If I were to walk my own talk I would become a vegetarian Eating animals is cruel And it's the single way that I contribute most to global warming So Why don't I become a vegetarian? If I were to walk my own talk I wouldn't love buying things Because I love buying things At least I'm supposed to So I do, and I do. I know well that I feed the machine That denies food to so many Aspiring consumers. That thought sickens me. With that in mind How can I justify Buying So much Shit? If I were to walk my own talk I would have more gay friends And African-American friends And friends that aren't all white Because all of my friends are white Not that it matters But it does, kind of. Look, I'm a progressive, Genuinely appalled by inequality etc. Why do I exhibit the same Homophilic tendencies That I speak out against? If I were to walk my own talk I would be an activist An active activist. As in, I would act Not just talk I already talk a lot The power of activism has been proven And I'm sure as hell that I want things to change So why am I not An activist? If I were to walk my own talk I wouldn't ever swear It's the language of marginalization I wouldn't complain about schoolwork 6.7% of the world has a college degree I wouldn't wear leather It's fueling a sadistic industry I wouldn't drive a car It's fueling a sadistic industry I wouldn't be complacent I wouldn't sit idly I wouldn't take it for granted I wouldn't get discouraged I wouldn't get hung up by the immensity of it all I wouldn't feel very, very small So small that I don't even matter A seven-billionth of the population What good can I do? What harm can I do? What can I do? Maybe I'll become a vegetarian.
I’m writing this post essentially as a review for my parcial (midterm exam) tomorrow afternoon… however I do find this stuff important and interesting and I’ve been pleasantly surprised in my studies to find Marx’s opinions on the human-nature relationship both logical and… agreeable — not generally the word people would associate with the author of such world-infamous revolutionary dogmata. But my goal, by the end of this (hopefully concise) post is to convince you that Marx was not only an extremely progressive ‘environmentalist’, but furthermore founded his entire body of academic work on the necessity of repairing the human-nature relationship. Which (spoiler alert) he eventually says is impossible to do within the context of our current capitalist system, and thus suggests socialism or communism, and.. yeah. Revolution, yadda yadda etc.
So let’s start off tens of thousands of years ago, when the first human-ish populations were hunting and gathering and hadn’t quite figured out how to plant seeds in a row. At that point, humans did effect their ecosystems, but only proportionately similarly to any other animal specie of our size and reproductive prowess. All of that Native-American-Pocahontas lore of living with nature and respecting (her) natural flows? That, according to Marx, is the only sustainable state that humans have ever known. We had to respect nature’s flows, because even early humans’ primative ‘ecology’ enlightened them to realize that if you overuse a resource, it dries out, whether it be animal/plant/fish/bug/water. Even then, if early humans DID overuse a resource, they often would pack up camp and leave, allowing for nature to naturally replenish itself, causing (as far as we know) little long term harm.
Then we discovered how to plant seeds in a row. Agriculture, that crazy paradigm shift that allowed humans to generate food surplus which allowed for some humans to specialize and craft goods which could then be traded with other humans so that we could build massive, dirty campsites and generally distance ourselves from soil toils; this, the dissociation the human producer from the source of his production (nature) is problematized by Marx as the metabolic rift, (referencing the action of intaking and transforming (labor) resources and outputting goods as a type of metabolism). Since we are not directly connected to our own production from natural resources, Marx says we are alienated from nature; capitalism inserts labor between man and nature, which indicates, given the emergence of large-scale agriculture, long-distance trade, and general globalization, that this metabolic rift is only intensifying.
And the result of this metabolic rift is the ideology that modern capitalism was built upon: the Great Chain of Being; Natural Theology; the teleological notion that nature was created by God or a higher power for man to use and abuse (the bible actually says that we should act as a “shepherd” to nature, implying an element of caretaking, but that was conveniently overlooked by Christian colonialism). Ownership by divine providence, says Marx, is a philosophical idealism which has been used to justify and encourage the domination of nature by man. Hence, we have private property, anthropocentric arrogance, and the earth and her resources are commodified whilst man is elevated to a semi-devine, non-animal, non-God, ‘superior being’.
