At a recent documentary film festival, I got to see a great film about granting legal personhood to the environment (in a similar way that corporations have)(that film, BTW, and I do recommend checking it out, is called The Rights of Nature: A Global Movement), which has been done in Ecuador and New Zealand, on a very limited basis. When an audience member asked one of the film makers what they could do, given the Trump Administration’s stated goal of strip-mining every last square meter of unpaved Earth, I got the mic (I wasn’t involved in the film, I just believe in exploiting the rules when it serves a greater purpose)(if you dislike that idea, I’d recommend you hit the “Back” button on the browser now) and pointed out that Edward Abbey had already addressed the issue. The questioner kind of balked, and the film’s representative kind of chuckled and pointed out that none of Abbey’s recommendations were, strictly speaking legal.
That was the moment I knew our planet and its ghastly bipedal offspring were, to use the official terminology endorsed by the Vatican, very severely fucked.
I also read on Facebook a friend’s suggestion that there’s a reason we’re seeing Greta Thunberg’s face in the news, instead of the indigenous protesters who have literally chained themselves to pipelines, or Earth First protesters who shackle themselves to trees. Thunberg, even though I agree with her sentiment, is calling for reforming and changing the system. Abbey, the Indian kids, and Dave Foreman are directly calling for those at the tip of socioeconomic pyramid to be torn apart by mobs in the street.
That image gets a lot of play in the Western imagination; it was a common toast amongst the American Constitutional framers, “To mobs and kings!” They missed the point, which, sadly, was later realized by European revolutions: large groups of people have more power than any king ever could, and kings — rulers of any sort — are an unnecessary symptom of economic excess, not a necessity. As a guest lecturer at my university pointed out; even though Martin Luther King, Jr got death threats since the 1950s, it wasn’t until he started talking about economic equality and legal justice that he was killed. In other words, it wasn’t until his rhetoric actually started calling for a dramatic reshuffling of the cards, and maybe playing Texas Holdem instead of Bridge; that we killed him.
Greta Thunberg is going to be on the cover of Time Magazine before she dies, and that’s mostly to her credit (let’s not forget, Donald Trump and most of the Clintons have also had that position), but she is not advocating that energy industry executives and their families all be dragged into the street. There’s a part of me that endorses that, because I’m against 16-year-old girls being killed; but there’s another part of me that thinks that, until she’s in the cross-hairs, she’s only a side-show to the global melt-down.
If you are committed to changing the system, you have lost the game. If you are dedicated to reforming the system from within, you have lost. If you are trying to start a revolution from within, you have lost. All of these views assume that there must be a system. That is the very most basic assumption that perpetuates the system. In HBO’s Game of Thrones, the character Daenerys Targaryen is a stand-in for the classic Nietzschean fictional trope of becoming the abyss — the thing you battle. She talks about “breaking the wheel” that keeps everyone oppressed, while remaining the steadfast center of the wheel. Where that series ultimately fails is in refusing to ask the question, “You literally have dragons and magic; asshole. Why would anyone even bother with wheels when there is literally a superior technology that renders wheels obsolete with wings and fire?” This is the classic white person-in-a-documentary audience asking what they can do to right injustice, when there are soup kitchens around, homeless people, jobless neighbors who need a ride to an interview or a clean suit. Next time I’m in an all-white, able-bodied audience at a documentary about social or environmental justice and some nitwit asks “What can I do?” I’ll just get on the mic (I’ll leave the cane at home and double-down on the painkillers to get full passing privilege) and shout, “You failed the initiative roll, asshole; I hope your opponent doesn’t have a high critical hit rate!”
You laugh because I’m using D&D terms to describe the sixth extinction. I laugh because you think your arbitrary rules about economics and personal property and the numbers on your third-rate green handkerchiefs (that’s all money will be when we realize it can’t roll back time) can protect your children and grand-children from the inevitable rising tide.
When America’s Constitutional framers sat down to discuss the basic rights of human beings, they were blinded by the protections and privileges they had, largely because their own great-grandparents ignored laws set down by other groups and nations. The infamous line that was disputed was, “The right to life, liberty, and property.” Except you would, in a natural setting, expect none of those. As someone who’s witnessed life at its most horribly primal first-hand, let me elucidate your basic rights, prior to flint-knapping: you had the right to be born. After that, it’s entirely up to random chance. All rights are purely synthetic. When an economist looks at ecosystems or nature, they think of exploitable species, extraction value, etc. When I see that same view, I am reminded of the Taoist ideal of Pu, and that the human viewer is the extraneous part of the system, and that system would be better-off if we never evolved. I will admit my thinking is, to some extent, contaminated by European views on the noble savage, but, at the same time; white men with guns weren’t the ones who killed off the Colombian Mammoth or Ground Sloth. But I’m a product of the system; defined and bound by it. For a better example of the way forward, let us go back to 10000 BC (or a few millennia before Adam and Steve tastefully redid the Garden of Eden, and God gave them the boot for failing to meet HOA regulations on any remodel), when people were plagued by bothersome, bullying, but not-aggressive camp wolves, to the cro-magnon who thought, “These little devils might help us bag an elk.” Thousands of years later, groodles are thing. Imagine if that visionary didn’t have the courage to do what literally no other human in history had done, and offer a woolly rhino rib to that skulking wild animal on the fringes. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go hug my dog for a few minutes after contemplating the wretched thought of a world without dogs.
In order for our species to survive, we are going to have to do what we’ve never done before: operate apart from the current social, legal, and political order, or from anything like that order we’ve seen in history. We are going to have to follow G. Thunberg long after her rhetoric turns from “We must change the system” to “Smash the patriarchy and kill those who profit from the death of the planet,” and the news groups stop the cameras. Again, it is telling that she gets air-time for espousing, essentially, the same view as most main-stream environmentalists, while the folks who inspired the character of George Hayduke aren’t getting invited to talk shows.
If you are comfortable right now, you are contributing to the death of this planet. And if you seek to “work within the framework of the law,” you have sided with the Reaper. If the thought of destroying human society as we know it seems uncomfortable, welcome to the space all vulnerable minorities now live in. And if the thought of destroying human society now so it can be replaced by something that actually might save the planet makes you uncomfortable, well, just wait a few minutes, and the planet will do it for you.