We’ve covered Vince Emanuele’s work before, and this piece is a useful call to realistic organizing. Effective resistance will not emerge because we wish it to be so. It will only emerge as the result of hard, disciplined work and political organizing to take us from where we are now (A) to where we need to be (Z) via a series of intermediate steps. Emanuele calls for us to learn the difference between organizing vs. mobilizing, and apply those lessons.
We must also note that this piece contains elements we disagree with. This includes a critique of anti-civilization politics. The point is well taken, but if the ecologically necessary is politically infeasible, we must change what is politically possible. The other way around is impossible. We also find Emanuele’s critique of Chris Hedges to be unnecessary; again, his point is well taken, but Hedges has done a great deal to raise awareness of and to support movements for change. This piece will be controversial in other ways as well, as it was meant to be, but it is worth reading. Diversity of thought will produce more effective outcomes than ideological conformity.
By Vincent Emanuele
In 2006, I attended a sizeable antiwar protest in Washington D.C. Tens of thousands of activists filled the streets as far as the eye could see. Office buildings and monuments became our only reliable geographical coordinates. At the time, large protests were the norm: millions of Americans were in the streets opposing Bush’s illegal and immoral war in Iraq (but we couldn’t get many people to speak out about Afghanistan).
A couple of years later, I testified at the Winter Soldier Hearings in Silver Springs, Maryland, where dozens of veterans shared stories about war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I arrived at the venue, an older Vietnam veteran came up to me and said, “Vinny! We’re gonna end this war! Those fuckers in the White House will have to respond to us now. No way they [the media and politicians] can ignore the vets!” He believed in the power of narrative and symbolic protest, a victim of the post-1968 left political culture.
Unfortunately yet predictably, in hindsight, the powers that be did ignore the Winter Soldier Hearings — as did 99% of Americans who never even knew the event happened. Tens of thousands of dollars spent (perhaps hundreds of thousands). Leftwing media abound. The results? Some new donors and members. The strategy? There was none. The whole event was a performative and symbolic spectacle meant to “shift the narrative” — typical NGO babble.
Years later, Occupy kicked off, and the same dynamics played out. Tens of thousands of Americans took the streets and engaged in prefigurative politics. In those days, consensus decision-making and participatory everything was all the rage. Of course, we accomplished very little during Occupy’s heyday. We remained stuck in Mobilizing Mode, speaking only with like-minded people who already self-identified as progressives and radicals. We never expanded our base. Yes, the narrative shifted from austerity to inequality, but actual political power (the state, capital, the courts) moved to the right.
The Tea Party took the house in 2010. Republican governors across the U.S. passed anti-union ‘Right to Work’ legislation and stripped public unions of their ability to bargain collectively. The Supreme Court became dominated by right-wing conservatives. The same in the lower courts and state legislatures. Voter rights were turned back, with hundreds of thousands of black voters disenfranchised. Whistle-blowers were attacked and jailed. NSA surveillance programs expanded. ICE became more powerful, as did the CIA. The drone program expanded, as did the never-ending wars. Fracking, off-shore drilling, and tar sands became the norm. Republicans took back the U.S. Senate in 2014, and Donald Trump was elected POTUS in 2016 — hardly a good period for the left, though some leftists disagree.
Indeed, some of my friends argue that the post-9/11 era has seen a resurgent left. To some degree, that’s true: more organizations, movements, and leftwing electoral campaigns exist today than did in the 1980s or 1990s, and the Democratic Party is surely less neoliberal than it was ten years ago, but that’s a pretty low bar. Many of these efforts are hollow (lacking large numbers of ordinary people) and incapable of wielding substantial power. Unions are on the ropes. Black Lives Matter (BLM) remains amorphous, at best. And groups like DSA, OurRevolution, the Greens, the People’s Party, and various other progressive-left NGOs face the problem every self-selected political group, small or large, faces: namely, the question of how to build and employ power in a non-structure.
In this strategic and methodological vacuum, many leftists opt for a fictional approach to politics. Here, I’m thinking of the anarcho-syndicalists, anti-civilization activists, online leftists, and various others whose politics bear no resemblance to our political and social composition and material conditions. It’s as if people have spent so much time socially alienated that they’ve forgotten that we do, in fact, live in a society (contrary to Margaret Thatcher’s absurd sentiments), one that’s shaped by existing systems and institutions, networks, and relationships.
Many leftists treat politics no different than a role-playing game (RPG). In RPGs, players control a fictional character who navigates a fantasy world defined by specific regulations, settings, norms, and rules. As Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams write in their book, On Game Design, “The [RPG] game world is often a speculative fiction (i.e., fantasy or science fiction) one, which allows players to do things they cannot do in real life.”
Leftists who advocate for revolution, insurrection, or massive uprisings (all common suggestions from left commentators who have virtually no experience organizing actual working-class people) are not only irresponsible and unserious, engaging in a political form of RPG— they’re dangerous and counter-productive.
