Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Moral Imperative of Revolt

I prefer Hedges' subtitle to his title, Wages of Rebellion, but this post isn't about him per se.  Morally, we have to revolt against this corrupt system - like when the workers in Rome all walked out in a series of secessions (it doesn't always take the first time), or when the Barons and peasants turned on the King in the middle ages, or when workers in Winnipeg went on strike, and through all the rebellions against tyrannical rule in between and later.

The problem: unbridled power; the common people being subjected to the whims of the state; the masses living in poverty while the elites reap the rewards of their labour.  Right now we need a Clause 61 like they had in 1215:  25 MPs ordered to uphold the Charter in case the PM tries to overrule it:
Any infringement of the charter’s terms by the king or his officials was to be notified to any four of the committee; and, if within forty days no remedy or redress had been offered, then the king was to empower the full committee to ‘distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by seizing castles, lands and possessions’ until he made amends. In this remarkable clause, then, the charter introduced the novelty of obliging the king to sanction and institute armed action against none other than himself.

Over and over throughout history whenever a small group has found the means and strategy to get total control over a people, the people eventually revolted.  Many died trying before succeeding, and sometimes their efforts made life significantly better, and things improved for a time, until everyone got complacent again.  You'd think that any knowledge of history would make leaders wary of taking so much power for themselves and screwing over the masses.  You'd think.  

But things are frighteningly different today.  Religion is not the opiate of the masses anymore; the internet is.  We're back to bread and circuses.  We have it just good enough to ignore the news.

Here's Marx's full quote (italics are his - he was an emphatic writer):
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.  
Getting rid of the distractions in our world is a red herring.  We have to get rid of the conditions that lead us to need so many distractions, the condition that requires illusions to exist.  We need to WAKE UP to the issues and get angry enough to act on them today.

This time, I fear, if we don't sort things out, we won't have another chance.  If we can't stop C-51 and openly protest the destruction of our air, water, and soil, then we are totally fucked.  

I'm a teacher using the "f-word," so you know this is serious!

C-51 could be made law this week if the Senate doesn't vote it down (click on each name to get a phone number and e-mail, or use this form instead/also).  An Ottawa Citizen article on the protests yesterday said,
Some organizers feel the turnout was also hurt by a general feeling of resignation, as polls show that, while more than half of Canadians now disagree with at least part of the proposed bill, they nevertheless believe C-51 will be pushed into law.... First Nations protest organizer Lynda Kitchikaeesic Juden is another strong opponent of the bill. “It troubles me and it worries me that other Canadians don’t realize that this bill, and this sounds horrible, but it means that they can be treated just like Natives,” she said.
MP Randall Garrison's speech is worth a read in full if there's any question that this bill needs to be defeated, as is Senator Grant Mitchell's blogpost.

People who let this go by without comment, without a letter in the mail or a sign in the streets, unless ignorant of the issue (which even my grade 10s understand), they are acting immorally.  As Geddy Lee said, "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice."  That silent choice is for unfettered authoritarian state control and the freedom to obliterate our natural resources, destroy water sources, oppress the workers, and make a profit for themselves at the expense of others.  Who wouldn't agree that's immoral?  Utilitarians and deontological philosophers alike would be on the side of rejecting the bill.  It doesn't maximize pleasure for the most people, and it can't be applied universally without contradiction.

Okay, Epicurus liked to keep out of these affairs entirely, and I've thought of getting a place in the middle of nowhere, off the grid, miles from a newspaper or internet access.  I admit I might have done it already if I had found a group of friends willing to come with.  But I didn't.  And it's just as well because we have a responsibility to the next generation and to the other species who don't have a voice in this mess.  And if Epicurus' friends were taken into custody for questionable scrolls, and once he acknowledged that his garden would be affected by climate change, he would have acted.  I mean, Lucretius wrote of him,
When 'human life lay groveling ignominously in the dust, crushed beneath the grinding weight of superstition' one supremely brave man arose and became 'the first who ventured to confront it boldly.
And his student, Philodemus, wrote,
Men suffer the worst evils for the sake of the most alien desires, and they neglect the most necessary appetites as if they were the most alien to nature...It is impossible to live pleasurably....without living prudently and honourably and justly, and also without living courageously and temperately and magnanimously, and without making friends, and without being philanthropic.

So I think Epicurus wouldn't just sit in his garden oblivious to this one, chatting with his buddies about how to determine which desires are natural or necessary.  Because at this point, if we ignore politics, it won't just fizzle out, it will kill us all.


karen said...

