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Culture Change

Shattering illusions and building freedom are unpopular for now
by Jan Lundberg

Many of us wonder why intelligent, functional citizens do not lift a finger to aid their own long-term survival in a world threatened by ecological collapse and war.  The answer may lie in the brainwashing or worldview of the populace.  To take this a step further, the obstacle in the way of citizens' acceptance of a radical critique may be sacred mass illusions.  To deal with one's life challenges and to address threats to our collective welfare, illusions need to be shattered and delusion ended. 

"We're free to decide!! Which hole to go through!"  Donald's graphic courtesy BlueGreenEarth.com.

When a hard-working, kind citizen meets with facts and conclusions about the unsustainable consumption of resources by our overpopulation, or about the rise of fascistic government and corporate control, the citizen can almost never accept the whole truth.  This resistance may flow from not being able to accept the shattering of cherished illusions.  This essay is about understanding why, and how to try to overcome it.

Mass illusions include the idea of the U.S. automatically being considered “the best country” or “a free country.”  In some ways, the U.S. is those things.  But consider that our supposedly free press can hardly be free when it is dependent on corporate advertising, and reporters are forced to parrot official statements as the real story (particularly in foreign policy).  

Delusions include the common assumption that we live in a time of long running progress, and that endless economic growth is possible and advisable.  We will not go into a whole survey of illusions and delusions, a notable example being the religious creationist belief against evolution, even when an ancestor of homo sapiens is recently deemed to date from 160,000 years ago.  

It takes a lot of reflection to ponder effectively on the notion that our freedoms have been cut down to having the freedom to go shopping.  We must also rationally question the idea that just because our “leaders” are born on our soil we are free, although it's true we’re not ruled by Iraqis or Cambodians or whomever.  

Shattering illusions is costly only in the short term, fortunately.  Down the trail we are glad to be rid of them.  But short-term thinking prevents us from taking rational steps to experience alternatives to whatever isn’t working well today.  The future is ignored or assumed to likely turn out like recent times, and society is primed to carry over many a skewed interpretation of civilization.  

In reality, recent times are a huge aberration.  We will see a correction in the overbuilt economy of today that is hard-wired to using the highest conceivable use of nonrenewable energy.  Business-as-usual is sheer idiocy for its damage and unsustainability.  Yet, to point this out and act on it is to probably commit economic suicide and become an outcast from the mainstream.

Economists well understand that the business cycle means a major depression awaits; it has been put off by extraordinary measures such as the overliberalization of trade and the sacrificing of the environment.  A global economy based on petroleum--supplied endlessly for world trade’s intrinsic requirements for transport and packaging (beginning with the mining and manufacturing)--is a delusion, when we consider how fast the market can sense the peak in global oil production which has now been reached.

The Industrial Revolution was based upon the deforestation of Europe and the need to substitute coal for heat and industrial processes.  Technology and capitalist exploitation ensued to get the coal out of the ground and transported.  The idea that this industrialization is a shining moment in human history is a delusion, or at best debatable.  What led up to it--the Agricultural Revolution and western civilization--was also a doubtful pursuit:  scholars do not understand why ancient peoples gave up hunting and gathering for the work-intensive, freedom-constricting, disease-spreading ways of agriculture and town living.

Doing something about today’s crises
There is still an amazing amount of money available for charitable giving, and potential donors are in need of tax deductions.  Charities are receiving most of their funds from the public, not from foundations or corporations.  Not that the key to social change is through donations; we can, however, see some of our problems and solutions through examining the economics of palliative charity or funding of reforms and fundamental change.

But the majority of donations are by far for religious organizations or hospitals that do nothing to shatter illusions about the American Dream and U.S. imperialism since the 1890s.  Volunteerism and donating to community groups, nonprofit organizations and grassroots movements today are generally limited to programs that fight mere symptoms of the U.S. empire’s excesses.  Social trends are decried but seldom analyzed in depth by the activists trying to stop war and the assault on the environment.  Questioning our culture, and resolving to replace it or recreate culture, are rare.  “Culture change” is most often meant as a buzzword of the business consultants who use the term as a euphemism for squeezing more profitability out of corporate managers.

