Friday, March 11, 2011

Thinking Green

In a way, I have been following what's been going on in Libya ever since when I was a little boy in 1986 and Ronald Reagan decided to bomb them. I remember that incident vividly, my parents' shocked and horrified reactions, and I recall taking out a globe that I had at the time and marking it with a big black permanent marker on the two places that were bombed by U.S. forces - the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.

I was intrigued as well by the figure of Muammar al-Gaddafi, the leader-dictator of Libya. Something about him has always struck me as being a tragic and fascinating person. This interest only increased around 1996 when I became an anarchist and soon came across a copy of Gaddafi's Green Book during my lustful pursuit of anything radical in writing. I was fascinated by his theory of "Jamahiriya" that he laid out, and how it so much resembled an anarchist utopian society in it's description.

Then the question came up - how could Gaddafi have such a beautiful vision of a stateless society, organized along directly democratic lines, and the reality of the place actually be an authoritarian state with Gaddafi as the dictator-in-chief?

It wasn't until a number of years and many life-experiences later, particularly with Malik Rahim and Common Ground Relief in New Orleans and Marshall Rosenberg and the Nonviolent Communication movement worldwide, that I saw how this sort of thing can take place. Briefly put, the charismatic leader guy gets detached from the on-the-ground reality, is surrounded by Yes Men, and becomes totally caught up in their idealistic fantasy world to such a degree that that is actually what they believe is taking place in the real world. I've done that before myself, except that I've never been a charismatic leader guy, nor the head of a state.

So along comes the current Libyan uprising, and I find myself transfixed, checking the internet multiple times a day to see what developments are taking place in that situation. I also find myself wishing that the rebels win the conflict, sometimes rooting for them like one would for a favored sports team, at times even wishing that I was out there with them fighting these battles at their side. The irony, of course, is that the rebels generally are wanting a traditional representative democracy state, and that Gaddafi's vision, at least on paper, is actually more in alignment with my own.

Then, stepping back, one realizes something - the situation in Libya is getting the kind of attention that it is primarily because of it's oil industry. If the oil wasn't there, we simply wouldn't be hearing about Libya, autocracy or not. The petroleum industry in Libya is integrally connected to the global economy, as the recent rise in gas prices shows. Furthermore, the relative wealth that exists in Libya, the same money that is funding the current fighting there, all comes from money that originates from the Libyan petroleum industry. Suddenly the whole thing looks very dirty to me.

Petroleum, which quite literally fuels so much of global industrial capitalism, and which is also such a major contributor to global climate change, is also something of an inherently limited supply. Quite simply this whole situation can't and shouldn't go on - for the sake of the continued life on this planet. To have a society, be it an authoritarian dictatorship, a representative democracy, or an actual directly democratic stateless society, based upon the petroleum industry, seems to me to make the whole thing fundamentally flawed. It's not socially responsible, it's not ecologically considerate, and it's not sustainable. (The Post Carbon Institute has done some good thinking on this subject)

Then there's the human relations aspect of the whole situation - I firmly believe that if you base a social relationship, or a society, upon coercion, force or violence, then that right away invalidates the whole thing at the outset. If people are "made to" do something then they are captives to it, as opposed to collaborators for it. That kind of situation does not seem worthwhile to me. It isn't sustainable either, because once one side finds a way to do it, they will retaliate or sabotage the whole thing. As long as one side is a loser or is somehow suppressed by another, then the basis is there for the whole thing to be upset by them once they find the will and ability to do so.

Recently I read the book An End to Suffering: the Buddha in the World by Pankaj Mishra, which I appreciated a great deal for it's look at history, politics, sociology and psychology from a Buddhist-oriented perspective. This one part towards the end of the book stood out to me, particularly in relation to the current fighting taking place in Libya:

"Ideology - democracy, freedom, Islamic virtue - gave them the moral certainty with which they spoke of the necessity of violence for remaking the world. It made them assume, almost as a matter of course - reverting on a terrible scale to the bloody rituals of tribal societies - that some must die so that others can live and be happy and free.

Given their immense power to manipulate and coerce, it was easy to see individuals everywhere reduced to spare parts of an imaginary humanity. But there was something missing in this bleak, compelling vision of individuals delivered to vast blind forces.

It was what I began to see more clearly... what the Buddha had stressed to the helpless people caught in the chaos of his own time: how the mind, where desire, hatred and delusion run rampant, creating the glories and defeats of the past as well as the hopes for the future, and the possibility for endless suffering, is also the place - the only one - where human beings can have full control over their lives.

The mind is where the frenzy of history arises, the confusion of concepts and actions with unpredictable consequences. It is also where these concepts are revealed as fragile and arbitrary constructions, as essentially empty. What seems like necessity weakens in the mind's self-knowledge, and real freedom becomes tangible."

So, what is needed for Libya (and the world at large, too)? Well, that is not being discussed in the news reports and analysis that are coming out about the situation there. To me, what is needed is a change on all levels - political as well as psychological, economic as well as ecological, social as well as sincere self-reflection. The effort, creativity and perseverance needed for this kind of change would be immense. It seems like now the time for this has come.

No comments: