Political singularity is a spiritual experience. In the magical assemblies of Zuccotti Park, amongst the street sweeping Indignado battalions of Barcelona, during the mass prayers of rebellion in Egypt, the absolute pulse of the sublime beat. People gave up for their old ways of thinking and being. Many found themselves during those heady days of emerging revolution truly living for the first time. They glimpsed the communal divine: they will never recover from the exhilaration.
On the pages of Adbusters, we’ve been tapping into the flow of the global spring, telling its tales, feeling its pressure and release, playing jazz with its moves. We asked the leading authors of the world to tell us about the coming spiritual insurrection. They pointed to the unfolding awakening ahead. Experience the latest issue in your own hands, feel the world imagination on the tips of your fingers, the whisking pages of life without dead time in your ears.
Here is what Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul has to say on Canada’s pressing spiritual quest:
Here we are, a good half-century into the environmental movement. This half-century could also be described as tens of millions of hours devoted by citizens to lobbying on behalf of the environment, protesting, calling for change. And we haven’t advanced very far. Enormous efforts have been made. Enormous numbers of wonderful people have dedicated their lives to environmental change, overseeing as it were, 50 years of planetary siege. Of course, there have been some changes. Here and there. Small, specific changes. Perhaps most important, the environmental cause has occupied the public language. Several generations now talk with these ideas as an integral part of their assumptions. But on any big question we seem to just slip along in the same old dangerous direction, the breakthroughs too small to affect what is happening. And at the same time, those who oppose the environmental movement have succeeded in making changes which actually worsen our situation.
How could this be happening? Is it inevitable? are our possibilities doomed by our condition? The answer – the blame – cannot be placed primarily on politics. Or financial structures. Or narrow, short-term self-interest.
There must have been some basic mistake in strategy – trip lines we set across our own path decades, maybe centuries, ago. I can think of three, and each of them has to do with how we imagine ourselves. After all, how we see ourselves shapes what we can do. And what we think we can do. We believe we live in an era of facts and of proofs. Yet what we don’t feel able to take on has little to do with those facts and proofs. It has everything to do with a failure of imagination.
The first error has to do with misunderstanding the nature of power. The environmental era mirrors almost exactly that of the rise of the NGOs. Why? The central characteristic of the globalist era is that we came to believe the power of the citizenry had been weakened by the power of economics. We gradually accepted that the power of national politics was therefore limited. It followed that the power to ignore the public good was international and amorphous in the sense that it had to do with broad economic assumptions. In that case, the best way to fight back was also international. And since there were no international representative legislative institutions devoted to the public good, well then, we would devote ourselves to creating institutions that would set the global agenda, our contemporary NGO army.
These new institutions would not have actual power – the power to act. But they would speak for us all, for the shared public good. And those devoted to the international economic interests would have to listen. We convinced ourselves that the persistent sound would be too loud to be ignored by those with power.
Except they didn’t listen to these NGOs. And they didn’t – don’t – have to listen. After all, economics is power. Real power. The NGOs – the new institutions of the public good – have only influence. Influence can have periodic successes. But this is a weak hand to play if you have other options. Imagine if the tens of millions of hours devoted to influencing power and opposing power had been devoted to taking power. Imagine if the millions of NGO members had joined political parties and virtually taken them over. That is how change is actually made – through political parties, elections, governments and laws.
Our reality is that several generations have refused to imagine themselves as making changes. Instead, in the role of the angry outsiders, they have called for the people they do not respect to make the changes on their behalf. This is the traditional role of writers, including of course journalists, not of the engaged population as a whole. You could call this a strategic error with enormous political consequences.
Along with this there was a belief that experts with facts would shape the debate, giving the NGOs support, and so force the hand of power.
That was to misjudge the endless number of facts. Endless and shapeless. And to forget the ease with which such a jumble could create any argument or simply create a confusion which would make action impossible.
Ethics can serve the public good, as can humanist ideas, as can a clear belief in that public good. Facts and expertise are just as likely to be the whores of interest groups, whether public or private, as they are to serve the public good. This was the second strategic error.
And it leads to the third, but also to an opportunity for profound change.