At its core, politics is about power. And power is wielded through force, coercion, or social control. Since the existing left can’t implement any of those approaches, it makes little sense to suggest that working-class Americans “take to the streets.” Again, calls for people to engage in “mass resistance” usually come from commentators who have little connection to actual working-class political organizations. For example, in a recent article, Chris Hedges writes:
Yet, to fail to act, and this means carrying out mass, sustained acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in an attempt to smash the megamachine, is spiritual death . . . The capacity to exercise moral autonomy, to refuse to cooperate, to wreck the megamachine, offers us the only possibility left to personal freedom and a life of meaning. Rebellion is its own justification. It erodes, however imperceptibly, the structures of oppression. It sustains the embers of empathy and compassion, as well as justice. These embers are not insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human. They keep alive the possibility, however dim, that the forces that are orchestrating our social murder can be stopped. Rebellion must be embraced, finally, not only for what it will achieve, but for what it will allow us to become. In that becoming we find hope.
Engaging in “mass, sustained acts of nonviolent disobedience” is a tactic, not a strategy. And “smashing the megamachine” isn’t a vision. Such appeals might invoke the spirit of resistance and sound nice on paper, but they mean very little without a clear vision of the society we hope to build, the strategy needed to successfully achieve our vision, or the organizations and structures required to carry out such a strategy. This, again, is the problem with commentators making suggestions about how people should respond to our cascading and multi-layered crises. Punditry is not the same as organizing. Commentating is not the same as strategizing.
Likewise, the religious left’s over-moralizing provides no path forward. What, exactly, does it mean to have the “capacity to exercise moral autonomy?” Yes, we should encourage strikes, or what Hedges calls “refusing cooperation,” but those acts require highly disciplined and organized bases of supporters (ask the CTU), ordinary people, who are engaged, empowered, and sophisticated enough to develop a collective identity. That doesn’t simply happen through people “taking to the streets.” Millions of Americans took to the streets in 2020. The results? Joe Biden barely won the White House; Democrats took a beating in down-ballot races; right-wing protesters attempted a coup; and there’s no evidence to suggest that long-lasting political organizations with a clear, serious, and sophisticated vision have developed as a result of the George Floyd uprisings.
Americans have long been obsessed with the concepts of “personal freedom” and “meaning.” We need a serious discussion about what “personal freedom” looks like in the 21st century. In the context of a rapidly growing global population and runaway climate change and ecological devastation, it’s not entirely clear. In addition, I’m skeptical of any pursuit of “meaning” and agree with Avital Ronnel: the pursuit of meaning has many fascist undertones. Here, the religious left and the fascist right share a common ideological orientation — whereas some of us can function perfectly well operating under the assumption that our existence, our life, our being, carries no inherent meaning, others relentlessly pursue a life of meaning, often accompanied by a dogmatic sense of moral righteousness. “It’s our duty to do the right thing!” No, it’s not. Human beings have no inherent “moral duty,” and surely no collectively decided upon “moral duty” (unless I missed the meeting).
If all the left can offer ordinary working-class people is a set of lofty moral sentiments, vague and non-strategic calls for rebellion, and silly calls for hope, it makes more sense for ordinary people to remain on the sidelines and enjoy themselves until the whole damn system collapses. Without a serious plan, that’s the only rational response to the system we endure and the context in which we live. Rebellion is not its own justification, unless, of course, one believes human beings have a purpose on this planet. I don’t. Rebellion without a serious, viable, and strategic plan is an act of political suicide or fantastical role-playing. Extinction Rebellion is a perfect example of this sort of childish and non-strategic approach to political activism/mobilizing.
The inability to articulate a vision that has a serious connection to material reality or the forces that currently dominate and comprise our political, economic, cultural, and social institutions is a problem the anarcho and religious left has faced for at least as long as I’ve been engaged in political activism and organizing (fifteen years), if not for decades. Appeals to “erode structures of oppression,” which sound pretty on paper, mean utterly nothing to organizers and working-class people who are strategizing on the ground. Further, calls to “erode structures of power” fall into the same failed category of “anti-politics” that the anarcho-left has peddled for years: constantly calling for “dismantling” this, or “abolishing” that, or “resisting,” but never articulating a viable vision for the 7.8 billion people who live on this planet, never building, never winning — always on the defensive; hence, always focused on destruction.
The only way to “keep alive the possibility” that capitalists/bosses and right-wing zealots/fascists (we should name our enemies and targets) can be stopped is by actually stopping them. And the only way to stop them is by engaging in deep-organizing. The left’s current approach to politics isn’t working. Simply repeating the cycle will only engender more apathy and cynicism. Moralizing won’t cut it. And left-wing virtue-signaling is embarrassing. Leftists with a platform have a responsibility to change course.
Hedges should know better. He’s not intellectually lazy. Does he not speak with organizers? Does he not understand the difference between Mobilizing and Organizing? Does he not believe that vision and strategy are essential components to victory? Does he not think about what victory would look like? Does he enjoy writing the same essay over and over again? Wolin. Camus. Conrad. Freud. Arendt. Horrors of society; Nazi reference, followed by small glimmers of hope and vague calls for resistance. Rinse. Repeat.
It feels like I’ve been reading the same Chris Hedges essay for ten fucking years. When I was 25 years old, reading Hedges was provocative, challenging, and interesting. Today, it’s boring, predictable, and unproductive.
