Liberation, Rachel's Environment & Health News: Full Article
January 6, 2005 Published March 3, 2005
Globalize Liberation, Part 1
This is an odd sort of book review. This week
and next, we reprint excerpts from an essay by Patrick Reinsborough, one
of the founders of the smartMeme collective, a group whose work we hold
in very high regard (http://www.smartMeme.com).
This original essay "Decolonizing The Revolutionary Imagination:
Values Crisis, the Politics of Reality, and Why There's Going to Be a
Common-Sense Revolution in This Generation," originally appeared in
David Solnit (editor), Globalize Liberation (San Francisco: City Lights
Book, 2004), pgs. 161-211.
The entire text of Patrick's essay can be found at
If you like what you read here, go out and buy this book because it is
filled with other gems. Hats off to editor David Solnit for
gathering the best of the best into this path-breaking book.
Now listen to Patrick Reinsborough...
Introduction: Post-Issue Activism
Our planet is heading into an unprecedented global
crisis. The blatancy of the corporate power grab and the accelerating
ecological meltdown is evidence that we do not live in an era where we
can afford the luxury of fighting merely the symptoms of the problem.
Analysis is the most import tool in the social change
toolbox. It is this process of analysis -- the work to find the points
of intervention and leverage in the system we're working to transform --
that suggests why, where, and how to use the other tools.
Many of us are impatient in our desire for change, and those of us from
privileged backgrounds are oftentimes unschooled in the realities of
I often recall the Buddhist saying, "The task
before us is very urgent, so we must slow down."
The system we are fighting is not merely structural,
it's also inside us, through the internalization of oppressive cultural
norms that define our worldview. Our minds have been colonized to
normalize deeply pathological assumptions. Thus, oftentimes our own
sense of self-defeatism becomes complicit with the anesthetic qualities
of a cynical mass media to make fundamental social change seem
All too often we project our own sense of
powerlessness by mistaking militancy for radicalism and mobilization for
movement building. It seems highly unlikely to me that capitalism will
be smashed one window at a time.
Our revolution(s) will really start rolling when the
logic of our actions and the appeal of our disobedience are so clear
that they can easily replicate and spread far beyond the limiting
definition of "protester" or "activist." To do so,
our movements for justice, ecology, and democracy must deepen their
message by more effectively articulating the values crisis underlying
the corporate system. We must lay claim to life-affirming, common-sense
values and expose one of the most blatant revolutionary truths of the
modern era: The corporate-rule system is rooted in sacrificing human
dignity and planetary health for elite profit, and it is out of
alignment with human values.
This is the domain of post-issue activism -- the
recognition that the roots of the emerging crisis lie in the fundamental
flaws of the modern order and that our movements for change need to talk
about redesigning the entire global system -- now. Post-issue activism
is a dramatic divergence from the slow progression of single-issue
politics, narrow constituencies, and Band-Aid solutions. Traditional
single-issue politics, despite noble and pragmatic goals, is not just a
strategic and gradualist path to the same goal of global transformation.
Too often the framework of issue-based struggle needs to affirm the
existing system in order to win concessions, and thus fails to nurture
the evolution of movements for more systemic change.
Much of our social change energy is spent campaigning
against the smoke rather than clearly alerting people to the fact that
their house is on fire. Post-issue activism will not replace
single-issue politics -- the people and ecosystems closest to the smoke
need relief now -- but rather, it will strengthen ongoing struggles by
providing a larger social-change context. Post-issue activism is the
struggle to address the holistic nature of the crisis, and it demands
new frameworks, new alliances, and new strategies. We must find ways to
articulate the connections between all the "issues" by
revealing the pathological nature of the system. To do so we must rise
to the challenge of going beyond (rather than abandoning) single-issue
politics. We have to learn to talk about values, deepen our analysis,
and direct more resources into creating political space for a truly
transformative arena of social change.
