“The day capitalism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them.
The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination — an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but who may really be the guides to our future.”
(The image that illustrates this post was found in Flick; it’s a “Pachamama” refers to “Mother Earth” and is central to many indigenous cultures across South America.)
He was the first African-American to get a PhD in philosophy at Princeton.
He went on to write more than 20 books, receive more than 20 honourary degrees, to teach at Harvard and Yale, and hold classes at universities from Paris to Addis Abeba.
With his latest hip hop CD he was named “MTV’s artist of the week”, and he has provided futuristic philosophical commentary on all three Matrix movies.
In a famous spat with the then president of Harvard University he called Lawrence Summers “the Ariel Sharon of higher education.”
Avi Lewis talks to Cornel West, a professor of African American Studies at Princeton, hip hop artist, and one of the most controversial academics in the US, about the state of democracy for African-Americans today, the Obama administration, and his dispute with Lawrence Summers.
He also shares his views on US foreign policy, the war in Afghanistan, global recession, and the growing pressure on Barack Obama.
“Another world is possible” – that’s a catchword I’ve been hearing for more than a decade, and it still sounds catchy and urgent, broad enough for a huge diversity of people and movements to gather under its motherly umbrella. In 2003, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the first World Social Forum was held, as the project of a global movement to create an alternative to the mainstream trend of globalization was gaining momentum. Rising up to confront the global dominance of corporate capitalism (always coupled with “shock and awe” politics), people all around the globe starting to voice their discontent with a system that generates vast accumulation of capital in few hands (the 1% denounced by the Occupy Movement), while causing massive empoverishment, debt and environmental destruction.
The Seattle No-WTO protests in 1999, and then Québec City’s demonstrations in 2001, and then Porto Alegre’s Forum in 2003 – this sequence of events, and the ones that followed, have shown that multitudes are willing to confront imperialism in its new encarnation as “neo-liberalism” – also known as “Free Market”, usually exported abroad by bombings and military coups (never forget: it took a Pinochet to enforce it in Chile, 1973). People are fed up of mercenary politicians, willing to sell all the public services to private interest. At the twilight of the 20th Century (an “Age of Extremes”, to quote Eric Hobsbawn’s excellent expression), and at the dawn of the 21st Century, we experienced some massive demonstrations against a world order ruled by the IMF, the World Bank, the OMC, and so on and so forth. It goes on. It’s going on right now.
The main difference I perceive between the mass demonstrations against the dominant model of capitalist globalization, on one side, and the social forums held by les altermondialistes, on the other, is this: in the first case, the focus is on protesting against the global elite (G8s and G20s, for example) and its un-democratic business decisions, made in military bunkers, surroundered by walls and riot police (we live in an age of epidemic tear-gas bombing of citizens); in the latter case, the focus is on a collective engagement to build a viable, effective alternative to our global elite’s mad ecocidal plans. That it is absolutely urgent to dethrone the New Emperor and its new clothes is nowhere stated better than in the global environmental crisis we are now confronting, and that menaces to wipe out entire ecosystems. If you are an apocalyptic freak or a nihilist, who wishes thousands of species to be extinct, all you need to do is this: nothing. Do nothing, and you’ll be siding with those who stabbing Gaia – and all living things within it, ourselves included – in her heart.
Arundhati Roy, speaking at the event held in Porto Alegre, stated that this “alter-world” wasn’t only a possibility, confined to the realm of potentialities, which may or may not come to life: “I can hear her breathing.” A Social Forum is a place where we gather to hear the Another World already breathing. And quite an interesting choice of worlds, Mrs Arundathi! To refer to the world-we-wish-to-build as a SHE sounds to my ears as an interesting concept, which suggests that too much testosterone and male-domineering-militarist culture is one of the most destructive trends in our world. This one that we need to subvert and revolutionize if Gaia, with the whole Web of Life in her bosom, is to survive this huge menace.
I believe in the fecundity of thinking about the alter-world as a she, which means a reawakening of respect for the Earth and its limites. And maybe mythology isn’t an innefective allie in our struggles if we regard our current crisis through the mythological lens of the goddess Gaia, symbol of interdependent and interelated Life, coexisting in a connected network of balanced, sustainable organisms that know themselves to be like instruments in the same symphony. She – alas! poor Gaia! – is currently ravaged by capitalism’s greedy extractivist & productivist húbris. So what we hear mostly, all around, is dissonance. A Social Forum is a place where we try, collectively, to bring back Melody and Harmony to our Civilization’s song.
