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Culture Change

"Wary but not weary  -  the ecowarrior on his path"
A survey on trends and outcomes from a long, personal perspective 

by Jan Lundberg

My growing wariness of the dominant social system and poisonous infrastructure may be keeping pace with the rate of environmental deterioration and people's rising palpable stress.  Not to be too negative, my awareness is a positive for me in these times, for if one can add some creativity, fun, and most of all love, one can live quite meaningfully if not quite fully.  I wonder if many people can see and sense what I see and sense.  Then I remind myself that I had to take some drastic steps to make what many would say was an enviable life more interesting.

I feel more and more of the world's pain and madness.  I usually just care about how it affects me at any moment, because I too like to feel happier and have more security as I define it.  I'm not so different from anyone else.

I also feel sorrow over the extinction of cultures, languages and entire species.  I am fortunate not to feel sorrow about my own life, because I've done a lot and had some experiences and privileges that only a few people have -- mostly by virtue of "picking our parents." 

But I do feel nostalgic for past times when I was in a slightly simpler, cleaner, kinder present than today.  I feel sadness such as about the great and young souls who graced those times in the 1960s and '70s and who are now either dead or somewhat shriveled and silent.  My carefree days of youth were not so filled with living the moment as they should have been.  Despite the way things are going today, living in the moment is still the best course.  And I am a little more carefree now, than I would be if I were not car-free!

The somewhat naive, relaxed existence of those "innocent" days, when consciousness-expanding liberation movements commanded the attention of so many bright, energetic people -- engendering almost comical opposition --was a time our generation nevertheless wasted in terms of failing to halt the deadly pollution and population growth that are still with us and rising.

To this activist-analyst assessing today's cumulative damage observed in my half century, the key issues that society must face seem to be mostly obscured or suppressed.  One would expect that, from the corporate media and corrupt government.  And so many religious and narrowly educated millions in the U.S. have widely-trumpeted concerns over matters not concerned with ecological or even economic survival: abortion, same-sex marriage, and demands for more conformity in schools.  Meanwhile, lack of basic bargaining power regarding most workers' labor, and disappearing freedoms, are of little interest to so many Americans.  This tells the tale of little-acknowledged, progressively worse individual isolation that results not in strength but weakness.  Along with the loss of family-held and common land, such key issues are trivialized or made invisible via cultural propaganda, courtesy the large corporations.

But it frustrates me most to have to argue for both fundamental change and more of a direct-action approach to fellow activists and analysts.  Why else would I need to put out over a hundred full-blown essays since 2001?  (I do get a kick out it, and I feel I must pass along perspective gained from my oil-industry experience.)  Many a writer and progressive leader defines issues in a context limited to the failed dominant paradigm, such as striving to elect a Democrat, demanding cheap energy, or promoting a technofix for the environmental impact and supply-challenges of profligate energy use.  

The trouble seems to be that people think they know all about matters they have given some thought to and even studied -- but they still lack insight on them from any deep experience.  Examples include views on the desirability of energy and technology as if nature can be ignored.  It is typically assumed that energy and technology still need to be perpetuated, almost as they have been since they became clearly threatening.  Totally questioning such matters seems, for conformists, as likely as their realizing out loud "the emperor has no clothes." 

Ignorance of  history and lacking a radical critique are serious limitations for anyone.  Having swallowed the story of American democracy and basic goodness of a nation, when actions and fatal flaws tell another story, most educated people cannot envision different ways of self-determination and assuring fairness and justice.  This mistake is made by the same people who assume Western Civilization was a good thing and basically still is.  Many have questioned "progress."  But some basic things need to be turned upside down -- instead of reformed and modified so as to continue the basic status quo.

Art and nature

Art and music are more reliable sources for common sense and honesty than almost all the information-institutions today.  After all, the context is a society in which ethics are not a major concern.  Thankfully, through a good portion of the available art and music (including poetry, films, cartoons, etc.), clarity on our common lot and profound glimpses of reality are offered to one and all.  This opportunity stems from direct observation from the heart and the free imagination that art and music provide.  

Lacking titillation and baser values such as material wealth, the relevant and applicable kinds of art and music do not appeal to masses of people who willingly do the subtle bidding of their often unidentified masters.  The corporate media also censor or distort the art and music that would enlighten and inspire many people to question the madness and pain they are surrounded by.  The broken system thus lumbers along and grinds good people into processed fodder.  Yet, this certainly does not kill the spirit in everybody.

