Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shadow Government, Shadow Culture

In thinking about shadowy things, images come to mind of the dark, deceptive, even negative and dangerous. Shadow government often fits into this perspective as it is typically seen within the “official” state structure as something which seeks to do harm to or overthrow the current model. In many countries and throughout history those who seek to advocate for alternatives, and usually just in theory, are persecuted and their plight becomes propaganda of the state which seeks to rally its constituents in renewed patriotism and support for the status quo.

But shadows needn’t be seen in this manner. Shadows are also shade, which protect us at times from the harmful effects of what can be an oppressive and penetrating presence in our lives. And just as the sun rises and sets, comes and goes in the lives of those it penetrates, so too do the histories of empires. All those governing bodies which become so powerful and invasive in the world of humanity, can burn those who do not protect themselves from too much exposure. These burns in turn tarnish our being in ways that last long after the sun has set, the empire declined or collapsed. Thus seeking refuge in the shadow of alternative organizing structures has the effect of maintaining a healthy condition for us to undertake the important work of being in community with others.

Taking this metaphor further, within the shadow of empire exists a fine condition to begin to grow alternative governing experiments. Because of its inherent inability to be participatory, empire dominates the mind-scape as an uninviting presence which tends to shade out any other such seedlings of participatory community building of so-called constituents of the empire. But what we must understand is that to nurture the seedlings is to begin to undermine the foundations of the invasive dominant entity which covets our energy. The canopy may be too grandiose for us to have much effect in our attempts to trim back the foliage of false patriotism. But the roots, no matter how large, are in poor soil and cannot continue to provide support for the ever growing reach of the empire’s quest to dominate and exploit. Eventually this foundation will give and those seedlings which we nurtured with such care, patience and participation will be free to grow into beautiful fruit bearing trees from which all will taste the flavor of true freedom.

Many would say that though this all may be true, we cannot allow the giant tree of empire to go to ruin and fall as it will collapse upon and destroy multitudes within its reach. This perspective underestimates the power of the seedlings however. For each seedling, given proper care, has established deep and powerful roots in the productive soil we have provided. Their trunks and limbs have thus become strong and though some may fall, a great many will remain and with them other species which have thrived in healthy co-inhabitance.

Leaving behind this metaphor for the time being, we can explore the quite literal consequence of shadow governments. Government exists primarily as a means for disparate points of view to find common ground to accomplish specific ends. It exists also to safeguard the individual liberties of its constituents. Without government we run the risk of feudal takeovers of our lives and liberty for the benefit of the few. On the other hand, when government outgrows its personal connection to its constituents, it runs roughshod over ideals in an attempt to provide for the few who have once again sought to further their own narrow desires through the co-opting of the life and liberty of the many. It is in these moments that the people lose control of their own organizing structure that they must re-mobilize to create another. Once an empire is let loose upon the planet, there is no rearing-in of the out-of-control monster. There is however a blind spot in the shadows of this beast. Community building, as participatory democracy, poses no immediate threat to empire and thus is typically left to its own harmless endeavors.

These seemingly benign blind spots are where we must act. It is our best opportunity to create the world that we know is possible, that we can feel and imagine and dream. And it is here that we are provided the safe havens for the building of solidarity which is necessary to stand up to the eventual challenges that will come from empire. At first our energies remain mostly dedicated to supporting our lives within the established systems that attempt to maintain an illusion of being one’s only choice. But as our alternatives become established, they gain the possibility of providing for the needs of participants. It becomes possible to remove one’s energy from the status quo completely and to redirect it into the alternatives. Thus the shadow aspect of these blossoming communities becomes important as to remain out of sight of an empire that will seek to co-opt or destroy any potential challengers. Once discovered to be energy sinks in a system that requires constant expansion and consolidation, alternative organizing structures will be targeted and the solidarity within them challenged. It is in these moments that the establishment of solid foundations in place, and through livelihood and community, will determine the survival of these alternatives.

Envision Cascadia is thus a tool for the communities within Cascadia to be able to use to organize and self-reflect. It exists as a means for self discovery and the umbrella by which alternative organizing attempts may gain some shade and find solidarity. Envision Cascadia places an emphasis on the creation of shadow culture, commencing from beneath the surface as subtle realizations of belonging, not to abstract mental constructs meant to foster patriotism rooted in ignorance, but to ecological systems that are the products of four billion years of evolutionary response to the nature of places. We belong to these processes of creation and must find a way to become witting participants once again. The beauty and illumination that we as a species are capable of creating should be intertwined in the ecological systems that all other species of our planet dwell within. Envision Cascadia seeks to provide one means of striving towards that end.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Slow Revolution

You say you want a revolution, well you know, ya need a culture to make it stick.