Some days I get very weary of being the weirdo around here. I'm the one always harping on this shit and trying to get my co-workers and neighbours to be aware of the political and environmental issues. So far I have always remembered that as long as it matters to me (and how can it not matter to me?) I have to try to get others to care too.

Marie Snyder said...

It can be really hard being the weirdo! It's curious that I can engage more people with conversations around C-51 than I can about climate change. For that maybe I should thank Harper (and Trudeau)! He's actually scaring people enough to talk about it at least.

The Mound of Sound said...

Okay, crazy time. I have spent some time exploring alternative energy options - solar, wind, micro-hydro - that would support the development of coastal enclaves of six to ten houses. One would have to scout the coast for a suitable site(s) that would feature a foreshore suitable for the construction of a dock, an elevated but relatively flat expanse of land sufficient for construction, recreation and gardening, and a reliable and fast-flowing stream for fresh water needs and hydro generation.

These co-operative communities have flourished in urban settings, provided they're done right. They can provide useful precedents for organization including such things as shared and individual responsibilities, governance and dispute resolution. There are plenty of examples of where, for lack of forethought, they failed.

Like the First Nations who so successfully settled this coast, self-sufficiency through planting, fishing and hunting is not particularly difficult given the abundance of wildlife and gentle climate. Today, living off grid is easier than ever.

I won't go into boring details. What led me to explore this option was the realization that we, mankind, are probably entrenched in ways that make likely our own collapse or the transformation of our state and society into models that are both illiberal and potentially predatory.

Maybe we need a Canadian Simon Bolivar.

The Mound of Sound said...

Marie, you got me thinking. On reading this and your subsequent post, especially Lynne Stewart's uplifting remarks, I went back to a woman whose path I crossed some time ago. She remains anonymous (as far as I know) but goes by the moniker of The Freeway Blogger.

TFB has been active since the Bush/Cheney era, expressing her dissent mainly through banners surreptitiously hung from freeway overpasses to greet the morning rush hour crowd. Some of her work has been positively brilliant.

I think this sort of public expression of dissent is the cornerstone of revolt or at least resistance. Anti-Nazi graffiti was widespread in occupied European cities during WWII. Those who left such messages did so at great peril and the simple fact of its existence demonstrated to passersby their courage which had to have been inspirational and motivational. As Lynne Stewart observed, like-minded people need to connect and the sort of thing TFB employs probably encourages others to dissent/resist.

Surely revolutionary change has to begin with a foundation of resistance, dissent and some form of assembly of the like-minded. Freedom of assembly was once accepted as a vital incident of liberal democracy yet today that very freedom is being suppressed. Friend Lorne of Politics and Its Discontents emailed me this link you might find interesting albeit disturbing.

Today we're witnessing the massive transfer of wealth out of the middle class to the elites along with the commensurate usurpation of political power from the populace to the privileged. You may still vote but if those votes aren't acknowledged legislatively then you're left with a government in service to narrow, private interests often at the direct cost of the electorate.

Civil disobedience is surely warranted today. But, to be effective, it has to be broad based and sustaining. Today, one shot protests are down the memory hole often within a few days. They need a certain critical mass to become embedded in the larger public's consciousness. This, I assume, is foremost in the minds of those who would curtail public assembly.

How do you think that critical mass could be created?

Marie Snyder said...

First of all, I still like the idea of getting a place off-grid. Have you seen Garbage Warrior? Or Tank Town? Those kinds of innovations are really appealing to me. I think we can find ways to live peacefully and communally without squandering all the resources around us.

I think graffiti can be a means to let people know there are others out there like them - beyond the tags and towards real statements of collusion. I don't know how to create the critical mass. I was disappointed at the numbers at the C-51 protests, but that being said, I didn't go myself. I wrote letters from home, though. We need just enough hope and outrage to get people involved in their own lives. That's where I fall short. I'm surrounded all day by apathetic students desperate for me to end the lesson so they can get back to their phones. Brilliant means of keeping them from protesting, that is.

Marie Snyder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Mound of Sound said...

If it's off-grid living you want, look no further than Lasqueti Island lying in the Salish Sea off my town, Parksville. The entire community lives off-grid. According to the RCMP, the economy of Lasqueti is almost entirely weed.

Marie Snyder said...

It says it has 425 residents. Maybe 5 too many?

It also says stats can reports it's the most highly educated community. It looks amazing, but I'm hoping for something closer to where I am now. Kids and all.