Crisis And Despair
By Bill Fletcher
01 September, 2007
heard about the conversation a few months ago. It took place between
my 18 year old daughter and some of her friends. Her friends had concluded
that they would not permit THEIR children to have children because they
believed that by that time the world would be coming to an end.
To this day I remain stunned
by that conversation. Sure, over the years I have heard people say things
like "…I am not going to have kids because this world is
crazy…", but what was striking about the conversation between
my daughter's friends was that this was based on an analysis. Their
analysis was that the environmental crisis would become such that human
life would probably cease to exist.
There are many people feeling
that way, and I can sense it in various discussions. It does not need
to be verbalized to be very present in our talks. It sits there, like
the proverbial elephant in the living room, and few of us will acknowledge
it. It is that sense that maybe, just maybe, we have run out of time
as a species because the rich and infamous have pushed us down a road
to global disaster.
There was a tendency somewhat
along those lines at different moments in the Cold War. Particularly
when it seemed as if we were on the verge of nuclear annihilation, e.g.,
during the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Yom Kippur War, there was this
sense that things were completely out of control. This worked its way
into our culture through dramas such as Rod Serling's classic series
The Twilight Zone that frequently contained stories addressing potential
We seemed to survive that
immediate threat but we have found ourselves facing a different one
with consequences no less severe but with a longer fuse. The changes,
for many, seemed almost inconsequential for so long until we started
to notice everything from the disappearance of honey bees to Hurricane
Katrina to the scarcity of clean, drinking water. Yes, we are in a crisis.
For those of us on the Left,
there is a significant challenge. Insofar as despair, rather than anger
and protest, grip our constituents, we have no hope of turning things
around. Instead, much like what appears to have taken place in the midst
of the collapse of the ancient Mayan cities or those in Europe toward
the decline of the Roman Empire, people will disperse, all seeking their
own individual solutions, or solutions in small groups, but few people
will turn toward the need for a progressive social transformation.
That is what made the conversation
between my daughter's friends so unsettling. The potential horror that
we face is very real and cannot be denied. To that extent it is important
that we expose and ridicule those who would deny global warming. Yet
much more is needed. In fact, the urgency of the moment necessitates
greater attention toward programmatic solutions along with strategies
and organizations to advance social transformation.
When Rosa Luxemburg suggested
that the future was one of "socialism or barbarism" there
was a tendency by many people-even in the midst of World War I-to view
this as hyperbole. As it turns out, it was rather prescient. This warning
through juxtaposition is critical but not enough. Understanding that
we must turn away from barbarism-in whatever form-and toward socialism
and the end of capitalist exploitation is a critical awareness but it
must be translated into organization and action.
One immediate conclusion
from all of this is that we must act with urgency. That does not mean
that we should act stupidly. But it does mean that within the Left we
must determine what are the minimum bases of unity that we need in order
to move forward together. While it is important that we debate our differences,
we need to be quite clear what differences can and must be decided today
vs. those that will have to await another moment.
A second conclusion is that
forms of organization and action must be introduced that win people
away from despair and suggest that collective struggle can help to avoid
planetary disaster. That means that it is not enough to fight the good
defensive battles but that we on the Left must be thinking in terms
of offensive strategy. In other words, we must be thinking about how
A third conclusion is that
it is important to dream. By dreaming I mean to suggest that we consider
possibilities for the future that improve the human condition. Being
a science fiction fan and a Star Trek devotee I always remember a scene
from the film Star Trek: First Contact. Captain Piccard, having traveled
back (from the 24th century) to the middle of the 21st century, is speaking
with a scientist from that era. She asks how much the starship Enterprise
cost to build. His response was quite interesting. In effect he said,
the economics of the 24th century are quite different from yours. For
us the acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our existence.
We seek to better ourselves. It is that notion that must work itself
into our everyday realities and serve as the inspiration for action.
I want my daughter to have
children-should she wish to have children-and I want her children to
also reproduce, but to do so as they witness and participate in the
construction of a better world rather than existing in the misery of
My fourth conclusion: it
all starts now. To borrow and paraphrase from a slogan of the South
African movement: socialism is the future; build it now.
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
is a long-time labor and international writer and activist. He is the
former past President of TransAfrica Forum and can be reached at email@example.com.
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