Phil Rockstroh: Kenn, recently, this observation of mine provoked ire: street demonstrations, even large ones, are apropos of nothing as long as they are manifested as de facto state sanctioned protests. A march proceeds, chants are cast into indifferent air, speechifying comes to pass by the usual gasbags then the assembled head home and carry on as usual.
Capitalist colonisation has been internalised to such a saturating degree that demonstrations are, in the neoliberal era, designed to be toothless and non-threatening in regard to the structures of capitalist power. Conversely, a strike translates to stopping the flow of capital — otherwise it amounts to enabling business as usual.
Kenn Orphan: It seems that the colonisation of consciousness in Western society has become completely seamless that here, in 2019, most of us have been conditioned to accept a modified and sanitised version of dissent. How many remember Kony 2012? These are forms of acceptable dissent to the status quo ruling class and even act to suit their goals. Of course, climate change and the environment are broader issues that reach beyond that kind of thing, but the same actors are at play in their manipulation.
Throwing a wrench into the gears actually gets attention and action. It also shows how brutal and ruthless the current order is against anyone who stands against the status quo in this manner. Occupy and Standing Rock are a couple of those examples. A flood of violence and intimidation washed over those uprisings. There has been a flurry of laws since those protests that seek to criminalise dissent and maintain boundaries, even branding certain activities or associations as terrorism.
The Mouvement des Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vest Movement, in contrast to today’s climate demonstrations reveal how the neoliberal state treats those who dissent in a way that upends power structures. I am not referring to Yellow Vests in Canada or some other places which have taken on a racist, fascistic, or xenophobic character, but in France where working people took to the streets, walked out of jobs, and shut down the machinery of society. It was met with breath-taking violence by Macron’s government, and scant mass media coverage. So, without a doubt, when people confront actual power structures they will be met with the aggressive repression of the state, not be escorted and protected by police because they got the right permits for free speech zones on the weekends. And their struggle will not get put in glossy photos on the cover of corporate owned magazines.
So now we come to the demonstrations surrounding climate change taking place in cities around the world. Most of these are coordinated, many have NGO support, and all of them are impressive, but very little is disrupted in a way that causes any meaningful discomfort to the forces of capital. Not yet, anyway. There are some indications that groups like Extinction Rebellion are reaching out to workers, but it remains to be seen how this will unfold, especially since there are some questionable financial backers of this loose knit organisation.
What I find troubling, though, is that there is this a demand from many in these demonstrations for governments to “do something.” It is these very governments, at the behest of the corporations and the military industrial complex who run them, who have caused our crisis to begin with. For instance, little is said to address the enormous military footprint. The US military alone uses 4,600,000,000 gallons of oil every single year. It pollutes the oceans without any consequences and uses sonar that harms sea mammals and fish. This is not to mention the tremendous human and environmental costs of endless war. And as these climate demonstrations are taking place, the American war machine is ramping up to defend Saudi oil fields. So if there are no demands for the dismantling of this planet killing institution then it will end up a sham.
But without a doubt, Phil, it is inspiring to see millions gather in protest, from Nairobi to London to New York to Bangkok, and to see more young people wholly reject “green” capitalism and corporate capitalist language like the pseudo “net zero” as opposed to zero carbon emissions.
Hopefully they are prepared for the inevitable backlash and repression once they begin to truly disrupt or impede the machinery of capitalism itself, which is now entering its most brutal and final stage.
Solidarity is key to this since no one person can take on this murderous behemoth on their own. The best place to look for wisdom in this regard are indigenous communities, past and present. To look to the global south where environmental activists are being silenced, disappeared, and murdered for their dissent.
PR: After the socio-political uprisings of the 1960s, the advertising industry — the capitalist propaganda factory of archetype usurpers — was in crisis. The dark magicians of the trade had sold status consciousness, conformity through fear, and id lived out by means of consumerism, retailing hippie harmony and the inherent longing for paradise humans carry within.
Thus, we come to the root of the problem for all too many activists responding to the Climate Crisis including Greta Thunberg, who has become a celebrity thus a vessel for projections, both slanderous and hagiographic. The Greta phenomenon, by its nature, provokes emotional responses from climate denialists (and right-wing soreheads in general) freaked out by a smart, passionate young woman and from those on the left driven by a compulsion to provide paternal protection to her due to her child-like appearance and aura of innocence.
First off, slander inflicted upon her is reprehensible. Her sincerity should not be questioned. Her right to demand a viable future for herself and her fellow young people of the suffering planet is unassailable. What should be avoided are psychological projections upon her, a sixteen-year-old, whose diminutive, physical stature and open, guileless visage evoke projections of concretised archetypal resonance e.g., the “Divine Child arrived on the sin-sullied earth as redeemer” figure.
Up to the present, she has followed a vague and wonky storyline — thus she has not, as of yet, been considered a threat to capitalist power and has been regarded by the powerful as being relegated to the role of Climate Muppet; hence, she has been provided wide exposure in the capitalist media.