To think about decolonizing the revolutionary
imagination, we must reference the history of colonization. Through
colonization, Western civilization ("a disease historically spread
by sharp swords") has been violently imposed upon the entire
world. Colonialism is not just the process of establishing physical
control over territory, it is the process of establishing the ideologies
and the identities -- colonies in the mind -- that perpetuate control.
Central to this process has been the manufacture of attitudes of racism,
nationalism, patriarchal manhood, and the division of society into
economic classes. If we are to take seriously the prospect of
decolonizing the revolutionary imagination then we must examine how
these attitudes shape the way we conceive of social change. Likewise, we
must remember that analysis is shaped by experience, and that those who
suffer directly as targets of these oppressive attitudes often live the
experiences that create clear analysis. Let us not forget that effective
revolutions are based on listening.
As we expand the realm of the possible we shape the
direction of the probable. This means directly confronting the myths and
assumptions that make a better world seem unattainable.
...[A]ll of these ideas are a work-in-progress. They
are intended as tools to spark discussion and encourage debate, and it
is my sincerest hope that they will generate more questions than they
answer. Questions are always more radical than answers.
The Doomsday Economy
We live in a dangerous time, an urgent time, a time of
profound crisis. Ecologically speaking it is an apocalyptic time defined
by the sixth mass extinction of the earth's species, the destruction
of the last wilderness areas, and the forced assimilation of the
planet's few remaining earth-centered cultures. Every ecosystem, every
traditional culture, and every subsistence economy is on the chopping
block as the global corporatizers force their consumer monoculture
"development" model (read "antidevelopment") upon
the entire world. Corporate capitalism's drive toward global domination
has literally pushed the life support systems of the planet to the point
Over the last few years, as corporate power has begun
to undermine the economic self-determination and political sovereignty
of even the over-consumers of the global North, resistance has grown
more visible in the heart of it all -- the United States. Unprecedented
coalitions have formed, and different movements have been uniting in
creative mass protest to slow the pace of corporate globalization. But
slowing things down is one thing, replacing the doomsday economy with a
democratic, just, and ecologically sane world is another.
The global system is mutating. Although it remains
deeply rooted in its history of colonial genocide, corporate power
grabs, and ecological devastation, the structure has changed
dramatically over the past generation. The biggest shift has been the
rise of the speculative economy. As the world financial sector has been
deregulated, with many countries forced to drop limits on investment,
there has been a dramatic transition in economic priorities from the
production of real goods to a global casino economy based on high- risk,
short-term speculation. In 1986 the world's foreign exchange markets
were handling nearly $200 billion a day. By 1998 this figure had grown
eightfold to $1.5 trillion dollars every day! Since the entirety of
world trade is estimated to be worth about US $6.5 trillion a year,
that means that five days of currency transactions surpasses the value
of an entire year of world trade. But the most important aspect of this
so-called "financial revolution" is that the massive numbers
represent growth in the speculative sector of the economy. Financial
speculation has accelerated to the point that by the year 2000, for
every $1 of international investment facilitating trade in real goods,
$9 were being spent on short-term speculation. Once we cut through
the numbers games and semantics we recognize that what economists call
economic growth is really the liquidation of the natural wealth of the
planet. Almost literally, they are destroying the natural economy of
living forests to make an economy of disposable paper on which they
print money to tell themselves how rich they are. It is a true doomsday
economy, incapable of seeing the natural systems that sustain life as
anything other than resources to be extracted. The flawed
accounting of the speculative economy hides the horrible truth that what
the corporate globalizers call "progress" is really the
earth's going-out-of-business sale.
Our strategies must be informed by the fact that we're
not fighting that colloquialism once called in activist parlance
"The Man" -- these days we're fighting "The
Machine." This machine is the culmination of the pathological
world-view that has hard-wired patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalist
domination, and ecological illiteracy into the global operating system.
The rich, white (self-congratulatory) men who have always benefited from
global domination continue to do so, but ultimately they have created a
runaway machine that is beyond even their own control.
