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.