Category: Civil Disobedience


I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century. This concise, jargon-free, and highly readable work is soon to be published in three different languages: first, next month, in German, by Echo Verlag publishers; second, by mid-year, in Italian, by Ortica Editrice; and third, in English toward the end of 2014, by the major American academic press, Palgrave-MacMillan.

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Below is the Table of Contents and the Introduction to the work. Please look for the book soon in German, Italian, or English versions and I will post additional details regarding these and possibly other translated editions of the book as they become available.

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Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century

By

Steven Best

Table of Contents

Introduction: Crisis and the Crossroads of History

 Chapter 1: The Animal Standpoint

Chapter 2: The New Abolitionism: Capitalism, Slavery, and Animal Liberation

Chapter 3: The Paralysis of Pacifism: In Defense of Militant Direct Action

Chapter 4: Rethinking Revolution: Veganism, Animal Liberation, Ecology, and the Left

Chapter 5: Minding the Animals: Cognitive Ethology and the Obsolescence of Left Humanism

Chapter 6: Moral Progress and the Struggle for Human Evolution

Conclusion: Reflections on Activism and Hope in a Dying World and Suicidal Culture

 

Introduction: Crisis and the Crossroads of History

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu, sixth century BCE philosopher

In dystopian and apocalyptic times such as ours, one of accelerating global social and ecological crisis, these essays attempt to articulate a revolutionary politics of total liberation for the 21st century.

All political approaches and social movements to date have been fragmentary, weak, and non-inclusive, and regressive in their views toward nonhuman animals. In the last three decades, there have been initial and tentative alliances between social justice and environmental causes, with growing recognition that the assault on people and the environment have common roots in a growth-oriented capitalist system. But, due to neglect on all sides, these alliances did not include vegan and animal rights/liberation movements, which overflow with potential for advancing progressive values (such as peace, justice, rights, equality, and community), creating ecological societies, and overcoming human alienation from other animal species and the earth as a whole.

Alliance politics generally is a challenging issue, as people prefer to focus on their own causes rather than supporting other movements, especially ones they disdain out of ignorance. This has to change and new political ideologies, tactics, and groupings must be formulated, for everything else has failed and the stakes could not be higher. At risk is nothing less than the future of life on a planet that has been pushed beyond all limits to adapt to human existence and is prepared to shake us off entirely and allow the evolutionary process to continue without us. This century, the next decades or even the next years, is decisive, for what we do or fail to do now will determine the fate of species, our own fates, and evolutionary history on this planet for millennia to come. The urgency could not be greater, there is no time to waste, it is now do-or-die.

Although diverse in theme, the essays collected in this book form a coherent whole and address my core concerns as they relate to current crisis conditions. The most promising and relevant politics for this century, I believe, will not focus on class struggle or the fragmented identity politics pursued along single-issue lines concerning race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth. It will be, rather, a politics of total liberation that grasps commonalities among various forms of oppression, that recognizes the interdependence and common goals of various liberation movements, and that forges appropriate political alliances.

By “total liberation” I do not mean a metaphysical utopia to be realized in perfect form. I refer, rather, to the process of understanding human, animal, and earth liberation movements in relation to one another and forming alliances around interrelated issues such as democracy and ecology, sustainability and veganism, and social justice and animal rights. To be sure, total liberation is an ideal, a vision, and a goal to strive for, invoking visions of freedom and harmony. But the struggle ahead is a continuous one, conducted within the constraints of human nature and the limits imposed by ecology. Human, animal, and earth liberation movements are different components of one inseparable struggle — against hierarchy, domination, and unsustainable social forms — none of which is possible without the others.

Through predatory behaviors, systems of exploitation, and growth-oriented societies, we have lived in contradiction to one another, other species, and the planet for so long, that we have brought about a new geologic epoch – the Anthropocene Era – whose name recognizes our global dominance and severe impact of Homo sapiens on the planet. In this era of runaway climate change, the sixth great extinction crisis in earth’s history, increasing centralization of power, aggressive neoliberalism, global capitalism, rampant militarism, resource scarcity, chronic warfare, economic crashes, and suffering and struggle everywhere, we have come to a historical crossroads where momentous choices have to be made and implemented into action.

The omnicidal regimes of “civilization” and global capitalism have reached their zenith and will end — whether through an ascendant global resistance stronger than this dying world system, or through the cataclysmic adjustments the planet already has initiated, such as ensure its evolution for billions of years to come but create conditions utterly hostile to supporting humans and countless other species.

Anything short of a radical, systemic, and comprehensive change, of a formidable revolutionary movement against global capitalism and hierarchical domination of all kinds will yield useless reforms, pseudo-solutions, false hopes, and protracted suffering. The time for partial visions, separate struggles, and fragmented resistance is over, and the hour of total liberation and revolutionary alliance politics has arrived.