We don't have to convince people that something is
wrong -- as corporate control becomes more blatant and the ecological
crisis worsens, the system is doing much of the work to discredit
itself. We must, however, help people to imagine alternatives that go
beyond tinkering with the symptoms to actually dismantling and
redesigning the global system.
Corporations are not wealth-generating machines as the
American mythology would have us believe, but rather
wealth-consolidating machines. Corporations extract the biological
wealth of the planet, liquidating our collective natural heritage in
order to enrich a tiny minority. The corporate drive to shorten the
planning horizon, externalize costs, and accelerate growth has pushed
the life support systems of the planet to the brink of collapse.
The Control Mythology: Consume or Die
Most people who live outside the small overconsumption
class can't help but be aware of the system's failings. But for the
majority of American (and more generally, global North) consumers the
coercion that keeps them complicit with the doomsday economy is not
physical; it is largely ideological, relying heavily on the mythology of
America. It is this mythology that buys people's loyalty by presenting a
story of the world that normalizes the global corporate takeover.
In this story, America is the freest country in the
world and corporate capitalism is the same as democracy. The interests
of corporations are represented as serving popular needs -- jobs being
the simplistic argument -- and the goal of U.S. foreign policy is
presented as a benevolent desire to spread democracy, promote equality,
and increase standards of living. This control mythology prevents people
from seeing how pathologized the global system has become. Much of this
story is merely crude propaganda that relies on Americans' notorious
ignorance about the world, but elements of the control mythology have
become so deeply imbedded in our lives that they now define our culture.
Among the most deep-seated elements of the control mythology is the
ethic of an unquestioned, unrestrained right to consume. Consumerism is
the purest drug of the doomsday economy. It epitomizes the pathology --
the commodification of life's staples and the human and cultural systems
that have been created to sustain collective life.
Articulating the Values Crisis
[Paul] Ray [who wrote the "Cultural Creatives"]
has continued his work in The New Political Compass, in which he argues
with statistical data that the Left/Right breakdown of politics is now
largely irrelevant and proposes a new four-directional political
compass. Ray's compass is a fascinating tool for illustrating the
complexity of public opinion, mapping not only political beliefs but
also cultural shifts. Ray contrasts the Left of New Deal
liberalism and big government as "West" with the
"East" of cultural conservatism and the religious right. Ray
gives "North" on his compass to a grouping he calls the New
Progressives, composed largely of cultural creatives and completely
unrepresented in the current political system. He defines their major
concerns as ecological sustainability, the corporate dominance, child
welfare, health care, education, a desire for natural products and
personal growth. He contrasts them with "South," who espouse
the Big Business Paradigm of profits before planet and people, economic
growth, and globalization. Again, his statistical data has profound
messages for all of us working to change the world. He estimates that
whereas only 14 percent of the population supports the Big Business
paradigm, 36 percent of Americans fall into the New Progressives
category. See http://www.rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=509
To me the message is a simple affirmation of
post-issue activism. Our movements need to stop focusing on only the
details and start getting the bigger picture of a holistic analysis out
there. Unless the details articulate a broader vision, they are just
more background noise in our information-saturated culture. The
eighteenth-century political frameworks of left versus right no longer
fully capture the political fault lines of our era. Perhaps a better
description of the real debate is flat earth versus round earth. The
corporate globalizers' program of ever-expanding industrial exploitation
of the earth is in such deep denial of the ecological realities of the
planet that it is akin to maintaining that the earth is flat.
Fortunately, more and more people understand that the earth is in fact
round and that we need to make some big changes to both the global
system and the way we think of our relationship with the planet. What we
need now are social movements with the vision and strategy to harness
this consciousness into real momentum for shaping a better world.
