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Culture Change

Paying off in 2004?
Curse of the well informed

by Jan Lundberg

A cartoon by a child appeared in the Auto-Free Times several years ago, titled “Window of Truth."  It depicted a consumer eating corporate potato chips while watching television.  Through a window, a bulldozer could be seen outside taking down a tree.   

Almost nothing has changed since such eco-suicidal behavior — both the passive form and the bulldozing — became prevalent in the latter half of the 20th century, except:  Each year, each decade, there are more people engaged in both forms.  Fortunately, knowledge and collective wisdom grow along with hope for positive change.  Darn, too bad that trend pales against the world's frenzied birth of people turning out to be unconscious consumers.

Only about two per cent of the U.S. population is estimated to be aware and active in social and political matters (beyond just voting).  The rest of the population can be considered scary and/or scared, as in being susceptible to blatant propaganda on the need to bomb some nation that isn’t even threatening the homeland.  In a related defeat for the people, consciousness of rights is fading.  In June 2001, a poll by the Freedom Forum found that 39% of the people felt that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees; a year earlier the figure was 22%.

But what more can we ask for, when around us there seems to be plenty of cash, hamburgers and petroleum?  Fossil-fueled survival and the hedonism of hyper-consumption provide solace and are damn good for this economy.

Nevertheless, two per cent of the population is a lot of people, when they’re all in the streets.  That takes guts when anyone not towing the party line is accused of being pro-terrorist.   But there’s plenty of room in jails, prisons and makeshift facilities in a National Emergency.  Rich people, however, are good for the economy and do not have a place waiting for them behind bars, whereas anyone making less than $12,000 taxable income per year is more productive for the GDP locked up, according to Jerry Brown who is now mayor of Oakland.

There is an additional segment of perhaps 8% of the population, that has active awareness and engages in self-education.  They make an effort to know what’s going on behind the headlines.  Every few years they may march in a demonstration or write a letter to the editor or to their congressperson, but action is not high on their list.  These demographic statistics pop up in journals occasionally, but are subject to some change based on momentary developments.  It takes a third of the population, roughly — so goes the conventional wisdom — to really alter a nation and have a new government (if any).

About 15 million people around the world marched against the U.S./UK war for oil in February 2003, a record for any protest.  However, most of those marchers simply wanted “peace,” even though the absence of overt war, and the ongoing practice of waging war on nature through the economy, are not real peace.  Few march organizers seem to grasp this, as evidenced by the rare follow-up when the missiles have backed off for a few months.

Identifying the lack of deep social consciousness on the part of the semi-active (the non-2%), they seldom behave as if they know key facts that are ascertainable: (1) energy use as we know it is completely unsustainable; (2) today’s population size — still growing fast — negates most conservation; (3) global warming could already be out of control.  Yet, even aware folk assume that “progress,” e.g., running water and refrigeration, are acceptable, whereas collectively these habits are in the same category as driving an SUV because of the massive draw upon energy systems.  Finally, (4) government is ultimately about securing present rule and policies through the barrel of a gun (on a nasty day) and imprisoning people who get out of line.

The above attests to the tendency of about 90% of the people to delude themselves, as ignorance is usually just an excuse for inaction.  Those of us who understand the above (and more) are burdened with a stream of never-ending data and realizations that confirm and expand an already high level of sensitivity about our world.

The low occurrence of “extremely high” awareness, as measured by the active intelligentsia’s size being around 2%, is rather depressing when our ecosystem is breaking down.  Occasional headlines, such as on climate change being more extreme than scientists anticipated, are not given as much attention as news stories about the foibles of some actress or the intention of some politician to run or not to run for president.  Yet, to the “average Joe,” news as served up by the corporate media easily makes a sporting event appear more important than seldom-seen abbreviated stories on species extinction.

Highly attuned citizens who think for themselves, doing research and discussing solutions on local and global problems, are cursed in two ways:  Besides being isolated and few in number, the aware and active segment of our population is in pain over the bad news and ominous signs and trends.  These people notice and oppose injustices that most folk don’t want to know about, such as (a) the plight of women prisoners whose children don’t get to visit much; (b) the extent of corruption and corporate influence affecting people’s lives, rights and health in detrimental ways, and (c) the blind consumerism that people go into debt and wage-slavery for, to satisfy their own cultural conditioning to achieve a twisted sense of worth.  

