Global Eco-Anarcho-Zen-“Christian”-Commie Revolution

(Read the essay, or watch the 20 minute video version here in this little box, or on its Youtube page, or full-screen.)

We need a global ecoanarchoZen“Christian”commie revolution, and soon. I’ll explain all seven parts of that phrase. Together they constitute an enormous change, but anything less won’t suffice. The economy, the ecosystem, and the social fabric are all collapsing; life as we have known it is ending. If we are to continue having any lives at all, they will be so different as to be unrecognizable. Come with us to the world that is being born — we can’t get there without you, and the old world is dying.

(0:44) GLOBAL. Revolution in the USA is pivotal, because this military superpower has propped up dictatorships all over the world. But ultimately the revolution is global — the ecosystem does not notice national borders, nor should our human family. Those borders are drawn by politicians who tell us “the people on the other side of this line are different.” But in truth, our cousins on the other side are just like us; it’s the politicians who are different. Billy Bragg, in his version of The Internationale, sang “end the vanity of nations — we’ve but one earth on which to live.”

(1:27) ECOLOGICAL. The ecosystem is in big trouble, and so are we, since we depend on it. Ecocidal destruction is much more advanced than most people realize. Toxic spills are everywhere, apocalyptic runaway warming has begun, crop failures are raising food prices, and the ecosystem is growing more fragile as it loses diversity. We may already be too late. If there is still any chance of our avoiding the extinction of our species along with most other species on earth, it will be through immediate immense remedial measures and drastic changes in our way of life. With each day’s delay, hundreds more species go extinct, thousands more people lose their future, and millions or even billions of dollars more are added to the cost of the remedial measures that are needed.

Those measures must be guided by scientists, not by the plutocrats whose exploitations have brought this catastrophe upon us. Those wealthy and powerful people have shown their careless stupidity ever more clearly. Just think: When the burning of fossil fuels began to melt the Arctic, bringing us a step closer to the extinction of all life on earth, humanity should have reacted by banning further use of fossil fuels. But our ruling class instead exclaimed “oh goody! now it will be so much easier to extract fossil fuels from the Arctic!” and they began squabbling only over their shares of the new profits. Their greedy unconcern will continue until we stop them, or until they kill everyone, including themselves. They’ve been driven insane by the market, which can only see things in terms of short-term profit; I’ll say more about that in a moment.

(3:18) ANARCHISM. Many people have been led to believe that “anarchism” means disorder, chaos, violence, and destruction. But it was the authoritarians who told them that.

Authoritarians have an overly pessimistic view of human nature. Seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote that people are basically greedy and selfish, and they will engage in a “war of all against all” unless held in check by the iron fist of a king. The authoritarians would like you to believe that a society without a strong central authority will crash like a boat without a helmsman.

But society is not a boat, and sociologists have found that people are more empathic than selfish. Generally, people would rather cooperate than fight. It is only our rulers who send us to war.

Breaking down the word, “an-archism” just means “no-rulers” — i.e., no leaders, no authoritarians, no coercion. Generally that means no violence. And that doesn’t mean disorder. Indeed, an anarchist society is very highly ordered, but it’s a voluntarily self-organized peer-to-peer network, not leader-centered, not a hierarchy.

“Majority rules and minority obeys” is a poor system, to be used only as a last resort; we’d be much better off with more caring, understanding, and consensus. And representative, indirect democracy hasn’t worked — it concentrates power among too few people, which corrupts them, and which simplifies explanations of problems too much to permit effective solutions. We should try participatory, direct democracy. And no, I don’t have a clear and detailed blueprint of how that will work; we’ll have to figure that out together; that’s what democracy means. Indeed, for me to give a detailed plan in advance would be pretty much the opposite of anarchism, wouldn’t it? But Occupy Wall Street, Porto Alegre, the Zapatistas, and the Odonians have given us some models to start from: we come not to take power, but to end it. And agreeing on the details will be easy, once we’ve passed that big first step of understanding that the goal is not me, but we.

(5:49) ZEN. I’ve chosen that word to indicate that we need a better understanding of our own human nature.

Our goal in revolution is to create a world of greater happiness, so let’s give some thought to what really makes us happy. Buddha warned us not to get too caught up with material possessions. It’s true that we need a few essentials, such as food and shelter. But beyond that, sociologists have found, additional possessions are just encumbrances, and barriers that separate us from one another.