One of the strengths of the emerging global justice
movement has been to create a new framework that goes beyond the age of
single-issue politics to present the corporate takeover as a unifying
cause of many of the planet's ills. The problem has been the amount of
information we've been packaging into the critique as we slowly try to
work the public through the alphabet soup of corporate cronies, trade
agreements, and arcane international finance institutions. I don't doubt
people's ability to grapple with the mechanics of corporate
globalization but I do doubt our movement's ability to win the amount of
air time from the corporate media that we need to download endless
Everything -- including the corporate global system --
is very complicated. But likewise everything is very simple. There is
sick and healthy. Just and unjust. Right and wrong. Despite the obvious
oversimplification of binary frameworks, the language of opposing values
is a powerful tool to build holistic analysis and subvert the control
Ultimately, our society must shift collective
priorities and engage in a values shift to overcome some of our deepest
pathologies such as patriarchy, fear of "otherness," and
alienation from nature. However, we must be very careful how we frame
this concept. Picture yourself knocking on the country's front door and
announcing that you have come to shift people's values. Slam! In fact,
this is far too often the way that activists are perceived.
An alternative strategy for a first step is to
articulate the values crisis. This means speaking to people in terms of
their basic values and showing them that the global system that is
engulfing them is out of alignment with those values. In other words we
have a "values crisis," a disconnect between what kind of
world people want to live in and the corporate world that is rapidly
The emerging global justice movements are already
laying claim to core values such as democracy, justice, diversity, and
environmental sanity as part of an inclusive vision of a life-affirming
future. Now our work is to expose the flawed values of the corporate
We can articulate the values crisis by showing people
that corporate capitalism is no longer grounded in common-sense values.
The corporate paradigm is a cancerous perversion that masquerades as
being reflective of commonly held values while it writes the rules of
the global economy to metastasize corporate control across the planet. A
simple dichotomy for articulating the crisis is the clash between a
delusional value system that fetishizes money and a value system
centered around the biological realities of life's diversity.
Framing the Debate
Movements aren't about tactics -- take this street
corner, blockade that corporate office -- movements are about ideas.
Movements are about changing the world. When we say a better world is
possible, we mean it. We want a world that reflects basic life-centered
values. We've got the vision and the other side doesn't. We've got
biocentrism, organic food production, direct democracy, renewable
energy, diversity, people's globalization, and justice. What have they
got? Styrofoam? Neoliberalism? Eating disorders? Designer jeans, manic
depression, and global warming?
...[O]ur campaigns and actions must tell inclusive,
provocative stories that create space for people to see themselves in
the story. We must tell the story of the values crisis. Our stories must
make people take sides -- are you part of the sickness or are you part
of the healing? Are you part of the life-affirming future or are you
part of the doomsday economy?
The first step is to separate dissent from the
self-righteous tone that many people associate with protest. This tone
can be particularly strong in activists from privileged backgrounds who
are invested in visible "defection" as a way to validate their
resistance. These politics of defection by their very nature create
obstacles to communicating with the mainstream and frequently rely on
symbols of dissent and rebellion that are already marginalized.
We need to be training ourselves to become "meme warriors"
and to tell the story of values crisis in different ways for different
audiences. We must get a better sense of who our audiences are, and
target our messages to fit into their existing experiences.
It's essential that we frame our ideas in such a way that as people wake
up to the crisis they have the conceptual tools to understand the
systemic roots of the problem. Over the next decade as the global crisis
becomes more visible we won't have to do much to convince people about
the problem. Rather, our job will be to discredit the elite's Band-Aid
solutions and build popular understanding of the need for more systemic
Whether we are talking about biological contamination,
financial collapse, or nuclear meltdowns, if we haven't framed the issue
in advance, even the most dramatic breakdowns in the system can be
"crisis-managed" away without alerting the public to the
system's fundamental failings. But if we do the work to challenge the
control mythology and undermine the flawed assumptions, then people will
know whom to blame. As we build a public awareness of the values crisis
it helps shift the debate away from inadequate reforms and toward
redesigning the global system.
