[This is my final (tenth) posting of excerpts from Demand the Impossible! published by Haymarket Books in Chicago in 2016, and now available everywhere]
What is to be done? Struggling with that question illuminates the strongest argument the [science deniers] have, even as it exposes their point of greatest vulnerability: seriously engaging the environmental catastrophe, and taking the necessary steps to solve it, will mean—I’ll just spit it out here—overthrowing capitalism. This is the real choice in front of us: the end of capitalism or the end of the habitable earth, saving the system of corporate finance capital or saving the system that gives us life. Which will it be?
In Don DeLillo’s grimly funny and super-smart novel White Noise…Jack Gladney, a professor of “Hitler Studies” at a small midwestern college…sleepwalks through his life to the dull background sounds of TV and endless radio, the Muzak of consumerism and electronics, unrestrained advertising and constant technological innovation, appliances and microwaves… When a train derails outside of town creating what is at first described officially as a “feathery plume” but later becomes a “black billowing cloud” and finally an “airborne toxic event,” everything becomes a bit unhinged. Jack’s response to an official evacuation order is disbelief: “I’m not just a college professor,” he complains. “I’m the head of a department. I don’t see myself fleeing an airborne toxic event. That’s for people who live in mobile homes out in the scrubby parts of the county, where the fish hatcheries are.”
Well, not anymore, Jack. Our own feathery cloud has turned toxic at breathtaking speed, and those folks in the mobile homes might be our best natural allies after all.
The great rebel Rosa Luxemburg, jailed for her opposition to World War I, lived her life to that rhythm. She sent a letter from prison to a friend and comrade who’d complained to her that their revolutionary work was suffering terribly without Luxemburg’s day-to-day leadership. First, Red Rosa wrote, stop whining—excellent advice in any circumstance, [and advice that resonates powerfully for US radicals today]. She went on to urge her friend to be more of a mensch. Oh, I can’t define mensch for you, she said, but what I mean is that you should strive to be a person who loves your own life enough to appreciate the sunset and the sunrise, to enjoy a bottle of wine over dinner with friends, or to take a walk by the sea. But you must also love the world enough to put your shoulder on history’s great wheel when history demands it. Working that out may become for each and all of us a collective daily challenge—it’s also the way forward toward commitment and balance.
Choose life; choose possibility; choose rebellion and revolution.
Be a mensch!
Demand the impossible!