Every successful social and environmental reform movement in history has been based on a culture of resistance. Resistance to what? Resistance to exploitation, oppression and violence.
A culture of resistance accomplishes two key things for a movement. First, it materially and morally supports those who fight to obstruct and destroy the machinery of violence. Secondly, it builds alternative ways of living.
The absence of an established and cohesive culture of resistance may doom what we know as our planet. The exploitation and violence we must fight today has been named and investigated in this column for several weeks this year.
It is called industrial civilization, and at least to my understanding, no environmental or social justice movement can ever accomplish what they hope to without effectively challenging it as soon as possible.
More specifically, then, what must a culture of resistance to civilization accomplish? Its paramount objective must be to hasten the collapse of civilization. This collapse is inevitable and the larger the population bubble becomes before it arrives, the harder it will be.
We must always remember that every day civilization continues, another 200 species disappear from the planet forever. The longer we wait, the less there will be to save.
Initiating a “collapse” can be accomplished only by direct, focused and effective obstruction and destruction of the industrial apparatus. This must be done strategically and with the utmost concern for human rights and the safety of the environment.
Symbolic attacks and essentially any direct attacks on human beings are neither strategically sound nor morally justifiable. While we must attend to such concerns, they must not keep us from action. The day-to-day operations of civilization are infinitely more destructive than the potential unintended consequences of violent actions.
Who is going to carry out these vital actions? Certainly there is no group that is both organized and effective enough to enact them now. The priority of activists today, then, must be to build the groundwork for the groups who will do this work.
This is another key function of a culture of resistance: creating the material and spiritual support for front-line activists. Today, most activists are hostile to truly effective action and would be unwilling to support such resisters, even indirectly. If meaningful results ever come from the environmental movement, it will only be because this is no longer true.
Many activist groups are already engaged in building alternative systems. The sustainable agriculture movement is particularly vibrant and inspiring, and I am proud to have been a small part of it. As civilization collapses, whether accelerated by activism or merely due to oil shortages and loss of ecological services, this part of the movement will get a kick in the seat of its pants from the harsh realities of resource scarcity. We will need it.
Collapse is a broad term that includes many smaller, system-specific collapses. Some of these will be good. The resistance will encourage and protect these.
For instance, as fossil fuel distribution putters out, industrial agriculture will be brought to a halt in many places. These lands will naturally be restored to their original forests and prairies — sequestering massive quantities of carbon, among many other benefits. We can aid and encourage this process.
There will also be many negative collapses, however. For instance, as industrial agriculture stops, the resistance will have to deal with widespread hunger. The vacancy of old industrial farms will make it easy to rapidly grow the capacity of local, more or less sustainable systems of food production.
It will also be the task of the resistance to ensure that elites are not permitted to use the scarce remaining fossil fuels to produce and defend luxury consumption while poorer people are starving. This obviously happens already — oppression is built into civilization — but it will become much more acute when resources are suddenly and drastically limited.
Cultures of resistance fight all kinds of violence, all forms of oppression and exploitation — from clear-cuts and dams to rape and theft. They are self-policing, and enforce norms of good conduct within their communities. They are community-based and empowering.
More than anything else, a culture of resistance is the fierce, unwavering love for the exploited that makes us willing to make real sacrifices to end the violence.