It’s so easy to get discouraged—thinking about the current state of the world. Just a little glance south of the border gives me the shakes thinking of once lofty democratic ideals coming to a simple/limited choice between—on one hand– a racist bozo who thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by muddle-headed scientists and –on the other hand–the ultimate status quo shyster who wallows in the swill of US exceptionalism with its implied right to bomb, torture and undermine all other nations and peoples in the interests of a few American ultra elites. Poverty, indifference to human rights, militarism, token efforts to deal with the kind of environmental disaster that could render our planet uninhabitable to human populations, government by and for a wealthy few seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
And, yet, tonight, on the eve of the Platonic cataclysm that is the American election, however it goes, I am feeling–for the first time in a very long while— quite optimistic about the future of our Earth and its human populations. How on Earth? you ask. Well, stick with me—perhaps I can share a few insights that could lighten your own load and conceivably even provide some assurance that this great experiment we call humanity may—still—turn out well.
The thing that has me excited this evening is closely related to the very thing that had produced so much despair only a few evenings ago. At one point it seemed that the American election was proof positive for Plato’s prophecy that democracy would, inevitably, lead to nations governed by bullies and brutes who wage unending wars to keep the common people subjugated to senseless laws and otherwise unbearable taxes for the benefit of the ruling classes. The great philosopher of education John Dewey agreed with much of Plato but believed that with proper and intensive public education the high ideals of democracy could still become a reality. Unfortunately public school budgets seem to have little room for meaningful citizenship training and the great American rush to private schools seems to be the sufficient antidote to any otherwise lofty democratic ideals that might be promoted in public education.
And yet! AND YET, as I listen to people around me and sort through the news over the past year, I hear this rising crescendo of voices saying so enthusiastically what has not been said for a very long time: We get it! The one off protest doesn’t work. Even the one off, well run campaign is seen in its impotence. One off just doesn’t work. One off is like sticking your thumb in a spurting small hole in the dyke in hopes of containing the flood that is already pouring through a rapidly expanding breach. For a very long time progressive people/movements have focused on protesting/stopping some of the most blatant abuses of a system that is inherently about using up/consuming the whole of our planet and its people all the while leaving the agenda setting to those whose addiction to money and control blinds them to any understanding of the value of a just, sustaining and sustainable world. The left—it seems–has become good at protests that vent frustration, while the right became good at coping with small defeats that do not challenge its over all, ever growing lust to concentrate power and resources in the hands of a few.
Then came This Changes Everything, the widely read book of Naomi Klein where she argues persuasively that the challenge of dealing with climate change is so great and pervasive that small patches and even massive protests will not solve this most profound threat to humanity and our Earth; only a comprehensive rewrite of the rapacious economic model that is, quite literally, waging war against the Earth and its living inhabitants could, possibly, deal with such an entrenched and pervasive challenge. The solution to climate change is not in some economic tweaks like a carbon tax or carbon credits or low carbon adjustment subsidies. The solution is in “reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies and reclaiming our democracies.”
According to Klein it is past time to take our thumbs out of small holes in the dyke and move to higher ground. This all sounds great but after reading This Changes Everything I was left with a vision that, indeed, things would be better if we massively change everything but the one major shortcoming of Klein’s book is that, in the first half of the book, it does a great job of setting the stage then kind of peters out in the second half with well researched and stated complaints about the failings of environmental movements so far. She seems to argue well that big money run organizations don’t work well—even when they are supposedly dedicated to creating a more environmentally/people friendly world. She seems to argue well that capitalism is flawed to the core but fails to give even the broad outlines of the kind of social organization that could replace it with a more planet and people friendly organizational model—or even of how we can start moving toward that goal.
The thing that tickles my ribs and makes me feel really good about a world that otherwise seems to be falling apart around us is—quite simply—Bernie Sanders; not Bernie Sanders’ failed attempt to become President of the United States, but the Bernie Sanders that says this is not about one candidate, nor one election, nor one issue; this new movement is about people coming together to change everything. It’s about Black people and white people and people of all ethnic backgrounds and poor people and wealthy people coming together with carpenters, and doctors and carpet cleaners and farmers and philosophers: coming together to reinvent in our lives and our actions and our government the core idea of democracy: our common good. What has come to be called the Sanders Movement is not about one issue or one time or one country; it is about changing everything. It is about recognizing that only a massive rewrite or remembering our common good can bring about the kind of changes that will not only turn us away from generating the gases that are frying our atmosphere but they will turn us to recognizing that vision we lost somewhere in our overhyped lust to consume everything –the vision at the core of democracy that our common good is the goal that can inform our climate change options and our health care options and our economic options and our land use and agriculture…intentions and actions for a much better, healthier world.
The thing that really excites me on the eve of this otherwise miscreant election is that just as the sky seems darkest just before dawn so I see in this election—even in the aspirations of the Trump voters—a recognition that the bridge is out, that what we have been doing is not and will not work and we need a new model to replace it. And Bernie Sanders has that replacement in hand. It’s called Socialism. It’s about rewriting the ground rules so that our common good becomes the goal and basis of our coming together. Socialism is not about throwing out the market, it is about taming it and making it serve our common good. It changes everything by looking at what we do and why we do it from a completely different frame from the goals of capitalism. As Klein argues, climate change is a civilizational wake-up call we dare not miss. As US President John Kennedy observed, difficult choices are not to be avoided because they are difficult, but they are there, precisely, to challenge us to find a better way; create a better world; be a better people. And what really excites me today is that we may be on the eve not just of a debauched election but of what might be called a giant leap forward; a leap (Canadian political pun intended here) that will refute the predictions of the so called wise old man of Athens. In the young people and old people and family people and…people that I see flocking to the Bernie Sanders Movement for a more just, equitable, sustaining and sustainable world, I see a bright new dawn where one off protests are seen for the impotence they are. I see a bright new dawn where Socialism, once again, points to the idea of planning for communities whose priorities are finding comprehensive new ways to facilitating healthy people, healthy communities on a healthy planet.
If Plato and Dewey were here today I wonder what they would say as they see this spontaneous movement to rein in corporate power, rebuild local economies and reclaim our democracy. Ah, I see a twinkle in the eye of the old critic and a satisfied smile on the otherwise stern face of the educator; “Yes, we can!” they shout together! They’ve been away for awhile!