I also find it very interesting that a guy who supposedly loathes electoral politics decided to run for U.S. Congress as a member of the Green Party. Why not help develop a serious independent left media entity? You know, instead of a bunch of assholes on YouTube operating as individuals, pushing their individual brands. Why not organize with working-class people with the aim of conducting “massive acts of civil-disobedience?” Turns out, that work is difficult. Turns out, Hedges’ ideology and assumptions about the working-class would quickly evaporate if he had to actually put them to the test.
Talking about politics is easy. Actually doing politics is difficult. Instead of participating in the hard part, Hedges regurgitates decade-old lines about resistance and throws his hat in the ring for elected office, yet has the audacity to talk shit about groups (DSA) and politicians (Sanders) who actually win reforms in the real world. That garbage might impress someone sitting at home, but it doesn’t impress those of us who are actually organizing.
In the end, I don’t believe in hope or moral duty. And I’m very skeptical of the concept of justice, which I think lends itself to a form of punitive politics, often aimed at the wrong people. I believe in the power of ordinary people and their ability to wield it at their workplaces, in their communities, and through the state. I believe in using state power. I believe in material results in the material world. I don’t care about spirituality. I believe in plans, discipline, and individual and collective accountability. I believe in winning. I believe in living.
Everything else, for me, is leftwing Pokémon and I don’t have time for it, nor do any of the organizers I know who spend their days and nights strategizing as opposed to moralizing and sloganeering. We’re in a life or death battle and we need all hands on deck. That means fewer cartographers of the apocalypse and more strategists for the revolution.
Politics isn’t a dirty word. It simply means “how we make decisions about the direction of our society.” This process has become mired in corruption. Making political change (and therefore economic and social change) requires that we get organized.
Countless activists through history remind us to “Organize, organize, organize,” to “Join an organization.” In response to the question “what can one person do?” they answer: “don’t just be one person.”
But what does it actually mean to get started in political organizing? This article explains the basics of how to start a movement.
Step 1: Find like-minded people
Meeting of sacred site custodians at Lake Langano, Ethiopia 2015
If you want to achieve social change, it is advisable to think about how you are going to organize yourself in the long term. In many cases, you will not achieve your goal after a single protest. Sometimes movements grow very fast and lose focus. Setting up a proper organization will help you to work more effectively and prevent future problems.
The first step is to find like-minded people.
There are many ways to go about this. Most simply, reach out to your friends. Send messages and emails. Consider using online groups and discussion forums. Then invite people to meet face-to-face.
Step 2: Meet Up
Make sure to prepare beforehand and decide who is going to facilitate the event. Decide on a location and time at least two weeks before, so that you have some time to promote it.
Share your event with anyone you want to attend, and prepare for all meetings with an agenda. Open-brainstorming is good, but try to keep meetings and groups action-oriented. Don’t get too bogged down in debate.
Collect and exchange contact info: People who are interested in your initiative may not be able to join your meetings. Create a chat group or ask participants of the brainstorm to fill out a form with their email address and phone number. This way you can reach out to them later if you want to organize another meeting.
In the beginning, aim for two solid people. Then three, then four. Small groups can catalyze major changes, if they have sound strategy, dedication, skills, and can assemble resources to support the goal. Small groups that trust each other and collaborate well may be more effective than larger groups that cannot communicate well or work together smoothly, but large numbers of people create momentum of their own.
Step 3: Make a Plan
Groups and organizations thrive on action. Set a goal or a sequence of goals, even if it is small, and start working towards it. Try to ensure every person has a way to contribute, and re-evaluate and modify strategy as you go.
Step 4: Create Structure
Any organization should have a core set of widely agreed-upon rules and basic principles. Usually, these rules and basic principles are written down.
For example, together you could write down the demands of your organization. This way, it is clear to both your members and the outside world what your organization stands for.
Consider the following ideas: principles, goals, rules/code of conduct, demands, and organizational structure.
Step 5: Take action
In political organizing, action is the central goal. Everything should be organized to support action. But understand that action can look different, depending on the organization. Action does not refer to direct action alone. Deep Green Resistance, for example, engages in and supports various types of action, including outreach, pressure campaigns, lawsuits, community organizing, and direct action.
Additional resources to help you get started in political organizing
The book Deep Green Resistance is an excellent guide to organizing.
Banner Photo by JD Doyle on Unsplash. This content is shared under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License. This article is adapted from material at the Activist Handbook. While we don’t agree with everything in that document, it is a useful starting point for beginners.
This story was first published in Learning Earthways.
By George R Price.
[Part 1 of this essay can be found here.]
The points in time at which various ancient human societies began to go the wrong way (whether by force from outsiders, or by bad decisions made from within) are numerous and span thousands of years, but, thankfully for our future, some few remotely-situated Indigenous societies around the world never departed from those basic, ancient ways of seeing and living with the natural world and still have enough of their ancestral homelands not yet confiscated or destroyed by colonialist predators to make that continuance possible. The Kogi people of the northern Andes mountains in Colombia are a prime and now well-known example, as are some of the more remote tribes to the south and east of them in the Amazon rainforest. Other relatively intact traditional indigenous societies exist in remote locations in central Africa, the Pacific islands, northern and southeastern Asia, and a few other remote locations in the Americas and elsewhere. It is by learning from people such as these, and from all of our relations in the non-human world as well, that we might be able to find our way back to truly green, sustainable and regenerative ways of life. There are also many more Indigenous peoples throughout the world who have just a little or none of their ancestral homelands still accessible to them, retain only pieces of their traditional cultural values and practices, and have just a small number of tribal members who are still fluent in their ancestral languages. Colonialism, capitalism, cultural oppression, and intercultural relations have brought many changes to them, but, even so, for people whose encounter with wrong ways of living is more recent than most of the rest of humanity, the way back to truly green eco-harmony might be a little easier.
