Imprisoned by assumptions

Assumptions are the highest walls of the prison in which the human spirit is currently confined.

The most pernicious assumption of all is that industrial capitalism is the only possible form that human society can take: the path of history could only have ever taken us to this point and the path of the future can only ever take us further still in the same direction.

To suggest that things could have been any different is regarded as absurd. The very fact that our society is how it is today is taken as irrevocable proof that it could never have turned out any other way. This is nonsense, of course – a ridiculous, circular, self-justifying argument.

Just because I missed my bus this morning, does not mean that I could only ever have missed my bus. It does not mean that if I had set my alarm clock properly I couldn’t have caught it. It doesn’t stop me from saying that I wish I had managed to catch the bus or from deciding to take precautions to ensure that I don’t miss it again tomorrow.

Bound up with this assumption of the “inevitability” of industrial civilization comes the assumption of its “inevitable” continuation. This is even more obviously ill-founded. The future can be whatever we, collectively, want it to be.

So where do these assumptions come from? Although propaganda is all-pervasive in contemporary society, assumptions function on a deeper, almost invisible level. They are built into the structure of our thinking as much as into the specific contents.

As such, they are not necessarily propagated in a consciously deliberate manner. It is quite likely that most of those who maintain them in the public mind are unaware of what they are doing, are themselves held in the same mental trap.

These delusions – for this is what they are – are an aspect of the system itself. Without them it would not exist. They are part of the process by which it has come into being and remained in being. The delusions, the assumptions, create the system as much as the other way round.

They are very hard to counter, containing as they do a sort of in-built defence mechanism against any challenge to their validity.

The same assumption that says that history is just something that inevitably happened – in a retrospectively pre-determined way! – also prevents us from seeing that this is an assumption. It presents itself as an undeniable truth. You can’t challenge an undeniable truth. You don’t even consider whether or not it is an “undeniable truth” – you just accept its message as undeniably true, without even seeing that there is a message there, without registering that there is any subjectivity at all in what it is proposing. I suppose that’s what an assumption is: it’s something that never even gets thought about, it just sits there as the basis of something’s thinking. It is the canvas on which people’s opinions are painted.

So how do you reach down far enough to be able to challenge an assumption? How can you even show people that there is an assumption there, when their closed mindset is working on the assumption that there is no assumption – just historical reality that is absolutely undeniable?

You can hammer away at the outer shell of all these layers of delusion for as long as you like, without making a dent. You can shout at people until you’re blue in the face but if what you’re saying makes no sense to them, because it does not relate to what they have come to believe is reality, they will just assume you are mad.

We dissidents need to find creative ways of worming past people’s defences, bypassing the mental barriers erected against anything that challenges the framework on which they have built their understanding of the world.

Subverting, undermining and then demolishing these prison-walls of assumption is perhaps the most crucial and urgent task that lies before us if we are to pull our species back from the brink of self-destruction.

Save the Cévennes!

Resistance is growing to a threat facing one of the most important expanses of forest in western Europe.

German energy firm E.ON has signed a 20-year contract with the French authorities to ravage the stunning countryside of the Cévennes in order to provide biomass for its newly-converted power station at Gardanne, near Marseille.

It has got its greedy eyes on between 800,000 and a million tonnes of wood a year to keep the turbines of private profit turning.

The fact that much of the targeted area in the south of France is in a national park is of little interest either to E.ON or to its governmental collaborators, who are subsiding the firm’s ecocidal profiteering to the tune of 1.4 billion euros.

Of course, the whole thing is being wrapped up in green tinsel and presented as some kind of “sustainable management” project, particularly of the extensive local chestnut forests.

But any comforting images of hardy lumberjacks patiently thinning out the trees on the verdant mountain slopes are very far from the mark.

Instead, E.ON’s collaborators will be launching a full-scale industrial attack on the forests, using massive machinery to clear-cut vast swathes of trees from what is currently a landscape of remarkable beauty.

The “innovative” means it has it mind to penetrate the often-inaccessible areas include giant forestry “spiders” and mobile bridges to get across inconveniently-placed mountain rivers.

The usual excuse of “creating employment” falls a little flat when it only takes a few people to operate these machines. Predictably, though, the workerist “left” in the form of the CGT union has decided to support the whole madness on the basis of protecting a few dozen jobs back at the power station – as ever, actual opposition to the industrial capitalist system is out of the question.

