I don’t have much difficulty understanding radicals. Radicals make sense to me. I understand the reasoning that looks at the gross environmental destruction wrought by civilization and recognizes the need for radical, not incremental change in how we live and do business on Planet Earth. I comprehend the mindset that sees the level of institutionalized violence, injustice and inequity in our society and advocates radical, not incremental change in our political institutions. I even see where people are coming from when they talk about the moral decay they see in our society and I understand why they also say we need radical, not incremental change in our social institutions. Whether you want a new Islamic Caliphate, a white Christian nation, parliamentary socialism, kibbutz style communism, native tribal sovereignty, an African-American homeland, or complete anarchy, I understand people who recognize the need for radical change.
I may not agree with you about what you think is right, or with what you think is good for me or for the rest of us, but I don’t think you are stupid for wanting to try something else, whatever it is, and I agree with your assessment that we are doing it wrong. Just for anyone who doubts this, let me remind you that COP24, the global climate summit in Poland came and went without producing a meaningful commitment to reign-in carbon emissions, proving once again, for only the 24th time, that world governments are totally incapable and/or unwilling to address the critical issues of our time, intelligently. However, just a few weeks before, the G20 met in Argentina, and the same world governments agreed to embrace radical and unpopular new technologies with real long-term risks, like GMOs, universal cyber-surrveillance and Chinese style “social capitalism” systems for global population control.
I understand the need for radical change. What I don’t understand, is how people look at the Orwellian dystopia our society has become, carefully observe the Anthropocene Extinction Event unfolding in real time all around us and witness the dysfunction in our government that consistently fails to address the needs of its citizens, while it exterminates millions of people all over the world for interfering with its hegemony. Who looks at that and thinks “Hmm, maybe a tweak here or there, but otherwise, Full Steam Ahead!”? That I don’t understand.
I understand that people like their familiar rut, especially if it’s a comfortable one, and if you are comfortable, I understand not really giving a fuck about things until they bite you on the ass. I also understand that people feel invested in the system. They bet their lives on this system years ago, before things started biting them on the ass, and before they knew how bankrupt the system really was. Now they don’t feel like they can afford to walk away from that investment. I also understand denial, the inability to face unpleasant facts, and I understand people who feel helpless and depressed about the whole situation too. All of that makes sense to me, considering our predicament.
Everyone else has abandoned the political center. When we talk about this phenomena, we call it “polarization” or “tribalism,” and lately we blame this mass exodus from the political mainstream on “radicalizing rhetoric” from “extremists.” In reality, however, we abandoned mainstream politics and political ideology because of its proven bankruptcy. The people who pay attention, think for themselves, and make their own decisions, have abandoned the center. They don’t agree with each other about what comes next, but they’ve had enough of what we’ve got now. All that’s left of the center are the stranded assets, the comfortable ruts, the depression and the denial, and that doesn’t inspire anyone.
You can’t inspire people with dead ideas. The wreckage of our culture is piled too deep, and the contradictions in our ideology are far too glaring. We can’t help but see the failure of the system. We can’t help but see the injustice of the system. We can’t help but see the violence of the system, and we can no longer even pretend that the system works for us.
We have abandoned the center because we know better. We know that more of the same is not good enough. We don’t agree on where to go from here, but we don’t like the road we’re on, and navigating carefully down the center of it just doesn’t cut it anymore. We abandon the ideology that has united us for over two centuries only because it has lost its integrity. The system is corrupt and the evidence of our own lives makes it impossible to believe in it any longer.
People don’t abandon ship and jump into lifeboats unless they are pretty sure the ship is sinking. Calling it “polarization” or “tribalism” amounts to nothing but denial and scapegoating. Instead of facing the obvious and overwhelming evidence of the failure of our technological culture, or addressing the challenges of our time, we blame “radicals” and their “polarizing rhetoric” for telling the truth about our predicament and offering their particular alternative vision for the future.
The ship we call “civilization” is sinking, measurably, undeniably, and inexorably. A lot of us will go down with the ship, but if anyone survives, they will be in lifeboats, built by radicals, and built from “polarizing rhetoric” held together with strong personal bonds, a unifying struggle, and a shared vision.