Unless a community consciously agrees to put the needs of their entire local ecosystem and all lives within it first, above what they conceive to be human needs, their community will someday fail and collapse.
As clearly as we now see that the concept of utopian societies was never meant to mean “perfect” societies, it should also be clearly understood that traditional Indigenous societies were never perfect either, just as no human society has ever been perfect and none ever will. But, model ideal societies do not have to be perfect to provide inspiration, wisdom, and direction for our paths forward into the difficult future. It is interesting to note that the first contacts that European colonialists and their descendants had with Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere (or, “the Americas” and the first people to be called “Americans”) inspired a small wave of utopian thinking that lasted for centuries, and now, in this time of profound global crises, many people are looking to Indigenous individuals, societies and cultures for guidance and leadership towards resolution of the current crises and for ways to create viable, Earth-sustaining and regenerative future communities. Many utopian community social experiments have come and gone over the last five centuries, and one reason why the vast majority of them failed is that they did not look closely enough at the models to be found in Indigenous societies all over the world. While some communities have mimicked Indigenous, eco-based, reciprocal economic models to some extent, and others have imitated Indigenous representative political models, there are two elements of the original ways of human social organization, which nearly all non-Indigenous-led utopian communal experiments have missed, and which are essential to ideal community success. One element is the understanding that humans are just one of millions of types of people (or, “species”) who all have the potential to make essential, invaluable contributions to the interconnected web of regenerative life on Earth. All species of the living world belong here and need each other. People from anthropocentric, “human needs first,” or “humans-are-most-important,” or “humans are superior to all other species” societies have an extremely difficult time trying to see that, unless they somehow acquire a special ability to break free from that very powerful mass delusion. Unless a community consciously agrees to put the needs of their entire local ecosystem and all lives within it first, above what they conceive to be human needs, their community will someday fail and collapse. A big step on the way to getting there is to realize that the greatest human need is to be in tune with the needs of the entire living organism to which we are all connected.
The second element is the need to learn how to have deep communion or interactive communication (listening, hearing, and being heard) with all of our non-human relations in the natural world (animals, plants, earth, water, fire and air). That idea sounds very unreal, or even impossible, to most modern humans today, but there are many stories and indications that most of our species once had and commonly engaged in such abilities, throughout most of our history as homo sapiens sapiens. Although I probably will not be able to recover much of our former fluency in such communion, after 70 years of living in this corrupt, lost, degenerated modern industrial world, I will remain committed to working on that quest for all of the remaining time that I have to live in this body, with all of the species by which I am surrounded. Why? Because I expect that we can learn more about what Mother Earth wants from us and how we can be healed and corrected, from our innocent, already-connected, harmonious, right-living, non-human relatives than we can from just listening to and following other humans. Daniel Wildcat (Yuchi, Muskogee), professor of American Indian Studies at Haskell University, helped to clarify this Indigenous perspective in his ground-breaking 2009 book, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge:
Current scientific research on animal communication overwhelmingly verifies the existence of complex communication systems. Honesty and humility require us to acknowledge that indigenous knowledge, in its diverse substance and structure, is the result of collaboration, a respectful partnership, between us and our many other-than-human relatives. Several tribal elders I have known have been almost matter-of-fact about their ability to exercise interspecies communication with animals.
The old ability to also commune with and hear the languages of the plant beings is eloquently described by Potawatomi scholar and award-winning nature writer, Robin Wall Kimmerer in a recent essay that was re-published in Yes! magazine:
The Indigenous story tradition speaks of a past in which all beings spoke the same language and life lessons flowed among species. But we have forgotten—or been made to forget—how to listen so that all we hear is sound, emptied of its meaning. The soft sibilance of pine needles in the wind is an acoustic signature of pines. But this well-known “whispering of pines” is just a sound, it is not their voice….Traditional cultures who sit beneath the white pines recognize that human people are only one manifestation of intelligence in the living world. Other beings, from Otters to Ash trees, are understood as persons, possessed of their own gifts, responsibilities, and intentions. This is not some kind of mistaken anthropomorphism….Trees are not misconstrued as leaf-wearing humans but respected as unique, sovereign beings equal to or exceeding the power of humans.
We definitely won’t get to successful, regenerative, natural Life-connected communities just from reading books written by other humans. This is not a simple philosophical exercise or an intellectual parlor game. We have to actually live the interconnected life, under natural laws and the wise limits of Mother Earth, on a finite but abundantly sufficient planet. That was the old normal way of living for the vast majority of our species, for the overwhelming majority of the time of our existence in Earth.
Some other essential elements for successful utopian societies at this particular moment in global history, besides the two most important elements mentioned above, include:
- A group of people with a common enough vision or sense of direction, not excessive in population for the particular place in which they live so that they do not overshoot the carrying capacity of their local ecosystem or need to trade with the world outside their community for material goods, and can help to maintain regenerative processes and relationships between all species of life in that local ecosystem/community. Eventually, the community would need to determine their own membership or citizenship requirements and limits.
