On my bicycle commute today I stopped along a trail for a moment – okay, it was to step behind some trees to pee – and I’d been listening to the haunting Radiolab podcast Dark Side of the Earth. I had just heard David Wolf’s account of spacewalking outside the Mir spacecraft with fellow astronaut Anatoly Solovyev, a moment during which they floated in their suits and stared away from Earth into the depths of the universe, with Solovyev telling Wolf to just relax – “расслабься.”
I had to pause the podcast and take out my earbuds to remove my neckwarmer, and I was suddenly in this stirring spring moment, beside a river, with songbirds all around, the sky a crisp blue. It was one of those abruptly sublime moments that take you by surprise and leave you dumbstruck, floating in a moment unencumbered by thought.
After a minute or so, as usually happens, the experience became polluted by exterior concerns, among them: I should take a video of this, I’m late for work, I need to blog about this…but these thoughts were followed by the most disturbing of all – that all this, all the wonder of this world, right now, right this minute, is in peril. The beauty of the instant both bolstered and destroyed by the tenuousness of it.
I experienced a moment of recognition that the planet’s prospects are extremely dire if we do not aggressively pursue significant change.
It brought to me thoughts of the recent defeat of stricter gun law legislation in the United States senate, this landmark moment that illustrates how our society is actually governed, not with the intent of preserving and enhancing the things that are good for us – our safety, health, and environment – but rather to support the means and ends of one tiny group of unbelievably selfish entities – the multinational corporations, and the ultra-wealthy people who run them. Everything of human agency, everything political, is now catered almost exclusively to a few thousand wealthy psychopaths, whose only concern is to maintain and augment their wealth regardless of the cost to life, to the natural world, and to the welfare of the rest of us. Make no mistake: the NRA-influenced Senate buyoff is simply an overt representation of how democracies now function, that is, with politicians acting almost entirely for the interests of their financial backers – those that contribute significantly to their election campaigns.
This is state-sanctioned bribery at the highest level, and it can only be changed by those in power, i.e., incumbent politicians. The problem of course is that politicians who vote to fix the system risk defeat in the next election cycle when their backers find compliant candidates who will legislate their will. Newcomers who oppose the bribery system stand no chance of being elected without funding from players in the bribery system.
So if there’s no chance of a democratic solution, what’s left? I hate to say it, but logic dictates that if there is no democratic solution, we must either endure the system as it stands (at least until the consequences of the status quo come to bear, which they will – I’m thinking here of climate change), or bring about transformation through non-democratic means. It’s the reason I feel so compelled by this new feature film, The East – in concept it represents a radical course of action for a world that has lost its ability to create policies for anyone but the rich.
I guarantee this film will make more than a few corporate executives uncomfortable.
Let me be clear, I am not advocating for violent change. I abhor violence – in fact, violence, as seen in the empire-building efforts of the Bush II White House, is simply another tool of the wealthy to spread their influence. But I do believe it is the course that will be taken by individuals and groups if the political situation does not soon change. People are becoming desperate – from poverty, injustice, climate change – and these are only going to get worse. Desperate people are dangerous. The wealthy are desperate themselves, desperate to maintain control, desperate to increase their obscene wealth. This is their psychosis.
The alternative is that the natural world will bite back. We cannot destroy the world. But we can damage it enough that it will ruin civilization. This is the path we’re on. I have children, I wish I was wrong. I can find little evidence that I am not.
Think of it this way: wouldn’t you love to watch a nature program or IMAX film about some startling species or gorgeous ecosystem without the inevitable warning from the narrator about the multiple threats to its existence? But you always see it coming, despite the grace of the whales or the vitality of the African savannah – the big “but” in the program, when we are told of dwindling numbers or the encroachment of oil companies.
I want to experience the world not as something threatened, and probably doomed, but as a place both beautiful and perpetual. A lot of political change has to happen before we get there. And if that change doesn’t come democratically, it will come violently. With violence from the planet. And violence from the people, either independently, or in association with disruptions of climate.
In other words – either we end the influence of wealth on our political system so we can pursue what’s right for the people and the planet, or we suffer violent consequences. I’d rather do it on our own terms, before it’s too late. Is there a way?