Yet, alarmingly, we have not yet as a species or critical mass awoken to the true gravity of the situation and the magnitude of the challenges we face. The big picture proves elusive, antiquated paradigms prevail, and dogmatism and complacency strangle possibilities from all angles and quarters. Although few realize it, the human, animal, and earth liberation movements desperately need one another, and the weaknesses and limitations of each can only be overcome through the strengths and contributions of the others.

If revolt can mature into revolution, the starting point for social transformation is to join hands across the barricades; to engage in respectful critical dialogue; to communicate, educate, and learn as equals; to overcome partial histories, critiques, and battles for a systemic struggle. A politics of total liberation could forge alliances more powerful than anything yet created. It seeks to emancipate not just one class, interest group, or even the entire human species from the grip of a nihilistic power elite, but also animal communities everywhere, ecosystems worldwide, and the dynamic energies of evolution and speciation currently strangled.

Listening and learning, working united not divided, a unity in difference and a differentiated unity, forging a plurality of critiques and tactics that attack at all points and mobilize resistance from all social quarters – through a politics of total revolution, a politics for the 21st century, a flank of militant groups and positions can drive a battering ram into the structures of domination, unlock every cell and cage, and open the doors to a myriad of possible futures.

But humans will awake, if ever, late in the process of advanced crisis and decay. Nothing guarantees we will succeed rather than fail. But pessimism is suicide, despair is surrender, the stakes are too high, and our responsibilities are too great. Despite our violent history as a predatory and colonizing species, what humanity can and cannot achieve is still unknown. Our capacities and limits are still being worked out in the laboratory of history and political struggle, as this evolutionary experiment nonetheless might soon end in extinction. Let us not only hope, but also struggle, for a different outcome.

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“For at least the last half century, a biocentric revolution has been unfolding against the destructive tyranny of anthropocentrism — a revolution guided by the natural laws of ecology against the unnatural diminishment of nature at the hands of “civilized” man. In this bold, brilliant, and timely book, Steven Best writes from, and has documented, the evolution of this universal revolution, as he gives us a glimpse into the catastrophic consequences should this revolution fail.”  —  Captain Paul Watson

In 2005, after being misquoted by the Daily Telegraph during a public lecture in England, I was banned for life from the entire UK for the crime of defending animal rights in public lectures and rallies (see here and my response here).

Oxford University Anti-Vivisection Demo, 2003

Oxford University Anti-Vivisection Demo, 2003

As a university professor, writer, speaker, and activist, I have no criminal record beyond various civil disobedience actions in support of animal rights. 6 years and 3 governments later, I defied the ban and told the British Home office I would be flying into London via Gdansk, Poland in order to speak in London and Manchester. Upon trying to board my flight to London in September 2011, Polish security agents told me the Home Office prohibited my departure. I spoke to audiences via Skype, but could not physically enter the UK.

Once a society begins banning philosophers, one has to wonder how perilous is the slippery slope toward a police state, and recent state repression and surveillance in the UK, as well as in the US, demonstrates a rapid and dangerous erosion of civil liberties and privacy. By reinforcing their lifetime ban against me, the UK demonstrated they have chosen to be a police state rather than a democracy.

I am deeply indebted to UK activist, Darren Sunderland, for grasping the larger implications of this ban against me. and taking the initiative to create and maintain the following support sites:

BBB, Causes.Com

BBB, Facebook

BBB, UK

Please sign the petition on Causes.com and join the Facebook page if you would like to support free speech rights and ending the UK lifelong ban against me. Thank you, and thank you Darren.

The facts of catastrophic climate change have become so alarming that growing numbers of scientists feel they can no longer hide behind inscrutable jargon, masks of neutrality, professional decorum, and robotic objectivity. When paragons of affectless detachment and Spock-speak begin dropping F-bombs at prestigious conferences, undertake civil disobedience, and call for mass resistance movements to overtake the forces of planetary destruction, there is a sea-change in the scientific world, appropriately so, something that far transcends “value-laden” research to become thunderous calls for action, anger, and uprising.

It seems the top experts know something pacifists and delusional vegans (who can only talk of the temporary reduction of meat consumption IN THE US while ignoring soaring global rates and remaining mute about the severity of climate change) don’t — the earth is fucked, time is running out, ivy league vegan outreach adds insult to injury, and it’s too late for education. The courage and integrity of the new generation of activist-scientists to speak truth to power and lay their careers on the line also puts 99.999% of academics to shame, narcissists and cowards who would rather lose species and ecosystems over a career advance any day.