Some may despise as corny and kitsch this sort of talk about “respecting Mother Nature”, but think about this: if we treat her like an exploitable whore, instead of a nurturing mother, we’ll pay a heavy price. We are already in the midst of a massive global crisis, and the prospect is that it will keep worsening as global warming produces brand-new draughts, floods, hurricanes, displacements, “climate refugees”, and so on and so forth. Here in Ottawa, 2014, the Social Forum provides its participants with hope that people coming together can join forces in order to save Gaia from this agony which she’s currently going through. Just regard her wounds and how much they’re bleeding!
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Naomi Klein’s lecture was one of the main attractions of the Social Forum’s first day, August 21. When I got at the University of Ottawa to listen to one of the contemporary journalists that I admire the most, the place was packed-full and there were no chairs left. I had to resign myself to listen to her standing on my tired legs, as if I was in a rock concert regarding a far-away stage.
In her home country, Naomi is certainly a very well-known and respected writer, pride and joy of Canada’s intellectual landscape. As the author of the quintessencial “The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” – it’s safe to say it’s one of the greatest non-fiction books published in our century so far – she has earned recognition as one of the world’s leading thinkers about neo-liberal capitalism and the way it really works. She can count as some of her attentive readers and interlocutors some highly significant figures such as Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zizek and Arundhati Roy.
Even though she’s Canadian, Naomi Klein doesn’t deal in the cheap merchandise of demagogic patriotism. She’s clearly no fan of Mr. Stephen Harper’s policies and doesn’t fall for his jive (she’s too smart for that). “In this country, he are in the midst of an extraction frenzy”, she denounced, exposing Canada’s current practices of tar sands oil extraction, pipeline construction, high-scale fracking and mining.
She describes the “logic that sacrifices life in the altar of money” with two peculiar adjectives: “supremacist” and “psychotic”. When her new book comes out in September, “This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate” – we’ll see to what extent Naomi Klein has ventured into the diagnosis of our collective neurosis. In her Social Forum talk, she showed no signs of optimism: if we don’t change this system, she suspects, our future will be one in which “serial climate disasters will be dealt with dystopian barbarism”.
To explain what she means by “dystopian barbarism”, she mentions one of the greatest sci-fi movies produced in the last few years, “Snowpiercer” (by Korean director Joon-ho Bong). The Apocalypse on Wheels that the film portrays is one of the most poignant representations of what our Earthship may look like if we let business as usual proceed with its Earth-wrecking practises. “What we do in the next 10 years will define the fate of generations to come”, said Klein, underlining unequivocally that the doctrine of economic growth, when it disregards environmental sustainability, is a “suicidal path”.
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After Naomi’s thought-provoking contribution had kick-started the Forum’s multiple discussions and dialogues, it was time for us to take the streets. At least a dozen yellow school buses, packed with noisy bands of joyful and excited activists, were deployed for the transportation of the people from the University of Ottawa to the Canadian Museum of War. While police officers riding bikes stood by, just witnessing this strange gathering of colourful flags and shouting-and-cheering humans, a series of speakers adressed the crowd before the start of the march (videos coming soon!). Mr. Harper was treated as a punchbag, and the audience loved it. Leaders of labour unions, civil rights activists, defenders of First Nations (indegenous populations), all had their chance to voice their perspectives and to spark in the crowd the fires of enthusiastic democratic participation.
I must confess that I’m a sort of march-junkie – it’s one of my favorite drugs. My feelings of powerlessness get crushed when I’m embarked in the flow of a marching human stream. It almost brings tears of excitement to my face when my senses immerge in such a sea of human collective effort. It was my first day in Canada’s capital and I was about to participate in a massive take-over of Parliament Hill. Wow! Trust me, my friends: there’s no Hollywood thriller that can be provide thrills such as these. The avant-garde of this massive river-of-people – I would estimate that 10.000 people were marching – was composed of drumming and chanting First Nations representatives. Several different organizations were there adding their voices to the choir – a rainbow of diversity ranging from moderate and kitschy Nature Loving hippie-talk, to more radical, punkish and anarchist “smash the State!” utterings.
