“Everything is Going According to Plan”: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene

“Everything is going according to plan. I don’t know whose plan it is, and I think that it’s a really stupid plan, but everything is going according to it anyway.”
— Dmitry Orlov


“What If It’s Already Too Late”

I had a terrible thought recently …

“What if it’s already too late?”

Actually, this idea has been haunting me, hovering on the boundary between my conscious and unconscious mind, for some time.

In 2016, Bill McKibben, founder of the climate activist organization 350.org, came to speak at a rally at the BP tar sands refinery in my “backyard” in the highly industrialized northwest corner Indiana.  The occasion was a series of coordinated direct actions around the world against the fossil fuel industry, collectively hailed as the largest direct action in the history of the environmental movement.

What struck me about McKibben’s speech, though, was its tone of … well, hopelessness. Here’s how he concluded his 10 minute speech:

“I wish that I could guarantee you that we’re all going to win in the end, the whole thing. And I can’t, because we…

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11 thoughts on ““Everything is Going According to Plan”: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene

  1. The man who discovered the hole in the Ozone (Lovejoy, I think is his name) said it’s too late. He’s forecasting about 30 to 50 years before a sizeable portion of London is underwater and the same for several other major population centers and the Sahara taking over the Med pushing a massive population surge into Southern Europe.

    Several years ago I came across an essay where someone said that War and Peace was a footnote to Thucydides and that the combined point was that history comes down to the mass movement of people and there’s nothing you can do about it. Of course that was before the full force of the industrial and tech revolutions – where things have become even worse.

    Per an earlier discussion check out After the Deluge, by Jackson Browne.

    Hopefully he’s wrong.

    • I’ve had a bit of doomed feeling since my early 20s in the late ’90s. Part of that was my depression talking. And surely my mind was put in that frame earlier when watching too many post-apocalyptic movies in my childhood.

      But I can’t dismiss it so easily. There was a foreboding mood at the time that many others shared. Maybe it was a post-cold war malaise. I don’t know. It felt like than that, though.

      Even though Wall Street was going gangbusters, there was a recession going on for GenXers and things were getting worse for poor minorities. At that point, wages had already been stagnating for a couple of decades, from since the year before I was born, and inequality had been steadily climbing.

      Plus, climate change was becoming politicized. A lot was being politicized at that time with the rise of right-wing talk radio and Fox News. For those paying attention, we didn’t need a 9/11 terrorist attack and a 2008 recession to tell us America had already seen its bettter days. That dour sense was driven home for me by reading Derrick Jensen’s early work.

      • Also a “GenXer” so I understand and agree with the importance/significance of your touchstones. California in the 80s was a waste land of nihilism, faded and burnt out and routed counterculture and the triumphant reactionaries – Reagan’s heirs Deukmejian and Wilson and Prop 13. Another way to frame the narrative is to designate capitalism as both organized crime (part of my point vis David Simon) and as a kind of social disease causing anxiety, depression or in “Marxist” terms, alienation which in turn sparks a host of tensions.

        But of course the dominant and dominating narratives refuse to acknowledge alternative narrative frames and instead proscribe government sanctioned drugs.

        Not a happy situation, to say the least.

    • Some predictions have or seem to have proven wrong, an argument my dad has made.

      But that may have been partly through a process of self-refuting prophecy, such as how my dad and others including governments took those warnings seriously at the time which lead to real world actions, from environmental regulations to decreases in number of children. My parents have said they decided to have fewer children directly because of environmental warnings, despite my mother having wanted a daughter (I was the last chance for a daughter and they even had a girl’s name picked for me).

      Or else predictions seemed off because of narrow and misleading data. Paul Ehrlich made a wager that he lost based on one set of data but which he would have won if all the data had been looked at. Even some of the loudest doomsayers from last century were careful to state that major catastrophes maybe wouldn’t come until later in this century. And it was understood that there could be possible delays depending on collective action and inaction, along with other unpredictable factors in a complex system.

      Just imagine how fucked up global society would be right now if all of the major nations hadn’t spent the past several decades enforcing environmental regulations (e.g., decreasing lead pollution). Obviously, we haven’t done enough to entirely avoid large-scale death and collapse — way too little, way too lat. But if we had done nothing at all, we would already have long been in full global crisis in all its horrific glory. We bought ourselves some time. Too bad we didn’t use that time wisely.

      • It’s clearly a mixed bag as you describe it. Things could be far worse but needless to say they’re not very good. I’m not sure if Lovejoy is correct but even if he’s not, it’s not as if the less awful scenarios are that much less awful.

        I keep coming back to Jaynes and the idea (my riff on his idea) that consciousness may be a kind of mistake or mal-adaption and as a result mass extinction through environmental collapse makes sense.

        I would love to be wrong.

        • The bicameral mind was stable but not adaptable. Whereas post-bicameral consciousness is adaptable but not stable. Our civilization won’t likely last the many millennia of the Bronze Age civilizations.

          This fits into my thought that reactionaries, as the shadow and spawn of Axial Age proto-liberalism, is inherently transitional in nature. Reactionaries destabilize — that is what they do. And as reaction is so deeply embedded within our cultural project, instability is our Achilles’ heel.

          Our society never had any hope of finding homeostasis within and equilibrium without. We always were only going to last for as long as the environment could absorb our waste and destruction. Now the bill is coming due.

          • that’s a brilliant summation – stable but not adaptable vs adaptable but not stable. Brilliant!

            And the rest follows logically from that first statement.

            We’re really in a terrible jam.

            I told someone I’m about 90% certain it’s all hopeless and they asked what about the other 10% and I said: That’s the part where I’m too depressed to care.

