Human Survival and IOPS
Must admit I’ve got a little problem with IOPS at the moment. The way it’s going. Missing something.
Like the end of the world, and I don’t mean the Mayan bullshit. I mean survival. The mounting threat of the end of a livable planet for further human evolution within civilised parameters. Could be just a little relevant.
Since the beginning of this month, at least, it’s official: we’re heading for plus 4-7 degrees C, i.e. IPCC worst case scenarios (1.5-2 degrees is considered ‘safe’). This means runaway climate chaos, trapped methane release from permafrost and warming seas, forest and ocean carbon sinks becoming carbon sources, an interlocked cascade of positive feedback loops, less oxygen, further mass dieback of species, mega-fires and desertification, oceans as acidified dead zones, huge swathes of whole continents becoming unsuitable for human habitation, collapse of food production on land and sea, famine, chaotic mass migrations, resource wars, police states. Locking in a chaotic climate for thousands of years into the future. Over the 3-6 million years of human evolution, we have never had any experience of this kind of a hot planet. This is an evolutionary turning point.
As far as I can see, this went unremarked in IOPS. Meanwhile core IOPS debate (of the minute percentage that participate at all) is often focussed on organizational matters, chapter building, recruitment, education, outreach, conditions for an international founding convention etc. All fine and good if that’s your thing, but to me this too often feels like form over substance, means over ends, fiddling while the world burns. Maybe I’m a fairly solitary dissenter in feeling that, but I need to say it. The gap between current interim IOPS and the urgency of the global survival crisis is simply too huge and painful to further ignore. Is this just my problem, I wonder.
I know the arguments. Don’t be impatient. We can’t have debate on adding anything to the vision/mission/ or discuss programs/campaigns, we can’t decide on anything before there are a certain number of members/chapters and before the organisation has been formally constituted. Recruitment, self-education, outreach. Anything else would be undemocratic.
Well then, let’s make it all more democratic now. Like Kuan Phillips (http://www.iopsociety.org/blog/my-view-of-iops), I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to have voting on debated issues on the website right now. Not enough people would vote? Well, getting a quorum of some kind might be a problem whether online or face to face in chapters. That seems to be a general IOPS problem, not one specific to online voting per se. The general interest in meeting face to face and forming local chapters has been very minimal, and that’s probably an understatement. I reckon that should be reflected and acted upon rather than ploughing ahead on the same unpromising path with gritted teeth. At some point, you have to know when you’re pissing against the wind and think about that before you get drenched. Would it not be reasonable to say that point has long been reached?
However, that’s not my main concern. What I’m mainly missing is something more substantial: the fact that IOPS does not project this concern about human(e) survival, as central to its mission, on its ‘face’, the website main page, its mission and vision statements. Of course there are welcome blogs touching on the subject by individual members (ex-member Collins, Stresing, Atkinson, Jones, myself etc.), but these fade from sight like ephemeral flowers. I am not saying that this glaring absence is a main reason why not more people are joining IOPS, since this is probably so for quite a few reasons. My only question is, should it become part of IOPS’s main message? I would here like to argue: yes, and soon.
If this were done, perhaps some would fear that it would it invalidate the other ‘spheres’ or concerns and struggles IOPS members are involved in. This is simply not the case. Rather, as Naomi Klein has pointed out (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/12/13), climate chaos could be the highly needed ‘meta-narrative’ that links all our other many concerns and struggles. It could bind us all together beyond all our particular issues, political and philosophical differences, both as radicals and beyond. Without an ecologically and climatically viable planet, all other IOPS spheres and struggles and aspirations become pretty irrelevant. Question is, will IOPS realise this obvious opportunity and draw the consequence? (Guess I’m not too hopeful about that, to be honest, but I digress.)
To put it in terms of a slogan. As a revolutionary organisation I would suggest that our overarching core message should be a clear and simple either/or: it’s either the end of capitalism or it’s the end of nature. The end of civilisation. It’s system change, not climate change. It’s either some yet to be evolved form of participatory eco-socialism/anarchism or it’s the barbarism of civilizational collapse, resource and/or nuclear wars, authoritarian ‘solutions’ from police states to geo-engineering that make everything even worse in a downward spiral of self-destruction.
Why yet to be evolved? We have various sketches of radical, participatory alternatives to capitalism, but, I would argue, no more than that (e.g. the old anarchist and council communist legacies, Parecon, Inclusive Democracy, Social Ecology, Eco-Socialism, Earth Democracy, the Simplicity/Subsistence Perspective etc.). As Joel Kovel states: ‘In truth, we are all groping toward a transformative vision deeper and wider than any yet subsumed under the labels of past struggles.’ And he adds: ‘One enemy we should all be able to agree upon is sectarianism, simply because such an attitude forecloses, indeed, denies, the depth of the problem.’ (The Enemy of Nature, p. 198). IOPS has an extremely attractive commitment against sectarianism but I’m wondering whether it is really, loudly, manifesting a clear realisation of ‘the depth of the problem’.
The reason we only have these ‘gropings’, these theoretical sketches, is, from an historical materialist perspective, not some individual failing of intellectuals but because that’s all we have in historical and current praxis, in actual social movements. Their development and creative synthesis into a convincing new theory and vision is thus also, or even primarily, a matter of the development of social movements and practical struggles, of the collective mind, as it were. Challenge and response, trial and error.