The separation of my property from yours might seem harmless, because we’re accustomed to it. But it has been our undoing, for it generates the illusion that our lives are separate, that my happiness and well being need not be your concern. Other people become our rivals and potential threats, and this makes us less happy. Empathy is replaced with apathy and sociopathy. Externalized costs become possible, and cause great damage. What protects the world, and also makes us happier, it turns out, is to see other people as friends. Buddha advised us to treasure our connections with other living beings.

We imagine that having more money will give us some degree of control over our lives, and will make us feel secure, but it doesn’t. It’s not reliable. All that money won’t do us any good if the economy collapses, or if we’re put in prison when the political wind changes, or if our health fails. Absolute security is not possible in this world, and the pursuit of it just makes us feel less secure. However much we get, we’re going to want more. For instance, my tiny little retirement income is enough for me to get by, but now I’m worried about my planet’s ecosystem. Buddha advised us to learn to live with some uncertainty in our lives. “Life is like a surfboard,” he might have said, if he had lived near a good beach.

Buddha also warned us to beware of dichotomies, many of which are illusions — particularly the dichotomy between what is inside us and what is outside us.

The delusion that we humans are separate from nature is one of the reasons the ecosystem is dying. And the delusion that “those people are different from me” — racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.– is a cause of great suffering.

But I want to discuss another dichotomy that is less understood: that between the 99% and the plutocracy. If we overthrow the plutocracy without changing our culture, that culture will quickly generate a new plutocracy. The culture is not just in the plutocrats, but in all of us. It’s especially in our economic system, in which we’re all participants. The seeds of our destruction are in the so-called “American dream” to which we’ve all aspired — car, house, spouse, two kids, steady job, and, most tellingly, a fence separating our yard from the neighbor’s, the separateness that I already cautioned against. We need to change our own way of life too, not just the lives of the plutocrats.

(9:12) “CHRISTIAN.” This won’t matter as much in other parts of the world, but in the USA most people see themselves as Christians. We need a revolutionary change in what we understand by the word “Christian.” Jesus’s message has become encrusted with ritual and hierarchical authoritarianism. We need to return to the simple, anarchistic peace and love of the earliest Christians.

Here in the USA, Paul’s message of faith has won out over James’s message of works, perhaps because faith is easier than works. Many USers feel that they don’t need to actually do anything about (for instance) feeding the poor, as long as they feel strong loyalty to the Jesus brand. Well, I don’t know how to prove to them that they’re mistaken, but I feel very strongly that they are.

And even feeding the poor is not enough. Archbishop Câmara, of the Liberation Theology movement, said

When I feed the poor, people call me a saint. But when I ask why there is poverty, people call me a communist.

I would add that we already have saints; we need more people asking questions. Faith and works are not enough; we also need to understand what is going on around us.

Here in the USA, many people have been told that the teachings of Jesus and Marx are incompatible. But that’s not so. Those men both preached caring and sharing; they hoped to see the world transformed into the Beloved Community that Martin Luther King often spoke about. Together we can build that community.

(10:55) COMMUNISM. This may be the hardest part to explain, because the misconceptions about it are so deep and so widespread. Our lives have been based on private property for 10,000 years, and now it’s difficult for us to recall how we shared for 100,000 years before that, difficult for us to even begin to imagine living differently than we do now.

Anarchists of the left and right both call for individual freedom, and for a knowledgeable public voluntarily choosing its own fate. But we on the left and right have different opinions about what that knowledge would be, and what voluntary choices would result from it. Anarcho-capitalists claim that the market is beneficial to society, and that a well-informed public would embrace the market. But we commies are convinced that markets destroy freedom, and are extremely harmful to the world, and that people would avoid markets like the plague if only they knew the truth. All the propaganda of capitalism is the opposite of the truth; I will now give several brief examples of that.

