Friday, April 29, 2016

Recovering Collapse-Porn Addict.

           We are not at "The End of History" where all problems look to be solved; we are "Post-history", it looks to be over for our species! Nuclear war and environmental destruction can descend at any moment, and for those people bombed to oblivion in Syria or blown to bits in Iraq, the end of the world has indeed come. For us, watching and waiting in the West, we can only ponder, will we see out the 21st Century? So take the rest of this rave as a meditation: "to be or not to be...?"

After reading “Austerity Ecology and the Collapse-Porn Addicts – A Defence of Growth, Progress, Industry and Stuff” by Leigh Phillips, I’ve had to somewhat reappraise my attitude towards modernity. I’ve long had one foot in the Green Left/anarchist camp of anti-consumerism, anti-big business and small, local and simple is beautiful; and the other foot in the camp of pro-science, human advancement, city living and hope for a plentiful, egalitarian future.

I grew up in a socialist household, my father constantly berating the owners of industry for not giving the workers a fairer share of the products of their labor. He was totally pro-unions, democratically elected and answerable to the members, seeing them as the only hope for the uplifting of the toiling masses. But as far as post-Malthusian growth and advancement goes, there is another phenomena that has uplifted us all, Science. Science has allowed the majority of us on the planet today to be alive, from the use of anti-biotics, the production of more food via the green revolution, mass communications and transport, electricity etc etc. (Yeah yeah, it's also produced nuclear bombs, radioactive waste, green-house gases and benzene poisoning!)

I’m a city boy, you couldn’t drag me down to the farm; I looked in on hippie communes over the years and saw it wasn’t for me, scraping a living from the earth, going without conveniences such as home entertainment systems, mobile phones, computers, libraries, rock and roll shows, movies and jet travel. (Well, one could still have some of it, on a smaller, more sustainable scale.) I hide out in the city, am anonymous to a great degree and my freaky, bohemian non-conformism goes unremarked. I’d hate to answer to a weekly committee-meeting of commune members on how I wasn’t fitting into the rules of the alternative lifestyle handbook.

Collapse-porn addicts seem to wank over the idea that civilization is going to collapse overnight, as in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and we’ll all turn to cannibals, eating each others’ brains. It’s probably the ruling mythology behind the popularity of those zombie movies crowding our movie screens. It’s as if the doomsayers want it to happen, they can wake up to death and destruction of the many and say, “I told you so, now let me, the strongest and wiliest take over!”

In my own art works, the films “The Thief of Sydney” (1984) and “Virgin Beasts” (1991) I also depict the destruction of civilization as we know it, but I then show us surviving, having a future where we live democratically, cooperatively, in a socialist society of equals. And the city is still alive and extent. In my painting “In the Garden of Pan” (1987) I not only have all humanity frolicking in Nature but The City is very much in evidence as background, the two inseparable. Most of us are inured to city-living and we love to go into natural wildlife sanctuaries as a break, both are necessary. (If only nature-parks can go on existing under the depredations of Corporate onslaught. And I wouldn't want to be in Aleppo or Fukushima at the moment!)

Phillips reminds us that the hope of The Enlightenment was the achievement of the next level of societal development, which we managed with technology, medicine and city/social planning. Marx is quoted as saying, “Socialism means wealth for everyone, not of money but desires, experiences, capacities, sensitivities, transformations and developments.” Capitalism is the problem, not modernity. The fruits of civilization should be extended to everyone, not just an elite few.

The fair distribution of wealth is the answer, to poverty, population growth, destruction of the biosphere and climate change. The richest 70% of people are responsible for 50% of greenhouse gas emissions and the top 20% of income earners account for 70% of consumption. Economic development is the best contraceptive for with it there is less infant mortality, better healthcare, family planning, women’s education, nutrition and more jobs. It’s horrible to surmise that the answer to the so-called population explosion is to simply get rid of a few billions via war, famine and disease. Economic growth must keep pace with population growth, again, planned for sustainability, safety and shared out equally.

Pollution is business as usual, consumers have no say. We could change our relations of production with a democratically planned economy, the Public Sector, govt, voters (activists and agitators) and unions, having captaincy instead of the neo-liberal push to privatize everything with only the goal of profits at all cost instead of the public good.