With most levels of authority, including the Cévennes National Park, having bought into the project, it has been left to locals and environmentalist campaigners to take up the struggle. 

The radical Cévennes newsletter Bogues reported that a resounding and unanimous “no” to E.ON’s disastrous plans has emerged from “all the different meetings attended by residents, elected representatives and forestry professionals which have been held on this subject in our valleys”.

E.ON itself has noted the “initial negative perception of our project” – arrogantly assuming with the use of the word “initial” that people will eventually swallow its greenwash propaganda.

While the third biggest energy supply firm in the world is trying to pass itself off as a supporter of “sustainable energy”, its past tells a different story. In 2008 the group was the second worst CO2 polluter in Europe. In 2009 it was also famously on the receiving end of the second biggest fine in the entire history of the EU (533 million euros) for illegally trying to stitch up the distribution of Russian gas in France and Germany with GDF.

E.ON is putting it about that it will be mainly using green waste and bits of wood that can’t be used elsewhere. But in truth, the trees it cuts down will account for 80% of the biomass that it consumes. (This process is itself wasteful – its 33% efficiency means two out of three trees will essentially be burnt to heat up the atmosphere rather than produce electricity).

To start with, half of the timber will come from abroad, where other forests will be rased to keep the money-making fires of Gardanne alight. The other half will come from the local regions of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Rhône-Alpes and Languedoc-Roussillon.

By 2025, all of the wood is planned to be cut down from the forests of southern France, with E.ON particularly targeting areas of the Cévennes in the southern part of Lozère, to the north of Alès, and around Le Vigan, Quissac and Anduze.

There are countless environmental dangers involved in the scheme, of course – such as soil erosion in the newly clear-cut areas and chemical pollution of earth and water. With no replanting plans announced, spaces left by felled chestnut trees will naturally be refilled by maritime pines, the local pioneer species, leading to acidified soil and greater risks from forest fires.

Roads will have to be built and widened to take all the heavy traffic. And campaigners warn that in the wake of the industrial clearances will come monoculture plantations, genetically modified trees and increasing domination of forestry resources by big business, leaving little room for local initiatives.

There is more to a forest than a potential source of fuel. It is part of nature, part of the eco-system which keeps us alive and part of the culture of the area. If the profusion of chestnuts, “poor man’s bread”, in the forests of the Cévennes symbolises the enduring potential to survive outside the industrial civilisation, the intrusion here of capitalism’s war-machinery is symbolic of the scale of the threat facing our autonomy and our planet.

Pascal Menon, a local woodcutter opposing the scheme, told Nature et Progrès magazine that there was a deeper cause for the threat than simply financial gain. “There’s something more serious there, a notion of anti-nature which comes from the fact that we’ve cut ourselves off from our own so-called ‘wild’ feelings. We need to find a different basis for our relationship with the forest.”

Every battle like this, anywhere in the world, forms part of one big war – that of humanity, nature and life against capitalism, greed and death.

The people of the Cévennes have a long and proud history of standing up against injustice imposed from outside, whether in the form of the Camisard guerrillas who defied the French state and the Catholic Church 300 years ago, or the Maquisards who maintained armed resistance to fascism throughout the Vichy regime and German occupation.

We can be sure that they will put up a spirited fight on the ground against E.ON and its co-conspirators. With a little help from the outside, such as through a broader international campaign against the German energy firm, they might even hold them off, leaving open the possibility of an eventual victory in the bigger war for our collective future.

Bogues newsletter has a website at http://bogues.noblogs.org and can be contacted via bogues@riseup.net

The SOS Fôret Cévennes Collective (with its slogan “The forest is our future”) has a website at http://www.sosforetcevennes.org and can be contacted at contact@sosforetcevennes.org

There is an online petition at https://www.sauvonslaforet.org/petitions/959/e-on-veut-bruler-les-forets-francaises-a-gardanne

Against this world of concrete and profit

A good read for anyone who understands French is Lèse Beton, a bulletin from the ZAD occupation against a new airport near Nantes.

It’s subtitled “against the airport and the world that goes with it” and it’s this sense of perspective that appeals to me.

One particular article in the summer 2013 edition explains that Nantes has been named “green capital” of the year – and is reminding its residents of the fact through endless billboards.