Modern society is built on a war between rationality and superstition. Logic and religion. Method and habit. And a myriad of other supposed opposites. A Manichean dreamland.
The rational, logical methodological column expresses itself through facts and experts. That is, those same facts and experts which have not been clearing our minds or solving our problems. And their failure to deliver has produced a revival of the second column – superstitions and religion beliefs. With this comes a growing desire for stability – for old habits. Why? Because we now live in an atmosphere of instability which most citizens find impossible to handle. Unstable employment. Unstable funding for old age. Unstable housing. All of this in the name of an inevitable, logical progress which does not include people. So people fight back in unpredictable ways. The explosion in evangelical churches is just one of these.
But the real point here is that the either/or version of life – of how we imagine ourselves – doesn’t work. There are other options. Other ways of looking at ourselves and our choices. Spiritual ways, which is not to say religious ways.
For example, the Aboriginal message to our society is quite different to the European-derived view. In Canada, Aboriginal society, in all its complexity, is growing in numbers, in political weight and in legal power. And it is raising its voices in an increasingly sustained way. We do everything we can not to pay attention, but they are speaking clearly.
The foundations of this message involve a very different way of imagining ourselves; so different that our education system, our state structures, our elites, all have difficulty digesting the implications.
Why? Because the established system in the West – the one I have been describing – is profoundly linear. The Aboriginal, on the other hand, is deeply circular or spatial. When they speak of the spiritual, they are talking about the wholeness of existence. They are speaking about humans as an integral part of the physical.
And when you look at something like our environmental crisis you can easily see that our errors come from our linear approach; one in which humans are intellectually and morally separated out and placed on a higher level. This sets us in an artificial position when it comes to the survival of the world. The Aboriginal theory, on the other hand, takes a more inclusive approach; one in which humans are an integrated part of the whole physical process. Richard Atleo has written about this as Tsawalk. Cree theory talks of Witaskewin. There are Aboriginal intellectuals in universities across the country writing about this. Some of them are legal scholars. Others literary historians. Philosophers. There are remarkable leaders. A growing variety of new, young intellectual voices. Political leaders. They are putting forward propositions which make sense for our time and place.
The point is that their approach radically changes the way humans imagine themselves, and therefore what they can do, or not do. This is not idealistic or romantic. It is a different way of thinking. And when you look at the environmental crises, it is obvious that we need a sophisticated, inclusive, tough and modern way of thinking. The linear either/or approach is simplistic compared to the circular. The latter takes human interests into account, but not in isolation from the rest.
An expert might say, “This is hardly a way to get on with things urgently in the middle of a crisis.” The reality is that humans often solve crises by escaping the intellectual prison they have created for themselves. They do this by reimagining themselves. And because of the power and influence that Aboriginal peoples will increasingly have over land in Canada, there is a real opportunity to attempt one of those profound intellectual changes of mind, by seeing how we could adapt to their approach, with their help. This would involve a revolution in our educational system, in the methodology of our experts, and in the fabric of our thinking, from logical understandings to forgotten possibilities.
John Ralston Saul is one of Canada’s leading public intellectuals and President of PEN International, an organization dedicated to promoting literature and freedom of expression. His recent books include The Collapse of Globalism and A Fair Country. His latest work, Dark Diversions, is his first novel in fifteen years, and comes out this autumn.
An exciting student-led movement for real democracy has emerged in Mexico. Moving beyond traditional student protests that focus primarily on opposing tuition hikes, Mexican students are instead rallying behind the demand that the mass media be democratized and de-corporatized.
Their goal is to knock out one of the core pillars, corporate television, that props up the corrupt political class. Their sophisticated approach is triggering a popular awakening and, like Occupy Wall Street, taking the old Left by surprise. If the Arab Spring taught our global movement about regime change then the Mexican Spring may teach us a crucial lesson in achieving media democracy.
An interview with Patrick Cuninghame, activist and Professor at UAM Xochimilco (the Metropolitan Autonomous University), offers a compelling snapshot of what’s happening:
It’s really exciting ... I haven’t felt like this for years ... Out of despair has come hope… Occupy Wall Street has introduced this term of the Mexican Spring, but I think it’s too early to talk about a Mexican Spring. Obviously the movement here is not yet as radical or as important as the Arab Spring, especially the one in Tunisia and Egypt. We can’t talk about regime change yet. But, if the impossible happens, and we do defeat the PRI and their attempt to have an electoral fraud...
