrow window of opportunity and action by articulating that which largely goes unsaid. It is apparent that the time has long passed in which we can afford simply to continue on the present path toward a self-imposed oblivion to which we blithely accede. In the end, it thus goes without saying that we cannot merely go along without firmly saying that something is wrong.

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., is the Graduate Chair of Humanities at Prescott College. He serves as Executive Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association and as Contributing Editor for New Clear Vision. Among his recent books are Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly, 2008), and the co-edited volume Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

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