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Defending the earth: surveying our options

By Mark Manolopolous - posted Thursday, 25 May 2017


You are walking alone down a deserted alleyway, and you are suddenly ambushed by a gang of thugs. They want to rob you, take the little that you have- though you get the sense they would not be satisfied unless they beat you, too. Maybe to death. What would you do? What would I do? If I'm composed enough, the first thing I would do is resist the temptation to escape. For, as we all know, "making a run for it" would either enrage the thugs and/or titillate them, giving them the perverse pleasure of chasing me down (and they would, as I'm no athlete). What then? If I have the opportunity, I would attempt to reason with them, trying to persuade them not to attack me: "Here, take what I have . . . We're all in this together - why harm me? . . ." I would hurl whatever argument I could muster. But what if my arguments fail?- a failure signalled by the gang's approach. Perhaps, then, I would attempt to get away. Or maybe- hopefully- I would find the courage to stand firm, come-what-may. Whether I attempt to escape or stand my ground, I find myself in the thugs' clutches. What then? I would fight like hell. I wouldn't offer the other cheek after they've bashed or slashed the first one. I would not yield or surrender; I would fight for my survival. And yet, I would probably also continue trying to reason with them, if their fists permit my words to exit my mouth. In any case, I would fight for my life, even if it means the end of it. Even if it means the end of theirs.

What has this familiar (not-so-) hypothetical got to do with "defending the Earth"? Quite a lot- perhaps everything- and in quite uncanny ways, as I hope to show. For this terrifying scenario is a kind of rough analogy for what we humans are doing to the Earth:attacking it, fighting with it- even warring against it. How so?

Like other earthly creatures, humans have always "used" the Earth in order to survive, often in respectful, ecocentric ways (epitomized by Nature-friendly cultures). But over time, this "use" has turned to large-scale abuse. Throughout recent centuries, a mixture of various attitudes and forces, particularly "human chauvinism"(the notion that we humans are superior to- and can therefore dominate - all other creatures), capitalism, and techno-industrialization, have coalesced into what is now the global neoliberal order, which has been increasingly overpowering the Earth. The gang in the alleyway analogy therefore represents this thuggish System, while the assaulted victim represents the Earth. The power elite wrestles with the world in order to violently extract everything it can from it: money, blood, life.

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And so, like the victim in the alleyway, what should we do? What are our options?

We may straightaway dismiss one of the first ideas that might pop into our timid heads: escape. Unlike the hypothetical alleyway scenario, which might allow for the possibility of escape, there is nowhere to hide.

What, then, are our realistic/realizable options?

Note how our victim in the alleyway attempts to reason with the aggressors. Herein lies another parallel between the hypothetical scenario and contemporary society: there are peaceful ways for attempting to transform the global order so that it stops ravaging the Earth. This may occur in various ways.

A first option is that our politicians implement policies that reform the System. I think we would all be content if consequential change could take place this way. But can it? While almost anything may be possible (and I hope effective change occurs this way), I'm sceptical that the requisite reform will be actioned by existing political institutions and their actors, given that they're fundamentally a part of the power elite (or at least its puppets). Why would politicians seek to transform a social order that fosters their own personal wealth and well-being? Why would the System substantially reform itself if it's in its own interests to either not change itself or make changes that actually allow it to wield even greater power?

My scepticism regarding political reform from within is perhaps most ably demonstrated by turning our attention to the way the global order has thus far broached the question of pollution-driven climate-change (why I use the word "question" is explained in another article). We should applaud efforts like the summits in Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Paris in terms of attempting to tackle it. But even Paris 2015, which achieved widespread consensus, produced an agreement that is not legally binding; in other words, countries are not required to abide by the accord. Which means it's probably ultimately ineffective by any genuine standards.

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Such disappointments are unsurprising and tend to be doomed from the very beginning. For what we have with such talk-fests is the Systemnegotiating with itself. Not many real concessions are made.

Given that "negotiations" with(in) the global neoliberal order continuously fail, do we therefore have any time left to stand idly by while the System appears to reason with itself with regard to changing itself? It's like waiting for one of the thugs in the alleyway analogy to reason with the others to stop their attack even as it grows more vicious.

We should therefore pursue an alternative, more proactive peaceful option. This option, which requires collaborative action (and is therefore unavailable as an option for the solitary victim in the alleyway scenario), goes by noble names like "non-violent resistance," "civil disobedience," and "people power." Thought leaders and activist groups could harness a worldwide movement that adopts and adapts non-violent strategies in order to reform or even replace the neoliberal System.

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About the Author

Dr Mark Manolopoulos is a philosopher. He is an Adjunct Research Associate with Monash University and he is also undertaking a second PhD (leadership studies) at Charles Darwin University. He is the author of If Creation is a Gift, an edited work (With Gifted Thinkers), several scholarly journal articles, and op-ed pieces.

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