We are in front of a completely new situation ... The student movement’s main demand continues to be the democratization of the media. But if we really had a democratized media in Mexico, that would be incredible. If you democratized the media anywhere, that would be incredible! There is of course a certain amount of naivety to think that the Mexican media — which is completely under the control of the worst kind of neoliberalism and of the mafia and the drug cartels — is suddenly going to become democratic; it’s just not going to happen. Nor did it happen in the US or Britain or any other so called democracy. The media is not free or neutral in any country in the world, especially not during elections. It’s a naive demand, but in some ways it has opened up the whole election by exposing the dependence of the political class, particularly their candidate Peña Nieto, on mass media manipulation. I would say that as things stand at the moment, Peña Nieto is in trouble. Everywhere he goes now there are thousands of people opposing him, chanting slogans at him, with placards, etc. A week ago, the PRI responded as they always do: with violence. They just send their thugs to attack students who are opposing any meeting of Peña Nieto. Now, that rebounded against them…
I think this movement was born in the middle of a really dull election campaign that seemed dominated by a corrupt, fascist candidate, and they have hit the nail on the head ...
The mood on the streets of Montreal is electric, with growing numbers of activists flooding the streets nightly, banging pots and pans and vowing to protest until victorious. One jammer described the scene: “I come home from these protests euphoric. The first night I returned, I sat down on my couch and I burst into tears, as the act of resisting, loudly, with my neighbors, so joyfully, had released so much tension that I had been carrying around with me, fearing our government, fearing arrest, fearing for the future. I felt lighter… Every night is teargas and riot cops, but it is also joy, laughter, kindness, togetherness, and beautiful music. Our hearts are bursting…”
After over 100 days of protest, the question is whether the students will go beyond a simple demand for free education to begin struggling for a totally different future.
As one commentator put it: “While student issues are important, the Red Square has come to represent something much more than just disgruntled student demonstrators against tuition hikes. It has become another symbol – think the tent and the term Occupy – of a growing awareness that continuing the ‘business as usual’ model in Canada will not solve economic or social inequalities and we are, in fact, heading towards economic and social disaster.”
By pushing through an unpopular and authoritarian anti-protest law, Bill 78, which bans demonstrations near universities, and declares protests consisting of more than 50 people illegal (unless routes, times, and transportation methods have been cleared by police), authorities have handed students an opportunity to shift the uprising onto new terrain: the struggle over the future of democracy… the same struggle that animates the global Occupy insurrection.
Ultimately, youth have the passion and the daring to catalyze a spectacular global revolt. But to pull it off, they’ll need to keep going deeper, past Ivory Tower protests, and start rebelling against the black hole future that awaits us all.
The fork in the road ahead Dear occupiers, jammers, dreamers,
Three years after the May 1968 uprising that swept the world, the great French philosopher Michel Foucault observed that a key strategy of power is to “appear inaccessible to events.” Power, Foucault argued with a nod towards 1968’s failed insurrection, acts to “dispel the shock of daily occurrences, to dissolve the event … to exclude the radical break introduced by events.”
Forty years later, in light of Occupy, Foucault’s observation still strikes home. Despite achieving the impossible at unprecedented speed – sparking a global awakening, triggering a thousand people’s assemblies worldwide, and giving birth to a visceral anti-corporate, pro-democracy spiritual insurrection – Occupy is now struggling through an existential moment. Our movement has been dealt a blow: our May 1 and follow-up events have been dissolved by power; the status quo has shown itself to be far more resilient than many of us expected.
Now a passionate debate is emerging within our movement. On one side are those who cheer the death of Occupy in the hopes that it will transform into something unexpected and new. And on the other are patient organizers who counsel that all great movements take years to unfold.
