Unlearning alienation: a crucial component of a revolutionary movement

Michael Regenfuss / Deep Green Resistance Bay Area

Michael gave a talk at this year’s annual DGR conference on the subject of overcoming alienation, quoting some pertinent passages from The Sorcerer of Bolinas Reef by Charles Reich. He elaborates on those thoughts here.

What is alienation, how did we become afflicted with it, and how do we unlearn it? Alienation is created when you are being systematically undervalued, abused, and traumatized. We have all been undervalued from the day we were born. We are taught not only to expect less out of ourselves, but to expect less out of other people and also to undervalue the non-human part of nature.

Alienation gets built up layer by layer over the years through a process of false conditioning, which can get into your consciousness without your being aware that it is happening. The process of alienation is a learned thing, and so it can be unlearned. You can unlearn on your own, but it’s easier and faster if you have the help of others to facilitate the unlearning process. All you have to do is first decide that you are going to do this, and then find other like minded people, and form an affinity group that focuses on personal growth and real community.

The earth’s survival is the number one priority and needs to be our main focus, but there must be an emphasis placed on fundamental personal growth too. If you engage in this part of the revolution, it will not only improve your own lives, but make you a better activist and help guard against burnout.

Reich’s book is a great educational tool that will help you to learn more how alienation works, and it has countless insights as to how to unlearn it. The way to read the book is to read 8 to 10 pages at a time, set it down and think critically about what you’ve read, and then read the next 8 to 10 pages. By reading it this way you will hopefully begin to comprehend the whole difficult concept of alienation.

Unis’tot’en Camp, January 2015 – Will Falk

A group of Deep Green Resistance members from across the US and Canada delivered cash donations, supplies, and their labor to the Unis’tot’en Camp in early January. A support network for a strategic, indigenous-led front-line blockade is a crucial part of building a culture of resistance. DGR is proud to provide some of that support, and grateful to the camp hosts for allowing us to be involved.

Will Falk wrote about his experience on this recent trip, reflecting on his personal journey that has brought him through despair to activism, and the mingling of his new activist focus with personal and professional relationships and locations of his despair-filled past. He relates this to the larger culture of civilization, and the need for meaningful action to counteract the dangerous self-numbing in which we’re all encouraged to engage:

One way to understand the environmental catastrophe confronting us is to view the dominant culture as suffering from a profound case of despair. Despair permeates many religious traditions that say humans are fundamentally flawed, Earth is a scary place, and suffering is inevitable so we may as well embrace it to gain peace in another world. Despair permeates science cutting us off from other beings, telling us other beings are objects incapable of existing with humans in mutual relationship, and encouraging us to use (read: kill) other beings for the benefit of humans. Despair permeates our governments who view raw power and physical force as the only way to control this wildly unpredictable process we call “life.”

Many doctors have told me to reach out to old friends to help me remember who I was and what I was like before despair settled over me. In my worst moments, all I can see is darkness behind me, darkness upon me, and darkness ahead of me. Life is bad. Life was bad. Life will always be bad.

Part of spending so much time in Canada is being far from those who remember who I was. Lately, my desire for connection to a happier personal past has taken strange and pathetic forms. I wear an obnoxious green Notre Dame football flatbrim everywhere I go. I talk about my favorite band, Phish, with anyone who will listen. I find myself in bars just looking for company.

So, one of the benefits of the speaking tour I went on for the Unist’ot’en Camp involved spending time remembering myself with those who love me. But, the temporary feelings this time spent remembering released are dangerous. It would be easy to settle back down into a life based around salving the pain of depression. It would be easy to surround myself in good memories and turn my back on the problems of the world. If I did this, though, the world would still be burning. And, if the world burns for long enough, those I love will burn, too.

Read the entire essay: Reflections on Despair: Walking the Trapline at Unist’ot’en Camp, by Will Falk. And stay tuned for report-backs from other DGR members who attended the camp!

Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series

Will Falk of Deep Green Resistance San Diego has been writing prolifically this year on various resistance topics, notably about his time at the Unis’tot’en Camp. More recently, he has published an ongoing series of essays on the theme of “Do-It-Yourself Resistance.” We’ll keep this post updated with new additions, and here are all his excellent pieces so far:

Will Falk series on Unis’tot’en Camp

DGR member Will Falk has been writing a regular series on his experiences at the Unis’tot’en Camp blockade of proposed pipeline construction. We’ve highlighted some of them here already, but thought it would be useful to link to the whole series of thoughtful essays on what it takes to build a true culture of resistance, and for members of settler culture to ally with indigenous peoples on the front lines:

To Be a Warrior Poet – Reflections on an attempted suicide

Will Falk, a Deep Green Resistance member in San Diego CA, tried to commit suicide a year ago, seeing that as his best chance to escape the crushing weight of student debt, relatively meaningless work, and disconnection from the natural world. Will has since found meaning in writing and in action to protect the natural world. He calls on artists to use their skills to support all those fighting on the side of life.