Where this leaves us is a citizenry surrounded by mounting problems, as society further erodes its once solid basis of trust and mutual support.  The reaction of the average citizen to rising homelessness and cancer is to pull further inside one’s tortoise shell of materialist security and obeisance to one’s employment.  So, whatever George Bush may be doing to Asia is commonly felt as barely relevant among the U.S. public.

Being a good consumer and going along with the government and Demopublican/Republicrat party is considered the only option, except for a few people striving to live outside the system.   These latter folk are often artists or back-to-the-land communalists, even anarchistic revolutionaries, and some may be on their own “spiritual path.”  Ninety-nine per cent of them in this nation may be U.S. citizens, but most of them consider themselves world citizens or children of the Earth. 

Let’s call them Outsiders for the sake of reference.  The mass media are generally closed to including this class of people on the fringe of society.  The dominators of the economy and political system ignore them--until they become a Martin Luther King, Jr., to name one "rabble rouser" who exposed too much of the Great Society's lie.  

The Outsiders are of course in need of food, clothing, housing and energy.  These needs are barely met for the mass of these people, but a very few do well in terms of public support.  These may include the few who may earn a large court settlement from a naughty government agency, or who garner media attention and can sell books (e.g., Julia Butterfly).  Other “Outsiders” may be supporters of Outsiders, such as Woody Harrelson and other celebrities who appreciate activists and artists who push the limits of what can be accomplished for liberation struggles and sustainable living in the police state. 

A major illusion of the general U.S. populace is that we live in a “democracy.”  U.S. citizens are massively ignorant of the fascistic component of the ruling class and its state structure.  The red-white-and-blue, Old Glory, is unassailable as an icon of freedom, due to our upbringing and the need we have for a homeland where we speak the same language.  But Nazis found a welcome in a few critical sectors of U.S. society after World War II, and their American benefactors consolidated overall power and increased their influence over the U.S. population and natural resources.

There is probably no hope of an awakening or effective revolt during the rule of consumerism and fascistic governance.  This does not mean all is  hopelessly pointless, but there are many obstacles, such as the illusions of “basic freedoms” as safeguarded, and “basic American ingenuity.”  The brute power of the state with its enforcement of the status quo, including secret federal agencies’ well financed role throughout society, cannot be cured or brought down by a social movement, unless the mass of people stop their daily pattern of living and seek change outside the “safety” of their homes.  Upheaval and a new class of leaders are rather unlikely when there is plentiful food, petroleum and cash around.  And, what is the point of revolution if it would only perpetuate the same problems?

Standards for individual pride, as one accepts conditions enforced by swollen government and endless laws and regulations, decline to the point of telling ourselves to keep our head down, get in line, and hope for the best.  A most common coping mechanism these days is to think, “Making more money will give me the freedom I need.”  More common is to say to oneself, "I'll feel better if I go shopping now."  The Doors sang, "If you're sad and feeling blue, go out and buy a brand new pair of shoes."

Granted, the modern world is a highly populated society built upon division of labor so that surpluses and profit can be piled higher and higher.  Thus, controls over behavior for the huge population are to be expected, even if we laid down our arms and shared the wealth.  True freedom cannot exist in overcrowded conditions.  If we compare our roughly two million years of existence as a species and its population level over that time, today we are surely overpopulated.  Individualism can bring about the tendency to achieve personal if illusory freedom, but if one person can be enslaved or dispossessed, no one is safe or free.

A huge drop in human population is anticipated early this century due to massive reliance on dwindling, strategic petroleum resources that power the teetering, wasteful economy.  Sustainable living has been demonstrated as superior to overconsuming and burning the planet to a cinder, but can only triumph when we are all forced by economic conditions to return to deriving our sustenance from our own local ecosystem.  The need to do this now is obscured by the illusion of freedom to buy anything anytime and keep it up forever. 

Let’s drink to the end of consumerism, imperialism and squelching of freedom and every human being’s unique potential.  Shattering illusions on a case-by-case basis and all together can be most rewarding.  Looking at our fears honestly—becoming Outsiders perhaps to the point that there are no more outsiders—may assist in the search for a realistic approach to living for a positive future.


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