  1. Capitalism is not democracy; few people get to vote on how their workplaces are run. And sharing does not have to mean Stalinist authoritarian dictatorship. Indeed, I explained earlier that I advocate anarchism, which is the opposite of authoritarianism. Look at the voluntary sharing in Acts 2:44 in the New Testament, or in Free Spain before it was crushed by Franco’s fascists.
  2. Greed, selfishness, and apathy are not inherent in human nature; their current prevalence in our culture are consequences of capitalism and consumerism. The terrible abuses we see all around us today, often described as “corporatism” or “vulture capitalism,” are not aberrations; they are inevitable consequences of the basic principles of capitalism.
  3. Sociologists have found that personal monetary gain is not the best motivator of creativity.
  4. The market does not reward hard work. It rewards those who control the market. When progress brings higher productivity, the gains are pocketed by the “owners” of the workplace, and some of the workers get laid off. Thus capitalism is job-destroyer, not job-creator. With more unemployed competing for fewer jobs, wages go down.
  5. People are not  lazy. They are quite willing to work hard at meaningful jobs in which they feel useful and appreciated — but such jobs are few under capitalism.
  6. Markets increase inequality, by favoring whoever is in a better bargaining position. The rich reward themselves with rents on our homes and workplaces, interest on our debts, and a huge bite out of any money we might scrape together.
  7. Garrett Hardin’s famous diatribe, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” got the facts exactly backwards. The commons is destroyed, not saved, by privatization. This was explained by Economics Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrum, whose ideas are the basis of the textbook Sustaining the Commons, now available free online.
  8. Markets are terrible at planning for the future, because CEOs must compete against each other in offering quick profits to investors.
  9. Market prices do not reflect true costs. In particular, they don’t reflect subsidies that big corporations extract from taxpayers through corporate control of government, nor do they reflect externalized costs such as poverty, war, and ecocide. Such externalities are inevitable in any market economy.

Marx proposed that we replace capitalism with this simple principle:

From each according to her ability, to each according to her need.

Of course, to make that work, we’d all have to really care about one another, and that would be an enormous change. But without it, I don’t think we’ll survive much longer.

(15:20) REVOLUTION. Some people fear that word, because they associate it with violence, destruction, and losing everything. Revolution does mean great change, but it doesn’t have to involve violence. Indeed, violence is a poor tactic for revolutionaries — most of its successes are temporary, because it only changes leaders, not culture. For instance, the French proletariat beheaded much of their aristocracy in the 1790s, but by 1804 Napoleon was emperor.

Of course, the plutocrats routinely use violence to hold onto their power. But it would be foolish for us revolutionaries to respond in kind, for that is a contest we cannot win. Our revolution must be one of ideas — we must make all of society aware of what is really going on, and what changes are needed. When our numbers become overwhelming, then the plutocrats will run away.

What makes it a revolution, and not just reform, is that it can’t be done through “working within the system.” Electing supposedly “better people” to represent the plutocracy will not make it any less a plutocracy. And even if we somehow manage to elect non-plutocrats to represent us, they cannot solve the problems inherent in indirect, representative rule.

Reformists call for small, gradual steps, but those won’t work. Some things can’t be done gradually. You can’t be partly pregnant. A complex system may change gradually within one stable configuration, but it can only change rapidly in going from one stable configuration to another. Some of the ideas that we need are like lights without dimmer controls: They’re either off or on, and we need to turn them on.

Reformists don’t see what is really going on. They believe that the fundamental principles of our society are sound, and the problems all around us are merely the result of having strayed from those principles; they believe some minor adjustments should fix everything. They’re mistaken; they haven’t looked carefully at the principles. The principles themselves are vile, and the problems all around us are their consequences.

For instance, some reformists believe that a carbon tax will reduce the use of fossil fuels. But our rulers are plutocrats who have excelled at evading taxes.

And some reformists believe that a constitutional amendment can get the money out of politics, even without any changes in the economic system. They believe that a super-rich class can continue to exist and yet somehow be kept from exerting far greater influence than the rest of us. That’s absurd.

We need radical change, which means getting at the root of things. I’m not talking about just a few trillion dollars of stolen money, or a few wars whose histories have been falsified, or a few colossal spills of toxic waste, or cruelty to women and minorities. Those are just symptoms.

I’m talking about our basic understanding of the world — things that go unnoticed, as part of the background of our perception. The truth is hidden in plain view, right under our noses; to see it, we need to focus our vision in a new way. It’s startling but simple: The emperor has no clothes. The revolution is revelation, like Neo taking the red pill and waking from The Matrix.

If cultural change happens at all, it’s not through legislation and coercion, but through inspiration. Learning to live together in harmony is the revolution, and it begins with sharing ideas about how the world works. Join the conversation — we’re all needed on the planning committee.

If you find this essay interesting, then pass the link along to other people. The text version at

LeftyMathProf.org/zenrevolution

includes links to related materials; they’re the blue underlined phrases.

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4 Sept 2013, version 1.72.