April 6th, 2011
Four thousand people attended the largest annual conference of left and progressive intellectuals in the world over the weekend of March 18-20, 2011. It was the 7th annual Left Forum, at Pace University in lower Manhattan. A thousand speakers, 300 workshops, panels and dialogues on international politics, class war, social justice issues, corporate abuse of power and the ravages of financial deregulation attracted academics, anti-capitalists, socialists, artists, journalists, activists and anarchists to forge bonds of solidarity for social change. They had their choice of up to 45 panel discussions per seven program periods, plus two stellar plenary presentations covering the conference theme “Towards a Politics of Solidarity”.
Internationally known presenters such as Richard Wolff, Stanley Aronowitz, Cornel West, Laura Flanders, Barbara Ehrenreich, Francis Fox Piven, Benjamin Barber, John Nichols and The Yes Men, keen-sighted and eloquent in their analyses and reportage of problems, activists working for change, graced the conference mainstage.
So why were only a few presentations really strong on inspiration and insight for how to foster growing unity among progressives, how to build consensus on outlook and method to bring unity of action to fruition?
For the most part, I heard the need for solidarity answered with a call for solidarity, a need for a new paradigm with a call for a new paradigm. In the face of mounting world catastrophes and collapses, this is just a little like singing, “100 bottles of beer on the wall” together.
I suspect even right-wing spies who no doubt sat among us were underwhelmed by such tautologies. What could they report back that the leftists were planning to do? Top secret: They say they’re going to get together and take down power systems, make demands for multiracial, multicultural harmonious living, end top-down ersatz democracy, rid societies of oppression and exploitation, create equal opportunity and abundance for all . . . .
But there we all were, “together” at the conference, and if there were any coherent plans for how this vast harmonious concert of united humanity is to subsume current power structures and create a better world, I didn’t catch wind of them. Maybe I just went to the wrong rooms.
Because, in fact, I witnessed several quite bristly moments of disharmony, one among panelists on stage and one among audience members, the latter threatened physical aggression, with me shouting “stop!”
And throughout the weekend, there was more accord on explicating societal ills and defining authoritarian power structures than on fresh orientations or practical strategies for building a just and fair society.
Also, to my chagrin, I did not hear discussed what is actually the most significant divide among progressives, the rift between secular atheists and spiritually-oriented progressives. The latter were tellingly under-represented in the Left Forum programming. It appears the two groups do not break bread together, nor smoke the peace pipe around the same campfires.
And, of course, there are those progressives who wouldn't be caught dead or alive at either the Left Forum or at a gathering of, say, the Institute of Noetic Scientists, whose conference attracts the “conscious evolutionary” progressives.
And so the palpable spiritual desertification of our culture, if we could even be said to have a culture at all here in the US, was not considered a key part of the discussion of political, economic or social problems at either of the two Left Forums I’ve attended (2010 and 2011).
But I wonder if spiritual poverty and spiritual heartbreak is of central and essential relevance to our movement and to the urgent global problems so eloquently elucidated and enumerated at the Left Forum.
There were only a couple of classroom panels focusing on spiritual topics. One featured three Christian ministers speaking to a relatively small audience about the radical nature of their congregational work. Another panel, which I did not attend, featured Gary Null, et. al., who may have approached some of the issues I am pointing to here.
The very fact that the spiritual left and the academic left do not, for the most part, speak to each other in public (and that this fact was not deliberately brought forth in the widely attended plenary talks at this year’s Left Forum) speaks volumes about just how intractable a problem achieving solidarity really is among progressives.
How can we speak about solidarity or lack thereof without coming to grips with this glaring dissonance? Not only was this, our biggest rift, left unaddressed as a central topic in any panels I attended, I heard no direct conversation about any of the perennial divisions among progressives—all the little fractures and slices of worldview from Marxists to progressive democrats, to Green Anarchists—and so, where could be the insightful analyses of what human needs give rise to strong ideological identifications and encampments or how such divisions might be transcended? And without such understanding, how are we to begin to approach a more global vision for connecting with those who are not the least bit progressive at this time?
Instead, the need for solidarity was addressed through kudos for Egyptian and Wisconsin demonstrators, through applauding these truly heroic examples and models of solidarity for social justice and regime change, but at a time when neither of these groups have lasting victory to show for their efforts, the kind of social progress that can deal with human greed, aggression, power, supremacy . . . .
There were accolades and strong applause for the solidarity represented by pizza orders called in to feed Madison, WI demonstrators, from unknown ideological comrades watching Madison protests via internet and TV around the US and the world.
