Sunday, March 19, 2017

Wetiko


  Coming to Los Angeles we had the sensation of slipping into a cultural fogbank. We could not say whether we were actually being bombarded by messages from microwave ovens or watched by cameras concealed in television screens, but the sense was that we had departed from reality.

Frankly we consider ourselves a citizen of the world and find it discomforting to experience provincialism whether upon re-entry to the United States or having conversations in some distant back country hostel. We are not speaking of localization or bioregionalism — all well and good. Rather, what we encountered in Los Angeles was the absence of a fact-grounded worldview across a broad spectrum of the population. Had we been gone that long?

The media has cannibalized the minds of millions — drawing their mental attention toward the issues that are bounced around in these information echo chambers and syphoning it away from the deep, systemic threats humanity is now confronted with. The Algonquin Tribe of North America has a name for this phenomenon; they call it Wetiko. It is a mind virus that endlessly consumes the life energies of people (in this case, the emotional energy given to feed this media monster) while neglecting the life-supports that would heal and protect the living things of this world.

We are blessed to be able to be with a diverse cross-section of people who truly get the big picture, to and to have exchanges and strategy sessions in beautiful centers like London, Paris, Marrakech and Tulum. We offset that travel and our other activity with our personal forest, bamboo groves, and keylined biochar tea applications.  We recognize not everyone can have that luxury so we enter into these conversations with humility, gratitude and purpose. Whatever we take away we apply immediately, directly and with good effect.

Fog moves in over the Pacific, Malibu, March 2017
In Los Angeles we experienced that many people are uninformed about climate change, the Deep State, or even elemental biophysical economics. Moreover, most people we encountered did not want to know. This is not something that more education, a trending app or a blockbuster film will fix. Even if they were engaged in admirable pursuits like provisioning food kitchens in the massive and growing tent cities of the homeless, or seeding green rooftops, verges and balconies that might contribute some of that much-needed food, they were, in other profound ways, making the more overarching problems far worse in ways they were blissfully ignorant of. Here we use ignorant at its root — willfully ignoring. The wetiko mind virus had infected them.

And for us, this perception cut to the quick of who we are and what we do. Do we really want to spend our life saving places like Los Angeles? It isn’t merely that they may be undeserving of salvation, although they may. It is that most of their inhabitants, even the well-intentioned, are actively pursuing an agenda that is antithetical to survival. They are the drowning swimmer who tries to drown the rescuing lifeguard.

The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.
— Chris Hedges, The Dance of Death

Low Income Housing, Los Angeles
When we began this series we posted a chapter called “Three Pillars” that used some new terms coined by Naffiz Ahmed to describe civilization’s plight. In his lecture at the Global Sustainability Institute of Anglia Ruskin University that subsequently became a full throated exposĂ© of the Deep State, published on February 10, 2017, Ahmed made the salient point that what is playing out in the Trump presidency is a battle of world views, with no possible winner.
Neither side truly understands that they both remain locked into the old, dying industrial neoliberal paradigm. That both the conventional Republican and Democrat strategies have failed. And that if they continue to ignore and overlook the reality of the global systemic crisis and its escalating symptoms, they will both become increasingly disrupted and irrelevant to large sectors of the American population.

In that scenario, politics will become increasingly polarized, not less so. Republicans will seek to shore up their white nationalist support base while Democrats will continue to lose credibility as a genuine critical voice due to their establishment myopia.

Ahmed says that ultimately this will lead to even more violence:

Both pro- and anti-Trump factions of the Deep State are in denial of the fact that this escalating crisis is due, fundamentally, to the global net energy decline of the world’s fossil fuel resource base.
In a time of fundamental systemic crisis, the existing bedrock of norms and values a group normally holds onto maybe shaken to the core. This can lead a group to attempt to reconstruct a new set of norms and values — but if the group doesn’t understand the systemic crisis, the new construct, if it diagnoses the crisis incorrectly, can end up blaming the wrong issues, leading to Otherization.
***

For every degree to which Trump upscales aggression, America’s real national security will be downgraded. And like any good despot, Trump’s failures will become food for his own propaganda, to be conveniently blamed on the myriad of Others who, in the small minds of the Trump faction, are preventing America from becoming ‘great again.’
Erebus Wong, Lau Kin Chi, Sit Tsui and Wen Tiejun, writing for the independent socialist Monthly Review,  observe that China’s industrial strength comes not from the sprinkling of some magic fairy dust or the discovery of oil superfields but from the inherent power of rural farmers grounded in nature. The Chinese countryside, they note, “has become the source of a vast ‘labor reserve,’ allowing the state to rely on sannong—the so-called ‘three rurals’ of peasants, villages, and agriculture — as the foundation of China’s turbulent but continuous modernization over the last sixty years.”

