Jan. 12th, 2010

lahermite: (loisaida)
i'm posting his last 2 entries in their entirety not because of the movie he's mentioning (i haven't seen it) or because of the gathering he just attended (i didn't attend) but because, in between the movie and the gathering, what he says is really frikken brilliant! and the posts work great even though they're being read most recent first:

January 11. (permalink) By popular demand, I'm going back to Avatar. First, we shouldn't be surprised that conservatives hate Avatar... unless we think about the meaning of "conservative". The movie supports the most traditional of traditional values: a tribal society living in balance with nature, and defending its culture through violence. So how can "conservatives" hate it? Because in practice, conservatism is an emotional state, and people in that state don't care what's traditional or radical for humans in general -- they only care what's traditional or radical for them personally. So you can make the most untested and wildly maladapted society in history, and after a couple generations, all the traditionalists will angrily defend it and attack the ways of the previous hundred thousand generations.

It also turns out that leftists hate Avatar, but only a particular breed of leftists, those with academic training in identity politics. Annalee Newitz wrote When will white people stop making movies like Avatar? And David Brooks, a centrist, calls Avatar the White Messiah fable. Their point is that this is one of many films that turns someone from our culture into the leader and "most awesome member" of an alien culture, and that it would be more politically correct to show the aliens saving themselves without our help.

That's a good point, but it's hard to count the number of points they're missing: A movie must take viewers on a journey, and the journey has to start from where we are. If the people from the alien culture were the protagonists, only a few dedicated liberals would go see it. How many of you have seen El Norte? And any Hollywood blockbuster must make its protagonist super-awesome. Nobody complained that Bruce Willis was more awesome than anyone else in Die Hard. Avatar opens the door to that complaint by putting its hero among another race, but you'd have to be blind to think that race is the heart of the movie.

Of course, Newitz and Brooks are blind. Newitz is a techie and Brooks is a huge supporter of "progress", so they can't stand the thought that Avatar has made a billion dollars with a message about ecology and the human race: that we are not the rulers of a pile of resources but the servants of a living planet, that an extractive economy is not just unsustainable but evil, that our place is among dangerous wild creatures and not our own sterile devices, that it was wrong for us to conquer the Indians, not because their skin was a different color, but because they lived better.

Did we conquer the Indians? When lefties say that Avatar purges white guilt, they are making several questionable assumptions: that we are white, that we feel guilty, and that white guilt is a good thing. This is an obsolete view of race. A more helpful view was pioneered in the zine and book Race Traitor: that "white" is a social class only loosely connected to pale skin, that thinking of ourselves as "white" makes us obedient to an unjust system, that the best thing "white" people can do is not to sit around feeling guilty for the crimes done in the name of whiteness, but to disown whiteness and take the other side. Every one of us has ancestors who lived more or less like the Na'vi, and who were violently conquered by disconnected, resource-extracting cultures. If we all stop identifying with those cultures, the whole game is over.

We did not conquer the Indians. The Babylonians, the Romans, the English, the Spaniards, the Americans conquered us... but not completely. The reason Avatar is so popular, and so important, is that it is helping us to remember who we are.

Of course, what to do with that awareness is a much harder question. No matter who we think we are, we are still dependent on the conquering system for our survival. We're not going to voluntarily kill ourselves, and I think it's silly to try to limit ourselves to technologies that existed 20,000 years ago. The important thing is that we make the shift from an extractive economy to a sustaining economy, and from the made world to the found world. And we might not be able to make that shift once and for all -- we might have to keep making it again and again.

January 9, late. I'm done with the Olympia events and heading down to Portland tomorrow. At my talk Thursday, and at the Awakening the Dreamer symposium today, I kept noticing one issue: When affluent Americans ask "what can I do", they mean, "What can I do to save the whole world? What can I do to turn industrial capitalism around in its tracks, to halt species extinction and reverse arctic melting, to feed all the starving people without further increasing the population, to transform human consciousness and witness a global utopia in my lifetime?"

My answer is, you can't do shit. And I'm a woo-woo optimist. I think that beneath all events is an invisible Flow that is intelligent and loving. I think that any human system that goes out of balance with human nature, or with other life on Earth, is doomed to fail. I think that in all possible futures, dandelions will grow through ruined Wal-Mart parking lots. But within this optimism, I see room for epic catastrophes. And some catastrophes are now so far along that "what can I do to stop it" is the wrong question, and the right question is "what can I do to survive it, to help others survive it, to minimize suffering and prepare for recovery?"

Find a landbase and build the topsoil; plant fruit trees and vegetable gardens; learn to forage and hunt and repair stuff; learn uncommon useful skills; make local friends; work to make your city and region more sustainable and resilient; make friends in other regions in case you have to move; gradually shift more of your activities and dependencies out of the money economy; break your addictions; get healthy; spend your money on tools and skills and long-keeping food; meditate; exercise your intuition. This is not meant to be a complete list, but a list of examples of the kind of thing you should be doing. The title of my talk was "Weeds through Pavement", because when pavement turns to forest, the pavement does not turn green and put down roots -- plants crack the pavement and grow through it. So do that.


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