This is where IOPS, I would hope, could play its central role of being a friend and catalyst for such movements, a place of coherent, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist theoretical stimulus and reflection to and on various forms of evolving global social praxis. A place for ‘social imaginaries’ (Castoriadis) about a self-managing future (as in Znet’s welcome Re-imagining Socialism project) and for making conscious what may be happening unconsciously, incoherently and without direction in potentially radical social movements themselves (e.g. WSF, Occupy, anti-austerity movements, climate justice movements, anti-fossil fuel and –nuclear movements, post-carbon Transition movement).
My impression is that IOPS seems a little confused on this matter. Many seem to think IOPS should and will be so large that it will in a real sense be the movement itself. Some have, I think seriously, suggested the present 3000 members should or will expand to 1-7 billion. (Maybe this is supposed to be a Monty Python kind of joke I’ve just missed. At current projections it would take decades for IOPS to reach even the half a million members of the British scouting movement. And nine tenths of the world would probably still be awaiting a local IOPS chapter consisting of even one or two members.)
What is true, however, is that any complex, fluctuating, movement-of-movements or ‘meta-movement’ to move beyond capitalism and save humanity from ecocide and nuclear war will either consist of a critical mass of conscious people (not necessarily a numerical majority), or it will not be. This is our radical, anti-authoritarian, democratic dilemma. Of course (I would have thought it obvious) IOPS will not be this great meta-movement itself but, hopefully, a very small, conscious and potentially important, part of it.
In terms of revolutionary theory and strategy, I think it’s important to realise that social movements, while of course influenced by individuals and groups, are not mechanically ‘built’ like Lego models but, like all complex living systems, display spontaneous self-organizing properties of ‘emergence’, ‘unpredictable forms that emerge through new associations, new networks, new solidarities’ (V. Shiva, Soil Not Oil, p. 143). As an anti-authoritarian organisation of coherence and diversity IOPS could facilitate, support and link to these vital movements, but neither seek to dominate (‘organise’, ‘recruit’?) like traditional authoritarian ‘avant-gardes’ nor somehow ‘replace’ them with itself.
I assume, or would hope , that motivating all IOPS activity and debate is a sense of extreme urgency. The scientific consensus is that we only have very little time left on the climate clock to start radically decreasing emissions and turn away from fossil fuels before tipping points and runaway climate chaos eventuate. In fact, it is highly likely that they are already starting. Thus within this logic, the first struggle must be a defensive one against the giant fossil fuel corporations in order to keep all remaining coal, oil, tar sands, gas in the ground. The second struggle is to individually and collectively radically reduce our own affluent average energy consumption, and thus economic growth, NOW. The third struggle is to make sure the huge costs of this transition beyond fossil fuels and industrial capitalism are not borne by workers, the poor and powerless in any country but by the corporations, the rich and powerful (‘ecological/climate justice’). It is the rich who are destroying the earth.
This is the science, the common sense, the radical morality of our global situation. Because we have long overshot global carrying capacity and it is ecologically impossible for everyone on the planet to live at our affluent levels of resource consumption, to struggle for ecological and social justice are now inseparable. Ecological justice means we have to pay the real debt, our affluent debt to the world’s poor (including within our own countries) for two centuries of fossil fuel squandering that have brought the world to the brink of the abyss.
Because there is no more ecological space for economic growth and capital accumulation, while the poor can and should lift their consumption, we have to contract our rich world economies and globally converge to an ecologically sustainable level of energy and resource consumption much lower than our present average one in the overdeveloped nations. The future might look more like low-tech Havana than hi-tech Singapore… To alleviate poverty, we have to share our wealth. We, the ‘99%’ that are also the rich 20% of the world, have to live more simply so that others, the 80% majority world, can simply have access to the commons of land and water, food and fibre, air and energy.
This de-growth, contraction and wealth redistribution in affluent countries means we will have to re-localise to a large extent and radically democratise our economies and polities and this will at some point entail a struggle with ‘the 1%’, the power elites that run the show. All this thus constitutes a political, economic, psychological and cultural system change, i.e. revolution.
(1) debate on whether to change the website to add the core ‘meta-narrative’ of ending capitalism to secure human survival, prevent climate chaos, resource/nuclear wars and authoritarian police states
(2) introduce voting mechanisms on the website to be able to make such decisions
And, possibly, beyond that (no doubt jumping the proverbial gun),
(3) encourage and support members to network internationally to locally fight fossil fuel extraction and use and the nuclear non-alternative
(4) encourage and support members to network internationally to reduce their own energy and resource consumption, build participatory, pre-figurative alternatives and begin to re-localise their economies to be ecologically based on renewable carbon and biodiversity
(5) encourage and support members to internationally discuss and implement ways and means of direct mutual aid, especially by transferring wealth to the poor in developing countries and exchanging low energy technologies and ideas about living more simply with them
A final note on the all-important feelings that, whether we acknowledge the fact or not, drive all our rational thoughts and debates. Pleading for prioritising survival, security, climate chaos is not pleading for the comfortable passivity of ‘doom and gloom’. It is driven by grief AND joy, both.
Grief at the past and future losses and at the huge gap between what needs to be done soon and the state of general consciousness. Grief that it may be too late. Joy at being alive in such a pivotal time in human and planetary evolution, at struggling together for One World with such wonderfully diverse, imperfect people such as ourselves. Joy at the daily miracles of light on water, wind in the trees, steam over gutters, pigeons in the park, small children, human kindness. The realisation that this warp of grief and weft of joy has always been the deep texture of our lives as humans on this sublime and wonderful planet, now endangered as a livable habitat by our common enemy: the interlocked system of industrial capitalism, empire, consumerism, wealth and power.
In grief, in joy, can IOPS rise to the challenge of this humanity-unifying ‘meta-narrative’ with all the urgency it requires? If not, why not? If not now, then when?