It asks how this title was ever bestowed on a town “with ambitions to expand as far as Saint-Nazaire, which is widening its roads and is so eager to push through its airport project”.

The answer, it seems, lies in its glossy presentation skills and a marketing angle presenting Nantes as a hub for the “Grand Ouest”, a centre of good living that appeals to the “creative classes”, by which they mean executives, professionals, people with loads of money to spend.

All the big cities, metropolises and regions are now in competition with each other to draw in wealth, the article notes. “The principal objective of a town becomes the same as that of a business – competivitity”.

It adds that the modern metropolis also includes a space around it for agriculture, a green belt featuring the odd park or nature reserve. “Because they need little bits of green somewhere for them to concrete around.”

Behind all this is “a global logic in which the only criterion for judging a project is economic profit”, says the article.

It continues: “Anything which isn’t actually within the metropolis is considered to be there to serve the metropolis. Since, according to the Journal de Nantes Métropole,  ‘the attractiveness of a town is measured by the number of its connections it establishes with the rest of the world’, the countryside gets gobbled up by the transport infrastructure linking urban nodes: coastal motorways, high-voltage power lines, pipelines, and of course, here in Nantes, a grandiose international airport.

“The priority is increasing the flow of energy and information, accelerating the movement of goods and members of the ruling classes. With rationalisation comes the suffocation, isolation and destruction of the smallest pockets of autonomy. Space is arranged to exclude anything beyond the officially-defined purpose and laced with CCTV, cops and consultants.

“Unexpected encounters, street life and makeshift areas have no place there. Life in the metropolis is about travelling from one designated space to another: from the place of work to the place of consumption; passing through a district on your way home to a dormitory zone in the town or surrounding village.

“Life in a metropolis is to be forever on the move in functional zones. The construction of this metropolis always involves tearing people away from their spaces, their soil, their neighbourhood, their connections.

“We don’t want our space organised in a way that revolves around financial returns, where the bosses decide whether to pull down or put up according to their idea of how things should be arranged.

“We don’t want isolated lives in sleek, compartmentalized spaces. We want to live in our neighbourhoods or countryside. We want to co-operate with the people we share our space with. We want to choose together what we do there, and how we do it, according to our own needs. We want friendships, we want to meet people. We want to have control over our own lives.”

I’m proud to be an “enemy of progress”

The inspiring battle against fracking currently taking place in Balcombe is rapidly unravelling some of the illusions people have about the society they live in.

It is clear for all to see how big business dictates government policy and uses the police as publicly-funded private security to protect its own anti-social activities.

As opposition to fracking grows, and actions against it force the issue on to the public agenda, there has also been an increasingly hysterical tone to the reporting and commenting in much of the media, which has blown apart any pretence of neutrality and exposed to many the existence of corporate interests lurking behind the scenes.

Desperately trying to regain control of their readers’ opinions, the shrill cheer-leaders for the industry have been wheeling out everything from phoney stories about the harmlessness of fracking to endless attempts to denigrate the protesters, though they never seem sure from one day to the next whether to be dismissive, sneering or alarmist.

The scale and effectiveness of the protests are pushing this media propaganda machine over the cliff edge of invective.

A marvellous example of this can be seen in today’s DailyTelegraph. You can almost see the froth from the leader writer’s pursed purple lips flying out at you from the text as he (and it probably is a male) condemns all of us who have protested at Balcombe as a “shrieking chorus of environmental zealots”, a “travelling circus of protest”, “new Luddites”, “eco-loonies” and, in crowning red-faced triumph, “enemies of progress”!

Progress, eh? Now what do they mean by that? Obviously, by the Telegraph’s definition, it includes fracking. It will also include any other form of mineral extraction, whether in the south of England, the Niger delta or the Arctic.

It includes road-building, of course. And airport expansion. And massive new housing estates all over the countryside. And high-speed rail lines. And nuclear power stations. Anything where there’s money to be made.

Historically, “progress” has included the genocide and environmental disaster inflicted on North America by the invasion of European settlers. It has included the loss of the rainforests, the pollution of the oceans, the extinction of species after species.

In the future, “progress” will inevitably take us into a world barely imaginable, where there is hardly a drop of fresh water to drink or a gulp of uncontaminated air to gulp in.

The idea of “progress” extending infinitely into the future is insane on a finite planet, as has been so often, said, but still its adherents cling to it.

