“This will be an era defined by who is deemed worthy of survival, and who isn’t, who gives a damn, and who doesn’t, and how we keep each other alive during and in between catastrophes,” says Kelly Hayes. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” Kelly talks with Shane Burley, the author of Why We Fight and Fascism Today about right-wing power, the apocalypse, and organizing a counterculture of care.
Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about things you should know if you want to change the world. I’m your host, writer and organizer, Kelly Hayes. On this show, we talk about building the relationships and analysis we need to create movements that can win. I spoke with a couple of activists recently — friends of mine — who say they aren’t really sure what winning looks like anymore, or if winning is even possible. They are disillusioned by the normalization of mass COVID deaths, and the fact that the electoral system is under siege. They were also hurting over the fact that we have a lot of environmental catastrophe baked into our future. So what does it mean to win on a potentially collapsing terrain? This episode is for people who are grappling with that question, or who need to. Today, my friend Shane Burley and I will be talking about the state of right-wing power, the apocalypse, and organizing a counterculture of care. Shane is a Truthout contributor and author of the books Fascism Today and Why We Fight. He’s also a regular guest on the show and I’m always grateful for his insights.
As many of you know, a right-wing authoritarian takeover of the federal government is underway. In 2020, organizers and voters managed to beat back a highly sophisticated voter suppression apparatus, and they put a Democrat in the White House. Since then, Republicans at the state level have introduced more than 440 bills that restrict voting access, while Democratic efforts to pass federal voting rights protections have stalled. In a recent resolution, the Republican Party accused two of its members, who serve on the January 6 committee, of participating in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” Here, the deadly violence of white rioters is not merely legitimized, but actually cast as nonviolence. We are seeing an increased legitimization of right-wing vigilantism in Republican bills and politics, from voter suppression to bills that foster harassment at the polls to laws that absolve motorists who strike protesters with their cars.
I am a hopeful person, but my practice of hope is not at odds with a clear-eyed awareness of what we are up against. We won’t be getting into every daunting struggle we face in this episode, but with Shane on the show, I would be remiss if I didn’t get his thoughts on the current state of right-wing power in the U.S.
Shane Burley: It’s interesting. I think there used to be this notion that the more kind of extremely racist the right was, that was a one-to-one on how dangerous they were. So the more explicit the racialism was, the more explicitly violent or tendentially violent they would be. So like, when I was young, the World Church of the Creator, now it’s called the Creativity Movement was this neo-Nazi basically like pseudoreligion that was just openly genocidal. There were so many bomb threats or assassination attempts by these folks. And people kind of assumed that would be where the most violence would be.
But in a way, the density of the violence has come from the murky world of people who claim they’re not racist, like the Proud Boys. Even more than that, the sort of unaffiliated masses of folks around them engaged in the most kind of impulsive acts of violence and that has grown exponentially. So people have really kind of celebrated the decline of the Alt-Right and any decline on the far right is good. And I’ll join them in that celebration. But nothing is over.
And in a way, some of the people that are left are the most kind of statistically frightening, the ones that engage in the most violence. But there’s other parts of this, I think that have to be reckoned with. I think people have been watching this kind of battle happening on Spotify recently.
So for folks that know, basically Joe Rogan, biggest podcast in the world, probably, is featured on Spotify. And because he’s been pumping sort of not necessarily COVID denialism, but basically COVID pseudoscience about vaccines and about the effects of the vaccine on children, in particular. A lot of musical artists are trying to pull out of Spotify. Most famously was Neil Young pulled out and that was a big cost to Spotify.
But what I think is interesting about Joe Rogan and the kind of circle of folks around him, a growing circle of folks around him, is the absolute sort of rebellion against accepting the world we live in, in a kind of deeply laid ideological way. Like as if to accept the crisis that we’re living in, for example, increased climate collapse and it’s leading to an increased rate of pandemics, the collapse of our health care system, things like that. By accepting that, that would mean that they would have to sort of challenge their own ideological trajectory, and they’re 100% unwilling to do that. And they’re totally willing to engage in really dangerous denialism, so as to do that.
