by Leanne Ogasawara
For years now, I have been dreaming this dream that our national park rangers would rise up and lead a coup.
Whenever I used to return to the US from Japan or Hong Kong -it was always so appalling flying into LAX (a truly banana republic experience), our infrastructure seemed as shabby as our healthcare was inhumane. Things felt incredibly chaotic and wild west–in many ways, quite uncivilized. On the few occasions, however, when I managed to find myself in a national park, everything began to look up. Suddenly things ran smoothly. There were trams to get people from point a to point b; rooms for all budgets, great cafeteria food often with local ingredients– and everything felt somehow rational. Kind of like Europe, I always thought.
We have to thank the rangers for this. For they are an amazing group of people. Committed ecologists and educators, so many of them even have a sense of humor. Able to live off grid, I think they are totally bad ass! How many times have I thought over the years that if only the United States was run like our national parks we wouldn't be nearly as much trouble.
One of the things I love best about them is they don't negotiate when it comes to the environment. The parks are not about "consumer choice." You have to keep things green–or else. There is no blaming Republicans or Liberals, no discussion of faith when it comes to the environment, climate "believers" or not, you have to live by the rules of the parks. Yep, that means no plastic water bottles are sold. Hallelujah, and is it really that hard?
Given my great fondness for them, I took more than a little delight to see them running rogue last week with NASA.
I am going to write here next week about Amitav Ghosh's new book, The Great Derangement. Has anyone read it yet?
In the book, Ghosh asks, Are we deranged?
And guess what his answer is.
For the upcoming post, I decided not to talk about the ending of his book, because I thought it might make people uncomfortable. That is because in a very unexpected move, Ghosh,suggests that it is religious groups that are perhaps best suited to tackle the wicket issue of climate change. Why, you might ask. Well, believing that there is no time to wait for momentum to mount in creating a secular movement, he suggests that these groups are already mobilized to work together in a way that goes beyond personal self-expression. Religious organizations are able to quickly mobilize as a group working on a shared cause.
This issue of "self expression" in politics is really interesting. Much as Charles Taylor did in his A Secular Age, Ghosh sees the Protestant Reformation as having played "one of the major roles in the creation of our modern world." And that this Reformation brought with it a strong focus on personal expression–since Salvation was no longer given by Grace but by a person's authentic self expression of faith. This over-focus on self-expression is something, Ghosh writes, that permeates all aspects of modern life, including our political lives as well. He says:
In other words, the public sphere, where politics is performed, has been largely emptied if content in terms of the exercise of power: as with fiction, it has become a forum for secular testimony, a baring-of-the-soul in the world as church. Politics as thus practices is primarily an exercise in personal expressiveness.
In addition, real power and governing–rather being held by politicians– is wielded by an interlocking association of powerful corporations and institutions. This is known as "deep state." Ghosh argues that the politicians that we see on the TV function more as a kind of performative display. This is why, for example, our political sphere has taken on what can only be described as a reality TV aspect and personality cults. And we, "the viewers" are involved only in terms that relate to our personal journeys toward authenticity and personal expression, for example, on social media or in marches.
I do agree with Ghosh that our political lives have taken on a TV show-quality. And, what is much more worrisome is that within what is a kind of spectacle, rather than working together toward collective action, as citizens, we have become more like consumers, exercising our "free choice" in terms of self expression. Citizenship as consumer. This perhaps can explain why, now we will be seeing more and more people decrying climate change in terms of the personality of who is in the White House–rather than in how the global capitalistic systems that we ourselves are participating in and enabling are destroying the planet.
(Highlighted quote just above from Roy Scranton's must-read Learning to Die in the Anthropocene).
Ghosh continues by saying that even more than their capability for issue-focused group mobilization, religious organizations can serve a crucial role in combatting climate change because they are already standing outside the current paradigm. And this is a crucial point. He says:
“Religious worldviews are not subject to the limitations that have made climate change such a challenge for our existing institutions of governance: they transcend nation-states, and they all acknowledge intergenerational, long-term responsibilities; they do not partake of economistic ways of thinking and are therefore capable of imagining nonlinear change…in ways that are perhaps closed to the forms of reason deployed by contemporary nation-states.”
He is very critical about the way the current environmental movement remains embedded in the fundamental values and notions of the neoliberal capitalist system— the very framework that caused the problems in the first place.
