This is the first of five discussions of political change, centered on the egregious overuse of the planet’s resources as a model for a wider view:
The need for solutions thinking.
Recycling is no solution for anything.
The Theory of Zero Waste explained.
Personal Efforts for Zero Waste.
(See Zero Waste Link)
Part One: SOLUTIONS
Lately there is a new trend on the left. It is the tendency to want to find meaningful solutions to the problems we have long identified. Maybe I just think so because I am obsessed with solutions and I think it is an essential trend without which no progress in any struggle is possible. I find the pressure for new solutions to be healthy, as opposed to indulging in more of the same old bellyaching about the system. (Note 1 – see Glenn Greenwald’s statement at the 2013 Socialism Conference)
This is not exactly a new idea. I remember the New Left of the fifties when I was just getting into politics. All that was New about it was a new way of complaining about the capitalist system. The same old bellyaching! Ninety eight percent of left analysis consists of analysing what is wrong with the system under which we live. It seems to me that this is a dead end and always has been, even when brilliantly done. Criticism of what already exists is simply lazy. It’s the easy way to pretend to be thinking progressively. What is needed is to figure out what should replace that which you criticize. Eternal vigilance may be the price of liberty but it isn’t the ticket entry price. What it takes to be allowed to criticize is finding a better way to do things.
This isn’t easy on the left. If you scrape up your courage and put forward a design for a better way to organize any part of society, the left will jump up to do what it does best – criticize – and you will be the new target. Everyone will try to show how much deeper they are than you because they can see the problem with your idea but you can’t. A laugh and a derisive dismissal and your ideas join the trash pile of history. (Note 2)
How often will you encounter the opposite? How often will a thoughtful analyst consider your ideas and suggest an improvement, joining you in the plan. Not often, let me tell you. Why do hard work when tearing down someone else’s ideas is so much easier?
I work in the field of Zero Waste Theory. My goal is to redesign the world of resource usage and commodity manufacturing to eliminate the entire concept of garbage. I won’t accept the idea that there is anything necessary about garbage. I have no interest whatsoever in the design of garbage cans, or the cost of anything connected with picking up and collecting and transporting and dumping or destroying garbage. These concerns are a complete waste of time, even if every municipality and every state and the EPA spend billions of dollars and endless man years discussing and pondering and regulating and adjusting all of these questions and parameters. They are all pulling the wool over the eyes of the public for the most venerable of motives – their sponsors know how to make money doing it. For those of us who stand outside of this specious churning of the problem, there is only one goal worth thinking about. How do we get rid of the very concept of garbage? How do we redesign manufacturing and consuming and using in such a way that resources circulate in endless loops forever? In my view, no civilized society can afford to have a garbage industry or a garbage dump or a garbage can. These are obsolete, useless and even shameful burdens for any civilized country. And unnecessary, because redesigning the entire field of resource usage for endless cycling is not even hard from a design point of view. From a political point of view, it is rife with obstacles because you are up against influential players who are making money from garbage. On my website I reveal the details of many dozens of ways to redesign resource usage in a better way and I present principles that need to be used to make it all work. Then I deal with the common objections and show why they are based on nothing more than convention. People are used to their garbage and they bitterly resist any change that might take it away. The universal opposition is based on the mistaken notion that we will change nothing but just get rid of garbage cans. This approach has a common name – it is called MAGIC! Of course that is not my plan. The other name it has is RECYCLING. This is just a more insidious form of magic – but magic nevertheless. Nothing changes – the waste, the planned obsolescence, the design for discard, the easy throwing out, the mindless consumption, the official collections – but not to worry, it will all be recycled. It would be nice if we could indeed turn over our problems to a jovial genie named Mr. Recycle but it’s all just magic, the same as turning cleaning over to a green genie named Mr. Clean.
I needed a long explanation to make sure that the reader understands where I am coming from. I have been developing this theory for thirty years, I created and ran a successful company to find ways to reuse chemicals, I wrote a book about it, I created a large website and I have analysed all the ways that it can be applied. But every politician and smart aleck snickerer can think about it for half a second and dismiss it as impossible. Why is it impossible? Two reasons: one, they know how to make money by destroying resources and two, they aren’t used to this new idea so it must be wrong. Then they go into high gear and begin to imagine even more objections. “It will cost too much money and we can’t afford it!”. “Excuse me, when did intelligent design cost more than stupid design?” Doesn’t matter. Don’t confuse me with facts! I just know, because I know, that we can’t afford Zero Waste. (for an effective counterargument, see for example http://zerowasteinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/November-20092.pdf).
This is why I know so personally what happens when you develop carefully considered, intelligent solutions to problems. But the problem with the left is much wider than this.
As I write this, the country has exploded in protests because George Zimmerman was found innocent of shooting Trayvon Martin in cold blood, in Sanford Florida, just for being a black kid. I hear the pundits on the left congratulating street protesters because the movement is supposed to be growing, now that there are so many martyrs, so many black men shot by cops. The number is staggeringly close to one per day. Somehow, rioting on the streets is put forward as the height of organized protest against the terrible reality of the new Jim Crow, in Michelle Alexander’s term. Has anyone learned anything of use from all the past riots and all the confrontations with the police and the militia; from the arrests, the torture, the deaths. The streets are filled with rubble, houses and stores burn, and the same system rushes on, unchallenged.