Brickwork on million-dollar Malibu home
Chinese rural society has been able to absorb the risks of this modernization because of the strength of its relation to nature, an advantage that has never been adequately acknowledged. Chinese agricultural society has been formed on the basis of common needs, such as irrigation and disaster prevention. This interdependence creates a collective rationality, with community, rather than the individual peasant or family, as the basic unit in the distribution and sharing of social resources. This focus on collective needs runs directly counter to the Western emphasis on individual interests. Over thousands of years, Chinese agricultural society has become organically integrated with the diversity of nature, giving rise to an endogenous religion of polytheism. As it plans and promotes its vision of sustainable development and peaceful trade, China should look inward, to these age-old social structures, as a guide to the future.

What the authors describe as “collective rationality” is actually a description of the rationality of natural systems. Rural peoples live within, and allied with, those rational patterns. When we visited Los Angeles, what we were seeing was not so much a collective neurosis as a collective separation from underlying rationality.

Sure, there are elements of earth-restoration, ecocity design and city repair within Los Angeles, but even those seemed to us largely divorced from the realization that the city’s food comes from fossil energy, not deepening soil, the city’s water comes from disappearing aquifers and vanishing snow melt, and that the fracked gas that heats their buildings and lights their streets is upsetting the balance of nature upon which those other things depend.

Rescuing Angelinos, or any megalopolis inhabitants (the Chinese included) from their almost certain fate will be a serious challenge, and one we will explore in our continuing installments in this series.

This post is part of an ongoing series we're calling The Power Zone Manifesto. We post to The Great Change on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page.

 

4 comments:

Robert Gillett said...

Los Angelinos then are no different than just about everybody I know, which bodes ill for many places other than L.A.

Don Stewart said...

Albert
I learned a week ago that Earthhaven Ecovillage was threatened by the same fires that burned Gatlinburg, TN as well as lots of other forest lands across the Southeastern US. (Earthhaven, along with The Farm, were 2 positive examples you cited in terms of ecovillages sequestering carbon because both had extensive forests) I remembered reading a recent story about someone who was caught up in a California wildfire, and she was talking about how the current crop of wildfires would never have happened under the management practices of the native Americans. She referred to M. Kat Anderson’s book Tending the Wild. I also remembered having read Bill Gammage’s book on Australia…The Biggest Estate on Earth.

An essential feature of both the California and Australian management practices was fire. In California, Anderson argues that fire increased the harvest of acorns, a major source of food. In Australia, Gammage builds a case for increased productivity of the regularly burned land.

I was recently in the national forests on the headwaters of the Gila river in New Mexico. There was a forest service sign saying that, 500 years ago, you would not have seen any tall trees due to periodic fires.

Before Columbus, long-leaf pine forests, which are fire adapted, stretched from Virginia to Texas. With climate change probably increasing the chance of more fires like the summer of 2016, do you think reforestation efforts should aim at the more ‘savannah like’ or the ‘dense forest’ model? If planting trees to sequester carbon is a foundational part of what we need to do, it seems we need to first establish what sort of forest or savannah we are trying to grow.

It seems doubtful to me that our declining society would be successful in suppressing fire. Is it time to learn to live with it?

Don Stewart

Ian Graham said...

working to improve the fate of 'angelinos' anywhere in the world is a thankless task, not the reason for its undertaking.

Joe said...

Rescuing Angelinos, or any megalopolis inhabitants (the Chinese included) from their almost certain fate will be a serious challenge

Why even bother to try? A more important challenge will be figuring out how to protect people already living well outside a megalopolis (who might have at least a little chance of survival) from the collateral damage caused by the death throes of civilization.

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