Yes! hot pizza pies are significant and meaningful gestures of solidarity, and yet eerily disappointed was I that radicals at the Left Forum did not dig up and chew on the roots of what lasting solidarity really is, the metaphysical elements of brotherhood and sisterhood and what gives rise to them beyond the common enemy, those intangibles that provide persistent courage and energy to power through and prevail in the face of destructive forces that oppose the best in us.
In my experience of the conference only Cornel West went there and so it thrilled me when he said, in speaking of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan: “We actually love those brothers and sisters. And isn’t it something that to believe that is to be radical.” That’s it; that’s right! He actually used the L-word, the seemingly forbidden word that represents a force that knows no bounds or divisions and no obstacles, a force more powerful than all the evils in our way. Bravo, Cornel West! The audience exploded with applause for him.
Why not speak of this in depth and more often? Why the separation of intellect and soul? Can't we get over this?
Is it because this is what gets you good and killed if you start talking about it as an unmediated birthright (Lennon, MLK, Jesus . . .) and start speaking of its lack as the root cause of social injustice?
Other than West’s statements, the general disengagement from the L-word and its meaning as the clarifying, fundamental aspect of life that we must exercise, strengthen and engage in ourselves and each other to full capacity, is the daunting fact that left me bereft, because only by addressing the lack of love amongst progressives and others will we be set to balance and transform our stagnation and galvanize a metaphysics of solidarity. This is how to arrive at a resolute set of actions, with strong and flexible bonds of brotherhood, with loving care and tenderness as our foundation; this is what's necessary for us to overcome rampant toxicity at every level—all of this was crystalized for me by what was lacking at the conference, an understanding of just why progressives are in their perennial underdog position in the struggle for justice.
Are we embarrassed or afraid to love big, bold and colorful? Are we ashamed to speak of abiding love as the energy of our bonds? Are we all just too depressed, anxious and desiccated inside? Can we wholeheartedly live up to taking care of ourselves and each other? Are we too heartbroken by life experience to let love flow and overspill, to beam love in the direction of the future where we will pioneer into 21st Century and excite all those around us to do the same? Are we paralyzed by the evil we have witnessed and continue to witness every day around us? All I can say is that if love is flowing in our hearts and nervous systems, let it not be confined, disguised, or kept too private now; we need it now more than ever.
I am listening for it, looking for it (the L), and yet I hear rampant cynicism, depression and despair. Love is lively, confident and bright. I appreciated the moment when Joel Kovel said in his presentation that “you need faith if you’re going to transform the world.” This is correct. But what is faith?
Faith is not religion, emotion or belief. Faith is a basic trust in life and the forces of existence, a trust in one’s organic sense of what is real and correct, and a trust in the underlying forces and processes of a universe of implicate law and intelligence, exceeding our feeble comprehension. We have to reawaken our capacities to listen, intuit and trust in life's true essentials.
Investigative journalism, accurate assessments and indictments, as well as multiple forms of resistance are surely needed, but we also need more time to be quiet, to be outdoors in wild places, to welcome our own changes, to be creative and make mistakes, to refresh ourselves and to get over our pasts, so that we’re not projecting personal rage from offenses of long ago onto current outrageous situations. Because all that makes for is conflagration, not skillful, creative and radical means that can show the way to the unwise.
The super-communicators of this year’s Forum were Cornel West and John Nichols. The old adage that “it’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it,” reasserted itself fully in the delivery of these orators. They activated bonding forces of solidarity, speaking emphatically with grace, rousing emotion, tempered to below the boiling point.
And yetl, did we not still long for gifts of real imagination at this conference? The cutting-edge is dull, getting perennially stuck at a horizon all too familiar, with too many conflicting views and goals, too much in-fighting. What will cut through to a higher order, to overcome dysfunction in our world.
Lip service is often given to the role of artists and creatives, but were there any artists on the Left Forum plenary panels? No!
At the scale of global society, with nearly seven billion people on the planet now, and with enormous challenges and forces in play, why are all these brilliant thinkers not entirely engaged with just how human beings will function, seven billion strong, as the current imperialist and plutocratic structures are disabled and dismantled, as we would like them to be?
The most clearly desirable practical ideas mentioned were worker cooperatives and relocalization, breaking up of multinational conglomerate financial systems, such as the IMF and the World Bank, reregulating investment banks, decentralizing governments into smaller regional entities and a global redistribution of wealth and power.