            As I said I would love to be wrong but I feel like it’s the end of Butch Cassidy where they run out of the barn and the scene just fades away.

          • Let me throw out a related thought. We’ve been talking about the Trickster lately. That is the archetype of our age. The Trickster personifies instability and adaptability. The two faces and forms of the Trickster are the radical and the reactionary. It is an agent of change.

            In one post, I went into great detail about the Trickster’s role in symbolic conflation. And in how the reactionary makes for a greater Trickster figure. The Trickster constantly shifts everything, steals the fire of the gods only to set the world on fire… and likely painfully burning off his own testicles in the process. Lewis Hyde goes into the Trickster dynamic of how the body, sometimes through mortification, breaks and remakes a narrative worldview and sometimes an entire social order. But that is another issue.

            The Trickster, as change itself, is hard to pin down. It usually takes the Trickster to pin himself down in some strange contortions falling into his own trap or otherwise fooling himself in trying to fool others. The Trickster is a self-destructive being. Once a social order is established, the keepers and controllers of shared story seek to make his bufoonery into a noble sacrifice and so force the Trickster into the costume of cultural hero, tying him down until he escapes once again and throws everything back into chaos. The Trickster doesn’t make for a stable founding narrative or scripted cultural dynamic, no matter how once dresses it up.

            That is where we find ourselves. The Trickster is our god, our lord and master. He is what postbicameral consciousness is all about. Tricksiness and deception became an issue with the Axial Age, with the rise of the detached mind, abstract thought, and manipulative rhetoric. The individualistic egoic mind became the new force that dominated and possessed humanity, the force of control that falsely persuades us that we are in control. So, we become obsessed with control as our society goes further out of control. Consciousness creates the unconscious, the radical the reactionary. The Trickster comes into his own and plays his games.

            It might help to explore one particular Trickster narrative. The Trickster in some guise (fox or raven, nature spirit or witch, primal being or creatrix) is being chased by someone (a deadly hunter, a lascivious lover or potential rapist, an authoritarian king, a patriarchal god, etc) who wishes to capture it. In eluding the pursuant, the Trickster shapeshifts into ever new forms, demonstrating its immense creativity. This often either sets down a story for the creation of the entire world as we know it or establishes the cultural world of a specific people (e.g., Brahma lustfully seeking to take hold of Saraswati who changes into diverse forms that become all of the beings of this world).

            Based on this archetypal pattern, let me make my own prediction. The technological utopians, often right-wingers (libertarians, Objectivists and ancaps), fantasize about our being saved by innovative and inventive genius, as if the very people who drove us off the cliff are mid-fall going to dismantle the car and reconstruct it into a plane that will catch flight right before we hit the ground. There is an element of truth to this fantasy. As society goes into crisis, the Trickster archetype will be activated and, in desperation, many amazing solutions and responses will be attempted. There will be an age of renaissance, although I doubt it will pull us through to the other side of crisis. But in that moment, the best and the brightest will briefly put off dazzling sparks in the darkness.

            It’s maybe not unlike how the Bronze Age empires reached their zenith in that last era right before collapse. They had reached their penultimate form of stability. That made it all the more easy for external forces to shake them to the ground. So, World War III will be humanity putting on the greatest show ever seen with weapons and tactics never before imagined. And then, as Einstein predicted, World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. If we truly are near the end of this civilizational project, we should be soon be watching the fully bloom of the Trickster archetype, one last demonstration of what consciousness is capable of. Our civilization will go down swinging.

  2. “…Yet we are still, as a matter of fact, in the same old jungle, where the individual is still threatened by dangerous factors-by machines, methods, organizations, etc., even more dangerous than the wild animals. Something has not apparently changed at all: we have carried the old jungle with us, and this is what nobody seems to understand.

    The jungle is in us, in our unconscious, and we have succeeded in projecting it into the outside world, where now the saurians are lustily playing about again in the form of cars, airplanes, and rockets. Now, if a psychologist should participate in your world organization, he would be up against the thankless task of making his colleagues from other disciplines see where they have the blind spot. Do you think that such a thing would be possible? I have already tried it for about 6o years, and there are relatively few individuals who were inclined to listen to me.

    The human mind, still an adolescent boy, will sacrifice everything for a new gadget but will carefully refrain from a look into himself.”
    -Letters of C.G. Jung, Volume 2

  3. I was thinking about this post in relation to the YouTube transcript I posted. That speaker, in discussing the wild and weird world of internet media, made the point that we (including all of the smart experts and tech geeks) haven’t even come close to understanding what we are doing and where it is leading. I don’t see that as separate from the quote I picked out for this post. Yes, everything is going according to plan. It just so happens the plan is stupid or rather self-defeating and self-destructive. But it’s a brilliant plan for short term power, privilege, and profit.

    Then again, maybe they can’t be bothered to care, based on the assumption that it will be someone else’s problem later on. What they don’t realize is that it is later than they think. Last generation’s plutocrats got away with the goods. But. this generation’s plutocrats might find themselves caught holding the bag. Eventually, there won’t be anywhere for them to escape to. And if economy and society collapses, all their crony wealth and accrued property won’t mean much.

    These people have never lacked for plans. They are endlessly scheming. And it’s worked out well for them so far. Conservatives, in their attraction to fear-mongering and scapegoating, have made for useful idiots in implementing these plans. The fear and anxiety, however manipulated, wasn’t wrong even as it was misdirected toward the wrong causes and blamed on the wrong people. Those in power thought they could create their own reality, simply because they could convince some of the population to believe anything. They will become victims of their own success.

    We are all equals standing before mass destruction and death.

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