It really doesn’t matter much, anymore, who takes the helm of this sinking ship. What matters now is who is in your lifeboat, and does it float.
You might wonder why I do this. Why do I go so far out on a limb to artfully present an opinion that I know will be wildly unpopular? Some people speculate that I do it for the attention. Although I appreciate an audience, I don’t really care about drawing attention to myself. What matters to me is drawing attention to the things that people learn to overlook. People learn to overlook things when those things do not fit within their cultural mythology.
Whether it’s our local myth about the benign benevolence of the marijuana industry, our national myth of American Exceptionalism and the American Dream, or the greater cultural myth of civilization that tells us that there is a technological solution to every technological problem, the myths of our culture have become a threat to our survival, and the sooner we realize it, the better it will be for all of us. I understand the power of cultural myths, and I know how they can blind us to what’s happening right in front of our eyes. At times like these we need to see clearly and think carefully. Outdated cultural myths interfere with that by lying to us about what is real, and distracting us from what is possible.
Entirely too many people still believe our dominant cultural myths, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Cultural myths act like a security blanket, and an auto-pilot. They give us our default settings about what to believe, how to interpret the world around us, and strategies for thriving in it. Most people rarely think about the cultural myths they inherited, and these myths tend to perpetuate themselves because people constantly repeat and reinforce them. People constantly repeat and reinforce these cultural myths because they constitute all of the safe things to say in a conversation.
You can always say: “It’s so great to live here in the heart of the cannabis community, in the greatest nation on Earth, and we’re so lucky to live at a time when technology has put the whole world at our fingertips.” You can say stuff like that all day long, and practically everyone will agree with you and no one will ever question you about it. You’ll never be at a loss for words, and you’ll be telling people exactly what they want to hear.
The problem is that none of it is true anymore. The Marijuana industry is a blood-soaked ripoff, the US has become the most brutal fascist regime on the planet, and technology has driven us over a cliff, environmentally. 20-30 years ago, some of those myths were still true, or at least half-true, and the jury was still out on others, but today, those myths are all lies, and the sooner we realize it, the better. We’ll never solve problems we can’t face, which is why I draw attention to the inconsistencies that betray our cultural bankruptcy.
People take great comfort in those myths, and in the fact that they are so widely shared, despite the overwhelming evidence against them. People do not like having their bubbles bust. They would rather just complain to each other about why things don’t seem to work out the way they are supposed to. When I make a point, somebody’s myth gets deflated, and that makes them angry, at me. I don’t benefit from that anger in any way, but those myths threaten us all.
Most of our big problems, as a community, as a nation and as a culture, became big problems due to our continued belief in these outdated cultural myths. We will not solve our problems with the same kind of thinking that created them. I try to look at the world from a different perspective, from one that shows the worst side of our dominant cultural myths, and encourages us to consider other possibilities. If we hope to meet the challenges of our time, as a community, across the country, and around the world, we need to remove those cultural blinders and look at what is really happening, with clear eyes, and to consider every possibility.
I finally got to see Murder Mountain, the Netflix docudrama miniseries about the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez and the subsequent recovery of his body by the “Alder Point 8.” The film crew was in town for most of last year putting it together, and they hired me off the street to act in it, so of course I was excited to see myself on TV.
I enjoyed Murder Mountain. I thought they did a great job, and it includes some of the best images of Southern Humboldt’s natural beauty that I’ve ever seen. The series seemed quite slow getting started. I’m sure they could have told the story in two hours, and they included quite a lot of really boring footage of cannabis farms, but they also included lot about this community and it’s history. The series paints a broad portrait of Southern Humboldt, and a cannabis industry in transition, as the backdrop for the Garrett Rodriquez story. Every picture hides much more than it shows, but I am impressed by how deeply they explored this community and how well they told the story. I thought they told it accurately, with sensitivity and more than enough context. Most of the people I watched Murder Mountain with also seemed favorably impressed.