And so, I think what we’re seeing now is, in a way how what role ideology has. I think people would be more willing to sort of allow a mass wave of violence meaning like unmediated COVID infection than to actually shift something ideologically. I think they’re kind of thinking about this drives a lot more than the material conditions around them. And that, I think, speaks a lot to what crisis will look like in the future. Because it’s not anchored to the conditions of crisis, it’s anchored to sort of like these subjective interpretations and the ideological reimaginings.
And I think we are prepared to deal with material conditions in a lot of ways. Like we organize around the material conditions of a crisis, where you organize like workers at a workplace, or you organize like activists to do something. But how do you organize to counter people’s subjective narratives? That’s a much different thing. And so I think what I think is most frightening is the era in which the world, itself, that lacks any kind of shared agreement. Instead, these complex kind of ideological wars take place as proxies. Denial, it’s going to be maybe the defining sort of fight of the next couple of decades. About whether or not people are going to accept that we don’t have continuity with the past anymore. Or that we’re on a kind of shifting framework of what’s possible in our society.
We’re also seeing people, younger folks in particular and also working class folks really rise up and respond in ways that are really transformational to like the very basic kind of fabric of our social relationships. So redefining things in terms of mutual aid, creating community groups, creating really mass protest response. That’s also sort of part of the changing conditions. And I think that’s, obviously, a much more healthy response. And those are the ones in which I think show people like actually behaving resiliently in response to these changing conditions.
Mutual aid is a correct and necessary response to the kind of breakdown of our dependable social structures.
KH: When the idea that something is inevitable gains traction, many people absolve themselves of any effort in preventing it — or even responding to it. When the powerful declare deadly inevitabilities, we are receiving social orders to abandon a particular group of people. We will receive more of these edicts of inevitability as ecosystems collapse and social systems fracture. Like Bree Newsome, who was recently on the show, Shane had strong feelings about the way notions of inevitability have been deployed around the damage done by the pandemic.
SB: I think it’s important to elucidate that none of these consequences are inevitable, they are a matter of choices. The way that things are talked about now around the pandemic and around other issues is that they are terrible. These are bad, tragic things that happen. But they’re not really a person’s fault. They’re just like, we’re all equally or even in uneven ways, experiencing this crisis. But it’s not a person who did this. But that’s 100% false.
So for example, when we were first talking about the first wave of the pandemic in early mid-2020, there was this crisis of looking for ventilators. Like there wasn’t enough ventilators, there wasn’t enough to go around. They’re really expensive. The uncomfortable reality, as a lot of people phrased it, was that some people just don’t get ventilators. Some people… they’re probably not going to make it through, so those people, they have to sort of pay the ultimate price so that we can give ventilators to folks that might recover easier or however they were kind of dictating this in hospitals. But that is not inevitable. In fact, we actually could do those things if you invested in health care, if you had those like more kind of humane funding systems, if you didn’t have a for-profit healthcare model, in general. You actually could have all the tools you need. But we have chosen not to do those sorts of things.
Another one was the mass wave of evictions, job losses, of people in financial crisis. No one wants this; we should open back up for that. Well, no, we can actually instead give people all the resources we need. We have chosen not to. Our society chooses not to. There’s even mechanisms to do this; it’s called the state. It could theoretically re-distribute wealth or give people those sorts of things. But again, we’ve chosen not to, it’s not inevitable. It’s always going to be a matter of choices. And particularly how extreme we want those choices to be. And so when you reframe it that way, then you have a discussion about what kind of world you want and what it takes to get there. Which is not the discussion that we have typically. And that’s what’s necessary to have it be sort of a revolutionary project. It’s only a revolutionary project if it questions the very fundamental assumptions of the society that became before. And thinks of ways of changing those. And so pushing past this conversation that some pain and suffering is inevitable, I think will allow us to start thinking about how do we build fundamentally different conditions. How do we really rethink where we’re at?
KH: My recent conversations with my friends about what it means to win in these times reminded me of an essay called “Introduction to Armageddon” in Shane’s book Why We Fight. In it, Shane writes:
Instead of aversion thinking, and especially denial, we can hone survival and transgression. The question should be how to live through this crisis and come out the other side stronger, with functioning societies, and with a vision of how to rethink instability as a vulnerability we can exploit to rebuild something ecstatic instead of the dying world we have now. Survival and the continuance of struggle are offensive, rather than defensive, positions, and can be defined by principles that draw us to the kind of fight we want.
We need all creative energy on deck. And yet, I completely understand why people are avoidant when it comes to subjects like climate change, or other issues that just feel too large to even contemplate. I never used to, but seeing how poorly people have handled the pandemic, I get it now. The human mind has a way of rejecting what we’re afraid we can’t tolerate. We latch onto narratives that allow us to reconfigure whatever’s failing to add up in our worldview. Sometimes those narratives are bullshit, and they become entrenched. Sometimes, people will embrace facts, on an intellectual level, but still proceed through life recklessly, with an unrealistic sense of optimism about their own safety, because they have failed to process emotionally what they have accepted intellectually, and apply that knowledge meaningfully to their own lives. In short, they can’t deal. And really, we would be much better off as people if we acknowledged how many of our failures come down to the fact that people just don’t know how to deal. Yes, some people are acting out a weird fascist war with science, but a lot of people are just living in a mentally photoshopped reality, where major threats blur into the background. But, our apocalyptic context is part of the reality we live in, so I wanted to take a moment to discuss, what do we even mean when we refer to the apocalypse? Are we talking about the stuff of zombie films, a meteor strike or maybe the collapse of the gulf stream?
On the It Could Happen Here podcast, Robert Evans characterizes our current era as “the Crumbles” — a period where the fragility of modern life is laid bare in unstable times, as it has been during the pandemic, and systemic failures set off unpredictable chain reactions. Each breakdown potentially leads to other, unpredictable destabilizations — like the varied fallout we are bound to witness now that one in five health care workers have left the field. As Evans notes, we entered the pandemic with a shortage of doctors and nurses. Now, an astounding number of medical professionals have left the field. As Evans explained in an episode titled “Welcome to the Crumbles“:
This is the way the Crumbles work. Problems feed into calamities and turn into catastrophes. A healthy society has the wherewithal to diagnose its problems, and patch the holes in its systems when they appear. We do not live in a healthy society. The problems that will confront us over the next 50 years — rising sea levels, out of control wildfires, crop failures, greater waves of refugees — are not less imposing than the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of the people I read, listen to or talk to about the apocalypse agree that the public is largely hung up on the idea of one, large, sweeping, cataclysmic event — in part, because we have been taught to conceptualize the apocalypse that way, which allows us to imagine that it has not yet occurred. If the apocalypse is a large, world-collapsing event that is not yet underway, it remains merely theoretical, as opposed to something that people are and have been experiencing socially and ecologically. It was a collapse that began, in some ways, when humans decided to make themselves gods. The subversion of nature and the systematic subversion of other people, the devouring of species and landscapes, and the looting of continents. These are things I think about when I use the word “apocalypse.” But for the sake of getting an expert opinion, I wanted to ask the author of “Introduction to Armageddon,” what is an apocalypse?
SB: Well, ostensibly, it’s the end of the world. But historically, and I guess, mythologically, that’s not entirely a one-to-one understanding of it. In the Christian bible, it’s understood as the process by which social systems end, so as to allow Messiah to return. And so, in a way, the Apocalypse isn’t necessarily the ending of the world. The Messiah is. That’s what actually brings the story to a close.
But the explosive conclusion to the story, what pre-stages that final period, is this process of apocalypse, which is violent. In which people show their true colors, where they engage in unmediated cruelty towards one another. But there’s a lot of other versions of this. There are apocalyptic stories that are more cyclical. They’re simply the closing of one story to begin another.
I think that what’s more useful is, just think of it as the ending of the world as we’ve understood it to be. The rules, limitations, the expectations we can have. I think we’re seeing the end of the sort of increased culture of growth and prosperity so as to be replaced by something yet to be determined, which is frightening. But it’s not necessarily the same as the sentence being cut off halfway through and all life on earth disappearing. I don’t think that we’re going to explode in some moment of excess where everything will suddenly be gone. Instead, there’ll be really profound shifts which will be both painful and scary, but are more about a change in the way that humans engage with the earth.
KH: In some ways, the apocalypse is closing a gap that some people have enjoyed between our actions and their consequences, or between our lifestyles and the larger costs of our comfort and convenience.
SB: Part of it is sort of the long standing legacies of colonialism and imperialism where entire societies are built on the invisibility of what allows those societies to exist. But there is a period of time in which that kind of disconnect between cause and effect can’t be allowed to continue that much longer. So I think Robert Evans and the folks who do that podcast you mentioned talk about the crumbles. There is a slow, maybe not even that slow, but there is a process that doesn’t happen in an instant, but is the decline of the dependable systems of the United States.
And I think that’s actually been going on for quite some time in a way. And I think… so it’ll be hard to see it all happen at once, but I do think that we’ll look around at some point and see a break between the past and the present and which will be really hard for them to reconcile. Which is hard for them to reconcile right now out. People are having trouble reconciling with the idea that our society is not safe enough to walk around without masks on. I think people are having a really tough time reconciling with the new realities.
KH: This will be an era defined by who is deemed worthy of survival, and who isn’t, who gives a damn, and who doesn’t, and how we keep each other alive during and in between catastrophes. Borders, like prison cells, are modes of separation that give people permission to forget other human beings. Creating a counterculture of care means refusing to abandon people. Borders, cages, and other forms of incarceration and disposal are all anathema to that counterculture.
SB I think borders are the phenomenon that the right and to a degree capital will try and use as the marker of defense in the future. If we’re talking about increased migration around climate collapse. And also global economic collapse… the collapse on multiple levels inspiring a large-scale migration. The right’s solution to that will increasingly be not to deny things like climate change. But to simply reify the borders and use various degrees of ecofascism to keep people out. In that way, I mean, the border is not just like an invisible line around a supposed country. It sort of exists everywhere for people. People are sort of threatened by immigration at any point in the U.S. that they’re living in. The border is an ever present kind of reality. And the reification of the border is not just like building a border wall, but it’s increased targeting and infrastructure that singles people out, that divides people socially and legally.
So I think the border will be their solution. And that has to be… I think when you have to respond in a way by making that sort of one of the primary places that we target. Anti-border, and I mean really, like opposition to even the concept of a border has to be sort of the hallmark of a revolutionary politic going forward. Because our ability to build anew communities that have the strength to do something new requires all of us. And so fighting the kind of increased borderization of the U.S., of border imperialism, has to be front and center of what our politics will be in the next 20 and 30 years. Otherwise, we’re allowing the right to reimagine a world of crisis and to this kind of horror show. And so that has to help drive how we think of the is and what kind of issues we take on now, and how we think of them. It has to be front and center.
I think we don’t have the luxury of being separate from an international community. I mean, the reality is that any successful organizing happens across borders. It happens with large masses of people. The old equation is that the rich have the money, but we have people. And that was what was necessary in the case of an international pandemic. Not one that has no respect for borders or anything. So why would we? I think we have to now think about any organizing strategy we have, any way of … and by organizing, I do mean like just surviving, too. Like not just movements of resistance, but just basic survival. It has to be done on this international place where we make borders our enemies, because they’re only going to hinder our ability to actually win anything.
KH: Borders and bordering are the enemies of those who have strength in numbers. As an exercise, I want us to consider, if we say the words, “the future belongs to us,” who does “us” include? And is that “us” a large enough community to organize for collective survival in an era of catastrophe? Is it big enough to bring down capitalism? The future does belong to us — if we are willing to become an “us” capable of seizing it. We don’t know what it will look like, and I don’t think we can fully envision how we will live, but a call to imagine is upon us. I do know that the work of fighting for one another and the work of caring for one another will be inextricable, and at times indistinguishable, in the years to come.
A counterculture of care exists in opposition to borders, bordering and systems of disposal and annihilation, like the prison-industrial complex. Ableism has propelled mass murder by way of a politics of inevitability and indifference and we cannot allow those politics to be replicated across the course of our future.
A lot of disillusioned organizers I have talked to lament the state of the left. To me, the left is a political expanse. It has no coherence, as an identity or as a political force. Good work happens among leftists, but movements that successfully engage communities in times of collapse will have to do a better job connecting with large numbers of everyday people than many on the left have managed. As Shane and I discussed, this disconnect makes it tricky to talk generally about what the left should be doing.
SB: I think that it’s interesting because I think people do mean different things when they say “the left.” The left is generally the social movement towards greater equality with shifting constituencies and changing agendas and different degrees of politics. And it’s rarely very responsive to the people it’s supposedly the political incarnation of. So the working class or marginalized communities. It very rarely one-to-one lines up with their realities. And so I think it’s in a lot of ways more useful to take a step back and not ask initially what the left is doing or what the left does, but what does the class need or what do the actual people need and how are they responding?
And so I think the left needs this to work very hard to back away from the rules that we’ve encountered before to think about things. There’s conventional left-wing approaches to things that think about stuff; sometimes electorally and sometimes in terms of reform and social movement activism. But there’s a lot of conclusions that underlie that. A lot of assumptions about how politics work, and those are all up for grabs right now. And so I think the left, the organized left, would do a lot better to take a step back into people’s actual lives and see how they’re resisting every day. How they’re surviving, and to make that the center of how we organize. That is what will build sustainable infrastructure as the state becomes unstable in some cases or social systems come unstable. Those are the things that have the real capacity to provide more than just symbolic action in the future.
If we build coordinated social movements that are able to create mutual aid, that are able to defend communities, that are able to put pressure where they need to be. If they’re able to do all those sorts of things, they’re able to do that because they’re autonomous from a lot of the social systems before. So we need to start thinking about something entirely new. And I think that’s happening in a lot of ways.
What are the most effective ways to get a mass of people to solve a problem? To affect people’s lives in their workplaces, in their healthcare experience, in getting basic resources at home, in defending ecological reserves? I think those questions need to be the center of whatever a left is, going forward. Otherwise, it’s basically going to self dissolve. It will dissolve into the same limited framework that the state has always existed in. But now is our chance to do something different. The conditions have changed so we have to actually respond differently.
KH: My meditation for the left is that the answer to the question “Who am I willing to let help me survive?” should be a reflection of how much we want to live. For a lot of people it isn’t. We know there is no correlation between these factors on the right. They would rather die than accept the wrong help, and we can see what that looks like. They are dying in massive, unnecessary numbers, and pulling many others down with them. If we do not bring our desire to live and our willingness to collaborate across difference into greater alignment, the irrelevance of “the left” will be among the lesser consequences that we see.
I worry about the ways we disqualify one another from the work of making the world better. I also worry about a growing callousness that I sense in the world around me. Our creeping tolerance for mass death is changing us in ways that I don’t think we fully recognize yet.
SB: There’s an increased kind of cultural cruelty that exists in a lot of different ways. I don’t think it’s just a response to burnout from the pandemic. Which is real, there’s emotional burnout to constantly responding to sort of tragedy. But I don’t really think that that’s actually where the heart of it’s coming. I think there is a cultural shift that’s happening that sees empathy and compassion almost as like a bourgeois luxury. That is something that sort of ruined generations of people, like millennials. They feel too much, that’s what their problem is. It’s not student loan debt or police murders. It’s just that they have too many touchy feelies.
And so, I think it’s kind of good to take a step back and think about how we’re talking about it in general. One example is the way that we talk about the opioid crisis. This has been actually a really, I think, good example for the kind of creeping culture of cruelty that’s happened. So we’re living through … I mean, very clearly, we’re living through an unprecedented… basically mass overdoses and mass wave[s] of death. And part of the response to that has been to say that pain patients, chronic pain patients, or acute pain patients are sort of the Vanguards of that crisis. And the treatment of pain itself should be considered suspect. In a way, it’s almost like reclaiming this sort of Protestant moralism, that pleasure is inherently dangerous or sort of indulgent.
And so right now, there’s kind of a mass change in how we approach the treatment of chronic pain. Now, clearly the opioid companies were corrosive corporate institutions that exploited people for profit But also the way that we’ve started to respond to that is to back away from our compassion as though it was our compassion that caused the problem. And you’re seeing people with chronic pain unable to get medications or correct treatments with the idea that pain itself isn’t something we should intervene in because it’s too dangerous to do so.
This is part of, I think, a shift towards saying pain and suffering are sort of necessary, that’s what we need. Political pain, social pain, real talk, all of this has now become sort of the model by which we deal with crisis. And that necessarily leaves people behind, it creates this sort of hostile violence in people’s everyday lives. And I think it disallows us from imagining something different. Like a revolutionary society is built on compassion and care foundationally because our society now isn’t. So any actual change has to be built on that. And this idea that people have to incur pain and suffering as sort of a necessary piece of a healthy society is one that’s just as artificial. And so I think we should be using the support for one another as the hallmark of whether or not we’re building something radically different.
KH: Our death-making culture is getting colder and deadlier, and it is making tired, impressionable people complicit. As Dan Berger recently stated on the podcast “Death Panel,” “I was hoping in the early days of the pandemic that we would get a public health approach to prison, and instead we got a prison approach to public health.” Our tolerance of torturous prison conditions and the murderous maintenance of borders primed the public to accept the unnecessary premature deaths of the pandemic. That acceptance has paved the way for our indifference to the mass death and detention of migrants, as the climate crisis displaces millions and kills hundreds of thousands of people per year. We need a radical counterculture of care that offers people an alternative to avoidance, resignation and despair. That will place an emphasis on mutual aid and survival work as jumping off points that some organizers will not be accustomed to, but community bonds rooted in collective care are going to be foundational to movement work in the future.
The market-based plan for the apocalypse is to extract everything that can be commodified until the clock runs out. We need to envision our plan.
SB: How we think about organizing is going to be different in the future because it’s going to be really bound up with these, basically methods of survival. Some social movements have had this in the past, I think that’s going to be the defining kind of element of social movements in the future, is how do we have social reproduction? How do we keep people safe? How do we get folks what we need? And how is that a political act?
It’s going to have connections with older things like labor unions and things like that. People are going to be organizing labor unions. But they are also going to be organizing in ways that are totally new because the workplace conditions, people’s day to day lives are different than they were before. And so we have to think about different ways of using those old organizing models, like getting people together to engage in collective action. How do we do it in their new condition? How do you organize when people sometimes don’t have jobs at all because of increased rates of unemployment? Or because they work in gig economy exclusively. Or they’re changing jobs really frequently. How do you organize around that? How do you organize in areas when we have a pandemic and what could be replaced by another pandemic and another pandemic? How do you keep people safe when you’re organizing? How do you kind of mix the virtual and the in person? Those are questions being answered right now.
And I think they’re being answered in kind of vibrant and exciting ways. Having these sort of new approaches gives us tools that we’ve just simply never had before. And that’s why in a way … and I talk about in the chapter you’re talking about, why I feel more optimistic in some ways is because the options available to us despite the crisis we’re living in, are so vast that I think it opens up not just how we can resist and how we can organize people, but what’s possible to win. Like what could a new world actually look like?
KH: From fossil fuels to labor, time and the digital data mined from our daily lives — we live in a world of extractive sites. Our cooperation with this destruction is secured through normalization. Building a counterculture of care of care means rejecting normalcy. Normalcy is the apocalypse on capitalism’s terms. That’s already disastrous and it’s already happening. The hopeless path is engaging with the lie, and attempting to recreate the same conditions and relations as the world falls down, or until we get caught in one of the system’s patterns of disposal. You can’t work anymore? Then you probably can’t afford the care you will need in a medical crisis, particularly an ongoing one. That’s one path to disposal. You can’t safely navigate COVID or manage your own safety during a disaster? Too bad, you are an unfortunate example of the fact that “not everyone is going to make it” — a phrase we often hear deployed, as though there were no actual decisions being made about who would be abandoned, and as though people were not accountable for those decisions. Devastation simply happens.
