Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Adventure in the Territory of Hope

Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “Iceberg Economies and Shadow Selves: Further Adventures in the Territories of Hope,” does give us reason for hope of a better world because there are forces at work that will someday bring to together all that is necessary to achieve peace and equality in the world.

That force is a conglomeration of philanthropies, nongovernmental organizations, other groups, coalitions as well as individuals who provide “soup kitchens, food pantries, and giveaways, takes in the unemployed, evicted, and foreclosed upon, defends the indigent, tutors the poorly schooled, comforts the neglected, provides loans, gifts, donations, and a thousand other forms of practical solidarity, as well as emotional support.” The force is of greater magnitude than the force metaphorically expressed as the “invisible hand,” which implies, falsely, that unencumbered free market forces create the greater good for rich and poor alike, a top down force, manipulated and controlled by the moneyed elite, that in essence says their actions alone create a greater good that trickles down to the benefit of all. One force is unconcerned with profit, is not coercive, is compassionate and unselfish; and the other is concerned only with profit, is coercive, aggressive and selfish.

The world is not changed by those who are complacent and who accept things as they are; the world is changed over time by those who have a vision of things as they need to be, who are at times radical, who do not view their visions as utopian and have a perspective that all things are possible. Rebecca Solnit is one of those visionaries, who in 2010, Utne Reader magazine named as one of the "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World."

As Rebecca Solnit proclaims, “Do not underestimate the power of this force. The world could be much better if more of us were more active on behalf of what we believe in and love.” And, that is the message that I would like to convey as we leave this decade and enter into the next: let’s all become actors in this “shadow system of kindness, the other invisible hand.”

The following are the opening paragraphs to her essay:

“After the Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, it was easy enough (on your choice of screen) to see a flaming oil platform, the very sea itself set afire with huge plumes of black smoke rising, and the dark smear of what would become five million barrels of oil beginning to soak birds and beaches. Infinitely harder to see and less dramatic was the vast counterforce soon at work: the mobilizing of tens of thousands of volunteers, including passionate locals from fishermen in the Louisiana Oystermen’s Association to an outraged tattoo-artist-turned-organizer, from visiting scientists, activist groups, and Catholic Charities reaching out to Vietnamese fishing families to the journalist and oil-policy expert Antonia Juhasz, and Rosina Philippe of the Atakapa-Ishak tribe in Grand Bayou. And don’t forget the ceaseless toil of the Sierra Club’s local environmental justice organizer, the Gulf Coast Restoration Network, the New Orleans-born poet-turned-investigator Abe Louise Young, and so many more than I can list here.

“I think of one ornithologist I met in Grand Bayou who had been dispatched to the Gulf by an organization, but had decided to stay on even if his funding ran out. This mild-mannered man with a giant pair of binoculars seemed to have some form of pneumonia, possibly induced by oil-fume inhalation, but that didn’t stop him. He was among the thousands whose purpose in the Gulf had nothing to do with profit, unless you’re talking about profiting the planet.

“The force he represented mattered there, as it does everywhere -- a force that has become ever more visible to me as I live and journey among those who dedicate themselves to their ideals and act on their solidarities. Only now, though, am I really beginning to understand the full scope of its power.

“Long ago, Adam Smith wrote about the “invisible hand” of the free market, a phrase which always brings to my mind horror movies and Gothic novels in which detached and phantasmagorical limbs go about their work crawling and clawing away. The idea was that the economy would somehow self-regulate and so didn’t need to be interfered with further -- or so still go the justifications for capitalism, even though it took an enormous armature of government interventions to create the current mix of wealth and poverty in our world. Your tax dollars pay for wars that make the world safe for giant oil corporations, and those corporations hand over huge sums of money to their favorite politicians (and they have so many favorites!) to regulate the political system to continue to protect, reward, and enrich themselves. But you know that story well.

“As 2010 ends, what really interests me aren’t the corrosions and failures of this system, but the way another system, another invisible hand, is always at work in what you could think of as the great, ongoing, Manichean arm-wrestling match that keeps our planet spinning. The invisible claw of the market may fail to comprehend how powerful the other hand -- the one that gives rather than takes -- is, but neither does that open hand know itself or its own power. It should. We all should.”

Read the full article here: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175335/