OCCUPY WALL STREET IS NOW DEAD
May 1 confirmed the end of the national Occupy Wall Street movement because it was the best opportunity the movement had to reestablish the occupations, and yet it couldn’t. Nowhere was this more clear than in Oakland as the sun set after a day of marches, pickets and clashes. Rumors had been circulating for weeks that tents would start going up and the camp would reemerge in the evening of that long day. The hundreds of riot police backed by armored personnel carriers and SWAT teams carrying assault rifles made no secret of their intention to sweep the plaza clear after all the “good protesters” scurried home, making any reoccupation physically impossible. It was the same on January 28 when plans for a large public building occupation were shattered in a shower of flash bang grenades and 400 arrests, just as it was on March 17 in Zuccotti Park when dreams of a new Wall Street camp were clubbed and pepper sprayed to death by the NYPD. Any hopes of a spring offensive leading to a new round of space reclamations and liberated zones has come and gone. And with that, Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland are now dead.
The task ahead of us in Oakland and beyond is to search out and nurture new means of finding each other. We are quickly reaching the point where the dead weight of Occupy threatens to drag down the Commune into the dustbin of history. We need to breathe new life into our network of rebellious relationships that does not rely on the Occupy Oakland general assembly or the array of movement protagonists who have emerged to represent the struggle. This is by no means an argument against assemblies or for a retreat back into the small countercultural ghettos that keep us isolated and irrelevant. On the contrary, we need more public assemblies that take different forms and experiment with themes, styles of decision-making (or lack there of) and levels of affinity… Most of all, we need desperately to stay connected with comrades old and new and not let these relationships completely decompose.
— Read the rest of the this article, by anonymous West Coast anarchists, at Bay of Rage
THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT HAS BARELY BEGUN
ccupy Wall Street was at the pinnacle of its power in October 2011, when thousands of people converged at Zuccotti Park and successfully foiled the plans of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg to sweep away the occupation on grounds of public health. From that vantage point, the Occupy movement appears to have tumbled off a cliff, having failed to organize anything like a general strike on May Day – despite months of rumblings of mass walkouts, blockades and shutdowns.
The mainstream media are eager to administer last rites. CNN declared that “May Day fizzled,” the New York Post sneered “Goodbye, Occupy,” and The New York Times consigned the day’s events to fewer than 400 words, mainly dealing with arrests in New York City.
Historians and organizers counter that the Occupy movement needs to be seen in relative terms. Eminent sociologist Frances Fox Piven, co-author of Poor People’s Movements, says:
“I don’t know of a movement that unfolds in less than a decade. People are impatient, and some of them are too quick to pass judgment. But it’s the beginning, I think, of a great movement. One of a series of movement that has episodically changed history, which is not the way we tell the story of American history.”
Why are we striking? Or to put it another way – what’s wrong with the world?
Of course, most of us know what’s wrong with the world. We know about the poverty, war, violence and disease. We’re conscious of the injustice, but not fully conscious of it, because frankly, we have enough to worry about in our own lives. As such, we’ve come to accept these injustices as simple facts of life – prepackaged side effects of the human condition, as natural and intertwined with our existence as water to a stream, beyond our capacity to effect in any significant way. This collective sense of powerlessness and default apathy is why we’re striking.
Our growing sense of isolation and disconnection, whether from ourselves, from those next door to us, or from those producing our food and products halfway across the globe, is why we’re striking. Our forced support of perpetual war waged for and by the 1% - whether explicitly with speech, or implicitly with inaction and tax dollars - without ever paying mind to the true causes and motives behind it, is why we’re striking. Our failure uptil now to connect the dots and realize that the benefits of a cheap iPod, lovely as it may be, would be far outweighed by the benefits of a truly just world free of exploitation, is why we’re striking.
The fact that most of us are too busy being exploited to realize we’re being exploited – too busy greasing the cogs of our economic system to notice how the fruits of our labor never fail to float up and out of our reach - is why we’re striking, as is the fact that most aren’t able to do anything about this exploitation even when we do notice it. While some of us are lucky enough to have jobs and careers that give real meaning to our lives, allowing us to take full advantage of our talents and fulfill our destiny, most of us have jobs devoid of meaning and dignity, yet full of the feeling that we are fulfilling someone else’s destiny. Our recognition that the ruling class’s seat at the top of the pyramid is prepared and propped up by the working class is why we’re striking. Our knowledge that it’s actually the CEO who is the most dependent among us, and that the ones truly indispensable to our society are not bankers, lobbyists and politicians, but workers, teachers and engineers, is why we’re striking.