There are many people who see Cascadia as an eventual political entity - a state, republic, nation, or region that will be capable of carrying on past the corrosion of the nation states that currently lay claim to its lands. Those who are actively pursuing this plausible eventuality envision varying paths that may lead to one of these possibilities. Some speak of outright secession. Others look towards increased relations of neighboring states and provinces to build a union that might withstand a collapse of the US and Canada. A few believe that it is an inevitable eventuality that will come to pass over time, perhaps after an apocalypse or deadly pandemic. Yet another idea would take inspiration from the region’s ecosystems for the cultural overhaul of how people think of and act within their local places.

It is the latter which has inspired Envision Cascadia to contribute to the task of strengthening regional cultural identity. Via this route of cultural education and outreach it is believed that as regional identity grows within individuals of Cascadia, so too will an innate understanding of the ecosystem attributes that are fundamental to this identity.

This is a process which requires much patience from the practitioners and significant subtle transformation within the public at large. Being that “our time” seems desperate, with urgency the rallying cry for many, this “slow revolution” is much too slow, much too subtle. However, the piecemeal approaches that have been the favored agents for change thus far have been and continue to be fractured and divide as much as they unite. It is certain that any and all tactics to better this world should be explored, experimented with, and undertaken by those who feel inspired to undertake them. But underlying all of the reactionary action, the bandages meant to stop the bleeding of empire, must exist unifying processes of practical significance. It is not the theory but the actions of ordinary existence that will allow for humans to settle in to a peaceful and healthy relationship with others, human and non-human.

Yes, our individual actions do matter. For not only do they contribute to overall change, however slight, they also inform us of our place within a community through the mindful presence of participation. Therefore to participate in a “system”, or community to which one does not desire to have a deep and working relationship, is to remain in a state of confusion as to the real contributions one makes to that which one directs his or her energy. How can a person expect real and lasting change if they are not changing the world through real and lasting action? And how can one person realistically change the world? He or she cannot. At best, one can expect to contribute something of significance to a community which in turn informs and inspires surrounding communities. This draws from the idea of holons and the pattern of concentric circles of influence and existence. Participatory influence always dwindles the further it is experienced from the epicenter of its origins.

All of this has the significance of informing our decisions of how we should act and what our expectations of those actions may realistically be. As one might imagine it takes time for one’s participation to influence and affect others around him or her, and yet longer still for this influence to inspire and persuade others to participate as equally and intelligently - hence the “slow revolution”, the deep revolution. Gandhi realized this as evidenced by his insistence on the participation in community-based enterprises which have the effect of strengthening community bonds, increasing local self-reliance, and advancing personal development. Taken to an extreme, these activities helped bring about the liberation of a nation. But the under-realization and lack of support of these enterprising actions by divided factions within the nation led to continued empire building and continuing divisions between would-be community members of co-inhabited places and ecosystems.

We all still face the oppressive rule and exploitation of a British Empire, though this empire no longer resides amongst one people, one place, or one ideal. It is a global manifestation of the greed and ignorance of so many un-enlightened individuals. It is inherent in the status quo of what is propagated through the systems it has enacted and allowed to exist – economic, political, religious, and cultural. To be “successful” within these entities is to do something that is acceptable to the ideals of said entities. One cannot have true success and remain a part of if one is at the same time undertaking activities which seek to depart from the aforementioned ideals. Built within these systems are mechanisms which weed out the undesirables, those would-be dissenters whose wholesome and healthy action is anathema to a system based on greed and ignorance, exploitation and violence. We are with it or against it, and our options become complacency or “terrorism” as our overlords have come to make us believe that direct action, protest, civil disobedience, or the challenge to empire are defined. Our reactions against become excuses for violence and oppression. We give excuse to these systems to conveniently remove our displeasure and if we refuse to go easily we provoke a strong arm manifestation of the collective suffering from within our societies. We react in turn and a continuum of violence and hatred becomes all that we have to look forward to in our struggles for equality, liberation, peace, and happiness.

Understanding these things brings us to the conclusion that to break the cycle of reaction we must take the step to act first and independently, mindfully of how what we do will affect others of our communities. We must sow the seeds and tend the garden with care and patience before we can harvest the benefits. And it is not the final conclusion of the red ripe tomato or succulent strawberry which we seek, for most anyone can easily and much more quickly gain these ends via the food market. It is the process of production, the role of steward and caretaker, co-conspirator and co-inhabitant - that brings us the true fruits of understanding, compassion, and a healthy relationship with others, human and non-human.

What does this look like in practice, in Cascadia? It is a tending of the garden of our own personal development and our relationships within communities, within places. Highly dependent upon the circumstances of time and space, the interconnected and ever changing realities within our communities, watersheds, ecosystems and the bioregion demand constant vigilance and continued mindfulness of context. This mindfulness cannot be realized without understanding, and understanding beyond the nature of our own existence is dependent upon working relationships with all beings of our communities, appropriate to the scale at which we are active.