I found it very fitting that I was editing the third chapter of my Ecophilosophy manuscript when I read this morning about Greenpeace’s protest stunt at the Nazca Lines. The third chapter revolves around how philosophy can best serve direct political action. I discuss it in the context of the environmentalist movement, but it applies to all political activism generally.
While Næss’ own articulation of the idea that I trace in the chapter has some troubling implications, there is at heart a promising way that a bunch of professional thinkers can play important roles in political activism. And no, it isn’t a reference to Marx. The Theses on Feuerbach are so well-known* that referring to them for an answer to this problem is almost like a cheat code.
* Well, the only one that ever really gets quoted is the philosophy-interprets-the-world-but-the-point-is-to-change-it one.
No, the more promising role that philosopher can play in a political movement is the voice of the ideal, the movement’s own self-critic who, as it were, makes sure everyone checks themselves before they wreck themselves. I feel like Greenpeace could have used someone like this.
Huge, theatrical protests are necessary in an era of enormous industry. We’re a world where the Pacific Trash Vortex exists, where the Aral Sea became the Aralkum desert in a generation, and where the largest geographical feature in whole towns are the giant mounds of shattered computer parts. Also, just Google image search open pit mines for some horrifying environmental photography.
But the irony of this is simply too delicious. Greenpeace, the world’s most famous militant environmentalist organization, is dedicated to protecting the world’s most vulnerable territories and ecosystems. And their message of protest to the international climate summit in Lima consisted in ignorantly damaging a vulnerable territory by hiking through the middle of the night in total darkness all over millennia-old art made by lightly brushing black stones away from light-grey earth, just to unveil a bunch of big yellow letters spelling out a corny slogan to reduce greenhouse emissions.
VICE was nice enough to embed the CBS News report in their post about it yesterday, so I know enough of the Peruvian government’s stance that I thoroughly disagree with their contention that criminal charges against the individual activists will deter people from future protests that interfere with the Lines. Punishing perpetrators never deters crime.
I also don’t want this to be one of those anti-Greenpeace posts, which is close to a universal reaction as I scan through the online reaction. I’m still energized by the punk energy of these hippies as they carelessly trudge through the most fragile art on Earth to lay their protest banner. When I read their just-barely-apology on their Facebook page, I kind of want to slap them for their contemptuous attitude.
But that’s why we need punks in all their forms, to shake us out of complacency by openly spitting on all our eyes. Even when that energy is so misdirected and stupidly employed that we’re entirely justified in slapping them back as hard as we can. Human society needs punks.
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