In contrast to this idealism is Marx’s materialism, which could be understood as ‘thinking scientifically.’ We are comprised of matter, and even though we can’t see them, atoms, and we are the product of millions of years of evolution by way of natural selection according to the laws of nature. According to this epistemology, man is clearly not anything divine or superior, and even though we’ve operated (..since hunter-gatherer days) on the false ideology that we’re not part of nature and are not subject to the same set of natural rules and regulations as the rest of our biotic community, we are just as much a production of our evolutionary pathway as is a flea.
Though, says materialist philosophy, we are different, in that we have actually changed the earth itself over time, and as we went about transforming the world, we transformed ourselves:
primates, who constituted the ancestors of human beings, descended from the trees, erect posture developed first (prior to the evolution of the human brain), freeing the hands for tool-making. In this way:
…the hand became free and could henceforth attain ever greater dexterity and skill, and the greater flexibility thus acquired was inherited and increased from generation to generation. Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour.
Our brain is perhaps the most remarkable result of this reflexive socio-natural relationship— as we developed cultural items, such as the ability to use tools or pass on knowledge or ultimately develop language, natural selection also acted to favor those who were most adept at participating in such culture, leading to our current cranial capacities which we’ve neatly abused to figure out the most creative freaking ways to destroy the earth that birthed us. Anyways,
So now we’re here today with our titanic chasm of a metabolic rift, and frankly it’s not even the religion idea that motivates our further worldly destruction but rather flat anthropocentrism, justified by the exalted pursuit of profit (which is still part of the idealist philosophy, as anthropocentrism is a teleology)— where does sustainability fit in? What happened to respecting the laws of nature, which are still-and-forever-will-be conditions of the human existence? How can we justify ownership of this land? Finally in line with his esteemed manifesto, Marx writes:
From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias [good heads of the household].
We’ve been shitty heads of the household. And I’m certain we will continue, if not worsen, our reign of terror.
Capitalism, writes Marx, “creates the material conditions for a new and higher synthesis, a union of agriculture and industry…” — in other words, capitalism is a powerful engine which has led us to a point where we’ve got the brains and brawn to figure out a path towards a “higher synthesis”, which he suggests to be a system of “rational agriculture, which needs small independent farmers producing on their own…” and the regulation of associated producers. HOWEVER, since we’re humans, and we’ve got to have free will and self determination and especially-in-God-bless-AMURICA, this sort of regulation is immediately termed socialism or communism, which it very well could be, except it won’t, because these systems fail, or at least we’re convinced they do.
DOOM AND GLOOM, we’ll probably keep hacking and fracking until Iceland is an anachronism and Sweden is the only place with no garbage.
Until then, VIVA LA REVOLUCION
~~ Keep in mind, Marx was convinced of the omnipotence of reestablishing our metabolic link in ~1850’s, long before the Teddy Roosevelts and Rachel Carsons of modern environmentalism. Environmentalism wasn’t even around yet, heck, the idea of the “scientist” had just been coined in the ’30’s, and the concept of “ecology” in ’69… progressive ‘environmentalist’? I think so.
And I would call that damn concise. Have you ever read Marx????
Yesterday I went to a high school reunion party (or so I’ll call it) at my friend’s house. Just about all of my good friends from those ever glorious high school days were there. It was great to see everyone and catch up with people and see how they’ve changed and grown and progressed. We collectively sighed with relief. Finals are over. Done with our first semester classes. It’s almost Christmas (well, I guess it’s Christmas Eve now). Good. Life is good. Now what.
Well, a month(+) to sit around and sleep and waste time and, at least for me, ponder the future. At the reunion party, I found that in every group of people that I talked to, someone (and occasionally I) inevitably wound up asking questions like, “what are your plans next semester,” or, “what are you going to do after college,” or “what are you going to be doing in a year/decade/tell me your plan for the rest of your life.”
Jeesh. These are big questions. They really are- don’t mistake my tone in the previous paragraph for a belief that these questions are unimportant or unnecessary or wrongly timed. Because that’s what’s scary- these are the questions that we should start to think about at this point. And by “start to think about,” I really mean that we’ve gotta make decisions, STAT. It’s a little bit incredible to me. I feel like this point in my life- where decisions actually matter and my most pressing daily dilemma is not what to get after track practice from the vending machine- has snuck up on me. BOO! OK now choose: Doctor? Lawyer? Congressman? Cog in the gearbox of a rigged capitalist system? An English professor or a neurosurgeon? Or a bum. On the streets. Because if you don’t become a doctor-lawyer-congresswoman-cog-in-gearbox-of…(etc), you’ve failed whatever silly expectations you impose on yourself (or are imposed on you).