That’s the hopeless path. The hopeful path forward is one in which we organize to reduce suffering, to maintain meaningful connections with other human beings, to learn together, to defend each other, to cultivate joy in the face of disaster. It is a fundamentally defiant movement, because it cannot exist in harmony with capitalism. Creating a counterculture of care means practicing patience and extending compassion much more often than we are inclined to. It means that our work exists in opposition to policing, bondage and bordering. It also means grieving our losses, for our own sakes, in order to heal and hold onto our humanity, and because unprocessed trauma is a destructive force. People are already doing this work, and some have been doing it for generations. In that work, in those relationships, in that creativity, I see a lot of hope, and room for a lot of joy.
SB: We don’t need to be sort of falsely optimistic or to kind of not see the crisis in front of us, to believe that something else is possible. And in a way, even probable. Because of the sort of massive shuffling of social systems that’s taking place. In a way … and I don’t want to … because I do not fetishize collapse at all. I think that that’s a really toxic way of thinking about things. But there is a certain amount of vulnerability in the social systems around us that are taking place, whereby our ability to build something new is much more possible than it was before. And the ability of creating counter institutions is much more possible.
And I think people sort of make choices about how they sit with the horrors around them. And I choose to sit in that world. I choose to sort of focus on what I can do and what we can do and what opportunities are available to us. And I think, in a way, living in that space allows you not to look away, but it allows you to start to process things and find your own pathway through it. And so maybe that is actually the path of seeing your way through it. Like our way through it is through the cracks. Because we don’t have another choice, it’s not like we can stop the train. And I think that’s a complicated place to be in, to acknowledge that we don’t want to celebrate the collapse of social systems because it’s nothing but pain. But we have to kind of choose which response we’re going to have.
KH: I am not at peace with the things I believe I understand about what’s ahead, including the rise of right-wing power or the progression of the climate crisis, and I don’t intend to be. I intend to rage against the right and other death-making forces, come what may, and regardless of the odds. But I am at peace with my intentions. Even if my imagination can’t fill in all the blanks between this moment and the world I want, I know what values I want that future to embody, and what values I want to see expressed in each moment I impact, for as long as I am here. I make commitments accordingly, and I try to live up to those commitments. In matters of morality, I don’t think this is a time to simply think or believe. It is a time to commit, and to be ready to dig your heels into the ground, even as society tries to pull you into a new mindset that normalizes more suffering and death.
Sometimes, people ask me how I stay hopeful, and the truth is, I am grounded in my commitment to others. When I am feeling cynical or tired, those commitments offer me direction and purpose, and remind me that I am not alone. They help me remember our potential and the joy we find, even in dark places, as long as we have the will to fight for each other. I think that leaves me far better off, to be honest, than someone who is not processing what’s happening, because really, what is to become of people who remain committed to an apocalyptic normalcy? What is to become of people who will not process the scope of what’s happening — with COVID, inequality, the climate crisis, or any other nightmare of our time? Do they stumble forward, struggling to recreate the relations of the old world, until reality hits them like a tsunami, or a wildfire, or a drought, or a tornado? And what are the consequences of so many moments of world-shattering horror? Of so many explosions of previously sublimated grief? A counterculture of care would offer people a place to process the nightmares of this world, while also imagining and practicing the politics of the world we hope to live in.
There will be many “other sides” of many world shattering moments. So what will we make of them and how shall we live? Will we sacrifice ourselves and each other to this system, or will we seek communion with other human beings, to build, care and create? I am heartened by people who are already doing the latter.
Since we are talking about instability, our fears, and what it will take to survive together in these times, I want to close with some words by James Baldwin, from an essay called, “Nothing Personal”:
For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth
is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind
down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one
another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
So what does winning mean? In the long term, it means growing something that blossoms over the ruins of this system. Here and now, it’s something we find in the work of holding each other and refusing to break faith. In time, I believe we will claim victories that we have barely begun to imagine. But we have to do the work of reaching out and holding on. That’s how we will continue to build our counterculture of care.
I want to thank Shane Burley for hanging out with me to talk about right-wing power, the apocalypse and building a counterculture of care. Even though we talk about some of the most depressing topics in the world, I always feel better for it, and I hope you all do too. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today. And remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.
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