The world is burning at an ever-faster pace. We are at war. Many of us may be imprisoned, tortured, raped and ultimately killed. Before I tried to kill myself, I let myself wander too far with clogged ears deaf to the friends – both human and non-human – that fill this world with meaning.

Armed with my experiences, I know that art can – and must be – a weapon used in defense of the world. Art can help us listen to what the natural world is telling us. Art can also give us the strong hearts we are going to need to face and stop the horrors that stand before us.

Read the rest of To Be a Warrior Poet.

Restoring Sanity, Part 3: Medicating

Image by Stephanie McMillan

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter of Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition have published the third essay in their Restoring Sanity series: “Medicating.” The essay speaks to those struggling directly with or supporting loved ones caught in alcohol or drug addictions, tying these methods of escape to the oppression and stresses we all receive from civilization.

Our way of life, which we did not choose, requires most of us to spend most of our waking time at jobs that make us unhappy. Our sense of optimism and interest in life erodes when what we want to do is usually subordinate to what we have to do. This is the baseline of civilized existence, the background circumstances. The amount of time spent at work is something humans haven’t evolved with—instead it is a condition that spread by conquest, like agriculture and industry. We are still creatures of the Paleolithic, leading lives based on entrapment by a contrived economy.

[…]

Avoidance becomes a part of your personality, and a way of life. It becomes more oppressive than all you’re avoiding; it demands your energy and attention, until you can feel it pressing in on you from outside, worrying itself from the inside. It nags and cajoles, urges quick solutions, makes self-serving promises. It is the parent of indifference, the older sibling to addiction. Apathy and numbing are defenses against the overwhelming anxiety formed by avoidance. For anyone working for social and environmental justice, where trauma and loss are everyday realities, avoidance can be very attractive, but eventually disastrous. How can anyone live fully in (let alone protect) the world if they are stuck in habits that lead to disconnection and withdrawal from the world?

Read the rest of “Medicating” and the earlier essays in the Restoring Sanity series:

  1. An Inhuman System
  2. Mental Illness as a Social Construct
  3. Medicating
  4. Anxiety and Civilization

Native Youth Movement Statement on Social Media

The Native Youth Movement has written an important statement, targeted to other native youths, but a valuable read for everyone. It lays out their vision: “to raise babies who are Independent of other humans and machines, knowing the land & water, how to sustain themselves with real skills, working with the Natural Law, Food Harvesting, Building, Healing, Protecting, Clothing, Making Fire, with good Leadership Qualities, Virtues and all the skills for living on the Land in various seasons and terrains.” It examines how civilization went so far off track and how the modern “Tech-No-Logic World” and the Internet have expanded centralized control over our lives. It calls on indigenous people to decolonize and restore mental, physical, and social health, contrasting the narcissism bred and encouraged by “Fed-book” (Facebook) with true self-esteem born of serving one’s community with useful skills. The statement asks crucial questions including “Are We Stronger Social Beings because of Fed-book?” and “What type of future Adults are we raising today?”

The final pages examine the ease of federal data mining and infiltration of social media, and the illusion of organizing by clicking to “friend” someone vs developing real world, face to face, long-term relationships.

Download the Native Youth Movement Statement on Social Media (175K – 21 page PDF)

Thoughts on "Pandora's Seed"

The following is from Bud Nye, A Deep Green Resistance supporter in Washington State:

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After reading Pandora’s Seed, Why the Hunter-Gatherer Holds the Key to Our Survival (2007), by Spencer Wells, here are some of my thoughts:

Early in the book I sensed a technotopian slant. Sure enough, as I read more it became clear that, like so many technological utopian people today, Wells seems seriously to believe that we can steal energy from Earth’s ecosystems at the scale of our fossil fuel use without massively damaging those living systems with their billions of living beings.

He seems to have no awareness of how destructive dams are, for example, and he holds by the magical, grandiose idea that we can do to wind, tidal, and other sun powered ecosystems what we have done to the river systems, and we can presumably do it without causing similar kinds of damage with similar unintended consequences: largely unacknowledged atrocities.

As much good information as he provides in his book, Wells ultimately supports, and subtly but powerfully encourages others to support, the Earth-killing megamachine of the now global military-industrial-scientific-congressional complex. He makes this crystal clear with his statement in the last chapter, after listing a number of movements that have worked against the machine, that “Over the past half century another anti-progress trend has been spawned, one more widespread and potentially dangerous than the more limited moments of the past….”

At best, he is clearly ignorant of the fairly obvious fact that we must learn to live within the limits of daily sunlight–while ALSO allowing millions of other animal and plant species, many billions of living beings, to use that daily sunlight–or we will perish. At worst, he is fully aware of these real, biological limitations and is an industrial corporate shill consciously and actively spreading their propaganda as widely as possible.