These are all ideas in common currency on the left. For those of us not invited to the table at progressive think tanks, it would be galvanizing to us to get feasible pictures of how the society we ideologically want would actually work, how things would be different in our daily lives and how those differences would make dangers we now face shrink back and resolve, how the redistribution of wealth and power would actually be achieved.
And if the answer is that nobody really has such things worked out, even in in their own minds, then how smart is it, really, to convene at this time, to have all these people burning all this fossil fuel to come together just to criticize the yellow brick road and the men behind the curtain? Shouldn’t we all be working locally and personally to open up our visionary capacities so we can see the way forward and then get together to share views and arrive at plans?
The word revolution was certainly in the air at the Forum, but it takes a whole lot more than a word to convince significant numbers of people to revolt. Combat revolutions require sacrifices of lives and materials; and history has shown that even successful people's revolutions can be followed on by regression to old ways.
This is exactly why “the spiritual left” calls for inner revolution, for psychological change, for freedom from addiction, for personal authority and integrity, so that social progress springs from authentic habits of holistic thinking and living, from the resolution of inner conflicts, and freedom from the irritation, discontent and wanting of the immature human spirit.
Everywhere on the Left we are inundated with daunting facts rather than energizing tactics. Facts about the toxicity of what we breathe, drink and eat, stats on the alarming rate of wealth being sucked up the ladder, rallying calls for the redistribution of wealth – So where is the unified, coordinated redistribution-of-wealth strategy? "Tax the rich"? Is this it?
Did anyone at the Left Forum say international general strike? I didn’t hear it. How much personal and moral authority would it take for, say, 25% of people around the world to shut down the global economy and governments and take charge of every aspect of their own lives, as a group, in solidarity? We could do this, just as soon as we are actually ready to handle it.
But how do unemployed people living on government checks strike? Are they going to refuse to pick up their government checks? Are they really interested in bringing down the government that is the teat they’re attached to for food and drink?
And what about employed people or entrepreneurs, up to their eyeballs in debt, kids, cars . . . what would get them to step out of line to bring down the system and build a new world? What do you think? That going to happen if we have no solidarity or plan that encourages these people to drop out of this way of life and stand together?
In which rooms at the conference were they talking about all this?
There were many details given about corporate abuses of power and how Citizens United will effect elections and bring even more corporate power to lawmaking and military authority, more evidence that we are being strangled and poisoned notch by notch, that while we hem, haw, dilly and dally, Fascism is taking hold and tightening its grip.
We were also privy to many specifics and particulars of the escalating environmental devastation of our biosphere and the denial of corporate/governmental power to recognize the urgency and respond. To be environmentally responsible means abandoning a legacy of exploitation and greed with biblical underpinnings, as well as high-stakes investments in growth and expansion of businesses based on extraction, domination and exploitation of natural ecosystems. To be truly environmentally responsible would mean that predatory capitalist system would be finished and the elite standards of living that everyone in the Left Forum audience is used to would be cut way, way back. Ready to rally for that? Just how many people would be put out of work in that scenario? Even if workers were to take over those businesses as coops, how would they run such businesses if they weren’t going to exploit land or other people?
We want to end the wars, close nuclear power plants, stop hydrofracking and tar sands operations, stop offshore drilling. Are you ready to live without fossil fuels? Ever gone hiking and camping? Ever live like a monk or a nun? No? Do these things now and then let's have a radical conversation.
We were told that Fox News is the most watched television news program and that the Wall Street Journal is the most read newspaper; that the messengers on the Right are ever-so-disciplined, consistent and pervasive in their backward messaging.
But isn’t it also true that Republicans are divided on many issues? We were told that half of Republicans identify as Tea Party supporters and the other half poll more like Democrats on the subject of social programs. So, the truth is that they don’t know what to do either and they don’t agree with each other or stand together on a lot of issues. There are pro-choice, pro gay marriage, fiscal Republicans, for example.
So why were there not concentrated analyses of just what our central messages are and why we are so unclear, undisciplined, inconsistent and ineffectual? Why were we not looking judiciously at ways to create lasting solidarity across platforms, across aisles, across all the blurred and shifting lines of the masses of suffering humanity? Why can’t we think bigger and more holistically than we do?
Artists, spiritual elders, and futurists are the visionary systems thinkers with big-picture capacity, long-range vision, and inner resources of satisfaction, but there were no artists or futurists on the plenary stage. Why not?!
Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, prodigious minds of erudition and passion, where was the much-needed attention to remedying ideological territorialism, which so afflicts the movement for justice and for sanity? Are we to remain defined primarily by what we are not, by what we oppose, by our anti-corporate and anti-capitalist rage, slogans and declarations?
Must it be our destiny to be in the role of yelping underdogs, fighting with our softie-hearted kid gloves in a class war that is totally rigged, where nothing can be done without capital and where we are perennially undercapitalized and forced to fight a losing battle, when in fact we are lovers not fighters? Why was there not more talk along these lines?
I say we've got to change the game in our own lives and who wants to hear that?! Let us no longer recognize the value of paper currency! Let us be defined by our creative vision and leadership, making obsolete, in both word and deed, the shackles of unwholesome societal projects! Disengage! Pull out! Disobey! Divest yourself of everything you've got sunk into the toxic, unreal world. Occupy the land. Leave the cities and get with the land to learn from and work with those who know how to live in harmony with the land.
Laura Flanders said something very important at the conference. She said, “Reality is what we need to grapple with.” This is truly of the essence. And it’s the same reality for progressives, as it is for those on the right. Dissociation from reality is the most pervasive human problem we are called to overcome now, in every social class, at every age, and in every culture and country on Earth.
Our true unity is actually found in our ignorance and weaknesses, in the pain of our confusion, ineptitude, psychological immaturity and disengagement from the Earth, in our not knowing what to do. The energetic network for mass solidarity is actually the shared experience of modernity and industrial civilization and its discontents, its craziness, its falsities, and our shared struggles of being neither here nor there.
Meanwhile everyone is pretending to know more than they do know and to be stubbornly right in that! We are together in our hidden existential pain. We will be strong when we can present a viable structuring of society that gives everyone the time and resources to address their dissociation from reality, to deal with hurt and the possibility of deep healing for future generations, to approach reality afresh, as ones who have learned a great deal since the start of the industrial era, with only perhaps a few elements of it worth keeping. Let us be eclectic about what we have learned; let's keep gems of wisdom and abolish all our many errors of ways and means.
No one can do this while they are on a rat-wheel “workin’ for the man,” when they are caught up in competition, envy and fear. And “the man” can’t do it either, not when he’s in domination mode, waging war, exploiting underlings, setting policies that don’t serve the universal needs of people, scarring the land and pillaging seas for profit. These are people sadly out of touch.
All too few of us can approach and stay engaged with reality if we are living within today’s world structures, which are so very damaging to the spirit. This is why monks and nuns are given protection to be reclusive; they are doing the work of inner alignment with reality. More and more of us could disengage from academia and all forms of institutional and establish work and turn inward to contact reality, living very simply and without fanfare. As we do, we need less and less of what the techno-monopoly world has to offer, seeing it as a sorrowful waste of the gift of life. All people might be touched by reality and therein find rest, peace.
Are we willing to lay down our careers, positions and possessions if that’s what needs to be done to reach our most cherished goals?
Imagine if 85% of the world’s population were highly educated and psychospiritually mature. Anarchy might work. It would not be such a chaotic situation. But if 85% of the world’s population is ignorant, dependent and immature, anarchy is completely untenable, because people cannot self-manage and they will not be trustworthy to look after each other and other forms of life.
A favorite slogan of the Situationists during the European social upheavals in 1968 was "Be Realistic. Demand the impossible.”
Reality itself is demanding that we transcend, create, surpass former limits and that is the natural way of the universe anyway, with or without us. What seems “impossible,” out of reach, is so because our psychospiritual development and its conditions are too undeveloped to live up the moral sense or the creative potential that is ours, but which is very intimate. This demand for alignment with intimate reality is knocking inside all of us but the most severely crippled souls, those very people who so often find their way into positions of power. When are we going to answer to the intimate truth instead of to the magnetic psychopaths who dominate and manipulate through ignorance and lies?
The growth humanity needs now has nothing to do with the growth of an economy or the provision of “creature comforts,” nor with rallies and the fall of governments. It is about deepening and strengthening of our capacity to meet reality and be wholeheartedly aligned with it, to be realized people, working with natural law as our law.
Can we imagine that the basis of our entire global culture is to achieve what is generally considered “the state of enlightenment,” but which is simply alignment with reality?
Will the academic left get with this? If so, you might just be out of a job, professors. How would you like to build a cob house with a bunch of us and put in some gardens and greenhouses?
And, will “the spiritual left” please leave off with the UFOs and aliens, crystals and runes, drug trips, crop circles, reptilian humans, astrology, mystery cults, power of attraction workbooks, drum circles, fortune tellers, pagan rites . . . and meet with intellectuals and just folks around the campfire for some practical architecture?
Now, will the evangelists and the rednecks, addicts, doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, gangsters, secret agents and casino owners turn away from false doctrines, false flags, guns and poisons? What? No? Will you be ransacking our brand new mud and straw villages? Really?
Don’t you want to admit that the native peoples were the advanced minds, the wisdom figures, and that the Europeans were the neurotic, puerile savages?
Can we get a wee bit smarter and more radical now?
Making our demand Life’s demand, taking this upon ourselves as a species, across all borders, boundaries and divisions, is deeply political in nature and also deeply spiritual: these go together. Once you’re fully involved in reality, you won’t have time anymore for consumer business or celebrities, nor will you harbor a shred of interest in the circus of electoral politics.
Bio-psycho-social-spiritual integration and development, dynamic growth, holistic health and clear mind-sight into and through the old and the present has the potential to bring not only the fractured left together, but humanity as a whole.
The imperative for reality changes the human project entirely. We simply cannot go back to sing Jack and Jill, play musical chairs and Ring around the Rosy now. We simply cannot sing anthems, run marathon rat races or have the fruits of our love and work go to war and waste.
The whole stage-set will be dismantled when we are over the silly stories of this theater! All of us, together, over it, over it now! Dull, ditzy, dusty old stories!
Victor Hugo famously said "Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come." And the time as come, fellow human beings, to acknowledge that when enough of the human race grows up and perceives reality, the seemingly endless cycles of invasion, exploitation and domination of peoples and planet will be obsolete.
There are not enough jails, money or uniformed men to contain, hold back and push down an idea whose time has come.
It is the whole construct of reality that is crumbling and dying around us. Goodbye. Good night. Good luck. Awaken.
©2011 Jari Chevalier
March 11th, 2008
The question, where is your money invested? is experienced by many as a violation, a pointed finger jabbing at them. Well, this gets our backs up precisely because this is where we have compromised our hearts, where we really don’t want to look and listen, where the worm of hypocrisy squirms. It’s what we really don’t want to feel, talk about, and possibly be moved to address. Why?
Because it is still, generally speaking, more financially profitable (higher returns, less risk) in the short term to put money into the coffers of established companies and profiteers, engaged as they may be in disregard of land, people, health and wisdom, and every creature of the Earth.
And so we think we have our money working for us?! We give over our money, which, along with our work, is our most powerful instrument, voice and vote, to this portfolio of doom and Armageddon. And, the game is set up so that the players rationalize and justify detrimental business practices on the basis of having to satisfy their stockholders with high returns. This is a game where profit is the highest value in consideration. So, there you have it.
I was at the Whitney Biennial contemporary art show on preview day and it was a spiritual wasteland, very disappointing. The show mirrors a society that is imbalanced, disgusting, disordered, epically ugly, mad, stupid, broken, mean-spirited and sick. On the audio tour, Ellen Harvey, one of the artists whose work stood out to me, said: “You can’t win, so let’s just start off by failing as extravagantly as possible,” in speaking of her art process. A fitting line for our times. There was hardly a hint of transcendence or visionary attitude in that entire show; instead, despair and hurt and self-indulgence. Is this the best we can do? One wonders about the selection of this uninspired psychic display and what the mindset is there, the agenda.
The proverb “money is the root of all evil” in these materialistically driven times might just as well be “money is the root of all good”. Our money is what we get for the life energy we have expended and both our energy and our money can be put to good, evil or neutral work in the world.
Our money actually does invest us in that which we have invested, even though we are not always willing to look at it that way or to do the real math from a holistic perspective. So then, are we living behind our own backs? Are we content to be strangers to ourselves and each other? Are we actually saying: yes, here, do more of this with our world, kill it, destroy and decimate it, kill it all, just give me another cushion, don’t take away my addictions, and throw in the health insurance.
We have the power, if we have the will, to reform our civilization very quickly, and we can do it with our energy and our money, much more effectively than with our political votes.
If you haven't seen the movie Zeitgeist yet, you can get to it through these links. It's screening at non-mainstream theaters across the country this Saturday. The second link displays those theaters. Part three of this movie gives a historical view of the financial world that you might want to have a look at. I invite your comments on this.
Streaming Zeitgeist movie
Big Screenings on March 15th
Article by Javier Sierra, Sierra Club, "How to Tell Greenwashing from Real Corporate Responsibility"
©Jari Chevalier, 2008