#JustCollapse: empowerment through acceptance
I've had a very good but also very exhausting week, I'm accordingly exhausted, and actually wanted to take a break from blogging this week, but
firstly, there's more news about the ongoing climate collapse this week - we not only have the warmest October and (probably) the warmest year since temperature records began, (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) it could even be the warmest year in the last 125,000 years (Öffnet in neuem Fenster), i.e. since we literally lived in caves;
secondly, a few days ago I read about floods in northern France that were putting some 200,000 people at risk and threatening to overwhelm emergency and rescue services, and thought to myself: damn, being prepared for such a situation, having movement-based disaster relief networks in place that would allow emergency services to focus on real emergencies, and empowering people even before these services arrive, even in the disaster, that would be the kind of #justcollapse-politics whose outlines I've been trying to trace;
thirdly, the discussion about “collapse” and what might constitute a viable progressive politics within collapse is currently intensifying even here in retro Germany, whether in the broader public, climate science, even the climate bubble, but it remains characterised by (often self-imposed - h/t Kant) ignorance and Verdrängung, which leads to us from #TeamJustCollapse being actively misunderstood time and time again.
As a result I felt somewhat compelled to start systematising a few points about "just collapse politics" so that we can conduct the strategic debate in a more focused and productive way. So here we go...
The opposite of defeatism
Since my "climate collapse is here (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)" text, I have been repeatedly criticised from within the climate bubble, even by climate scientists who actually do know better, as defeatist, demotivating and disempowering, and asked how people are supposed to base their climate activism on actual facts instead of magical thinking. And, you know, that accusation actually stings.
To be sure, that response mostly proves that exactly the same dynamics of Verdrängung exist in the climate bubble as in the rest of the Verdrängungsgesellschaft (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) (which, funny enough, is partly what that text was about), but it also stings, because of course my goal is the precise opposite: suggest promising strategies, motivate people to think differently and contribute to us being an effective, a powerful, an attractive movement.
So if I have often been misunderstood thus far, I can blame this on everybody engaging in Verdrängung, but that doesn't actually further the debate. I guess it would be more productive if I tried to organise and systematise my thoughts re: just collapse politics, which so far have been scattered across a series of texts and videos, in such a way that they paint a clearer picture in your minds than I have been able to do so far.
Real hope instead of bad hopium
First of all, as with any problem and at the beginning of any therapy (or withdrawal, choose your metaphor), it is important to acknowledge the problem, by which I in the first instance do not mean climate collapse or other collapse dynamics and tendencies, but above all our fear (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) that "society", "the world", "civilisation", "humanity" is collapsing. As well as, of course, the fear of the things we would have to do to make these collapses less terrible and to prepare for them; and the guilt and shame we feel for not doing these things. Only then, once we have acknowledged our fears, does it become possible to deal with the realities of the collapse, or rather, the collapses that we are currently experiencing and that are coming our way.
This means that we can then enter the grieving process, which should enable us to discuss the climate issue more rationally instead of in the increasingly stupid and brutal conversational mode that the Verdrängungsgesellschaft is beginning to generate. Extremely simplified: we as a society and as individuals have to fight our way through the “stages of grief (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)” until we reach acceptance. Because beyond the acceptance of reality and the actual horrors and dangers that lie ahead of us, there are also hopeful stories, like the ones I have started to tell from Sweden (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) (much of the intellectual raw material has yet to be processed, it'll be coming up in the next weeks). Beyond acceptance lies real hope, not just bad hopium. But the positive stories we all long for come after the grief. The mistake that many moderate climate types, in fact nearly all of those outside of #TeamJustCollapse make, is to believe that they come instead of grieving.
The same applies to the climate movement, of whose "blameless failure" I've spoken, a failure that, incidentally, is only our own from a strategic perspective; from an ethical perspective, as Reinhard Steurer repeatedly emphasises, it is actually the failure of society and politics. Either way, the climate movement in Europe emerged around 2008 and set itself the goal of helping to prevent climate collapse, which has arrived. But that doesn't mean that our struggles were pointless, or that we should stop fighting now. It means that the movement also has to go through this grieving process in order to be born anew, to start the next movement cycle: the movement will rise again, rise, like a phoenix, because that's exactly how movements move (Öffnet in neuem Fenster): in cycles, through defeats, through productive failure, but always with love, solidarity and hope.