- Access to sufficient land and clean water. This might require that people pool their financial resources and purchase land together. A more remote rural location would be safer, but for people who feel that they must remain living in urban locations, at least for the short-term future, city or town governments sometimes lease vacant lots relatively cheap for use as community gardens.
- Sufficient collective knowledge and experience within the community membership about how to care for and nurture a wide variety of edible plants, either native to the place where the community lives or compatible with that ecosystem, to organically grow or gather for food and medicine. Knowledge in sustainable, respectful hunting and fishing might also be useful or necessary.
- A commitment by all community members to expanding the community’s collective knowledge of the lifeways and connections between all species in the community’s ecosystem and learning how humans best fit into the interconnected purposes of life in that place. Knowledge of the lifeways of the people who were, or still are, indigenous to that place is an essential part of this process. As much as it may be possible, that knowledge should come directly from the people who are indigenous to the community’s place, whenever and how much they may be willing to share that knowledge, and such people should be invited into those communities and have leadership roles there, if they choose to do so. Generally, though, most Indigenous peoples would prefer to form their own ideal communities on their own ancestral lands or reservations.
- Although ideal or utopian communities may need to use some money to get the community started, ideal communal economies should eventually become moneyless, direct-from-and-back-to-nature (ecologically reciprocal), mutually reciprocal, life-giving and sharing societies. In the formerly normal pre-monetary world, a society’s wealth was received directly from relationship with the natural world and was preserved or enhanced by maintaining a good, respectful, reciprocal relationship with the natural world. If our economic dependency is on the well-being of local natural systems, that is what we take care of and if our dependency is upon money, then that is what we care about most. In old Indigenous societies, the honorable attitude was to look out for the well-being of all people (human and non-human) in the community, give generously without worrying about what you will receive in return, and NOT measure out individual material possessions mathematically, to assure exactly equal portions of everything to each individual. In a culturally generous gifting economy, sometimes individuals or families would be honored in a ceremony and receive many gifts from the community, making them temporarily rich in material possessions. On another occasion a family or individual might sponsor a feast for the whole community and give gifts to all who attended until they had no more possessions left to give. When such activities were frequent and commonplace and people knew that they were connected to a generous, caring, cooperative, reciprocating community, of both human and non-human beings, there was no anxiety or sense of loss about giving one’s possessions away. Generosity was such a highly-esteemed, honorable character trait, that people sometimes actually competed with each other to become the most generous. There was also social shaming attached to being stingy or greedy, which is seen in some of the old stories, along with the stories about generosity and other positive traits.
- The community would need to mutually agree upon a governing structure and decision-making processes for issues that involve or impact the entire community (including the ecosystem and non-human members of the community). Community rules and laws should conform to and not violate nature’s laws. Effective government depends on mutual respect and/or love, listening and communication skills, common core vision and goals, honesty, transparency, and a commitment by all community members to working on and continually improving their self-governing skills.
- Democratic or consensus decision-making about what technologies and tools will be allowed in the community, again giving highest regard to what would be best for the entire ecological community and for the connected biosphere of our whole planet.
Here again are the first two necessary elements of ideal community creation (explained above, before this list), reduced to nutshell, outline form:
- Relinquish all anthropocentrism and any concepts of human superiority over all of the other species that we share interconnected life with in our ecosystems and in the entire biosphere of Mother Earth. Recognize the interconnected value of all species of life and keep that recognition at the forefront of all community decision making. (How can the species that is the most destructive to Life on Earth be rightfully considered “superior” to any other species, much less to all of them?)
- All individuals in the community should commit themselves to actively developing our formerly common human abilities to commune deeply with and communicate (listening, hearing, and being heard) with other species in our inter-connected natural world. Since, for many of us, our ancestors lost those abilities hundreds or even thousands of years ago, a community should make no requirements about the speed at which those abilities should be developed. It should not be a contest, but, instead, a mutually-encouraging, enjoyable, natural process. With each successful step that any individual makes in this endeavor, the entire community gains greater ability to more closely follow nature’s laws and gains a better sense of how humans were meant to participate in and contribute to Earth’s living systems.
There are probably many more essential elements of community formation, structure, and actual operation which people may feel they need to consider and discuss. The reason that I titled this essay “Paths (plural) Forward….) was to acknowledge that there will be innumerable forms that ideal communities will take, throughout the world, depending upon the needs of local ecosystems and all of their inhabitants, the will of the particular communities, their sense of the common good, and whatever creative ideas that they come up with.