I must also confess that Ottawa’s establishment, its status quo, its machinery of power, its main public spaces, gave me a distasteful impression of too-much-militarism. By that I mean that military deeds seem to be celebrated much more than I think it should. It leaves in my tongue a somewhat bitter flavour to see plazas filled with statues of colonels and generals. I have also a difficult relationship with Ottawa’s monuments devoted to those who died in the battlefields – World War II or Korea, for example. Quoting from Virgil’s Aeneid, these military heroes are celebrated in Ottawa’s streets as men (they are all male!) “whose names will never be erased from History”. Methinks we should oppose the culture of militarism with the same fierceness with which we fight and despise the culture of rape, racism, patriarchy or xenophobia.
The first thing I did in the morning, for instance, was to attend to a ritual considered to be a delightul spectacle for tourists: the changing of the Guard in Parliament. Quite a boring show, if you ask me, and I couldn’t help but secretly despise those tourists who were admiringly watching this display of traditional military ritualization. In exactly the same place, in the afternoon, I could experience something much sweeter to my taste: the Social Forum’s multitude claiming its right to occupy the Parliament. After a beautiful, noisy, exciting march through Ottawa’s streets, the people gathered there to exchange ideas, to make plans for action, to chant and drum – and even to sing protest songs against the very people who work in the surrounding buildings and who are supposed to represent the people.
“Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!” This call-and-response massive outcry is still ringing in my ears, still fresh in my memory, and to have experienced this has a already become so dear to my heart that I’ll carry it through life until my dying day.
This, my friends, is what democracy looks like.
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TO BE CONTINUED…
Next chapter: my remarks on Cowspiracy, one of the greatest docs I ever saw.
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This was blogged by Awestruck Wanderer
from the Social Forum’s Media Center,
Ottawa, Ontario – 22/08/2014.
You know, when you enter a Starbucks store, it’s usually always displayed in some posters their message: “Yes, our cappuccino is more expensive than others,” but, then comes the story: “We give 1% all our income to some Guatemalan children to keep them healthy, for the water supply for some Saharan farmer, or to save the forest, to enable organic growing for coffee, or whatever or whatever.”
Now, I admire the ingenuity of this solution. In the old days of pure, simple consumerism, you bough a product, and then you felt bad: “My God, I’m just a consumerist, while people are starving in Africa . . .”
So the idea is that you had to do something to counteract your pure, destructive consumerism. For example, you contribute to charity and so on.
What Starbucks enables you is to be a consumerist, without any bad conscience, because the price for the countermeasure, for fighting consumerism, is already included into the price of a commodity. Like, you pay a little bit more, and you’re not just a consumerist, but you do also your duty towards the environment, the poor, starving people in Africa, and so on and so on.
It’s, I think, the ultimate form of consumerism.”
“Questions that have puzzled scientists and philosophers for hundreds of years: How did complex structures evolve out of a random collection of molecules? What is the relationship between mind and brain? What is consciousness? (…) “How does a wounded organism regenerate to exactly the same structure it had before? How does the egg form the organism?” (BRENNER, Sidney.) A new language for understanding the complex, highly integrative systems of life has indeed emerged. (…) The new understanding of life may be seen as the scientific forefront of the change of paradigms form a mechanistic to an ecological viewpoint. The synthesis of current theories and models I propose in this book – The Web of Life – may be seen as an outline of an emerging theory of living systems that offers a unified view of mind, matter, and life.” – FRITJOF CAPRA, Intro
CRISIS OF PERCEPTION
“Environmental concerns have become of paramount importance. We are faced with a whole series of global problems that are harming the biosphere and human life in alarming ways that may soon become irreversible. The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent. Scarcities of resources and environmental degradation, combined with rapidly expanding populations, lead to the break-down of local communities and to the ethnic and tribal violence that has become the main characteristic of the post-Cold War era. Ultimately these problems must be seen as just different facets of one single crisis, which is largely a crisis of perception. It derives from the fact that most of us, and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to concepts of an outdated worldview, a perception of reality inadequate for dealing with our overpopulated, globally interconnected world.
The solutions to the major problems of our time require a radical shift in our perception, our thinking, our values. And, indeed, we are now at the beginning of such a fundamental change of worldview in science and society, a change of paradigms as radical as the Copernican revolution. But this realization has not yet dawned on most of our political leaders. The recognition that a profound change of perception and thinking is needed if we are to survive has not yet reached most of our corporate leaders, either, or the administrators and professors of our large universities.
The only viable solutions are those that are “sustainable”. The concept of sustainability has become a key concept in the ecology movement and is indeed crucial. Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute has given a simple, clear, and beautiful definition: “A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.”  This, in a nutshell, is the great challenge of our time: to create sustainable communities – that is to say, social and cultural environments in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances of future generations.
