OK, look. It's not a manifesto and we might as well get out of the way that I think puns really are valuable to help keep us on our brain-toes. Couldn't help myself, anyway.
BUT! I am going to try to put some ideas together, as some kind of personal statement and provocation. So although I don't love the connotations of the term, it is a manifesto, no matter what I say. Death of the author, life of the being-becoming a self-aware universe.
ALL-ONE or None! Socialism or barbarism. None of us is free, until all of us is free. My liberation is bound up with yours and I am here, trying to help us both loosen the strictures created by men who are too afraid of the world to let it live out its wild multitudinous dreams through us.
That wacky old soap man was closer to the truth than any president or industrialist of this twice-damned nation, which continues, through those supposedly great men, to play out its foundational sins everywhere it finds anything resembling an Eden.
"You can't be serious!" you might say, and you're right, I can't. Serious is overrated anyway, where decisions get made in this hell we've spread to every corner of the only habitable planet we've ever known. If you think this is silly, or naive, or strikes the wrong tone, I'd like to see you try to justify the outcomes we're getting from Serious People Carefully Using Their Authoritative Voices.
The core of the thing is that the living systems of this sacred planet are near to breaking, everywhere we look and almost certainly in places we haven't yet learned to see. And it's the work of humans that did it. Industry in both the large and the small sense have led us to the edge of the cliff and are poised to go even further than that, because there's good money in death and destruction. And a desperate, disparate patchwork of people are trying to divert our momentum, before it's too late. Thank fuck we're not lemmings, right? We're Rational Individuals, heroes of the Western myth of progress through domination and extraction.
Except uh. We're not! We're as individual as aspen trunks. As individual as blood cells. We got it all fucked up, thanks to some fucking dorks in Europe a few hundred years ago, basically. One fucking guy proposed that people are just brains with a bunch of meat attached, and here we are today trying to make brains without any meat, while the incalculable vastness of life that isn't human brains faces down a future which some tremendous portion of that life cannot survive. Did y'all know that when Descartes was alive, nobody had ever even seen a bacterium yet? And now we know that bacteria are on us, in us, help to sustain us, and are at least as numerous in what we think of as a human body, as actual "human cells?" We know that bacteria can develop a crude kind of memory across generations, and that "they" can influence "our" biological processes. So it's not even just that the body matters more than we presume. It's that a human body isn't as human as we like to think. Humanity isn't located, separately, in each of us, but in our collective memory and imagination. A human brain isn't a pure authoritative thought machine. It's high-voltage meat reacting to stimuli from bacteria, plants, stars, and other meat! But we violently enforce the conceit that each ball of zappy meat is the little lord of its own domain, deserving of rights in proportion to how much it resembles - in skin-tone and opinion - a guy who, I cannot stress enough, was by modern standards impossibly ignorant of almost everything we can measure about the fractal interdependent web of existence.
OK, I'll stop talking about meat for a minute. We do have to reckon with it, but of course it's also unfair to downplay our experience of personhood quite so much as I just did. We can be both meat and mystery - actually it's the only way we know to be!
Speaking of limited visions of existence, we could also zoom way out from the cellular and talk about capitalism. The perverted system whose end we can scarcely imagine, from within its dreadful grasp. Well, it's past time to imagine harder. Imagine like
your life depends on it. Because the basilisks haunting the nightmares of Silicon Valley aren't just a thought experiment. The paperclip maximizers already exist and they are fixing to maximize us right up. We call them corporations, and some of them literally do exist to make as many paperclips as can be made for a profit. You ever go to a garage sale and catch yourself thinking about how many goddamn wrenches there are? Do you think we really need a magic broomstick to keep pumping out wrenches indefinitely? I don't. I bet we could stop making wrenches for like a decade and still have more than enough to go around. But the magic broomstick only cares about MORE. And if you're dead plant matter animated by hubris with no meat at all, whether you're a broom or a pile of legal paperwork called a corporate personhood, what difference does a few degrees of warming make? Let's not wait for them to find out the hard way, right? We can't count on them to figure it out, there's not any thinking meat in there at all!
Sorry I keep coming back to the meat. It's not true about corporations being meatless, anyway. They're made out of people! But we've organized ourselves so that the living bits of each corporation don't have a relationship of mutuality with the enchanted paper, like gut bacteria do with the brain, or like people do with the grain.
We have to stop that machine before it does exactly what the hypothetical cautionary tales say it will. We have to stop looking for abstractions and justifications for imagining the thinking isn't part of the meat, isn't beholden to the bacteria, isn't inextricably dependent on all the things we commonly believe it's separate from, and dominant over. We have to acknowledge our actual living bodies, made as they are of sunlight and plants and rocks and each other. We have to accept the reality of the meat, honor the living organism composed of human cells and bacteria, and rocks and fungus and so on, and reciprocate the unfathomable blessing of life that we experience as "individual" pieces of this living system. The idea that people can understand this system and control it, is about as preposterous as the idea that, if your blood cells got organized enough, they could control your whole body. We all understand that they can't. They can only play the role that they fit, exercising control in some ways, depending on things beyond their comprehension in others. What does a blood cell know of the heart, or the person, or music? That's what we each know of the biosphere we experience ourselves in and through.