This of course is a kind of fatuous dream, a democratic socialist revolution, like wishing for Utopia to be born tomorrow instead of the Apocalypse. The elite owners of the world's capital and the means of production, their shareholders and their media-moghul apologists, would be loath to reduce their privileges in the name of a better tomorrow for all, and will fight tooth and nail to prevent it. Our pollies today, though supposedly democratically elected, seem captured by lobbyists for capitalist enterprise, there is a lack of political will that prevents the deployment of innovations for the advancement of humanity rather than profit for a greedy few. (Here in Auz many of our rulers are climate-change nay-sayers!)

A democratic socialist world of shared wealth, of education, health, shelter, employment, consumer goods, for everyone, what a dream! But look at Venezuela today, collapsing from all manner of inconsistencies and attacks, instituted from within and without, socialism not seeming to truly get a fair go. Venezuela seems to prove that, while Capitalism is not perfect, it’s the best system so far. No one wants an ant-hill dictatorship such as North Korea, bread-lines as in Venezuela or civil-war destruction like in Syria, so most of us have to put up with elitism, wage-slavery and oxidizing lifestyles. That's what we're brainwashed into believing! Poor old humanity, there seems to be no hope.

An egregious example of this neo-liberal govt. narrow-mindedness here in Australia is with our premier scientific research establishment, the CSIRO, where not only fifty climate-change scientists are being sacked, supposedly moved over to the Dept. of Meteorology, but hundreds more researchers are in fear of being cut out of the budget as there has been a directive from on high that all research must, hence forward, be directed only towards those inventions that promise a profit. That is, no pure research that may create products for the benefit of the public, such as new medications and anti-biotics, generally offered free to those in need, won't be funded because it won't make money for big business. (And to think, Australia was a semi-socialist democracy, now the bankers have taken over!)

As a 7 year old child, at the dawn of my self-awareness, I asked myself the big questions: why war? What led to the Nazi horror camps and the dropping of the atomic bombs? Was it Humanity’s inherent evil and stupidity, his hubris with science, race and power? Or his inability to organize society rationally, in fairness and equality?  I thought being a leftie, green sympathizer was part of the answer to improving civilization but I feel now that I was being a bit of a wanker. There’s no way I want to return to a peasant hut to pick fleas off my compatriots' hairy backs. Though nor do I want to amass capital like Smaug sleeping on a mountain of gold.

I worry that Leigh Phillips could simply be just another apologist for big industry and mindless consumerism for all that he promises he’s a socialist, on the front-line of many demonstrations, against indigenous exploitation and climate change stalemates. He provides a defense of the nuclear power industry, claiming it’s now safer, less-polluting and cheaper than old reactors and present day coal-burners and alternative power sources such as solar. He discounts the thirty-thousand year no-go areas of Chernobyl and Fukushima by saying reactors now have "fail-safes": surely natural disasters could still knock these reactors over? And he overlooks the fact of proliferation of nuclear materials/technology as happened with that scientist in Pakistan, with China’s support, who sold it on to "rogue states".

He does mention the fear of terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities but somehow feels this will be sorted, ignoring the need of a Police State to do so. And it is indeed a worry, as shown in the recent Belgian terrorist attacks where one of the perps was discovered to possess video surveillance of a technocrat from a Belgian nuclear power plant, obviously it being considered as a target. This causes me not to gulp down the “Collapse-Porn” book unquestioningly. He reports that scientific innovation is one of the keys to societal growth and advancement, and that there is great hope in the field of solar power, making them ever cheaper, more efficient and made of less hazardous materials. I for one pin my hopes on this technology for cheaper, safer electricity production rather nuclear fission, though nuclear fusion also holds out hopes and may be just around the corner. (Does fusion produce the same amount of radioactive wastes and also be vulnerable to terrorist meltdowns? I don't know, I need to study more.)

Civilization may indeed not reach the end of the 21st century as there is the terrible possibility of nuclear war: the two Koreas, Pakistan and India, the Middle East, and Russia and NATO remain scary flash-points that could explode overnight. Then we have run-away climate change, a disease pandemic such as Ebola, Bird Flu or Zika, natural disasters, bio-warfare, even a giant asteroid from outer-space hitting the planet, there is much for Collapse-Porn addicts to worry about. But with our scientific know-how, freedom of the individual, and groups to think outside the box and experiment, public sector support of such with collective planning and effort, and a joyous approach to true egalitarian living, we could overcome any obstacles. (In our dreams! We're more like a bunch of squabbling apes, putting our collective butt up into the air to be mounted by alpha males such as Murdoch and Trump.)