The paradigm that is now receding has dominated our culture for several hundred years, during which it has shaped our modern Western society and has significantly influenced the rest of the world. This paradigm consists of a number of entrenched ideas and values, among them the view of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary building blocks, the view of the human body as a machine, the view of life in society as a competitive struggle for existence, the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth, and – last, but not least – the belief that a society in which female is everywhere subsumed under the male is one that follows a basic law of nature. All of these assumptions have been fatefully challenged by recent events. And, indeed, a radical revision of them is now occurring.
The new paradigm may be called a holistic or ecological worldview, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. Deep ecological awareness recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent on) the cyclical processes of nature. (…) The sense in which I use the term “ecological” is associated with a specific philosophical school and, moreover, with a global grass-roots movement known as “deep ecology”, which is rapidly gaining prominence. The philosophical school was founded by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in the early 1970s (you can download for free his e-books: Life’s Philosophy: Reason and Feeling in a Deeper World, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy and The Selected Works of Arne Naess: Volumes 1-10).
Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans – or anything else – from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects, but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.
The new vision of reality based on deep ecological awareness is consistent with the so-called perennial philosophy of spiritual traditions, whether we talk about the spirituality of Christian mystics, that of Buddhists, or the philosophy and cosmology underlying the Native American traditions.
The common ground of the various schools of social ecology is the recognition that the fundamentally antiecological nature of many of our social and economic structures and their technologies is rooted in what Riane Eisler has called the ‘DOMINATOR SYSTEM’ of social organization. Patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism, and racism are examples of social domination that are exploitative and antiecological.
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FROM HIERARCHIES TO NETWORKS
If we look at our Western industrial culture, we see that we have overemphasized the self-assertive values – competition, expansion, domination – and neglected the integrative tendencies – cooperation, partnership etc. (…) Power, in the sense of domination over others, is excessive self-assertion. The social structure in which it is exerted most effectively is the hierarchy. Indeed, our political, military, and corporate structures are hierarchically ordered, with men generally occupying the upper levels and women the lower levels. Most of these men, and quite a few women, have come to see their position in the hierarchy as part of their identity, and thus the shift to a different system of values generates existential fear in them.
However, there is another kind of power, one that is more appropriate for the new paradigm – power as influence of others. The ideal structure for exerting this kind of power is not the hierarchy but the network, which, as we shall see, is also the central metaphor of ecology. The paradigm shift thus includes a shift in social organization from hierarchies to networks.
FRITJOF CAPRA. The Web Of Life – A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems.
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Fellow earthlings! Many among us are surrounded by images of Photoshoped, Barbiesque, and very highly-paid top-models. Many of us have the unfortunate luck to be surrounded by an army of ads and its insistent and annoying injunctions: “Buy! Own! Consume! Work! Obey! Enrich! Just do it!” Many of us have been told – and the stupidiest among us have even believed in it! – that Money will open the gates of Heaven for anyone who’s smart enough to get his hands in a lot of it.
This pervasive commercial imageryinfest the cities where capitalism and “modernity” reign (and also in the places where Imperial power took them…). They command us to consume products that large multi-national corporations are devoted to selling us. These corporations don’t want anyone of us to wonder about the work conditions for the people who actually produced them (and usually are very badly paid and live in places of terrible health conditions… remember Nike’s sweatshops in Asia?). The corporations don’t want any of us to question this system that permits extreme accumulation of wealth in a few hands (the last time I checked the statistics, 85 people were the owners of a wealth equivalent to that of half of Mankind).
The publicity machinery is destined to turn us into stupid unquestioning puppets, who give their money away in exchange for products whose real producers are being explored and kept in poverty in lots of societies who, in the Global Market, are the peryphery of cheap labour destined to suffer miserably through life so that the so-called First World can enjoy the delirious delights of Consumerism. As most of you are quite aware, this has been wrecking our planet and, if it’s allowed to go on, will only lead us to witness, in coming years, some of the worst ecological catastrophes ever endured by our species – and all other who share with us this “pale blue dot”, as Carl Sagan called it. But enough, for today, of my awkwards incursion into Saganesque ecology or Marxist critique of the commercial-society’s trashy productions… Let’s put aside the theme of ecocide and save it for another ocassion, fellow earthlings!
