One problem with American society is that many of the successful, intelligent and otherwise kind people are far too busy pursuing success, so that they fail to put their skills in service to political and social transformation. As I see it, this is one of the major blind spots of common sense attitudes of libertarian, liberal and conservative citizens alike. Too many of us remain practically indifferent to the astounding magnitude of political corruption, violence and economic upheaval in America and the world over. Here the actual drivers and machines of political speeches, free markets and promises of progress are dominated by globalizing market trajectories, corporate party interests, and relentless profiteering couched in the language of liberty and the good life.
Political theorist and ecologist William Connolly illuminates this problem from a global perspective on explicitly political terms in his bold and sweeping book, Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming (2017).
Facing the planetary entails a proposal for building planetary narratives and engaging local politics. It calls for ecologically cognizant mobilizations in direct response to the widespread negligence of human civilization in the mirror of the Anthropocene. He takes up crises of social injustice, financial corruption, oppression of ethnic minorities and the practical deletion of indigenous peoples, while confronting paralyzing forces of today’s catastrophes, which stifle the constellation of alliances rooted in particular grass roots initiatives and unified in a shared ethos of planetary care that he espouses.
Here's a passage that captures some of his aims and orientation: “The challenges of today solicit both an embrace of this unruly world and pursuit of new political assemblages to counter its dangers. Today the urgency of time calls for a new pluralist assemblage organized by multiple minorities drawn from different regions, classes, creeds, age cohorts, sexualities, and states. This is so in part because the effects of the Anthropocene often hit the racialized urban poor, indigenous peoples, and low-lying areas hard, while its historical sources emanate from privileged places that must be challenged from inside and outside simultaneously.”
Connolly ventures a far bolder proposition, however, when he advocates the development of resilient local defense systems that are ultimately allied in a progressive cosmopolitan body politic of radical humanists. He writes: “Militant citizen alliances across regions are needed to challenge the priorities of investment capital, state hegemony, local cronyisms, international organizations, and frontier mentalities. Some adventurers I will consult already record and pursue such countermovements.”
Meanwhile at home, the life of success, family and profit seems harmless and even well deserved (hard work!). But outside the bubble of nostalgic patriotism and the complex lie of greatness that masks a tremendous disparity between 1st and 3rd world countries and a "secular aristocracy" in America that hordes over 90% of its wealth and resources, a sober look at the international landscape reveals crises that would make even the most mediocre moralist commit to politics and real change.
And yet most of us remain complacent and perpetually default to a benefit-of-the-doubt attitude, which is ultimately nothing more than a form of wishful, even magical thinking - opium of the masses as Marx once put it. What to do? How to come together and act without merely waiting for mass-scale catastrophes and the exposure of unbearable crimes to prompt urgent civic responses and leadership from the ground up?
What are your thoughts? Where do we even begin in the concrete? In the words of Cornel West, "How do we deal with the catastrophic when we cast a light on it and have the courage to confront it and, most important, have the courage to organize and mobilize, to bring our voices together, in order to pressure those in power?"