Some Obstacles and Possible Scenarios on the Near Future Paths Forward, both Good and Bad:
The idea of giving up and abandoning modern technologies is unthinkable and even abhorrent to most present-day humans. Besides those humans who have an abundance or excess of such things, many people around the world who own very few modern technology products are also repulsed by the idea that they might have to give up even the dream or desire to have such things. To abruptly switch to pre-20th century, or earlier, technologies would be excruciatingly painful to most modern, western industrialized people, and even a slow transition would be quite hard. It is possible that, to somewhat ease the transition to truly green and bio-sustainable living, we could just end the production of toxic modern technological products, while still using those things that already exist until they’re spent or broken (but cease immediately from using items that burn fossil fuels or emit other toxic wastes, in their production or consumption), and then not replace them. Some items could possibly be re-constructed from discarded parts, until such things are no longer available. During the time span in which the old manufactured goods are being used up, people would simultaneously need to be very actively engaged with learning to bio-sustainably produce the things that they actually need and that are actually green or Earth system friendly. That might be, at least in part, what a viable transition could look like. Obviously, most people today would absolutely reject and resist such a change, due partly to not knowing any other way to live, alienation from nature, fear of the unknown, and belief in, addiction to, or imprisonment by their normal material culture. Just wrapping their minds around the realization that so many things that they had always considered to be normal and innocent should probably never have been made, will be nearly inconceivable to most, at least initially. I remember how hard it hit me when I first realized that we just cannot continue to go forward with the status quo social systems and most of their by-products and still have a living world for very long. But how many will give it a second thought or change their minds after personally experiencing the increasingly common excruciating pain of global warming natural disasters? At some very near future point, relief agencies, all of which have finite resources, will not be able to keep up with the increasingly frequent catastrophic events, including more pandemics (connected to thawing permafrost, increased trade and travel, and increasing displacements and migrations of humans and other species). Is the creation of ideal or “utopian” local eco-communities, immediately and proactively—like building the lifeboats before the ship actually sinks—the best possible and most viable path forward, both for humanity and the rest of Life on Earth?
Because of the likelihood that modern industrial humans will not respond quickly or adequately enough to sufficiently (or even significantly) alter our present global destruction trajectory, the creation of utopian eco-communities might become more of a post-collapse source for places of refuge or survival and healing for those relative few who do manage to survive, than a means for actually providing an appealing alternative to continuing with the status quo, or just limiting the harm caused by our predicament. It may be likely that even those of us who would like to create utopian eco-communities would have a hard time doing so as long as the option of continuing with the status quo still exists, because we are so conditioned to depend on or desire many of the things that society offers us. Either way, though—whether prior to the collapse of the status quo or after—the creation of such communities would be a good thing and probably the least futile use of our time, attention and energy.
I offer here a brief assortment of some possible near-future scenarios, both positive and negative:
1. Sometime within the next five years, about 60% of humans around the world decide to create local eco-utopian communities, following the old Indigenous principles described above, and begin the process of abandoning modern industrial technological social systems and structures. Soon after that, we also begin the difficult process of safely de-commissioning all of the existing nuclear power and nuclear weapons facilities in the world and sealing away the radioactive materials therein. The bio-system collapse already set in motion to that point continues, but at a rapidly diminishing rate, as Earth’s regenerating systems are allowed to take over and bring gradual healing and an opportunity for a new direction for humanity, rather than repeating our former disastrous mistakes. As the human people begin to experience the joy of re-discovering our real purpose as part of Earth’s interconnected life-regenerating systems, while simultaneously grieving about all of the increased suffering of the humans who are still stuck in the collapsing, chaotic old industrial societies, and offering refuge to any persons that their communities can take in, many ask each other the question, “why didn’t we start doing this much sooner?”
2. In the initial first few years of the international, local utopian eco-community movement, very few people take it seriously and the vast majority of humanity knows nothing about it. Government security agencies in the wealthiest nations of the world know about it, but only because they spy on everybody, and not because they see the movement as a serious threat, as they assume it would never catch on due to the common unquestioning submission to the system and consumer addictions to modern technology and over-consumption. During those same first few years, the corporate-controlled wealthiest governments are much more concerned with the growing far right wing revolutionary movements in the U.S. and much of Europe than they are with the mild-mannered, willing to work through the system, so-called “left.” The fringe right, or the tail that wags the Republican Party dog, successfully breaks Donald Trump out of prison, and re-elects him as President in 2024, then designates him to be “President-for-life.” Though at one time useful tools for the ruling class’s divide and conquer strategy, at this point the rulers determine that they have become somewhat unmanageable, since an obvious one party state is not as useful or dependable as two parties masquerading as opposites, when they actually serve the same corporate economic masters. So, the corporate rulers decide to make the far right wingers of the U.S. an example to the far right in Europe and to any on the far left in the U.S. who might be encouraged to try something similar with the harder to wag Democratic Party dog. The U.S. military is called in, they stage a coup against Trump and his cohorts, and begin mass imprisonments, and some executions, of many of the remaining right wing revolutionaries (except for the ones who cooperate with the government, making deals and submissions in order to save their “me first” lives). It is only after that that the governments of the wealthy nations of the world and their corporate handlers begin to notice that the utopian community movement had grown exponentially during the years that they were pre-occupied with the far right. Of course they had noticed that consumer spending had diminished considerably throughout the “developed world,” but had attributed that to other usual economic factors and to the extensive hardships caused by the increasing natural disasters, including the most recent pandemics. Once they realize that the eco-utopian movement has the potential to completely bring down the prevailing economic system, they get right on it. One useful tactic they find for dealing with the situation is to employ the now scattered, frustrated, scorned, unemployable, and even more fearful far righters as mercenary soldiers against the eco-utopians, whom they easily scapegoat for the deteriation of the economy, with very little need for indoctrination. Most of the righters agree to serve just because of the promise made to them that they would get their guns back after they complete their service to the country. Simultaneously, the EU, Russia, China and other governments use their more conventional militaries and other methods of persuasion and suppression to deal with the situation.