What's hard to believe, then, but harder still to contradict, is that we do have agency. Imagine if some large portion of your blood cells decided that they would not accept the harmony of a well-functioning body, and should do as they see fit. After all, the little blood cell they imagine inside their nucleus is the source of truth and understanding, and its whims and wills deserve realization in the flesh and plasma around them, by virtue of their resemblance to the Great Blood Cell outside of the body, which created the blood cells and gave them a body to control. Does that sound uh. Does that sound good for the body? If they pursued this notion, would they regain the humility and nobility of their unique role in the larger interdependent whole, before that role was obviated by the cascade of interdependent disruptions they caused?
That's what we have to face, right fucking now. Yesterday. Tomorrow. It's fine, time is sorta fake too unless we bring it to an end. We can still change this story, and even somewhat redeem that foolish Frenchman, if we choose to.
Look, I don't really know how manifestos are supposed to work, so I'm winging it. Am I doing alright? Are you roused yet, to action or anger or something besides comfortable bemusement at the shadows cast by the fire, here in the next time?
Capitalism is doomed, either way. I'd prefer to outlive it, personally, and more deeply, I'm willing to physically fight you to ensure that our children do. Sure, it can seem scary to imagine a different world, but it sounds pretty fucking scary not to, from where I sit. We, together, can rebuild our mutuality and interdependence. It will mean abandoning not just the stock market, or the hoarding of wealth, but the singular privilege of personhood as well. Not into a hive mind, or an anthill where no ant has their own bed or toothbrush. It could be a world where the fruits of our collective endeavor are distributed, like oxygen, to all parts of the system in proportion to their need. We actually do have enough wrenches and enough food to go around, if we'd only let them go around. We could throw off the misguided attempts to build a world of only blood, and divert the resources of war machines and health insurance pre-authorizers into sharing and caring and mutually arising life. We could stop making chum-bucket ads and "disposable" fashion, just for a while, until we can get the baseline health of the world-body back on track. We can build systems of deeper interdependence in our neighborhoods and apartment buildings, our cities and watersheds, continents, at every scale. Because fractal self-similarity means something magical: As above, so below. In both directions, mutually co-creating aboveness and belowness in every degree, wrapping back around and eating its Escherian tail.
I believe we need to take this magic seriously. There are times and places for measurement, categorization, abstraction. And there are times and places for feeling, linking, embodiment. We've emphasized the former, philosophically and culturally, for a very long time. We've put our hand on the scales only to discover that comparing two separate things isn't the only question worth asking, and among the others are: are those things separate? are they two?
This return to what I've called "humility and nobility" above is going to be painful in many ways for the people who have grown up in a world where their side of the scale held only nobility, with the weight of other side's humility making those heights possible. As a part of that privileged set, though one hoping to set myself against it, I think of this sometimes as "hardening off," like a seedling raised indoors must do in order to survive the chaotic conditions of "the real world, outside." There will be sacrifices, to be sure. But in much of the mythology that led us to this moment, sacrifices are repaid in blessings many times over. Refusing to sacrifice, on the other hand, tends to go poorly. Another notion that I find useful, is that by our sacrifices, we might still sanctify our ancestors despite their sins. We might repair what has been broken and redeem that which was spent. And if we don't, we deserve the final, generational damnation that awaits us.
Those on the other side of the scale, who do not deserve that damnation we've cultivated, will be swallowed nonetheless without a sharp and compassionate reversal of course. And, while recognizing that harm is not equally shared in the catastrophe and cannot be undone across history, they are of course also us, as we all are connected while each occupying our own space on the multi-axis gradients of privilege and oppression. At the same time that we recognize the personal reality of injustice, and take on the work of repairing those individual harms as best we can, we recognize that the infliction of that oppression has also harmed its supposed beneficiaries, and all of us living thing(s) deserve healing and wholeness, together. Except for Musk and Bezos. Those fuckers get the wall.
In short, we need degrowth - not an end to all advancement, but an urgent decentering of the profit motive, the antiquated philosophy of 17th century Europe, and the disgusting lie of meritocracy. We need to rapidly reconfigure our economic systems to support a reparative, restorative distribution of resources, to heal what can be healed and save what can be saved, from bodies to psyches to ecosystems. We need to reconnect with each other, and with the world around us, from the boiling core of our living Earth to the vast cold reaches of the universe, so that we can remember and recognize that our value isn't found in counting or measuring individual units but in connections, in complementary mutual care. I have thoughts on specific steps that we can take toward these goals, but that's for some other time. This here, this plea for Being-Us, is just a primal scream with ambitions of becoming a rallying cry.
I don't know how to wrap this up. Is the signal clear enough, in my noise? Wholeness and division are inseparable - just as there is no "away" where our shameful mass of refuse can be thrown, there is no "out" of the garden where we can be cast. So are we gonna wring our hands and watch it all burn down with us inside, or are we gonna get to work and grow something beautiful? When the time has come to finally choose -- or have the choice made for us -- I know I'd rather have my hands in the dirt, either way.
You don't have to read any of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But if you never have, consider at least reading the most recent Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers. ↩︎
Satire! Satire! Not my fault if everyone's thinking it! ↩︎
If you want to dig in right away to some excellent discussion of practical possibilities towards degrowth, my first recommendation would be the three-part series on Library Socialism by the podcast Srsly Wrong (transcripts also available):
- Library Socialism & Usufruct
- Library Socialism & The Irreducible Minimum
- Library Socialism & Complementarity ↩︎