What's in a collapse? The system and the subject
Ok, sure, that may sound a bit pie-in-the-sky, whereas at the moment we're either on the ground, being pummelled, or off stage, licking our wounds, rather than being able to go on the offensive with new strategies. That's why I travelled to Sweden, a country currently experiencing a widespread "security collapse", where old comrades of mine have founded a group called "Prepping Together (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)" and are moving away from struggles and practices motivated by primarily by political conviction, and more towards a needs-based politics. So in this sense, I travelled into the future to find out: how can things continue not after, but during the collapse, for left-wing, solidarity-based, climate-justice movements and politics?
But before going any further, we first need to agree on an important conceptual point: what actually is a collapse, what is collapsing, and how does this present itself from the perspective not of the collapsing system, but of the subjects whom we organise, with whom we want to change the world?
"Collapse" in the systems theory-sense refers to a situation where, within a given system (wikipedia: "something whose structure consists of different components with different properties, which are regarded as a common whole due to certain ordered and functional relationships between them and can thus be distinguished from others"), the functional relationships between its components collapse, which means that the system loses the ability to reproduce itself as before. Less abstractly, collapse means that things (not objects, more stuff like "water supply", "hospitals") that previously functioned no longer work, or only rarely and incompletely. That what you previously thought was normal (getting to work, buying food, withdrawing money, not getting shot) suddenly becomes extraordinary and difficult.
Collapse is not when everyone is dead; collapse is when you can no longer take things for granted. When you can no longer travel to work, either because you no longer have a job or because mobility no longer works. Collapse is when you can no longer go shopping, either because you have no more money or because there is nothing left on the supermarket shelves. Collapse is when vigilante groups are formed to enforce laws and community rules because the state is no longer able or willing to have them enforced by the executive across its entire territory.
And because we as concrete, physical subjects (bodies) live at the intersection of countless systems (food, water, etc., but this can really be broken down to the smallest detail - your neighbourhood can function as a system, your street and your circle of friends), "collapse" does not present itself to most people as a big, cataclysmic event, but as the sometimes sudden, sometimes rather gradual disappearance of normalities, and quite specifically the no-longer-easily-available availability of necessary goods and services. For example, security, medical care, water or food.
Just collapse politics = climantifa
The simple conclusion to be drawn from the above is that we must learn to organise this effectively, in solidarity and openly, just as the comrades of Preppa Tillsammans are beginning to do. But at the heart of an agenda of "just collapse politics" is the realisation that "prepping" is not about supplies, but about relationships. Prepping is nothing more than "preparing for crises and disasters" and is not Nazi stuff per se - but it could become and remain so if we don't get our act together soon.
And how do we get things moving? Clearly, with a new movement cycle, a movement that takes seriously the fact that global socio-ecological catastrophes (not only climate, but also biodiversity et al) go hand in hand with a massive increase in the fascist threat, and so far it has mainly been the right that has instrumentalised the justified fears of many people about the future and collapse and turned them into the political force of production for their project.
This means that we must not verdräng these fears ourselves and in political communication, but must recognise them. We must move towards acceptance and, through acceptance, forward to realistic hope, a hope for community, solidarity and humanity in a darkening world, instead of a false hope based on bullshit and Verdrängung, which will become increasingly disempowering the more the collapse becomes a reality.
What I'm saying is: those who believe that recognising the reality of climate collapse is defeatist are building their strategies on self-deception; only those who know what is coming can prepare themselves, can prepare us, so that we don't leave the collapse to the Nazis. And anyone who leaves the collapse, i.e. the future, to the Nazis has given up, has already given up.
With this in mind: let's let truth and sadness set us free to keep on fighting for a better world!