It is all so much for an aware, active person to deal with that he or she may often be correctly considered to exist outside society.  

Living proud, informed and active

How do the disaffected dissidents live?  One the whole, well, and much better, thank you, than the more materially comfortable and richer citizens who question little about society and civilization.  Feeling alive has a greater payback short-term and down the line than merely having lots of fancy clothes and several different brands of dessert in the freezer. 

Urban collectives are groupings of activists or conscious people who are likely not to have a television in their house.  News and information are passed along by word of mouth, the alternative press, and the internet.  If they do sit down in front of the TV, it is rare, and then it’s usually for videos.  And the videos will often be titles such as The Bandit Queen or the Battle of Algiers, rather than pulp and razzmatazz from Hollywood.

Philip Berrigan, activist Catholic priest, was until his death in December 2002 was part of a collective in Baltimore called Jonah House he cofounded in 1973.  The group constantly pooled its resources and planned actions of civil disobedience.  Berrigan was quoted in last summer's Sun Magazine to the effect that elections are not where political change come from, but rather from direct action.  He was a tireless advocate for peace who gladly spent several years in jail for his beliefs and brave exploits against draft boards and nuclear weapons installations.  He would not have been able to function efficiently without a community in the form of an urban collective house.

Although cursed by their own minds and sense of duty to fight for justice and refrain from over-consuming, the actively aware benefit from greater understanding of their world.  They can look ahead to the next age in which people will have to cooperate for local production and distribution of food and other goods in a sustainable, equitable fashion.  This often translates to organic gardening and cultivating personal skills such as arts and crafts that serve their collective, their family and neighbors.

An even bigger benefit from thinking and acting independently is feeling spared from the common fears being systematically spread among the population.  The idea of foreign Islamic terrorists targeting innocent U.S. citizens simply because “we have and love freedom” is a shallow analysis that the truly aware citizenry is not fooled by.  

Although cursed by their own awareness and the nonstop bad news coming into their homes and heads, the dedicated, effective exponents of change are better able to experience and enjoy more love and solidarity than the isolated consumers and order-followers who comprise the somnolent masses of north Americans today.

An example of how this is manifested is in their not being slaves to a job or career.  To them, the adventure of life is more important, such that travel and ever-expanding awareness provide stimulation, learning, pleasure and camaraderie.  A volunteer with Culture Change, for instance, has just left Arcata and arrived by bus in Chiapas to witness the 10th anniversary of the Zapatistas’ rejection of NAFTA.  A year ago she was sitting in an ancient redwood tree for 10 months in order to save it from the corporate chainsaws.  Without these actions and interactions with similarly motivated, public-spirited companions, she would feel less in charge of her own life and she would be bored.

When a mainstreamer considers a person such as our volunteer, the reaction may be awe and an expression of support, or, just as often, confusion, jealousy, or hate.  It is clear than an activist — or anyone following his or her own path, with art or writing, for example — is usually bad for this economy’s productivity.  Meanwhile the person often is engaged in self-sacrifice to the point of occasional discomfort and stress.  But it’s worth it, if you prefer knowing the truth about the dominant paradigm and its future possible outcomes.  Simple living has great rewards, and to stand up for a simple (low-consumptive) lifestyle is to engage in common-sense resistance.

             Dying on our knees is humiliation
         -     from “Tearin’ Up the Roads,” the Depavers

As the pace of social and ecological change quickens, keep sharing your thoughts, questions and feelings with your friends, family and co-workers.  If you have not been doing so, it’s always good to start.  Sharing and supporting one another are tried-and-true tribal survival strategies that defined almost every culture for over 99% of humanity’s time to date.  Capitalism and living as if we are divorced from nature are recent aberrations that are the path of exploitation and loneliness.  The antidote to despair is action.  We’re all in this together; there’s no exit but to eventually return to the Earth for the worms’ sustenance.  The “curse” is really worthwhile, ultimately.  Enjoy the season and may 2004 be a great, positive year for the human family and our fellow life forms.


Dec. 26, 2003  Humboldt County, northern California


Philip Berrigan:

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Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing:


Articles of interest:
Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results.  WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California . Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)



Culture Change/Sustainable Energy Institute mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change (Trademarked) is published by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) California non-stock corporation. Contributions are tax-deductible.