Excerpted from Robert Jensen:
“When we come to terms with these challenges – when we face up to the fact that the human species now faces problems that likely have no solutions, at least no solutions that allow us to continue living as we have – then we will not be deterred by the resistance of the culture. We will work at accomplishing whatever we can, where we live, in the time available to us. Which brings me to the future: green, red, black and female.
Green: The human future, if there is to be a future, will be green, meaning the ecological worldview will be central in all discussions of all of human affairs. We will start all conversations about all decisions we make in all arenas of life by recognizing that we are one species in complex ecosystems that make up a single ecosphere. We will abide by the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, as we understand them today, realizing the ecosystems on which we depend are far more complex than we can understand. As a result of the ecological worldview, we will practice real humility in our interventions into those ecosystems.
Red: The human future, if there is to be a future, will be red. By that, I mean we must be explicitly anticapitalist. An economic system that magnifies human greed and encourages short-term thinking, while pretending there are no physical limits on human consumption, is a death cult. To endorse capitalism is to sign onto a suicide pact. We need not pretend there exists a fully elaborated plan for a replacement system that we can take off the shelf and implement immediately. But the absence of a fully explicated alternative doesn’t justify an economic system that has dramatically intensified the human assault on the larger living world. Capitalism is not the system through which we will craft a sustainable future.
Black: The human future, if there is to be a future, will be black. By that, I mean we have to reject the pathology of white supremacy that has for five centuries shaped the world in which we live, and continues to shape us. Do not confuse this with shallow “multiculturalism” – I am not suggesting that by celebrating “diversity” we will magically create peace and harmony. Instead, we must recognize that the existing distribution of wealth is the product of a profoundly pathological system of racial hierarchy conceived of, and perpetuated by, white Europe and its offshoots (the United States, Australia, South Africa).
Female: The human future, if there is to be a future, will be female. By that, I mean we have to reject the pathology of patriarchy that has for several thousand years shaped the world in which we live and continues to shape us. Again, this should not be confused with the tepid liberal and “third wave” versions of feminism that the dominant culture acknowledges. Instead, we must embrace a radical feminism that rejects the hierarchy and violence on which male dominance depends.
My claim is that we must deal with all these systems in a holistic, integrated fashion, that we will not successfully reject one hierarchal system without rejecting all hierarchical systems. Holding onto any system that depends on one group claiming dominance over another undermines our ability to shape a decent future. We should be dismantling any system based on dominator logic.
Green: Our quest to exploit the larger living world is based on an assumption that humans have a right, rooted in either theological or secular beliefs, to dominate based on our sense of being the superior species. Whether we believe the big brain comes from God or through evolution, in cognitive terms we certainly do rank first among species. But ask yourself, within the human family, is being smart the only thing of value? Do we rank each other only on cognitive ability? We understand that within our species, no one has a right to dominate another simply because of a claim of being smarter. Yet we treat the world as if that status as the smartest species is all that is needed to dominate everything else.
Red: If we put aside the fantasies about capitalism found in economics textbooks and deal with the real world, we recognize that capitalism is a wealth-concentrating system that allows a small number of people to dominate not only economic, but also political decision-making – which makes a mockery of our alleged commitment to moral principles rooted in solidarity and political principles rooted in democracy. In capitalism, domination is self-justifying – if one can amass wealth, one can dominate without question, trumping all other values.
Black: Although the worst legal and social practices that defined and maintained white supremacy for centuries have been eliminated, the white world never settled its accounts with the nonwhite world, preferring to hold onto its disproportionate share of the world’s wealth that was extracted violently. As a result of that moral failing, the material reality and ideological power of white supremacy endures, modified in recent decades to grant some privileges to some of the formerly targeted populations so long as the dominator logic of the system is not challenged. We have not dealt with this because to deal with it, honestly, would mean a dramatic redistribution of wealth, internally within societies and globally, and an even more dramatic shift in the way white people see ourselves.
Female: It is not surprising that the foundational hierarchy of male domination has remained so intractable – to acknowledge the existence of patriarchy is to recognize that patriarchy’s domination/subordination dynamic, which decent people claim to reject, is woven deeply into the fabric of all our lives in every sphere, including sexuality. Taking the feminist critique seriously shakes the foundation of our daily lives. Again, the system’s ability to allow a limited number of women into elite circles, as long as they accept the dominator logic, does little to undermine patriarchy.
This sketch of a radical politics does not mean that every person must always be involved in organizing on all of these issues, which would be impossible. Nor does this short summary of systems of domination/subordination capture every relevant question. But, for those who claim to be concerned with social justice and ecological sustainability, I would press simple points: Everyone’s analysis must take into account all these aspects of our lives; if your analysis does not do that, then your analysis is incomplete; and an incomplete analysis will not be the basis for substantive and meaningful change. Why?
If the story of a human future is not green, there is no future. If the story is not red, it cannot be green. If we can manage to restructure our world along new understandings of ecology and economics, there is a chance we can salvage something. But we will not be able magically to continue business as usual; our longstanding assumption of endlessly expanding bounty must be abandoned as we reconfigure our expectations.
That means we have to start telling a story about living with dramatically less of everything. The green and red story is a story of limits. If we are to hold onto our humanity in an era of contraction, those limits must be accepted by all, with the burdens shared by all. And that story only works if it is black and female. Without a rejection of the dominator logic of ecological exploitation and capitalism, there is no future at all. Without a rejection of the dominator logic of white supremacy and patriarchy, there is no future worth living in.
When someone says, “All that matters now is focusing on ecological sustainability” (asserting the primacy of green), we must make it clear that such sustainability is impossible within capitalism. When someone says, “All that matters now is steady-state economics” (asserting the primacy of red), we must make it clear that such a steady state is morally unacceptable within white supremacy and patriarchy. When someone says, “Talking about sustainability doesn’t mean much for subordinated people suffering today” (asserting the primacy of black and female), we must make it clear that attaining social justice within a rapidly declining system is a death sentence for future generations.
Anytime someone wants to narrow the scope of our inquiry to make it easier to get through the day, we must make it clear that getting through the day isn’t the goal. “One day at a time” may be a useful guide for an individual in recovery from addiction, but it is a dead-end for a species on the brink of dramatic and potentially irreversible changes.
Any time someone wants to think long term but narrow the scope of our inquiry to make it easier to tackle a specific problem, we must make it clear that fixing a specific problem won’t save us. “One broken system at a time” may be a sensible short-term political strategy in a stable world in which there is time for a long trajectory of change, but it is a dead-end in the unstable world in which we live.
To be clear: None of these observations are an argument for paralysis or passivity. I am not arguing that there is nothing to do, nothing worth doing, nothing that can be done to make things better. I am saying there is nothing that can be done to avoid a serious shift, a scale of change that is captured by the term “collapse.” What can be done will be worth doing only if we accept that reality – instead of asking, “How can we save all this?” we should ask, “How can we hold onto our humanity as all of this changes?”
When relieved of the obligation to conjure up magical solutions, life actually gets simpler, and what can be done is easier to apprehend: Learn to live with less. Give up on empty talk about “conscious capitalism.” Cross boundaries of race, ethnicity, class and religion that typically keep people apart. Make sure that both public and private spaces are free from men’s violence. Recognize that central to whatever projects one undertakes should be the building of local networks and institutions that enhance resilience.”