The Times They Aren't A-Changin' ... Yet

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CommonDreams.org

The Times They Aren't A-Changin' ... Yet

C'mon, admit it. No matter how cynical or radical you might fancy yourself to be, you expected things to change in a tangible way with Bush moving on out and Obama taking the reins. Yet now as reality sets in, it has become clear that it'll take a lot more than changing captains to evade that massive (albeit melting) iceberg looming dead ahead.

This isn't meant to lay the blame specifically on Obama himself. He seems like a genuinely decent person and his background supports that inference. Certainly he's a damn sight better than the last guy we had at the helm. And it's equally clear that there have been some alterations in the fabric of business as usual to give us some hope for the days ahead. But this "rearranging deck chairs" approach doth not a paradigm shift make.

It's understandable why some folks thought the waters might part with Obama's ascendancy. It's also evident why they have not, and why we've seen a kind of centrist-lite approach so far rather than the fireworks we were led to expect from a guy that "pals around with terrorists" and is an obvious clandestine socialist. Hah! If only.

Instead it's 1-2-3, what're we fightin' for, don't ask me I don't give a damn, next stop Afghanistan. Thou shalt not torture, sort of -- and hey, those investment banks could use another trillion or so, huh? And at least now when we remove mountaintops in search of coal and fire up those new nuke plants, we'll be doing it with the best of intentions -- and even pronouncing noo-clee-er correctly this time around.

Look, here's where the logic lesson leads: what's broken is beyond the capability of one individual, one cabinet, or one party to fix (assuming even in the best case scenario that the will was there in the first instance). The issues we face -- corporate control of governance, unsustainable consumptive lifeways, perpetual resource wars, the ominous clouds of ecological collapse -- are structural, systemic, and inherent in the foundational narratives that frame our lives. This is an apocalypse of our own making, thank you very much, and we fully intend to see it through to the end.

Listen, even if we had elected Martin Luther King, Jr., as our president, it'd be the same result. Jesus himself would be bogged down in committee, propped up by puppeteers, and bought and sold (if not outright blackmailed or threatened) by the same old moneychangers who run the show from behind the scenes. History shows what happens to purists and true believers who dare to assume the mantle and defy the gods of reason.

Why did we expect Obama to somehow buck this tide and chuck this baggage? The position itself isn't even set up to allow for the sorts of changes some had hoped (in their Bush-whacked hearts) to see happen. The so-called "leader of the free world" and ostensible most powerful person on earth sits on talk show couches just like recovering celebrities and Super Bowl MVPs do. He's on a need-to-know basis with the generals and technophiles whose expertise he must rely upon to make sense of the nonsensical. He tracks the polls with his media mavens, and hopes people like him just as we all desire.

But he cannot be the messiah (or the antichrist, just in case you're one of those types). The guy is merely president, the CEO of a very large corporation that happens to have a nuclear arsenal (did you ever wonder, by the way, when they list the "nuclear nations" on the planet whether there are in fact "nuclear corporations" out there too? Hmm...). To his credit, Obama basically came into office telling us this, that he would only be as capable of real change as our demands made him be -- both because the realities of governing are designed to dim the spark, and since it's our ire that provides the cover needed to play a good hand at the old bargaining table. In other words, if we shake the windows and rattle the walls, our well-meaning delegate might just get on a roll that'd be hard to stop.

Sorry O, but back to sleep we did go. In my town, the anti-war vigilers who had faithfully held a public street corner every Friday for over five years packed it in merely upon Obama's election (they didn't even wait for the Inauguration). Gas prices are creeping back up, banks aren't doling back out, and the war machine churns on and on -- but the order isn't rapidly fading. Maybe folks got tired from flipping off and waiting out the Bush cabal. Maybe this is just the honeymoon period and a chance to take a little break. Maybe the rookie will turn it up a notch any day now. Maybe there's something better on TV than this. Maybe I'll find a job tomorrow and be able to feed my family again. Maybe...

Funny thing is, there's actually a real paradigm shift going on and you won't hear about it on the evening news. It doesn't start at the top and in most ways isn't dependent upon what happens in Washington, D.C. (it might even be better off not knowing or caring). It's not apathetic, however, and in fact it's totally engaged. It speaks truth to power without even talking to it, and doesn't spend time criticizing what it doesn't want or need to understand. It sees that the waters around us have grown (global warming, and all that) and knows that the old roads are aging (it's hard to ride bicycles on those old roads). It's not calling any senators or congressmen and couldn't care less about winning or losing.

I really want to describe this effervescent movement to you. I want to be able to prophesize with my pen (er, keyboard) since I'm not sure if the chance will come again. Perhaps you already know about it anyway, or take part on some level? No one is in charge and it doesn't call itself anything, so it's kind of hard to know if you're in it, I guess -- anyway, the minute it gets labeled it's probably all over. Query: What did you eat today? How did you get around? With whom did you speak or laugh or share a thought? What did you contribute to make the world (and the future) a better place, even in a small way? What were you attached to that you let go of? How did you resolve a conflict? What part of your life did you take seriously and how did you take it back into your own hands? What in nature did you connect with? How did you strengthen the ties that bind?

Sounds more like a metaphor than a movement, doesn't it? More like consciousness raising than paradigms shifting, huh? But dig a little deeper, you dig? Add it up, crunch those imaginary numbers, and ponder the simple geometry of it. This is the only social movement in recent history that makes no demand, wants no power, and needs no master. It's been going on since the dawn of time and is finding a resonance and resurgence today. It's you. And me. No US -- just us. No THEM -- just thee. No WAR -- just like that. Seriously. No more or less than this. But that's a lot. More than enough.

So maybe the times are a-changin' after all, and this time we didn't even need to block up the hall. Life strategies on a sinking ship? Better start swimmin' lest you sink like a stone; our time, indeed, is worth saving. Mutual interdependence among ourselves and with the balance of life on the planet isn't a question of wistful longing or even a matter of choice -- it's simply about survival and the basic design of things. Not to polemicize this further, but pretending that we can blithely consumer forever and then pass the buck to the next generations just isn't going to cut it anymore (it never did, of course, but what's done is done). Business (and politics) as usual seem immutable but are actually circling the drain as we speak. Like the man said, the first one now will later be last.

The best part is that people everywhere are beginning to understand this and are taking steps toward manifesting that next paradigm, the one that remains unspoken but will soon announce itself and thus appear wholly self-evident. They (we) don't need to specify, classify, or codify it to get the job done and turn the page in our shared story. It's in the living, and in this sense we're all equally empowered to make it so. I would say that it's also blowin' in the wind as well, but that's a song for a different day...

Randall Amster

Randall Amster, JD, PhD, is Director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University, and serves as Executive Director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. His recent books include Peace Ecology (Paradigm Publishers, 2014), Anarchism Today (Praeger, 2012), Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness; and the co-edited volumes  Exploring the Power of Nonviolence: Peace, Politics, and Practice (Syracuse University Press, 2013) and Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action.

 

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