By Jesse D. Palmer
The world feels like it’s crumbling around us, and not just because climate change and the sixth extinction are becoming personal and undeniable. What’s particularly disturbing is that the cultural and social glue that humans need to live together is fraying. We’re losing the ability to tolerate other people who are different from us. We’re losing the ability to talk. This sadly is not just a comment about right wing racists. My friends and community are radicals and anarchists — I’m talking about us as well as the racists as well as plenty of other people we all bump into everyday.
Our response to these extreme times has to be extreme, but not in the way a lot of people are thinking. It’s time to focus on why we’re against racism, why we’re against oppression — which is fundamentally because of love, not because of what and who we’re against.
Starting with love means remembering that we love everyone and everything as well as ourselves. Being in such a state of universal love can be hard, but it is achievable. In my heart, when I take time to feel deeply, I have too much love to bear. Most of the time while we’re going about our daily lives we have to suppress the love so we can get stuff done. But it is there and it is the central powerful life force that enables everything. I’m talking about awe seeing the morning light, contemplating a tree, thinking about how much we love our housemates, our children, the members of our collective, riding a bike on a warm day, eating a delicious lunch, making love, building a treehouse, looking at pictures of old friends, staring at the Milky Way, watching people at the next table at the restaurant laughing together even though we’ve never met them and our backgrounds are totally different. The feeling of universal love goes back to nature. We are all astronauts on the earth — people, plants, animals, bugs. It’s not a cliché — we really are all one.
We need to start our activism and our revolution with love and let it infect and inform everything we’re doing. A lot of activist burnout and a lot of the failures of our movements are because activism gets stuck in the mud and thinks too small. Our actions feel harsh, based on guilt, based on anger, based on division, sometimes edging towards violence. In the activist scene, I sometimes feel scared to say or write what I really think. This is not a way we can win. These dynamics keep us distracted from understanding the big picture and tackling the big issues that underlie and structure the wars, the oppression, the economic inequality, and the ecological disasters.
People are struggling with change that’s too fast, with a lack of meaning, with isolation, and with too much technology, which is leading to psychological disorder as we struggle for some sort of refuge or bandaid. This stress feeds the rise of tribalism, alt right nationalism and fundamentalist religious movements, as well as radical scenes that are not tender, that are not welcoming or generous or safe.
Right now we need to fight oppression and struggle against ecological collapse while being particularly careful to avoid making intolerance and social division worse. We must resist racists and fight their ideas, yet avoid dehumanizing anyone no matter how wrong their actions may be.
There is a big picture we’re missing. The tiny elite who are profiting from killing the planet want to keep us divided and fighting amongst ourselves because it distracts us from building an alternative to a system which requires inequality, which requires destroying the earth, and which is organized by competition and violence, not cooperation and humanity. We need to stay focused on fighting those systems.
Self-hatred is an emotion behind a lot of destructive human behavior because — unable to love oneself — one is unable to love the world, the trees and the oceans, and anyone perceived as different. Self-hatred and emotional shut-down that interferes with all of our ability to tap into the love that is within us is something everyone has to work on all the time.
Let’s train ourselves to spread and grow love. It can help to start with feelings of love that are outside you – your feelings of love for places or things or people — and let that grow until it becomes a habit and can feed upon itself. Eventually once love is strong enough in your heart and free enough that it floats near the surface, it shines back upon you.
The earth is hurting because of people and our machines and capitalism — but really the earth will be okay. People might not be okay — maybe probably won’t be okay. That is scary to me. Let it sink in but don’t let it paralyze you or cause you to turn away from life and love. At my best moments, I love myself which means I love human beings and the good things we’ve created enough to fight to keep human society going against the odds. People are complex and sure we’re responsible for a lot of terrible stuff — oppression, genocide, ecological domination.
But there is plenty to love about humans and our social formations — parts of our rich diverse beautiful cultures, our music, our learning, our art. And just our simple day-to-day lives with all the small pleasures and moments we experience.
Now is the time to keep our eyes on why we want to save the world. That tenderness can give us the courage and eloquence we need to communicate and resonate with others. Most people love being alive — it is an intense rush. We don’t need a lot of fancy jargon, gymnastic mental justifications or economic theories to figure out why living is fun and worthwhile and why human communities are worth trying to preserve and improve. From the big picture we can move to particular movements against police killings, against pipelines, for people getting the food and housing and healthcare they need, for freedom and justice and for ecological sustainability.
The earth is what unites us all. Avoiding damage to the environment may be our biggest challenge, but it could also be the wake up call that forces us to grow up as a species and cast off sloppy earth-killing structures built only on greed.
If we start with love, we can try to make stuff better even though we recognize that we make mistakes — that we aren’t always good or loving ourselves. No one is perfect. We need to approach that reality with self-love, not shame but rather compassion and acceptance. Then we need to try to do better.