“Progress” is the attitude that places financial profit at the top of the list of priorities for the human race, that sets it up as the pinnacle of all that we can aspire to.

Money does not even exist, it’s all just tokens, but for the “progress” death cult, it is all that matters. The “economy” always trumps the Earth.

This is a complete inversion of the morality that has always been cherished by humankind. We care about nature, we care about animals and we care about the future we will leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

Not so for the hard-nosed peddlers of “progress”. It’s all about short-term gain, quantity rather than quality, endless machineries destroying the living flesh of our planet and converting it into massive piles of toxic rubbish, just to generate a bit more temporary wealth and privilege for a tiny elite.

Alongside all this is the mindset of “progress”, or what I’d be tempted to call the “mindtrap” if such a word existed.

The advocates of “progress” demand that we share their assumption that society’s movement towards greater and greater industrialisation and destruction is not only desirable but inevitable.

With the arrogance of unchallenged power, they assume that there is only one future for the human race, namely the one they have laid out for it.

Anyone who dares to dissent from their master plan does not even merit the courtesy of a reasoned discussion – just abuse, derision and baying bloodthirsty calls for violent state repression of their unauthorised opinions.

As I’ve said before, the advocates of “progress” attempt to tie their own interests into the very notion of time itself, implying that movement in this particular linear direction is as inevitable as the passing of the seasons, or centuries, or millennia.

Critics are dismissed out of hand with the claim that “you can’t turn the clock back” – and yet you obviously can, for a clock, though designed to measure the passage of time, is not time itself and, as an artificial creation of humanity, can be artificially manipulated to record whatever time we want it to.

Likewise we can step back from the false connection made between the thing they call “progress” to the actual progression of time, the dawning of new days.

The future is not yet written and we do not need to – indeed should never allow ourselves to – accept any particular vision of what it should be.

I, for one, cannot accept that we are condemned to sit by and watch our planetary life-support system torn apart, poisoned and irreversibly damaged – and certainly not on the say-so of the professional liars and placemen who pass themselves off as journalists and politicians in our debased and entirely undemocratic society.

I, for one, am proud to be a twenty-first century Luddite, proud to be a zealot for the protection of the planet, proud to be an enemy of their “progress”.

In fact, I would say that if you’re not an enemy of “progress” then you’re an enemy of life itself.

Right – no time to waste. I’m off to catch the train back to Balcombe.

Our nightmare future

It’s something of an understatement to say the recent revelations about the “Riot” spying software being marketed by Raytheon are sinister.

As The Guardian reports, it is “capable of tracking people’s movements and predicting future behaviour by mining data from social networking websites”.

Those who point out that this is nothing new – and has probably been going on without our knowledge for some years – are no doubt right. But we have surely reached some kind of milestone when this kind of intrusive surveillance, explicitly designed to help the state identify opponents of its system who might be likely to “Riot” (a loose term which presumably also covers most types of protest) can be openly flaunted by a corporate (weapons) business via the corporate media.

It almost seems to be challenging us to respond in some way: “Well, what are you lot going to do about it, eh?”

The frightening thing is that there is nothing we can do about it. It’s undoubtedly all perfectly legal, as laws are devised to allow the system to do pretty much whatever it wants to. Signing online petitions and expressing disquiet in obscure blogs won’t halt the project in its tracks, though it will presumably ensure your details are added on to the database!

The power of systems like this can be reduced by minimising contact with the internet (and particularly social networking sites) but it is already difficult to stay under the radar and still function in our society and that will only become more the case as the years pass.

It’s difficult to see how anything is going to happen that will prevent us accelerating into a nightmare dystopian future where personal freedom and privacy have been eradicated. All the momentum and internal logic of the system is pushing us that way – particularly as its growing inequalities and internal instabilities increase the potential for widespread dissent.

All those scary sci-fi futures are coming true. The Raytheon project evokes the 2002 film Minority Report, where people can be arrested on the basis that they are going to commit a crime. Meanwhile, the U.S. military’s hi-tech research wing DARPA is developing humanoid robots which ‘look like The Terminator’, says the programme’s robot expert.

So is that it, then? Is the extinction of humanity as we know it a fait accompli? Do we simply have to accept that this is progress, like it or not, and then sit back to watch subsequent generations reduced to total slavery? Do we? Really?