There is, of course, the strong possibility of economic collapse, which would mean the end of the world for millions of people. Only recently the 2008 economic crisis threw millions out of a job, into homelessness  and living under bridges in America but this was due to a corrupt banking system and high Capitalism, the govt deregulating the financial sector, with the greed of the elite few, and man middle-class investors mortgaging more mouses than they could afford, the bankers pocketing bonuses instead of helping the suffering masses. I'm not angling for Communism, that has proven to be a boring ant-hill society, and Anarchism seems to want to throw us back to B.C. lifestyles. Democratic  Socialism is a whole different ballgame, the people making all the decisions for the public benefit, but how to bring it about without corruption and another elite taking over? That's the conundrum that I hope history will work out. India tried it with five year plans and no one allowed to own property and things got worse for the  poor: govt corruption, no investment into businesses and no housing had many living on the streets. What the fuck? Even democratic socialism doesn't seem possible.

The things I do hate about modernity, other than the dehumanism and despoilation of the environment, is the vacuity of our media entertainment: only half-hearted  effort put into thinking out solutions to the world's organizational, environmental and scientific fixes, mostly the collective mind is dumbed down with trashy befuddlement. This seems to be what the masses want, too tired from work to exercise their brains and only interested in the accouterments of nesting. Advertising really gets on my nerves, searing my eyeballs wherever I look, on people's T-shirts, going up railway steps, billboards at every seven paces, blimps in the sky, paper floating upon the ground, most of it for shit I don't want. But that's consumerism for you, it encourages desires and provides jobs, I've got to live with it.

 The shallowness of celebrity worship also gets my goat, everyone clamoring for their fifteen nano-seconds of fame, most of them seeming to be air-heads except for their ability to make money. I guess there's always going to be someone the rest of us enjoy gawking at and money makes the world go round, (pear-shaped actually.) Thankfully modernity is pluralist, a surfeit of choices, and I can turn to a hot movie, doco or book as an alternative to the deluge of crap raining down upon me.

For me, the major flaw in Leigh Phillips argument in "Collapse-Porn Addicts" is the hope that a democratic socialist revolution across the entire globe will happen sooner than the destruction of the biosphere and with it human civilization. This also seems like ideological masturbation as such a revolution might be fifty or a hundred years away, if at all, considering the might of the powers that be, while resource depletion, pollution, species extinction and climate change all bolstered by a run-away consumerism might do us in before the grand day when we're all equal and sharing the planet responsibly.  

An apocalypse has indeed come for those running from forest fires such as the people of Alberta, or tornadoes like those in Kentucky, the floods in Miami and Europe, the wars in Syria and Iraq, the drug-lord death squads in Mexico and South America. Thankfully they're not eating each others brains yet, outside communities have come to their rescue, some refugees have made it to sanctuary, relief efforts have alleviated the pain proving humanity can stick together in a crisis. But the chopped off heads mount up and I can only shudder from my cozy, hard-won refuge in Australia.

I don't live to consume. I own second-hand junk for the most, I recycle zealously, I rarely buy anything from a department store, I eat little and I leave a small carbon footprint. I try to vote for pollies I believe will make a difference and harangue them to keep doing so. I attend demonstrations and sometimes even get caught up in riots. I’ve spent my life searching for the answers, studying and thinking, about how it could be better. I’m a nobody, with no power, gone in a flash. But I continue to hope. If I really wanted money I suppose I’m smart and healthy enough to have gotten out there and hassled, pushed, worked, even cheated, conned, lied, back-stabbed to amass wealth and power. But I didn’t want material goods that much, I wanted experiences and fulfillment of my potentialities.

But I sure wouldn’t mind a better phone, a bigger sound system, an improved push-bike, a faster computer, cheaper electricity, better healthcare, yummy nutritious food, peaceful shelter, the latest books and videos, the chance to realize my full potential, get fully educated. And I want this for everyone on the planet. After all the scary movies about the end of the world we’re still here, some of us that is, but a nuclear war could break out any moment, destroying everything civilized overnight.  Yet many cities still bustle, most of us go about our lives peacefully, and I sit safe in my flat and watch the world go by. I’m recovering from my “Collapse-Porn" addiction, now there’s just my addiction to sex-porn videos to deal with.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.