Many have pointed out that the “subliminal effect” of modern marketing campains is to brainwash us into a nowadays very wide-spread behaviour: that which is dominant on consumerist societies. You can’t be possible consider yourself a fully-fullfiled person if you’re not the owner of fancy cars, chic houses, hi-tech electronic devices, jewels and gizmos… The so-called Show Business is a factory of dreams who attempt to invade our subconscious minds and turn us into morons who obbey ads like Pavlov’s dogs did with the bells.
We are made to believe, by this day-to-day conditioning, not very disimilar to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World techniques of mass indoctrination, in a link between Happiness (or The Greatest Good in Human Life) and consumerism and ownership. In BBC’s documentary The Century of the Self, the tale is told of a certain Mr. Edward Bernays, Sigmund’s Freud nephew, who was a key figure in the United States early 20th century mass-conditioning of consumering citizens. It’s scary to take a look behind the curtains and discover these sinister experiments that contributed so much to boost up capitalism. Wherever Free Market capitalist gained predominance, it created as by-products of consumerism an unbelievably high mountain of trash – literal trash, but also aesthetic trash (I mean: ugly ads and terrible publicity images). We’ve been going mad on this overdose of images with promises of delight – if only you buy! Many of us, fellow earthlings, have forgotten all delights that can’t be bought, all the beauty that can’t be owned, all the happiness that can be experienced without any need of possessions.
The manufacturers of this Show Bizz dreams, those who sponsor the Mass Media, those who spread through society this images that promise delight in connection with the enjoying of a bought merchandise, they’ve been leading large portions of mankind into a very questionable path: that of seeking for happiness in the process of buying and owning things, in having instead of being. We’ve been praising competition instead of cooperation, individualism instead of collective effort, superficial glamour instead of genuine beauty.
Well, at least these were some of the thoughts that popped up in my head while I was watching BBC’s Ways of Seing, in which John Berger embarks in similar considerations about what Guy Debord called La Societé Du Spetacle. Berger has lots of interesting things to say about Consumerist Society’s imagery and how they produce large amounts of toxic envy and cheap glamour. According to Berger’s interpretation, glamour is something that evokes or produces, in its receiver, a feeling of envy. Glamorous images are supposed to depict something desirable, something to strive for; they’re ideal scenes who don’t intend in any away to portray reality. They appeal to our emotions and try to manipulate them into a set-up that’s deemed profitable by the economical powers reigning in commercial societies, and “personified” in banks and stock markets.
Imagine a woman who sees in a daily basis, for years and years, gorgeously sexy and wealthy women exhibiting all their glamour in magazines and outdoors – figures such as the millionaires Kate Moss or Gisele Bünchen. One of the possible effects is: this woman will envy that which the fabricated image is supposed to depict. Once again, the subliminal effect is intended to be: you’ll only be a happy and fulfilled human if you look like Moss or Bünchen… Thus the epidemics of gyms, plastic surgery, silicone boobs, anorexia – among other techniques that try to turn a woman into something similar to a commercially produced cliché. Our ideals of beauty have been so deformed by publicity’s invasion of the public space, by its invasive glamourous imagery, that feelings of low self-steem, depression and inedequacy are skyrocketing (just check Prozac’s sales!). But well, I’ll shut up right now and summon Mr. Berger to continue this debate – so here it comes, a quote from Ways of Seeing fourth and last episode, certainly one of the greatest critiques of publicity ever aired on TV:
“Publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour. Without social envy, glamour cannot exist. Envy becomes a common emotion in a society that has moved towards democracy and then stopped halfway. Where status is theoretically open to everyone, but enjoyed by only a few. (…) Publicity and oil painting share many of the same ideals, all of them related to the principle that you are what you have. (…) Publicity appeals to a way of life we aspire to, or think we aspire to, but have not yet achieved. A publicity picture suggests that if we buy what it is offering, our life will be different from what it is. Not only will our home be different, but all of our relationships will become radiant because of our new possessions. But we can only achieve such radiance if we have money, thus urging each of us to scramble competitively to get more… and making money appear as if it were itself magical. (…) It promotes the illusion that a man’s ability to consume is directly related with his sexual virility. According to the rules of the dream, those who do not have this power, those who lack glamour, become faceless, almost non-existant. Publicity both promises and threatens. It plays upon fear, often the fear of not being desirable, of being unenviable. It suggests that you are inadequate as you are, but it consoles you with the promise of a dream… But the highest value of this civilization is the individual ego… one can only say this culture is mad.” – BERGER