What is the call from the street? Justice for Trayvon? Change the verdict?. Have another trial, this time by the Dept. of Justice which invariably does as little as it possibly can for real justice? Another common striving is to file a civil suit. The first use of the legal system didn’t achieve justice but somehow the next iteration of the broken justice system will come out better. Why? Hope springs eternal and magic spells called lottery tickets sometimes work.
In Florida, brave protesters are occupying the office of the governor demanding the end of the Stand Your Ground legislation. One single law, that will leave in place the elite power groups that conceived it in the first place. We can be sure they are already thinking beyond Stand Your Ground to the next assault on the powerless.
What is wrong with calling for another bite of the legal apple? Nothing, and yet that’s what’s wrong with it. It’s just a tiny, insignificant tweak of an immensely complicated, integrated system of oppression. While thousands of protesters in hundreds of cities hurl their superbly progressive and well-intentioned bodies against the barricades for this limited goal, the forces on the other side are not sitting still. A dozen other Sanfords are being plotted in a dozen other states. Before the Martin family can see even a slight victory, the same scenario or worse will have been played out over and over. Even worse, this one event worked out so well for the rich elites and their subservient bigots that they will be racing to set up even more restrictive and oppressive connections to extend their victory. There will be new ways to reduce minority wages, more ways to reduce the social safety net, more ways to pit people against each other, intricate new regulations allowing banks to foreclose minority housing and more.
It must be allowed that there is a built in disparity in power. The forces of entrenched wealth have the money to buy laws, politicians, commissioners and think tanks. Even more important they have the propaganda machines to buy votes and elections. Still, they don’t possess every conceivable resource, just the ones that are effectively ceded to them.
In my experience, reading and mostly listening on the left, I have heard endless critiques about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. This grouping, which boasts membership by most of the legislative bodies of the country and many analysts, pundits and lobbyists, is the group that came up with the Stand Your Ground laws that were then distributed to the various states to pass into law. Had this not happened, George Zimmerman would have been just a bigoted, gun happy murderer, out on a limb. But the work of ALEC turned Zimmerman into a hero who showed how to stand his ground. So where is the progressive version of ALEC?
I am not trying to say that ALEC is the perfect innovation and that progressives are bound to duplicate it for themselves. What I would claim, is that ALEC is sufficiently effective and so cleverly inserted into the legislative process that among all of the great ideas that progressives should be inventing, one that does for them what ALEC does for the right, is likely a very useful innovation. Maybe the right came up with the concept but that doesn’t mean that the left can’t take a page out of their playbook.
Even if progressive legislation is not to be generated by a progressive ALEC equivalent, where is the proposed legislation that would make future murders like Trayvon Martin’s impossible and if there is street protest, why is there not a demand for that kind of legislation? Legislation is not itself a strong, structural change, since it is so easily overturned. But at this point, it would be something, were the national protests focused on it, instead of simply demanding that the system swallow hard, and without any long term alteration, cough up only the pretense of a new trial.
What is the fundamental evil of power in this, (and all?) societies? You may want to blame capitalism, but there is one fact even more basic. It is the way that money is able to buy power. No one can store up many year’s worth of his personal labor. It is continually expended in real time. But if that labor is converted to capital – to money – it can be stored in the form of inventory, of ownership of capital and facilities and in the form of uncontested influence on legislation. That capital accumulation is fully free to buy anything whatsoever. But what if it were prohibited from certain kinds of purchases? What if the nexus between money and power accumulation could be severed? Would that not revolutionize any society? Yet nowhere on the left can you find such an idea, much less any organized struggle toward a method of achieving it. Lest I commit the very sin I rail against, and simply criticize the existing left, let me issue this as a challenge. How could the ability of money to accumulate power be broken? Where are the incisive, brilliant ideas in this effort?
Any kind of a more encompassing solution would be better than what we see on the streets of our cities today.
Let me end with a question: is there only one single way to protest? Is the only desirable goal of protest a change in a law, regulation, policy or candidate? Are there other desirable outcomes to agitate for? More on all of these in following blogs.
Note 1 – “… this conference is really focused not only on identifying political grievances which is an extremely important thing to do but also thinking about how to construct activism designed to find solutions to those grievances, which is crucial. At every single speech that I give, … one of the first questions in the Q and A session is always, well what is it that we can do about these things, … at this conference it’s …really the predominant theme. It’s the idea that there is no point in talking about political problems and systemic injustices if you’re not simultaneously grappling with the question of what is it that I as an individual can do about it.” – Glenn Greenwald, 2013
Note 2 – David Blaine, a magician, reports on a TED talk, how he broke the world record by holding his breath for 17 minutes in a sphere of water while being watched and monitored by an audience and doctors. But a street kid knew better. Blaine reports that the kid later asked him; “if you were underwater for so long, how come you came out dry?” For every accomplishment, there is a wise-ass who knows better.