By Ben Barker / Deep Green Resistance Wisconsin
Children learn early on to trust their parents. Adults are, without a moment’s hesitation, relied upon to take care of problems and make everything okay. When problems do arise, children may not even be aware of the unease, shielded as they are by the eternal wisdom of their elders, who surely will guide any troubles to a course of comfort and deliver the world, once again, to balance.
This is a story ubiquitous and seemingly obvious enough to make saying it aloud almost strange. Trust in the adults around you is, to the child, as normal as air and water, as self-evident as life itself. More unspoken is that the care delivered from parent to child requires, by definition, long-term thinking: a vision of the world in which this child will grow and a plan for how the parent can positively shape the outcome. Why would a child second-guess this, when all of life’s necessities seem to be taken care of?
It’s time to take another guess. Not because parents shouldn’t take care of children in these ways and not because parents aren’t capable of it; my friends who are parents exemplify that this is not the case (and, I should add, would probably stop returning my phone calls if I tried to claim otherwise). Rather, it is because, whether child or adult, we can no longer unwittingly rely on caretakers to think long-term for us or teach us how to think that way ourselves.
Ours is a culture defined by short-term and impulsive thinking for immediate (perceived) gains, regardless of the (obvious) long-term costs. Tragically, too many children will grow to find the adults in their lives under this same thrall, acting not from wisdom, care, or foresight, but from greed, selfishness, and hatred.
This is the story of the dominant culture. Just substitute citizens of empire for the child and those who run the empire for the parental figure. Greed, selfishness, and hatred are not traits inherent in human beings, but are as a matter of course learned from this culture of capitalism, patriarchy, and industrial civilization. We are not children anymore, but subservient just the same when we choose to ignore the glaring and painful reality before us in favor of that soothing fairy tale.
It doesn’t get more irresponsible than the decisions made by this culture’s decision-makers. From the oppression of human beings to the wholesale destruction of the natural world, the choices that have lead—and continue to lead—to atrocities are made by the same kind of adults raising children under the fairy tale spell that everything is going to be all right.
Everything is not all right and it’s not going to be all right as long as we blindly trust those in power to make choices of good will, to make choices with our collective futures in mind. Presently, the world is being ripped to pieces: rivers are full of poison; whole mountains are exploded; supremacy is used to justify the vast subjugation of human populations. The first step to halting these disasters is to take an honest look at who is causing them.
The clarity of naming a perpetrator opens the door on the many routes available to those who wish to stop them. But, as long as we cling to the myths about being unconditionally cared for by those who make decisions on our behalves—parents, teachers, bosses, politicians, CEOs—we are cut off from seeing the possible reality that it is these same people who are enacting or colluding with the perpetration. Not only do the powerful neglect our safety, but they jeopardize our future. It doesn’t matter how old you are; the almost-holy trust placed in parents by children is no different than that most people place in the system and those who run it. This is to say it’s never too late to admit to the thrall enslaving your perceptions—and it’s never too late to snap out of it.
That most people will not admit to an infantilizing dependency on being controlled does not change that, time and time again, they submit their wills to the whims of the powerful. In this culture of It’s Just The Way Things Are; blown up mountains, broken rivers, and suffering human beings do not even faze a depressingly large number of people. This is not because of an inability to love, but because of a thick denial of the truth that what politicians and corporations promise are simply lies (unless, of course, they are promising to maintain the American Way Of Life, in which case they are telling bloody and devastating truths).
How much betrayal does it take for someone to lose trust? How much destruction can the dominant culture administer against the world before a mass movement rises to end it? I would have hoped that a near-dead planet—the eradication of most large fish in the oceans, most prairies, most old-growth forests, most indigenous humans—would do it, but apparently not. As we see.
And, why? Faith in so-called superiors to think long-term is an addiction as sure as abusive relationships can be, as sure as alcoholism is. We think these people or these substances will guide us to salvation, but in our refusal to see the glaring and irredeemable violence that makes up their very nature, they steal from under us the ground we stand on, the foundation of our humanity and the possibility for a better life. The abuser steals self-respect, the alcohol steals personality, and the culture steals a living planet.
If our parents, our elders, and our leaders are not guaranteed to take responsibility for what may happen in times to come, then it falls on the rest of us. Elders are vital to any community, but if they only teach poison and passivity, we—the world, we—are better off without them.
Now is the time for us to look at the planet as it truly is and ask what it needs from us. It’s time to ask what the world will look like in five, ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred years, and what we can do to affect this. With global warming reaching a tipping point of irreversibility, with 200 species of life vanishing from the Earth every new day, it should be clear what kind of endpoint the current trajectory—the path either endorsed or unsuccessfully challenged by our parents—is leading to.
Liars will tell us to look away, but we must not. It will take unspeakable courage, but it is now or never to think for ourselves and, most importantly, to think for the future. After all, someone has to.
Beautiful Justice is a monthly column by Ben Barker, a writer and community organizer from West Bend, Wisconsin. Ben is a member of Deep Green Resistance and is currently writing a book about toxic qualities of radical subcultures and the need to build a vibrant culture of resistance.