Now I certainly don’t mean to lecture anyone about making decisions or on how to lead your life or to say, “you can be anything you want to be” or anything hokey like that. We have all been made conscious of expectations before- from ourselves, from our parents or friends, from our college counselors and high school teachers- all epitomized by the competitive world of academia. But I want to formally ask these questions of you, (my friends+fam), but also really anyone at any age and at any time, because these questions will be with us always after now.
What are you good at? BRAG. Tell me what you’re skills are, what you are passionate about, what do you pride yourself in? (1)
What do you want to get good at? What skills do you want to develop? What can you do, learn, or think about that will help you to achieve whatever goals you’ve imposed on yourself?
What goals DO you impose on yourself?- or rather- what are your goals for the future? Separate your goals into time segments, or life sectors (ex. academics, occupation, romantic/sexlife/lackthereof/michaelchizazu).
Or “simply,” what do you want to do with your life? In your brief existence on Earth, what mark will you choose to make?
Sorry. Chill, chill. I know there are people on both sides of the rope- some of you saying “hey, I know perfectly fine what I’m doing with my life,” and then some of you saying “holy shit holy shit hoLy SHIT!” And both of you are perfectly justified in your reactions. We’re all at different points and have different perspectives on the issue. But the one thing that is now universal among us and our age cohort, I think, is that we must think about it. We cannot evade these questions, because by evading them, we implicitly answer them. Music time.
Freewill is a great song- Rush is the best of the 70’s and 80’s prog rock movement. But really I just love its chorus:
You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill
“If you choose not to decide, you still had made a choice.” This truism, first highlighted for me by my father, is what I wanted to write about. Big questions must be asked and answered- now- because every day we move closer to one goal and farther from another. Are you cogent of what goals you’re approaching, and conversely, which goals you’re leaving behind? Are you sure that you’re advancing towards the “right” one, whatever that is? I am challenging each of you to question your faith in your alleged life plans; are you actively advancing yourself towards and away from the goals that you genuinely believe are correct or incorrect for your individual life?
Many of you are. Most of you are. But some of you are not. Life will not change by itself. It’s physics, dude. No object will move unless an outside force acts upon it. Ask yourself those questions, or at least read them out loud. Try to answer them out loud, too. Saying things makes them more real than just thinking things. After all, what are thoughts? After the fact, they don’t seem to really exist. I forget most of them anyways.
Here’s one last and important question, which I already kind of asked. But for emphasis,
What goals are you moving away from? Perhaps they are goals that you set at an early age or stage in your life, or maybe they are even now appearing to fade in importance as you continue through life. What doors have closed? What doors are closing against your wishes? What doors have you consciously closed?
Close doors. That is my advice to you, the proverbial royal reader. Close doors. Carefully, of course- don’t slam the door on the way out, don’t throw tantrums or spew crazy bullshit to family members, and don’t close a single door without making sure, with exquisite care, that you can justifiably do so. Some of what clouds our vision into our future is the stunning and overwhelming array of things that you can do in this world.
Don’t categorize yourself. Just choose the categories that you’re not going to be part of. It’s like the blacklist vs. the whitelist in Self Control (if you have a Mac and have ever had to do homework). Don’t limit yourself to all of a single category. Even those who say pre-med, pre-law, pre-biz (did I just make that up?)- I would say practice the same exercise as “the undecideds.” Pick out the things that you don’t what to become, but retain a list of the goals or aspirations that you aren’t currently acting on. Life is surprising and cyclical. Who knows what you’ll really end up doing.
Think about it. Really, think about it. Wake up from whatever stops you from controlling your fates and live deliberately.
Happy Holidays and best of luck in the New Year. Make some resolutions? Why the hell not.
(1) Post your brag anonymously below in the comments. Of course, all the fun will be in guessing who wrote what 😉