Of course, anytime anyone writes or produces media about the ugly sordid shit that really goes on around here, the knee-jerk reaction of locals is: “How dare those ‘yellow journalist’ outsiders come here to tell sensationalized stories about the bad stuff that happens around here!” According to these people, no one, except people born and raised here, have the right to report on anything that happens here, but when you ask those truly local locals, they all tell the same story: “It’s beautiful here. The people are cool, and everything is groovy. Now mind your own business!” Whether it’s a piece of investigative journalism about human sex trafficking, an expose about environmental destruction wrought by the marijuana industry, or my opinion column, for that matter, whether or not they’ve read it or seen it, a lot of people around here will automatically tell you that it is all just “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.”
It surprised me that I didn’t hear more of that about Murder Mountain. I think a lot of people actually recognized that the producers of Murder Mountain went out of their way to get the story straight, and to present it in context. Murder Mountain sure doesn’t make us look good, but it tells the truth. Murder Mountain shows us a side of Southern Humboldt that usually remains hidden, and that no one around here wants to face, in a way that is hard to deny.
This time, it’s the Sheriff’s Department that is crying foul, and warning us about “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.” They feel they were misrepresented in Murder Mountain. They claim that the filmmakers tricked them into believing that the show was going to be about the marijuana industry, not about Garrett Rodriquez.
Sorry guys. I don’t buy it. I will admit that Murder Mountain does not make the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department look good, but it’s the fact that Garrett Rodriquez’s murderer remains at large despite the community’s heroic efforts to recover his body, that casts a pall over the HCSD, not the documentary treatment. More than anyone else, Sheriff Honsal and his deputies, who must have all signed release forms, should know that anything you say, in front of a camera, with a microphone hidden in your shirt, will be recorded and used against you in the court of public opinion. If Murder Mountain embarrasses the HCSD, it’s not because of what they said on camera, it’s because of what they failed to do when they weren’t.
We should also note, however, that the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez, or the dozens of other people who have gone missing, or been found murdered here in Humboldt County, did not prompt much public outcry, locally. We didn’t have rooms full of angry citizens demanding that the HCSD get to the bottom of this prolonged rash of cannabis industry related homicides and disappearances that happen around here all the time. We didn’t have any public meetings about that problem at all.
No, it wasn’t until a skinny kid from Fortuna shimmied underneath a locked security door and stole some bongs from a head-shop in town, that the folks of Southern Humboldt got up off their asses and filled the gymnasium of the Redway School. Those angry townsfolk didn’t complain about unsolved murders or disappearances in the hills, they complained about poor people smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and generally looking ugly in front of their businesses in town, so you can’t completely blame the Sheriff’s Department for prioritizing their resources accordingly.
Despite all of the self-delusional happy-talk we like to tell ourselves about our community and the cannabis industry, Murder Mountain offers us an honest mirror that reveals how our community looks to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty picture, but that’s not the photographer’s fault.
I hear a lot of talk these days about “polarization.” People complain that “polarizing rhetoric” poisons our democracy by “polarizing” the American electorate. It’s funny that we lay the blame for the complete failure of our government to address global climate change, on political “polarization.” I don’t buy it at all. Yes, something has poisoned our democracy, and it has something to do with our current political environment, but “polarization” is not the right word for it.
The word “polarization” implies a two way process. Politically, the word “polarization” implies that both the right and the left have become radicalized. I see no evidence of this. I’ve watched a steamroller of right-wing radicalization crush left-wing radicals, crush unions, and crush the Democratic party for the last four decades. It began in the ‘80s with the unholy union of the Evangelical Christian Movement and the Republican Party, which brought Republican greed, avarice and thirst for power into league with the Christian values of bigotry, sexism and disdain for science and reason. They gave us Reagan.
Reagan broke the unions. Bush amped up the War on Drugs, but Clinton was all about compromise. Instead of standing up for working people and Democratic principles, he sold out the American people with NAFTA and Welfare Reform, which the Republicans could have never done on their own. Then in 2000, the Democrats proved their complete impotence and demonstrated their willingness to settle for nothing when Al Gore conceded the 2000 presidential election. W pushed that radical right-wing steamroller, full throttle for eight years, getting us into two intractable wars. Then he made millions of people homeless, a few of his friends rich, and completely wrecked the economy.
