Our Pass-Fail Moment: Livable Ecology, Capitalism, Occupy, and What is to be Done

From a Keynote Address for The Rouge Form at Miami University, Oxford Ohio, June 21, 2012. The Rouge Forum is an association of radical education professors and other radical educators. This talk is reproduced here in part because it seems especially relevant in the wake of the 2012 election’s abject failure to seriously address anthropogenic global warming, even after the nation’s eastern seaboard had just experienced an epic hurricane whose great destructive power was fueled in part by climate change.



Miami, Ohio, June 21, 2012. I guess I’m here to put a little green in your rouge. The title of my talk (I hope you all appreciate the education-related wording) is “Our Pass-Fail Moment: Livable Ecology, Capitalism, Occupy, and What is to be Done.”


Pissing in the Wind

Let me start with a quotation from a brilliant radical philosopher named John Sonbanmatsu. The quotation comes from a personal e-mail in which John was responding to something I’d said last year about progress I’d seen on the left with the labor uprising in Wisconsin and the emergence of Occupy Wall Street. The response from Sonbanmatsu was so profound I printed it off and taped it onto a bookshelf next to my desk.


“What's striking to me, though,” John wrote,….”is how much extraordinary social progress has been made, in some corners of the globe, toward sexual equality for gays and lesbians and liberal rights for women, while at the same time there has been zero progress–zero–toward challenging wage slavery, the power of monopoly capital, or the national security state. Nor,” John wrote, …”is there any meaningful progress being made toward the #1 issue of our or any time, which is the ecological crisis (including mass species extinctions and global warming)…to me,” John wrote, ”the Left is just pissing in the wind. Remember the late-1980s, when the most important issue for the American left was freeing Mumia Abu Jamal? There is a psychotic element,” John concluded, “to the way we focus our energies, or rather dissociate from the fundamental problems confronting humanity and the other living creatures.” 


There’s no small truth in that statement.


The Last Half Century

Lately I’ve been talking to a number of my fellow middle aged leftists about the biggest underlying changes we’ve seen in American life and society during our lifetimes.