The choice is mass rebellion or catastrophic collapse. Despite the false impression given by the final sentence of this article, while vocal, confrontational, and politicized climate scientists could emerge as key forces of change, the true catalysts will be mass resistance movements erupting globally. But of that, we have no guarantee and as of yet, little hope to avert impending disaster on an unimaginable scale.

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Why Earth and Atmospheric Scientists Are Swearing Up a Storm and Getting Arrested.

By , Slate, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012

NASA scientist and climatologist James Hansen takes part in a mock funeral parade.

NASA scientist and climatologist James Hansen takes part in a mock funeral parade during Climate Change Campaign Action Day in 2009 in Coventry, England

Many of us have wondered at some point in almost precisely these terms: “Is Earth Fucked?” But it’s not the sort of frank query you expect an expert in geomorphology to pose to his colleagues as the title of a formal presentation at one of the world’s largest scientific gatherings.

Nestled among offerings such as “Bedrock Hillslopes to Deltas: New Insights Into Landscape Mechanics” and “Chemical Indicators of Pathways in the Water Cycle,” the question leapt off the pages of the schedule for the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting.  Brad Werner, a geophysicist at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the more than 20,000 Earth and atmospheric scientists who descended on downtown San Francisco this week to share their research on everything from Antarctic ice-sheet behavior to hurricane path modeling to earthquake forecasting. But he’s the only one whose presentation required the use of censorious asterisks. When the chairman of Werner’s panel announced the talk’s title on Wednesday, a titter ran through the audience at the naughtiness of it all.

Why shout out the blunt question on everyone’s mind? Werner explained at the outset of the presentation that it was inspired by friends who are depressed about the future of the planet. “Not so much depressed about all the good science that’s being done all over the world—a lot of it being presented here—about what the future holds,” he clarified, “but by the seeming inability to respond appropriately to it.”

That’s probably an apt description of legions of scientists who have labored for years only to see their findings met with shrugs—or worse. Researchers from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, for instance, published a paper in Nature Climate Change this week showing that carbon emissions have reached record levels, with a 2.6 percent projected rise in 2012. In another AGU presentation, Pieter Tans of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration posed the question: “Will realistic fossil fuel burning scenarios prevent catastrophic climate change?” He did not seem optimistic. “We might end up burning 900 billion tons of carbon” from oil, gas, and coal, he announced. “We can have a managed path to lower emissions—or do it by misery.” A guy next to me in the audience gave a kind of hopeless snort. The head of NOAA and polar experts held a news conference at the conference entitled, “What’s going on in the Arctic?” This year broke all sorts of records: the lowest recorded sea-ice extent, the lowest recorded snow cover extent and duration, and the most extensive recorded melting event on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, among other milestones. “I’ve studied Greenland for 20 years now; I’ve devoted my career to it,” Jason Box of Ohio State University intoned somberly, “and 2012 was an astonishing year. This was the warmest summer in a period of record that’s continuous in 170 years.”

Werner’s title nodded at a question running like an anxious murmur just beneath the surface of this and other presentations at the AGU conference: What is the responsibility of scientists, many of them funded by taxpayer dollars through institutions like the National Science Foundation, to tell us just exactly how fucked we are? Should scientists be neutral arbiters who provide information but leave the fraught decision-making and cost-benefit analysis to economists and political actors? Or should they engage directly in the political process or even become advocates for policies implied by their scientific findings?

Scientists have been loath to answer such questions in unequivocal terms. Overstepping the perceived boundaries of prudence, objectivity, and statistical error bars can derail a promising career. But, in step with many of the planet’s critical systems, that may be quickly changing. Lately more and more scientists seem shaken enough by what their measurements and computer models are telling them (and not just about climate change but also about the global nitrogen cycle, extinction rates, fisheries depletion, etc.) to speak out and endorse specific actions. The most prominent example is NASA climatologist James Hansen, who was so freaked out by his own data that he began agitating several years ago for legislation to rein in carbon emissions. His combination of rigorous research and vigorous advocacy is becoming, if not quite mainstream, somewhat less exotic. A commentary in Nature last month implored scientists to risk tenure and get arrested, if necessary, to promote the political solutions their research tells them are required. Climate researchers Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows recently made an impassioned call on their colleagues to do a better job of communicating the urgency of their findings and to no longer cede the making of policy prescriptions entirely to economists and politicians.

Lonnie Thompson, one of the world’s foremost experts on glaciers and ancient climates, framed the dilemma in a speech he gave to a group of behavioral scientists in 2010:

Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.

That’s the sound of serious-minded scientists fretting out loud to the rest of us that the earth is indeed fucked, unless we get our shit together. More and more are willing to risk professional opprobrium to drive that message home.