3. Instead of rejecting modern industrial technological society altogether, the majority decides to try technological “fixes” to our predicament instead. They generally agree that saving the capitalist system, their precious, hard-fought-for careers, and their even more precious levels of material consumption are more important than saving biological life on Earth itself. But, in order to save capitalism and the status quo civilization, and avoid an international socialist revolution, they realize that some more significant and more convincing gestures need to be made toward CO2 reduction. In 2023, production and installation of solar electricity panels and wind farms begins to increase rapidly throughout the world, along with all of the toxic, CO2-producing mining, manufacturing, construction, deforesting and defoliating of natural habitats for new power lines as well as for the new power installations themselves, road-building, hauling of equipment, workers, and the products themselves to retailers and installation sites, and more—all of which involve a huge increase in the burning of fossil fuels. Even though the alleged purpose for all of that increased industrial activity would be to replace fossil fuels with “green energy technologies” at the scale needed to keep the precious system going and growing and create more jobs, the unexpected or oft-denied negative consequences soon become nearly undeniable (but humans have the ability to deny just about anything—or, actually, just anything). The oil, lithium, and “green energy” companies then use their greatly increased profits for advertising and indoctrinating people to trust the new “green” uses for fossil fuels. They also use some of the new profits to purchase the cooperation of additional politicians and entire governments in protecting their enterprises. The bio-system collapse, natural disaster and mass extinction trajectory then continues, at a more rapid rate.
4. By 2033, it becomes widely obvious to the majority of humans that the “green” energy techno-fix for the continuation and growth of modern industrial capitalism is not really that green and is actually exacerbating global warming and the continually increasing environmental catastrophes, while pulling attention and resources away from both the urgently-needed disaster relief and the struggle against the seemingly endless parade of new pandemic diseases. Because they still have not developed any proven technologies or machinery for sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere at anywhere near the rate needed to get back to the 2° C “point of no return,” which we had already passed back in 2028, the ruling class then decides to proceed with the next great, unproven, theoretical techno-fix: injecting sulfides and/or other chemicals into Earth’s only, increasingly fragile, atmosphere in an attempt to block or reduce much of Father Sun’s gift of radiant light and warmth—a technology called “geoengineering,” or artificially forced Earth cooling. Very soon after the first widespread use of that techno-fix, we then get a “Snowpiercer” scenario, but without the horrific, impossible, perpetual-motion prison train “lifeboat.” We just get the entire planet frozen to death.
5. The complete collapse of the modern industrial economy occurs in the year 2029, due to multiple factors (too many to list here, but they include some of those listed in the scenarios above and many things that are actually happening RIGHT NOW). The radical left finally realizes then that a real opportunity for a successful socialist revolution is now upon them, effectively dropped right into their laps. They can actually just vote it right in, throughout the so-called “developed world.” Seeing the writing on the wall, the trillionaires and billionaires decide that the whole planet has become unmanageable and too out of control, so they make one last plundering of the planet’s gifts (a.k.a., “resources”) to build up their private spaceship fleets and build more space stations, in preparation for their last grand exit. Many of the millionaires and wannabe trillionaires do whatever they can to join them and those who fail to make the escape then also fail at a last ditch attempt to save capitalism. Many eco-utopians and eco-socialists advise the more conventional Marxist socialists that socialism will fail without putting the needs of the natural world first (instead of just the humans) and doing away with money. After much productive discussion around the world, in-person and by the internet (whenever the intermittent grid is up and running) it is generally agreed that nation states and empires have run their course, done much more net harm to life in Earth and the common good of humans than their assumed “benefits” can make up for, so the human people decide to abolish all such political entities. They also decide that, instead of nations, human societies should be small, local, eco-centered, non-monetary and truly democratic, while staying in touch with each other through communication networks, with or without the electric grid. For several decades after that glorious beginning, as the Earth begins to heal through natural regenerative processes and the humans begin to discover who they really are and how they fit within the Whole of Life, they also discuss whether or not they should continue to use electricity, and, if so, what limits upon such use does Mother Earth and all our non-human relations recommend to us?
6. OK, just one more possible near-future scenario to give here, although I am sure that we all could think of many more. Nuclear war breaks out between the U.S. and China in 2022, with additional participation from Russia, the EU, and North Korea. China targets both the Yellowstone caldera and the San Andreas fault. We get combined nuclear and volcanic winter, and the Earth freezes to death. A couple of the trillionaires, with their entourages, manage last minute, rushed, and not completely prepared, spaceship exits, and end up starving to death in outer space within a couple of years (having extended the time of their survival with cannibalism, of course).
Which of the above scenarios seems most likely to occur, in your opinion? Do you think that something else would be more likely and, if so, what? What would you like to see happen? Do you feel free to think with utopian creativity? If not, do you understand why that is? Would you like to have that freedom and engage in such creativity for the common good?