What should be avoided: Greta’s presence on the global stage being exploited by capitalist greenwashing profiteers in retailing a (sham) world-changing, “new paradigm,” in the same manner, albeit more sophisticated, as was rolled out by the capitalist dream hijackers in the 1970s when they schemed to usurp anti-war, anti-racism sentiment by means of campaigns similar to the ones that could be contrived for Greta.
To avoid such an accusation, Greta should shun tête-à-têtes with the Bono, DiCaprio, Obama et. al. klavern of greenwasher glamour tools and be induced to begin promulgating the fact that the people who are destroying the biosphere of the planet have names and addresses.
KO: Greenwashing efforts are undoubtedly in full swing, Phil. Corporations and the military establishment understand very well that the environmental and climate devastation that they have caused is coming full circle. That as a civilisation we have reached a point of no return in regard to species extinction, the collapse of ecosystems, catastrophic climate change, and the attendant destabilisation of the current political and economic arrangement. And they have been working feverishly to change their brand. While it is easy to point out the wilful obtuseness of outright climate change deniers like the bloated orange-in-chief Trump, it is less easy to parse out the greenwashers.
So, we should be wary that a faux “movement” may be manufactured on the backs of real movements. Without a doubt, they see Greta Thunberg as the perfect icon for this movement because she presents a genuine, passionate concern for our fate and that of the next generation. That she has rightfully called out the wealthy and powerful for their apathy and other faults is to be lauded, but there are powerful forces who merely wish to rebrand capitalism and create a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. One which will end up amplifying the damage through its continued privatisation and commodification of nature. And they will not touch the military industrial state because it serves to protect capital.
I celebrate the tenacity and the people Greta has inspired. And the vitriol, bullying and slander spewed at her by the far right and by repugnant characters like Dinesh D’Souza who compared her to Nazis is utterly reprehensible and should be condemned.
But there is an iconography happening in many quarters that often has the troubling effect of muting our analytical senses. In Paris, for instance, demonstrators lifted a painting of Greta in the style of a medieval icon of a saint with a halo. And this speaks to a sort of spiritual desperation at play, especially as we see ecosystems being mercilessly assaulted, exploited, and failing.
We should examine this further because, indeed, there is a realisation that our collective situation requires a massive paradigm shift which is, in a myriad of ways, psychically transformative. Indigenous societies have long understood this, but have been mostly ignored or have had their sacred beliefs culturally appropriated to conform to the narrative of white, bourgeois, “New Age” consumer society. But all that has been turned on its head in this age of ecological devastation.
And it is this very quality that has been seized upon by the wraiths of capitalism. They have put Greta on the cover of magazines like Time, GQ, and Vogue. She gets interviews with Christiane Amanpour. She is seen in photo ops with the fossil fuel, fracking, drone-loving and polluter friendly Barack Obama, who merely wants to promote his foundation. None of this is to say she agrees with these powerful actors or entities, but they do not view her as a threat as of yet. On the contrary, they see her either as a ratings boost or an asset to their personal aspirations.
Indigenous activists of similar age do not get this kind of treatment because of a legacy of colonial racism and because indigenous peoples are on the frontlines of the war of capital against their homes and the planet itself. Artemisa Xakriabá of Brazil, for example, is relatively unknown in mass media circles. But her message is even more pointed and powerful as she speaks directly about policies of genocide and violence against her people, the Amazon rainforest where she lives, and the biosphere as a whole.
If Greta dares tell the truth about capitalism and the military industrial complex and its primary role in accelerating climate change, she will likely be silenced or rendered invisible like Malala Yousafzai. After Malala condemned Obama’s murderous foreign policies and drone strikes and said she was a socialist she was largely disappeared by the corporate media. She no longer represented an image of the benevolent empire and presented the public with the reality of that empire’s avarice-fuelled belligerence.
It is my sincere hope that Greta will see past the ambitions and machinations of those who seek to co-opt her message and see that their interest is only in saving capitalism and maintaining the militaristic, unjust global order, not in protecting the environment or other species, or addressing climate change, or in the poorest of the earth, or even the next generation.
The promising thing is that while her family has some measure of privilege in the cultural and intellectual class in Sweden, I don’t think she cares much for celebrity and I think her heart is in the right place. But naivety in this regard can be quite dangerous too. These interests are moneyed and well connected. And the consensus they need relies on a public that has been conditioned to respond, emulate, and even celebrate the brutal precepts of capitalism and the authoritarianism of the ruling elite.
PR: Suggestion: follow the money and whom or what will benefit from her presence in the public sphere i.e., the suffering biosphere of the planet or Davos-type denizens who are rolling out a for-profit agenda they have branded, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The power to profit from oppression and exploitation must be neutralised. Moreover, the capitalist overclass, history reveals, do not surrender an inch without a brutal struggle by organised countervailing forces and never will be moved to surrender power by pleas to a conscience that they do not possess.