The truth about Wells probably lies somewhere between these two extremes, with a complex mixture of both. Positive, optimistic thinking actively encourages and supports willful blindness, and Pandora’s Seed serves as a good example of this. Please don’t get me wrong. I think that this book does offer much of value.  Unfortunately, Wells severely shoots himself in the foot with his unwarranted optimism about his often mentioned future “several hundred years from now” (apparently blissfully ignorant of the  Canfield ocean CO2 level preconditions that will have developed by  around 2100), and the alleged, politically correct “alternative energy  sources”.

I do wonder what others think.
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Adapted from Humanity, A Moral History of the Twentiety Century by Jonathan Glover (1999):

Rational self-interest can be turned upside down. In ordinary life restraining social pressures make killing unthinkable. In industrial capitalism and civilization the effect of their removal, or even reversal, is dramatic.

Industrial capitalism and civilization-building also require overcoming the moral resources. Capitalists and civilization builders need to escape the inhibitions of human responses: of respect and sympathy for others. They need to escape the restraints of moral identity: of their sense of not being a person who would wound and kill other living beings.

Mostly, the moral resources fail to prevent killing via industrial capitalism because they are neutralized. Capitalists, and the many associated, supporting military, scientific, and congressional civilization-building bureaucrats, need to produce something close to a “robot psychology”, in which what would otherwise seem horrifying acts they can carry out coldly, without inhibitions by normal human responses.  Sometimes the moral resources are not so much neutralized as overwhelmed.

There are the altered emotional states induced by industrial activities such as mining, dam building, oil and coal extraction, deforestation, desertification, ocean life mining, committing assassinations, genocide and mass extinctions, and so on.

The control and dominance inherent in industrial capitalism and civilization-building have a deep emotional appeal. People find actions that they would never have thought themselves capable of suddenly appearing, as if they were suddenly released, or as if they were the result of an inner explosion.  Distancing from other living beings–both within our own species and, certainly, from all other species–is part of a defensive hardness.

Note this today: A very sad thing happens here now–to everyone. It happens slowly, gradually, and at a distance so no one notices when it happens. We begin slowly with each unnoticed and unaccounted for death and casualty until there are so many deaths and so many wounded, we start to treat deaths and loss of limbs, both of our own and of other  living beings, with callousness, AND IT HAPPENS BECAUSE THE HUMAN MIND  CAN’T HOLD THAT MUCH SUFFERING AND SURVIVE.

Few of us seem willing to comprehend the horror now unfolding around us and within us via civilization and industrial capitalism. And, as in war, fewer still have the willingness to act in order to stop the killing.
Bud Nye Tacoma, WA

Power and Pathology

The social and emotional costs of grappling with the issues of industrial collapse have been extensively documented by Kathy McMahon, a psychologist who focuses on issues of energy and collapse. She has characterized a typical set of reactions that people experience upon awakening to the cultural/ecological reality: shock, disbelief, insomnia, lack of focus, nostalgia of the present, shame, frustration, isolation, and depression.

McMahon calls the stigmatization of counter-cultural views “psychological terrorism: labeling and pathologizing a person’s emotional reactions when they are perfectly appropriate given the situation or threat that faces us.” To describe those who practice this terrorism, McMahon has coined the term “Panglossian Disorder”: The neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse.

Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, has written extensively on topics as widely ranging as pornography & masculinity, racism and ecology. His passage on the psychology of collapse is worth quoting at length.

“I think not only leftists, but people in general, avoid these realities because reality is so grim. It seems overwhelming to most people, for good reason. So, rather than confront it, people find modes of evasion. One is to deny there’s a reason to worry, which is common throughout the culture. The most common evasive strategy I hear from people on the left is “technological fundamentalism”—the idea that because we want high-energy/high-tech solutions that will allow us to live in the style to which so many of us have become accustomed, those solutions will be found. That kind of magical thinking is appealing but unrealistic (Jensen 2010).”

Avoiding grim realities is a full-time job for many people in this culture. Confronting these realities means acknowledging that despite the heroic work of the mainstream environmental movement for the past decades, we are losing on every front. To quote Paul Hawken.

“Every living system on earth is in decline. There hasn’t been a peer-reviewed scientific paper released in 40 years that contradicts that statement.”

We face a truly horrific future: four degrees C warming by 2060, with the attendant droughts, floods, intensification of storms, accelerating species loss (some studies suggest 1/3 of all species will be lost by 2100), growing dead zones in the oceans – the list goes on and on. I was in Siberia in summer of 2010 with a group of climate scientists, and I saw the permafrost starting to thaw. This is only one of the most horrifying positive feedbacks, one among many: the dieback of Amazon and Boreal forests, the ice albedo feedback, shifts in monsoon patterns.

To move forward, we are going to need to peer ever deeper into the psychology of the culture, searching for new strategies and tactics and inspiring new levels of commitment. If we want a world that has more salmon every year than the year before, more songbirds every year than the year before, cleaner air and water and food every year than the year before, we are going to need to come up with serious strategies that address the oppressive power structures of civilization that are abusive, violent, and non-repentant. We must match the destructiveness of the culture with our determination to see it stopped.

Read Decisive Ecological Warfare, a strategy which matches the scale of the problem with a realistic solution.