I realize that, for many of you, this may be the first time that you have heard of many of these dismal realities regarding the present condition and future prospects of life on Earth. As I began to say earlier, I have not forgotten the dismay, anger and other emotions that I felt when I first became aware of some of these facts (and other facts that I did not go into here), several years ago. There are many other people, around the world, who are going through the same thing and there are support groups and other resources that have been formed over the years to help people get through this together and peacefully adapt to it. For me, the way I deal with it best is to try to create alternative, natural living paths forward. Just because the status quo way of societal life is doomed does not necessarily mean that all life or all potential human societies are doomed.
I also realize that for many of you this may be the first time that anybody ever told you that utopian does not really mean “perfect” or impossible, and that exercising our utopian creativity might be not only a good thing, but an absolutely essential thing to do at this particular time. It might also be the case that you have never heard that traditional Indigenous societies and lifeways might provide us with models for viable, Life-saving, Earth-protecting, regenerative paths forward at this time, instead of being the “miserable,” “brutal,” “struggles for existence” that you might have heard about in some anthropology class. The future might indeed look like it is going to be a painful struggle for life, for both humans and non-humans, but engaging in survival efforts as communities with united visions, a common sense of purpose, seeking the common good for each other and for all species of life in our local community worlds, will be much easier and more enjoyable than trying to pursue mere survival as “rugged individuals” or rugged little nuclear family units. Embarking upon these paths forward to “utopian,” ideal, or best possible and ever-improving human eco-communities might be what our Mother Earth and all of our relations of all inter-connected Life have been yearning for us to do for thousands of years! I am excited to find out what we will learn in the actual doings.
Banner image: The Kogi village and tribal community of Tairona, in northern Colombia.
George Price (descendant of the Assonet band of the Wampanoag tribal nation of Massachusetts) has been living with his family on their five-acre organic, polyculture farm on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana since the summer of 1985. He retired from a 33-year teaching career in 2018, which included teaching Native American Studies, American History, and African American Studies at the University of Montana for 20 years. Since he is no longer working “through the system,” he is devoting the remainder of his life to Earth/Water protecting, organic farming, food sovereignty, constructive communicating, and replacing industrial technophile capitalism with local, eco-harmonious, EarthLife-centric, cooperative, alternative communities.
 Here is a link to the only free access to the amazing old documentary film on the Kogis, “ From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers’ Warning”:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRgTtrQOiR0 The written introduction to the film at the top of the post, contains an excellent explanation on why the Kogi people do not want to receive tourists or other visitors on their lands. What humans who want to return to our original harmonious ways need to start doing is to work on listening to and following the voices of our relations in the non-human portion of this inter-connected life world. That is an ability that all First Peoples had for most of the time of our existence as humans on this Earth, and it is still the best source of true guidance. Stop looking to modern humans and guru types for the light that we all need that is freely available in our natural, inter-connected world (both within and outside of our bodies).
 I am afraid that if I name and give more precise locations for these model Indigenous societies, some eco-tourists, missionaries, or other modern humans might find them and corrupt or destroy them.
 I must acknowledge here that, like all human demographic groups, the multitude of Indigenous peoples, world-wide, have much variation among individuals within their unique individual societies—in personal experiences, adaptation to historical circumstances, retaining of cultural traditions, level of wealth or success within the imposed colonialist economic systems, and several other factors that impact cultural resiliency and recovery.
 Besides Thomas More, other colonial era European writers who imagined “utopian” societies and were inspired, in part, by what they had heard about Indigenous peoples of the Americas include Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract, 1762), Tomasso Campanella (City of the Sun, 1602, English translation, 1623), Thomas Bacon (New Atlantis, 1626), and James Harrington (The Commonwealth of Oceana, 1656). Benjamin Franklin is known to have admired the form of government of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy and to have recommended to his fellow revolutionaries that they copy the Haudenosaunee, to some extent. See, Donald A. Grinde, Jr. and Bruce E. Johansen, Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of Democracy, UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 1991, pp.96-98, but really, the whole book.
 There are presently about 9 million species of animals and 391,000 species of plants in Earth. See, “Our World in Data,” “Biodiversity and Wildlife.” ourworldindata.org/biodiversity-and-wildlife
 Daniel R. Wildcat, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge, Golden, Colorado, Fulcrum Publishing, 2009, pg. 75.
 Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Hearing the Language of Trees,” excerpt from The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence, edited by John C. Ryan, Patricia Viera, and Monica Galiano, published by Synergetic Press (2021), re-printed in Yes!, October 29, 2021.
 If not a need or dependency, such trade could remain optional, to preserve good relations with neighbors, and provide things not available in the community location that would do no harm if brought in to the community.
 For more on why we should stop using money and on possible alternative economic systems see my essay, The End of Money: The Need for Alternative, Sustainable, Non-monetary Local Economies
 Some of us old-timers who tried to go in that direction back in the late 1960’s on through the 1980’s and failed will probably have plenty to say about that. Barb and I lived communally (in shared houses and living spaces) from 1970 until 1973 and in intentional community (separate households on shared land) from 1982 to 1985.
 Although I do not agree with them about everything, two people who it has been said are very helpful with that kind of support are Joanna Macy and Michael Dowd (they work separately).
 That is enough about the “whys” of this for now, partly because the essay is getting very long. I’ll be glad to hear from others now, in the comments below and elsewhere, and will turn my attention now and in future blog posts to more about the “hows” of it all. But, I know that the real knowledge, wisdom, and joy, will come through the doing, not just the words.