With the 2020 election looming, I am seeing more people turning their attention to the candidates and promoting one candidate over another. I understand this urge; with voting being just about the only legal method left to us to change the system even just a tiny bit, it is tempting to believe that an election will solve some of our problems, that things will be different if only so-and-so is in office.
The unfortunate truth is that elections make very little difference at all. For the most part, our governments function to protect the economy, which means, ultimately, that they function to make sure commerce can proceed unimpeded. Whether it’s fixing the roads or giving a corporation tax breaks to set up shop in our community or issuing permits to corporations to pollute the environment, the goal is to make sure that people can get to their jobs to make money for corporations, and pay their taxes so that the government can fix more roads and offer more tax breaks to more corporations to contribute to the vast growth machine that is eating the world.
Any single candidate getting elected into office won’t change this. People the world over, for the most part, elect (when they have that option) the candidate who will do the most to help them keep their jobs. As the saying goes, “It’s the economy, stupid.” That means short term interests for making money to live in a global system that requires us to have money to live will always take precedence over the long term interest of humanity, a warm-blooded mammal species that requires not money, but rather functioning ecosystems on planet Earth to survive.
Just this morning, a friend posted a message on social media about the person he believes is the best candidate to solve climate change and prevent millions of people from dying. I almost laughed out loud. This candidate seems like a person who cares about the future of humanity, but it doesn’t matter how much that candidate cares — he is not going to solve climate change and prevent millions of people dying.
First of all, climate change is not the problem. It’s a symptom of a much larger problem — that industrial civilization is eating the world.
Second, no democratically elected public official — even the supposedly most powerful public official in the world, the US president — can solve climate change or any of the other symptoms of industrial civilization, when even the slightest hint of asking the public to sacrifice now in order to prevent further chaos will be met by their being replaced in the next election by another candidate who will promise the public their jobs. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” As long as we are dependent for our paychecks on the very system that is eating the world, we will not vote for a candidate who promises to dismantle that system.
Fortunately, the news these days is filled with a perfect example of how fragile the system is, so we can see that we have options other than elections to solve the problem of industrial civilization. The coronavirus is disrupting the supply chains of key components for this system. With headlines in the past week that include: “Global shipping has been hit by the coronavirus. Now goods are getting stranded” and “How China’s novel coronavirus outbreak is disrupting the global supply chain” we can see how quickly and relatively easily the global growth machine can be brought to its knees. Car makers have stopped making cars; tech companies like Apple and Google have begun closing stores and offices; tourism and business travel has slowed, meaning fewer flights and less CO2 emissions.
Last year, we saw how a couple of bomb strikes to Saudi Arabian oil fields did more to slow oil production than the combined efforts of environmentalists everywhere has ever done. Now we see how a virus outbreak is doing the same for slowing the growth of the system.
The system is fragile. It can be broken, if we are strategic about where and how we choose to disable it, or when we get lucky and nature does the same. Rather than spending time and energy trying to figure out who’s the best candidate, we can be learning about and thinking about the global supply chains that keep the system running, and, with enough of us, we can figure out how to disrupt and disable them.
This obvious fragility in the system also demonstrates, to me, the power we all have to impact the system, not only by strategically picking a target and taking direct action, which we need to do, but also by not doing things as well. The global supply chain and the growth it enables relies on our participation. Yes, it relies on us buying big houses, big cars, big trips, and lots of plastic crap. But it also relies on us buying into (literally) the system’s expectations for us to aspire to wealth, success, and compliance, as defined by the system.
If we are too scared, for now, to take direct action, we can gum up the works by slowing, and eventually ending our participation in the system. We can redefine who we are. We can relearn how we, as human animals, can function in the world without a global system to support us. We can relearn about and understand the basic necessities of life — food, water, and the natural communities who provide them — and recreate a deep and loving relationship with the natural world of which we are a part. We can relearn how to live in the real world without destroying the ecosystems we depend upon for life. The system despises us doing any of this because it means we are not working to keep the system going. This is a good thing.
We can let our lives be a friction to stop the machine.