This is the strategy of leap-frogging, or framing our
issues in such a way that they force the public debate to
"leap" over limiting definitions of the problem and elite
quick-fixes to embrace systemic solutions. For example, instead of
debating how many parts per million of pollution regulatory agencies
should allow in our drinking water, we can challenge the right of
industrial interests to poison us at all. An effective framing forces
questions to be asked about the upstream polluters -- do we need their
product? If so, how can we make it in a way that doesn't pollute? In
order to successfully leap-frog colonized imaginations and entrenched
power-holders, we must have the skill and courage to articulate real
solutions that avoid concessions that dead-end in inadequate reforms.
There are any number of macroissues that when framed
correctly can help us name the system. Global warming, commodification
of basic human needs from health care to water, the rate of
technological change, systemic racism, the spread of genetic pollution,
ongoing violence against women -- these are just a few examples that can
tell the story of the values crisis. The challenge is not what issue we
work on but how we avoid becoming trapped in the limiting framework of
Direct Action at the Point of Assumption
As we endeavor to link systemic change with tangible
short-term goals we must seek out the points of intervention in the
system. These are the places where when we apply our power -- usually
through revoking our obedience -- we are able to leverage change.
How can we sidestep the machine and challenge the
mentality behind the machine? In other words, we need to figure out how
to take direct action at the point of assumption.
Targeting assumptions -- the framework of myths, lies,
and flawed rationale that normalize the corporate takeover -- requires
some different approaches from actions at the other points of
intervention. Point-of-assumption actions operate in the realm of
ideas and the goal is to expose pathological logic, cast doubt, and
undermine existing loyalties. Successful direct action at the point of
assumption identifies, isolates, and confronts the big lies that
maintain the status quo. A worthy goal for these types of actions is to
encourage the most important act that a concerned citizen can take in an
era defined by systematic propaganda -- questioning!
Direct action at the point of assumption is a tool to
decolonize people's revolutionary imaginations by linking analysis and
action in ways that reframe issues and create new political space.
Whether we're deconstructing consumer spectacles, exposing the system's
propaganda, or birthing new rhetoric, we need actions that reveal the
awful truth -- that the intellectual underpinnings of the modern system
are largely flawed assumptions. Direct action at the point of assumption
is an effort to find the rumors that start revolutions and ask the
questions that topple empires.
[To be continued.]
 Merely, Michael, unpublished monograph "The Difficult Position
of Being an Anti-Statist within the Context of Northern Ireland,"
2002, available upon request from firstname.lastname@example.org.
 The sixth mass extinction has become a widely accepted term within
scientific circles to describe the current period of extinction. Dr.
Niles Eldredge, the curator in chief of the permanent exhibition
"Hall of Biodiversity" at the American Museum of Natural
History, has an article "The Sixth Extinction" available at www.amnh.org,
June 2001. Also see Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson's work.
 Data taken from BIS, 1999. Central Bank Survey of Foreign Exchange
and Derivatives Market Activity, 1998 (Basle: Bank for International
Settlements). Thanks to Ricardo Bayon for his research into private
capital flows for the Rainforest Action Network, "Citigroup and the
Environment," February 2000.
 IMF, World Economic Outlook -- October 1999. Washington, D.C.:
International Monetary Fund, 1999.
 Ellwood, Wayne, The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization. (New
Internationalist Publications, 2001).
 Ray, Paul, "The New Political Compass," prepublication
manuscript, 2002. http://www.rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=509
 The contrast of money values versus life values is widely used. For
a particularly eloquent articulation of it check out the books or
lectures of Global Exchange cofounder Kevin Danaher. Most are available
Also useful is the work of David Korten, particularly The Post-Corporate
World: Life After Capitalism (Kumarian Press, 1999).
 The term "meme warriors" was coined by
Kalle Lasn in Adbusters Magazine and is expounded upon in his book
Culture Jam: How to Reverse America's Suicidal Consumer Binge and Why We
Must (New York: HarperCollins, 2000). Despite its militarist
connotations, the term is intended to be gender neutral.
Back to top