Saturday, April 9, 2011

Changing the system, or navigating it with integrity

"The task of the activist is not to navigate current systems with integrity. The task of the activist is to take down systems of oppression." ~Derrick Jensen

I keep coming back to Jensen's talk the other day, because it was just full of fascinating ideas, thoughts and encouragement, but also replete with cynicism and a sense that we are just running out of time. I must agree that we are running out of time, in the biggest sense, first and foremost. With something like climate change for example, it doesn't seem like the world is gung-ho on making sure Mauritius doesn't drown. There are other deeper issues that do need to be dealt with, though, such as a redefinition of norms and ethics, which I think Jensen is trying to get at, too.

(When I say "technology," I mean the technology that has been brought into the world in the past few decades, the rate of whose introduction has followed something like Moore's law.) As I have alluded to with several posts on technology and progress (here, here, here, here, here), while I am not against technology altogether, the trend of techno-optimism are rather worrying, particularly because it has redefined what "sustainability" means. It has now come to mean "sustainable development," which fundamentally assumes that a Western-derived ethic of technological development will free us from our current society's ecologically-degrading behaviour. Instead of actually questioning our behaviour and what drives it, we come up with geo-engineering solutions that are just bound to make things worse. Now, it seems that much of our education system is set up such that it produces people to further entrench this technologically-driven, ecologically-degrading economy as the norm. And while it may be possible to engineer our way out of environmental disaster (I do not believe so), what Jensen is saying that it would be a major breakthrough if we were to take a step back and realise that our quest for ever-increasing technology has led us to where we are.

There are two ways then that Jensen says we could use our power - either we could all be techno-optimists, and make technologies that are "efficient" and "less harmful" to the environment, rather than come up with technologies that will have a degrading influence on nature and people, or we can say that the problem is our dependence on technology itself. We can get a job with BP, and try to "green" it from the inside, or we can make BP obsolete. We can try to convince people in the Department of Defense that we should have weapons that target only the intended target and minimise collateral damage, or we can stand in solidarity against everything that drives us to use violent force, and make the need for something like the Department of Defense a thing of the past. These are difficult things to do, but things that each and every one of us can influence. By saying no, we do not patronise, and we do not in any way insure the future of the system.

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