Indeed, the fact that we have an economic system which functions in the same manner as a virus is why we’re striking. Just as a virus’s only reason for existence is to expand, without regard or awareness of the effect of its expansion on its host body, our economic system pursues its infinite expansion without regard or awareness of its effect on human welfare or the environment. Though the earth is finite, it is sustainable, so we reject, in the words of Michael Nagler, “the inherent contradiction of an economy based on indefinitely increasing wants – instead of on human needs that the planet has ample resources to fulfill.”
We’re striking because we also reject the notion that selfishness must be the driving force in our world. We believe, contrary to propaganda, that most people in our world are not selfish, and would rather work together than constantly compete against each other. We believe that the only people who really care about things like power, corporate monopolies and global dominance only make up, say, 1% of the population, making it seem only logical that we should have an economic system which reflects the values of the 99% of us who don’t care about such things. The fact that most of the decisions which have a profound impact on how we go about our daily lives are made by folks in Washington or Wall Street, rather than in our communities by the people actually affected by those decisions, is why we’re striking. The fact that power rests only with those who lust after it is why we’re striking.
We’re striking because another notion we don’t buy into is the presumption that the profit motive can have no outcome other than the best possible one. We understand that the success of McDonald’s has nothing to do with having the best burger, and everything to do with having the most cutthroat business plan. We understand that building prisons, waging wars, polluting the environment, and paying employees inadequate wages are actually quite profitable. Sustainability, economic justice and true equality? Not so much. We understand that being ruthless and unscrupulous is an economic advantage, and being truthful and virtuous is an economic disadvantage. We understand that money is treated as more natural and inviolable as nature itself, and that too often our place and perceived value in society is determined solely by how much of it we make, or how much of it we make for someone else. We understand that, whether or not you believe in climate change, our ability to adequately address it or any other pressing issue is greatly compromised when our shortsighted need for profit skews our vision of the whole. We’re striking to suggest new motives and new values going forward.
The fact that you might not have known why we’re striking, and you didn’t get and maybe still don’t get what Occupy Wall Street is about, is why we’re striking. And who can blame you? Just like you don’t have the time or energy to really do anything about the world’s problems, you probably don’t have the time or energy to do the deep digging required to get your news from any source other than the corporate outlets conveniently floating on the surface. It’s understandable that you wouldn’t see the inherent conflict of interest of a handful of for-profit corporations with their own interests telling the world’s story to the majority of people in this country. The fact that it’s so hard to be truly informed, and that it’s in the 1%’s interest for the majority of us to be uninformed, is why we’re striking. The fact that it’s entirely possible you could go about your day today and not hear a thing about the general strike, is why we’re striking.
To counter the charge that it’s unrealistic, and overly idealistic, to want to bring about real change in our world, as well as the trusty “life isn’t fair” rationale always used to justify injustice, is why we’re striking. We didn’t accept that line of reasoning during the civil rights movement, and we don’t accept it now. We think it’s far more unrealistic to think that a small cadre of elites will be able to keep up their never-ending pursuit of power consolidation and mass manipulation without waking us up in the process. We think it’s far more unlikely that in 1000 years, humanity will still be playing this game of perpetual one-upmanship, instead of picking up the far more efficient and beneficial manner of interacting with each other in honesty, cooperation and genuine respect.
Perhaps the biggest reason we’re striking is to simply exercise that ever-cherished American value of freedom. Just as our business leaders are free to use every means at their disposal to maximize profit, we are free to use every means at our disposal to maximize the realization of whatever objective we feel is worth pursuing. And by the way, even if you don’t support the Occupy movement, whatever you think the Occupy movement is about, we respect your view, because another reason we’re striking has to do with our political system – the way it thrives and prospers by pitting us against ourselves, encouraging us to demonize each other while discouraging us from disagreeing civilly.
The fact that this post is completely and utterly inadequate in expressing why we’re striking, is why we’re striking. But that’s OK, because like May 1st, this post is just the beginning.