This is going to be quick and crude.
I’m making many assumptions, including: 1) Limits are near, 2) Science and technology cannot change that, and therefore 3) the American Century is over. 4) Recognizing and accepting 3 is the chief stumbling block to major political change. It’s a matter of mythology, symbolism, and emotional investment, not rational principle and reasoned argument.
Until this symbolic problem is overcome the reasoning behind 1 (limits), 2 (tech won’t work), and 3 (hegemony gone) is invisible.
The Hegemony Myth
So, how do we create a new mythology to replace that of American Hegemony? Good question. I don’t know.
I do know that, after Japan was defeated in World World II, some Japanese managed to shed the old imperial mythology which had Japan at the center of the world. One can see that process of mourning in, for example, three manga by Osamu Tezuka: Lost World, Metropolis, and Next World. That the Japanese had lost the war was an inescapable fact, and so many Japanese could find their way to a new mythology. Those Japanese grieved for their lost Japan and, out of that grief, managed to create a new one.
Nothing of comparable finitude has happened to America. The recent financial disaster was a shock, and it has had permanent repercussions, but it isn’t the equivalent of having several major cities incinerated, two by atom bombs, and enduring a military occupation. Before that, there was the terror bombing of 9/11. That too was shocking, but American responded to the shock by doubling down on the old mythology and thereby walking into two unwinnable wars half way around the world.
A crude analogy: At the end of David Letterman clips on YouTube there’s a phrase in quotes: “There is no off position on the genius switch.” Well, at the moment, there is no off position on the Myth of American Hegemony switch. How do we create one, and then use it? As long as that switch is on, the Republicrats will rule at the behest of the 1% and they will do it by feeding the Hegemony Myth, in whatever form, to the 99%. The 1%, of course, is fully subscribed to that myth themselves.
The myth will probably not survive having the East and West Coasts under water and the plains states turned into desert. But can we rid ourselves of it before that happens?
Now, a definition followed by the four steps.
By that I mean a movement that started with England and has since spread around the world. The Transition Movement starts in recognition of 1 above, Limits. Specifically, we’re going to hit peak oil soon; the era of fossil fuels must come to an end; and we must respect the limits of the environment. The basic long-term goal of transition initiatives is local energy self-sufficiency.
The Transition Movement is apolitical. It does not take part in electoral politics, though individual participants obviously do so, but as private citizens. As such, the Transition Movement operates within the existing institutions of government.
Here they are, the four focal points of a long-term effort to change the world:
1. Pre-transition initiatives,
2. Transition initiatives,
3. Political advocacy,
4. Ongoing development for a coherent and up-to-date rationale for 1 through 3.
ONE: By pre-transition initiatives I mean local activities that get people involved with one another on local projects for their mutual betterment. Many of these projects are of the kind that contribute to a transition plan, but don’t require recognition of and acceptance of energy limits and climate change. Community gardens are a good example. As I indicated in a previous post, First Lady Michelle Obama is advocating them as a means toward healthier diet. That’s a perfectly sensible rationale and doesn’t require that one wrestle with the problem of peak oil and, by implication, American Hegemony.
Another example: anti-little campaigns. Litter is a problem in many neighborhoods, including mine. And many neighborhoods have initiated campaigns to eliminate litter. Such campaigns get people involved in their local communities, but, again, don’t require any wrestling with the deep issues that, sooner or later, we’ll have to face.
The idea is that, by engaging in such efforts, people will begin to exercise long-dormant civic “muscles.” In time—though not too much time, for we’re working against the clock—people will have developed enough faith in their own capacities, and those of their neighbors, to tackle deeper issues.
TWO: Then more people will be ready to move on to full-blown transition initiatives centering on energy use and requiring extensive re-engineering of local ways of life. Yet, as I’ve indicate, such initiatives ARE already underway all over the world. Those initiatives will surely grow and inspire others even as other groups, without even knowing, are preparing themselves to face up to the need for a transition to a new way of life.
THREE: Of course, these local initiatives cannot succeed in the long term without major political reform. And so we need political advocacy at the state and national levels that focuses on environmental and energy issues, downsizing the government, eliminating war, infrastructure improvement, and better education. The Montpelier Manifesto is one indication of such advocacy.
I note, in passing, that the institutional structure of America in 1800 is quite different from the current institutional structure. Whatever’s written into our Constitution—and that, obviously, is a matter of some dispute—a whole mess of institutions we take as fixed in stone are not required by that founding document. We’ve got plenty of room in which to maneuver.
FOUR: We’re talking about a new way of life. Some of it will just happen. But not all of it. We need to think about what we’re going, as our fore parents did.
And there’s lots of thinking going on these days. But, how do we kick the Myth of American Hegemony? What new myth to we put in its place?