This echoes Einstein, of course, who famously said: We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
I agree with Ghosh that we will ultimately fail when it comes to the environment if we continue placing our hopes in "innovation" or worse, in government-corporate associations that never even question the idea that limitless growth is the answer to our problems. I think we will also fail if we think that just saying we believe in global warming or somehow blaming politicians for the situation in which we find ourselves is also counter-productive, as Roy Scranton says above.
But, religious organizations are not the only groups that stand outside the current neo-liberal and global capital worldview. And this is what I really love about the park rangers.
One of my favorite novelists to read in my bleaker moments is Tom Robbins. The man simply refuses to conform. Like a lot of people, I first got "turned on" to Tom Robbins when I was young. Just back from India and living in Berkeley, all I wanted to do was travel back in time to become a flower child. So for me, eternal hippie and ultimate playmate Tom Robbins was the perfect read. He was–and maybe still is– utterly uninterested in practical life or bourgeois concerns. From mortgages to inner angst, he has so much better things to do. In one of his more recent novels, Villa Incognito, there are these three Vietnam Vets who decide to go MIA. Choosing to remain in Laos after the war is over (why not, right?), the men live in Sybaritic indulgence in a village full of high-wire walkers and pretty ladies–living the life, until things fall totally apart and their paradise found becomes paradise lost. All good things come to an end, of course, and main character Dickie Goldwire eventually finds himself back in the old US of A. And the changes stun him. I think his adjustment disorder was even more intense than my own (both of us gone missing for twenty years). Dickie cannot get over the advertising on everything. Everything was stamped with brand names and consumer choices ruled the world, which was, I probably don't have to explain an utterly and relentlessly consumer-driven world. He hates it and doesn't really see the point either. Life is short and the people back home don't even seem that happy.
Zizek said this the other day (I realize not everyone likes him–but he makes an important point):
"Isn’t is sad that the best left-liberal critique of Trump is political comedy? People like Jon Stewart, John Oliver and so on. It’s nice to make fun of him, but you laugh at him and he wins. My God! There is something terribly wrong with playing this game of ironically making fun of Trump. You know, in medicine they call it symptomatic healing, when you take some things, they just neutralize the effects, like you have this pain, but they don’t heal the disease itself. Criticizing Trump is just symptomatic healing. Trump is an effect of the failure of the liberal-left. Everybody knows this knows this now. The only way to really beat Trump is to radically rethink what does the left mean today. Otherwise he will be getting ordinary people’s votes. "
Trump is a wake-up call.
Injustice and inequality did not suddenly happen on January 20th. Trump did not cause climate change. He did not oversee what was the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the US or introduce relentless money into politics. At most, he is a symptom –and even though we cannot ignore this odious and malignant symptom– we also need to take a hard look at the causes. And, keeping our eye on the ball, we must as Zizek urges, radically rethink what the Left means and come up with a fundamentally new approach.
For if we don't get money out of politics and resist the current financial models that have caused so much destruction to the earth we will be lost.
But maybe we are too big and things are too far gone to fix? Because let's face it, after 8 years of outrageous and very costly obstructionism by congress, we are now witnessing a power grab akin to a coup (airports were distraction for Bannon's quiet power grab) Is this even fixable anymore?
I personally have come to like the idea of a West Coast secession. Uniting to create a truly progressive state –with west coast federation universal healthcare; federation-funded democratic education; and bullet trains connecting our totally green cities– we would aim to create a new society that is sustainable to the earth and achieves true economic justice. With Portland as our capital, we could organize our progressive homeland on sustainable values. We are, after all, paying more to the federal government than we take out —and all this without fair representation. And looking around, it seems that for years, we are so engaged in fighting a kind of culture war that there is no loner any room or energy left to move forward in terms of the environment, education, and health. Maybe we simply don't work anymore?
This is not just about dismantling this administration –but it is about fundamentally reinventing our society to create a country where economic practice and policy serve the common good. For justice and a fair distribution of wealth and services for all. Like the national parks, we must create a place where financial bottom lines are never prioritized at the expense of the earth; and where love and ecology are our national religion.
Either that or take to the hills…?
To join the darkside: www.altnps.org -Arches, Glacier, Everglades, Cuyahoga Valley, Rocky Mountain, Shenandoah, Yosemite, Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.