By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, May 6, 2022
When we doubt that swift and dramatic change is possible, what we really mean is that we haven’t seen much swift and dramatic change for the better lately. There’s actually no disputing that massive and almost instant change is perfectly possible. For example, in a matter of days, the unified voices of virtually every television network, newspaper, news website, and entertainment outlet in the United States took millions of people without a thought about foreign policy in their heads or any idea even where on the Earth Ukraine is located, and gave them all passionate opinions about Ukraine right at the very top of their awareness — the first thing they would mention, bumping the weather down to second place in the rankings as a topic for random conversations. You may think that was a very good thing — in fact, I can almost guarantee that you do. That’s sort of the point. But you can’t deny that it was fast or significant.
Now just imagine — understanding that it’s crazy, hence the need to imagine — that every infotainment corporation in the United States suddenly began treating as the enemy to be urgently defeated the worldview, government policies, and corporate conduct that damage the habitability of the Earth. Imagine endless powerfully moving personal stories of the victims of climate collapse — both human victims and other charismatic megafauna. Imagine exposés on the corruption, destruction, extraction, and degradation. Imagine environmental protection as the moral imperative for which cost is no matter, and for which the public dollars must flow like a mighty stream. Imagine that views questioning the need to put everything into urgent Earth-salvation are shut out as thoroughly and vigorously as views questioning the non-provocative humanitarian goodness of NATO. Imagine that supporting the maintenance or possible use of nuclear weapons, rather than expressing hesitation about weapons shipments to Europe, could get you banned from social media and PayPal.
This perfectly possible but entirely unlikely scenario is brought to mind for me by the opening pages of a wonderful new book by Dahr Jamail and Stan Rushworth called We Are the Middle of Forever: Indigenous Voices From Turtle Island on the Changing Earth. The authors recount examples of Native Americans struggling to warn the world about environmental collapse over the past half century, of individuals who dedicated their lives to that effort, who traveled and spoke constantly, who in some cases spent years attempting to be permitted to speak at the United Nations and then finally did so to a nearly empty chamber.
The book is based on recent interviews with numerous Indigenous people in North America, discussing the way of life in which the planet is not so viciously damaged, in which identity is understood as bound up with countless generations of ancestors and descendants, in which those lives play out in the same location, treasuring the same mountains, the same trees, the same fish, the same plants, and in which more care is taken to preserve and appreciate than to improve or destroy. Some make an analogy to infants, with those who have been on this land only a very short time behaving with the wisdom of a toddler throwing a fit, rather than that of a society that has accumulated understanding over centuries or millennia.
Of course this wisdom is all jumbled up with “spirituality.” Those who have held gatherings to discuss protecting the planet also claim that the planet provided them good weather on a certain day as a magical message. When asked how to maintain courage while aware of the collapse of life on Earth, some interviewees propose belief in reincarnation. This stuff is no drawback at all to many people — or shouldn’t be, given the nonsense that they themselves believe in and the commitment they have to respecting everyone’s right to believe their own nonsense. But none of this should be a big stumbling block even for skeptical sticklers for the truth of things. The same interviewees also give other answers to the same questions. They also advise doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and enjoying and living within that work without obsessing over knowing its consequences.
Some recommend long, slow work, however. They recommend starting with children who will later fix things, or starting with oneself alone, or by reaching tiny numbers of people. This, of course, will not save us unless multiplied by millions, as if this book were read aloud to people on TV. But who would get filthy rich from something like that happening?