Of Greta, misogyny, patriarchy, technology and shattered dreams

On Twitter right now (in my stream anyhow) people are talking about why Greta Thunberg, Jamie Margolin and AOC are triggering such incandescent (old, white) male rage.

I’ve written a bit about this here and here, but here’s a recap/short0version.

This, in my opinion, goes back way further than August 2018, when one Swedish girl started her solo strike.

Let’s take it back to 1945 (you could take it back hundreds of years if you like, as whip-smart eco-feminists like Carolyn Merchant have, but I promised short).

In August 1945 the “Good Guys” won. They unleashed the power of the sun, via some crazy expensive and smart scientists on two previously untouched Japanese cities. And the bombs were called? Little Boy and Fat Man.

And the next twenty years were all about how white, male, heterosexual scientists were going to control everything. Electricity would be too cheap to meter, DDT would kill all the pests etc. Holiday on the moon, jetpacks, you name it. Production Science, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, would control EVERYTHING. Women in the kitchen, queers in the closet, blacks in their place, mother nature under the thumb/in the test tube.

Then, between 1960 and 1975, all that (was) unravelled. The heroism of countless Civil Rights activists (far too few of them white, but that is another story) meant that black people could no longer be treated like fifth class citizens. Learning from those struggles and disgusted by the patriarchy and male supremacism of the ‘peace’ movement, women’s liberation activists decided fuck your kitchen. Then Stonewall…
And meanwhile, that nature that was going to be under the thumb? Er, no. Impact science began to show the damage that the industrial dreams were creating (thalidomide, Silent Spring -written by another of those damnable women – , DDT, Ozone hole, through to Seveso).

So, if you were a hetero white man, in the technostructure, your simple Great Chain of Being narrative, with you at the top, just went to hell.

Shortly after, with the post-War Keynesian consensus in tatters, the neoliberal pushback succeeded. Now the old settlement – that if you were a working class/middle-class white man, you’d have enough money to keep (interesting word) a wife and two kids on your wage – evaporated. But rather than blame our lords and masters (again, interesting phrase), it’s easier to pin the blame on the feminazis, the uppity you-know-whats, the eco-freaks.

And then, finally, there is also this. The old white men have spent thirty years denying the major consequence of all their dreams – climate change. And now, it’s kinda obvious – even, perhaps – to themselves, that they were…. gasp…. wrong.

NONE OF THIS CAN BE THEIR FAULT. Reflectiveness, humility, none of that was selected for, in the Darwinian sense, at the Darwinian schools and universities they went to.

Therefore, it must be someone else’s fault. Ideally someone young, and whose demeanour (not ‘neuro-typical’) leaves them – and they hope others – uneasy.

If Greta Thunberg, with her guts, her clarity, her humour, did not exist to enrage these [insert your favourite noun here], they’d have had to invent her.

 

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that this is an extremely US/Europe-centric view of the resistance to these things in the 1960s and 1970s (Algeria, Vietnam, Cuba, etc).  Indeed yes. But I was promising to keep it short and as an ‘explanation’ for the white hot old white male rage at Greta…

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Of cargo cults, social movements and accelerating transitions. #magicalthinking

Imagine tribespeople in the South Pacific. Sure, lots of trading, and contact with Europeans (good and bad).  But what happened in 1942 and 1943 must have blown their minds.  Giant white men who could fly arrived in big metal birds, with chewing gum and coca cola.  And then, as quickly as they came (with the war won), they left.

How to bring them back?  How to achieve something so far out your own experience, your own cosmology? Well, if you clear runways, and make bamboo representations of the big metal birds, perhaps this display of faith and begging would be enough to convince the gods to send back the coca-cola and the gum…

And anthropologists call these cargo cults.

Imagine ‘advanced’ people, with literacy, indoor plumbing and other markers of civilisation in, oh, England. Sure, lots of reading, and contact with the idea of ‘sustainability.’ But what was called upon them to do in 2018 and 2019 must have blown their minds. A giant need for immediate and fundamental change in not just their big metal birds, but their big metal factories, their small metal vehicles, the food on their plates, the visions of the good life (more of everything, all the time).

How to bring it about? How to achieve something so far out of experience or cosmology? Well, cast your mind back, rifle through the accepted images. Social movements … What images? What folk tales? Ah, the “I have a dream” speech, the march on Washington in 1963. (Forget – or never know- that it was contested as a time-and-energy-suck, as an ego-driven distraction by those struggling on the ground in the South, and indeed the North).)

Perhaps if we repeat this display of faith and begging, this march, it will be enough for the magical transition (or transformation – it’s a live debate), perhaps it will convince the gods to send back harmony and balance (that never really was).

And social movement scholars (okay, me) call this a cargo cult.

We are, individually and on our good days, away from the groupthink that degrades us, smarter than this. Or most of us are, or can be, at least some of the time. But rather than be better, think through what is actually required, we seem to want to cling to incantations of ridiculous precision (3.5 per cent? Really? Really??).

We seem hell-bent (interesting phrase) to be seen building ever bigger bamboo planes – that is to say, our rallies, our sages on the stages, our redolent and indolent blockades and barricades which we then recreate once “back home” (and so then alienate hundreds of potential supporters). And the smugosphere thickens, and the emotacycle rolls on…

We need to accelerate the socio-technical (or socio-material, if you will) transitions/transformations. We really do. And the evidence (from my own life, from the literature, much of it quite interesting), is that the state usually has a role to play (tough luck, anarchist dogmatists). And the power of the state (however you understand it) is probably best leveraged via decent social movements, movements that can stick around, not get co-opted, repressed, bored into oblivion. Movements that grow, learn, organise, win, grow, learn, organise….

The tl:dr – We need to act as we never have before, NOT precisely as we always have. That requires honesty, and guts. I am not hopeful, because I am not an idiot (subs, please check). But on my good days, with courageous friends, I have courage.

Trying to talk with people about (stopping) the end of the world. And failing.

Since I got back from 7 weeks and 10 tonnes of climate criminality, the same conversation – if you can call it that – has been had several times.

Here’s the dynamic of it (not obviously direct quotes, for various reasons, and a certain l’esprit d’escalier, but this is my website, so suck it up).

 

Me: Protest groups have come and gone – not at this scale on this particular issue, granted – and have a dynamic I call the emotacycle.  Tl:dr – it doesn’t last, and what is left behind is anomie, despair and unkept promises.  If we want a different result, we should probably do things differently.

Person 1: Yes, but at least we’re doing something.  You are saying we shouldn’t do anything.

Me: Really?  Really?  When did I say that?

Person 1:Look, a squirrel (scuttles off).

Person 2: Well, okay, then what’s your big idea about doing things differently?  You haven’t proposed anything.

Me: Really?  You know me.  You know that I have been writing about – and doing where possible – how to hold meetings differently, how to design events so they are not alienating to new folks, that I have been designing and holding skill-shares, talking about how we could change activist culture and expectations  etc etc etc for literally over a decade.  And you say I haven’t proposed anything.  And you expect me not to get angry at that?  Well, luckily for both of us I am not going to get angry. Not because I’ve been on anger management training (though perhaps I should) but because I am not even exasperated. I can’t take you seriously.  You know – and you know I know you know – that  I do in fact have a series of implementable proposals.  And you know that those threaten the status quo, and force today’s ‘we are winning’ crew to think differently, and they won’t – can’t?- do it.  And that all scares and frustrates you, but rather than deal with that, you simply say that I haven’t proposed anything. A convenient falsehood, instead of an inconvenient truth.

So, um, nice talking, but maybe I should be walking, ‘kay?