Box is a prime example. A veteran Arctic researcher, Box was arrested alongside more than 1,000 others in 2011 outside the White House while protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico for export, thus facilitating the liberation of a vast quantity of climate-warming and ice-sheet-disintegrating carbon. “Taking that stand was arguably the most important thing I’ve done,” he told me, and that includes a highly regarded body of work on Greenland ice-sheet dynamics. “I’ve taken a number of perceived political risks. The groupthink was, ‘You’re wasting your time, you’re risking your career,’ ” he said. Such actions might one day keep him from membership in the National Academies of Science, he mused aloud, but he didn’t seem too concerned. As he sees it, he can pursue rigorous science and be an engaged, concerned citizen at the same time. “I have a 14-month-old daughter,” he explained simply.

The bulk of Werner’s talk, as it turned out, was not profane or prophetic but was a fairly technical discussion of a “preliminary agent-based numerical model” of “coupled human-environmental systems.” He described a computer model he is building of the complex two-way interaction between people and the environment, including how we respond to signals such as environmental degradation, using the same techniques he employs to simulate the dynamics of natural systems such as permafrost, glaciers, and coastal landscapes. These tools, he argued, can lead to better decision-making. Echoing Anderson and Bows, he claimed it as a legitimate part of a physical scientist’s domain. “It’s really a geophysics problem,” he said. “It’s not something that we can just leave to the social scientists or the humanities.”

Active resistance by concerned groups of citizens, analogous to the anti-slavery and civil rights movements of the past, is one of the features of the planetary system that plays an important role in his model. If you think that we should take a much longer view when making decisions about the health of the “coupled human-environmental system”—that is to say, if you’re interested in averting the scenario in which the Earth is fucked—then, Werner’s model implied, resistance is the best and probably only hope. Every other element—environmental regulation, even science—is too embedded in the dominant economic system.

I asked Werner what he sees as scientists’ role in contributing to this kind of resistance, the kind of direct action taken by researchers like Hansen and Box. Werner views his own advocacy as separate from his scientific work. “To some extent, [science is] a job, and a job I really like, and I have the good fortune and privilege to have,” he told me. “In my other life, I am an activist, but there’s a line. Both sides inform the other. And I think that that is healthy. But when I’m doing geophysics, I’m a geophysicist. When I’m doing activism, I’m an activist.”

Werner agreed that more and more scientists are now engaging in advocacy than in the past. “Even if you say, ‘OK, I’m not going to advocate anything. I am simply going to make sure that I am going to produce results which are useful and available to a broad range of people,’ that’s a decision that researchers have to make.” This is not just an academic question. Anderson and Bows’ work, for instance, suggests that economic growth in the short term is simply incompatible with the (nonbinding) commitments made by most U.N. member states to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). This, of course, is not a message that is making any headway with the leaders of those countries. “The elephant in the room sits undisturbed while collective acquiescence and cognitive dissonance trample all who dare to ask difficult questions,” Anderson and Bows write. Getting relevant information into the hands of those more likely to ask those questions is, Werner said, part of his responsibility as a scientist.

Box agrees and is launching a new initiative called the Dark Snow Project, which aims to conduct the first crowdsourced scientific expedition to the Arctic, measuring how soot from North American wildfires might be accelerating Greenland’s ice melt. He and his colleagues plan to make their results publically accessible via video and other online tools, and he sees the project eventually growing into an organization that does rapid-response field science in the public interest.

As for the big question—is Earth fucked?—Werner announced in his talk that he has done some preliminary runs of his model. At this point I could sense the audience lean forward collectively on their seats. First he simulated the global economy proceeding into the future without the drag of environmental management decisions. “What happens is not too surprising,” he told us evenly. “Basically the economy fast chews up the environmental resources, depletes those reservoirs, resulting in a significant amount of environmental damage.”

Then he factored in some environmental management, presumably of our standard, EPA cost-benefit-analysis-driven variety, and found that “it delays the environmental damage but it doesn’t prevent it.”

That’s not too surprising either. But it also implies we’re eventually, definitely fucked. Still, there’s a choose-your-own-adventure element to the story that has yet to play out. Resistance, Werner argued, is the wild card that can force dominant systems such as our current resource-chewing juggernaut onto a more sustainable path. Werner hasn’t completed that part of his model, so we’ll have to wait to find out what happens. But during the Q-and-A session, he conceded that “even though individual resistance movements might not be fast enough reacting to some of these problems, if a global environmental movement develops that is strong enough, that has the potential to have a bigger impact in a timely manner.”

In other words, according to at least one expert, maybe the Earth is not quite fucked yet after all. But the ultimate outcome may depend on how much, and how many, scientists choose to wade into the fray.

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