Nature is our answer, but as she is so neglected and abused she has become our greatest danger and challenge.  For example, the global "methane burp" from melting tundra due to global warming could bring on extinction of most life on Earth, via a runaway greenhouse effect in this century.  This has hit the planet before, and scientists are finding that our fossil foolery is just the ticket for a replay.  So let's drive our SUV down to the fast-food joint and be efficient by also picking up a DVD.


Apart from the appalling state of nature's health, our disconnection from nature is really the isolation from life itself.  I find it incredible that a majority of people in a society think they can go on living like this.  Disconnection from nature and life means a spiritual gap, to put it kindly, or, if you like, spiritual death.  

Until the false, artificial environment is rejected as anti-life and is seen as a sham perpetrated by profiteers, there can be no spiritual awakening or a substantive change in lifestyle.  The collapse of the false economy will wake up many, although the swirling chaos will be extremely unwelcome.  Meanwhile, no activist movement can gain momentum while people can reside and hide in artificial environments -- even if there is no television-abuse -- and can remain isolated consumers.

U.S. Americans have uniquely offered the world the ultimate in alienation, narcissism, selfishness and paranoia -- just to focus on the negative rather some of the greatness, including Jim Thorpe, Malcolm X, the Jefferson Airplane, ad infinitum.  If the negative aspect predominates it is because of far-reaching consequences of materialist society.  Look at nation's shameful statistics on divorce, crime, obesity, prison population rates, and waste of energy and other resources -- relative to all other nations.  However, consuming 300 times the resources that a Bangladeshi does, 50 times as much as the consumer of India does, and twice the energy use of a Western European, the average U.S. American is painted as enviably successful by those desperately promoting a picture of plenty and stability.

Basic education about U.S. culture and its contemptible socio-economic contradictions will not happen under this form of government and power structure, when we consider, for example, the nation's being a global renegade on climate protection.  The U.S. culture of waste and destruction is even more liked by the nation's citizens than they like George Bush's war on Iraq -- this is why it is pointless to try to get the country's voters to just reject Bush, when the need has not been demonstrated to junk and replace the whole culture of waste.

The desensitized, sleep-walking U.S. masses have been misled from Day One, but would tend to support "greener" policies if given a chance and if the price were not significant.  To be fully human is to insist on seizing that chance regardless of rocking the boat and paying the price.  

The American ideals of individualism and holding the right to revolution are dormant.  The majority of people can be said to be literally and figuratively drugged.  The chemicals and radiation taken voluntarily and involuntarily, resulting in so much wasted life (a cancer-death rate of 25% of the U.S. population today), keep people numbed.  External stimuli have a similar affect: the constant shock and distraction of war and approximately 100,000 basically needless deaths from car crashes and motor-vehicle fumes.

I will not go on further, like a native deToqueville, about things most of the nation seems oblivious to.  It is tragic that U.S. Americans don't have a clue about something as basic as dealing with their health issues directly.  Medical costs are still skyrocketing, but so little is known about fasting and adopting a hygienic, strengthening diet.  The health crisis is also related to the misplaced faith in petroleum-oriented chemists and corporate experts whom we allow to run amok.

I wanted to put plastic pen to paper to address the constant, vast assault on a sensitive person's psyche.  The seemingly never-ceasing mind-set of self-oppression spans the whole social order.  In writing this I have revealed feelings and opinions that I hope have some universal value, but they will not please the segment of the citizenry content with things as they are.  But who really can be content with things as they are, when no one in his or her right mind wants to see a wasteland where there was once nature's beauty, or see our climate distorted to no end by fossil fuels?  Yet, keeping things as they are is the purpose of the "powers that be."  Their fear of letting go, and greed for more, consigns everyone and everything to a common doom.

It is noble to resist, to fight for our rights and defend nature -- even if to merely provide hope or a Utopian model in the face of a defeat.  However, whether we actively oppose ecocide and genocide, or quietly offer sustainable living and equitable community by our example, or we just do nothing, we can at least hone our analysis of the two most powerful forces at work: nature batting last, and a global economy on a runaway train about to hit immovable limits of geology and biology.  A trigger such as extreme depletion of formerly cheap abundant petroleum can quickly implode the corporate system of trade and distribution.  Chaos will bring collapse and, without any functioning industrial infrastructure, leave the ground clear for new cultural, economic and political growth.

From this standpoint of awareness we can place sensible priorities on how we spend efforts to better our lives: will they be, for example, toward elections of more palatable politicians who still see very little?  Or will we take another approach, such as spreading the word at the workplace and on the streets about the value of growing our own food, bartering, and not wasting time and resources by accumulating questionable individual consumer conveniences?


February 22-25, 2005, Oakland, California


Reference: National Cancer Institute 2001 data

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