Obama convinced us to bail out the banks, and gave us the Affordable Care Act, which insures maximum profits for insurance companies, doctors and drug manufacturers and makes the most expensive health-care system in the world available to people with pre-existing conditions, for the first time, even though they still can’t afford it. Obamacare was a terrible compromise. It was such a bad compromise, that the Republicans can’t even imagine a plan that they would like better. In fact, Obama sold the American people a health-care plan devised largely by Republicans, and again, like Clinton, did to the American people what they would never let a Republican do.
Now we’re back on that right-wing steamroller, led by the most obnoxious, egotistical, chauvinistic, bigoted asshole they could find, an asshole who inspires and emboldens obnoxious bigoted assholes all across the land, an asshole who takes pride in his privilege, and has no shame or moral principles. Trump is a perfect pig, who leads a regime of pirates that reign over a nation of overworked, underpaid wage slaves who live paycheck to paycheck if they’re lucky. That radical right-wing Republican steamroller has crushed working people for forty years straight, while Democrats have become the party of compromise, collapse and capitulation. That’s not polarization. That’s four decades of hard right turns.
This radical shift to the right was accomplished by a massive and relentless propaganda campaign that began with radical right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, George Will and Morton Downey Jr, not to mention a throng of TV preachers like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and continuing to this day with the likes of Pat Buchanan and Sean Hannity. These guys have spewed radical right-wing bigotry, hate and lies 24-7-365, for 40 fucking years. The radical right owns thousands of TV and radio stations. The left has PBS, NPR and Community Access Television, all of which they must share equally with the right.
In the last 40 years, the radical right has revolutionized and reshaped our society, our institutions and our culture, in their image, and they didn’t do it with civil debate in an open marketplace of ideas. They did it with cunning opportunism and sleazy propaganda full of hatred, bigotry and lies. They spent big money on it, and when that didn’t work they used violence without hesitation. They don’t care about the “quality of the debate.” They want it all, and that includes the contents of your life, and they’ll do anything to get it.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have moved steadily to the right, and they continue to look for ways to sell out the American people. They refuse to stand up for working people. They refuse to stand up for the poor, and they refuse to stand up to the Republicans. When Bernie Sanders excited their base, they cut him off. Bernie Sanders is no radical, but even his brand of moderate socialism is just too far to the left for the Democratic Party leadership. So where is this other pole?
Antifa? Black Lives Matter? Standing Rock? Me too? If you call that “radical,” then mutual self-defense must be a “radical” idea to you. If mutual self-defense seems like a radical idea to you, then you haven’t been exposed to many radically leftist ideas. If you haven’t been exposed to many radically leftist ideas, it’s probably because there aren’t many radical leftists left in the US. There aren’t many radical leftists in the US because Republicans persecute them and Democrats disown them. Democrats are disowning radical leftists when they say things like, “polarization is poisoning our democracy.”
When Democrats complain about “polarization” they aren’t complaining about the fascist propaganda machine on the right, they are complaining that their traditional working class base refuses to settle for their pathetic compromises. They use the term “polarization” to include the “Bernie Brohs” they betrayed, in their condemnation of the Steve Bannons and David Dukes behind Trump. There is no polarization. This is just another right turn by Democrats.
“Polarization” is the word Democrats use to blame their own base for their complete failure. You’ll even hear them say “it’s on both sides.” A lot of rich Democrats would like to see the Democratic Party look even more like the Republican Party, but with legal abortion and equal rights for gay people. They want to screw working people as much as Republicans do, and they’ve learned that sometimes that’s easier to do as a Democrat. Those are the people who complain the most about this alleged “polarization.”
The Republicans empower their radicals, while Democrats disown theirs, and as long as Democrats continue to disown leftist radicals, Democrats have no power and nothing to negotiate because they have no base. If you can’t stand up to defend your life and protect your home without being labeled a “radical,” then, damn it, we need more radicals on the left, and if we want more leftist radicals we’ll need a lot more fiery and inspiring rhetoric.