It has been interesting to watch the great juggernaut known as Consumer Capitalism gobble up and commodify the terms that have been used to define the movement working to change our lifestyles to something more in line with the jarring reality of living in a closed system with finite resources (surprise!).
First it was “Green.” We all had to Go Green. A cute term, and sensible. Plants are green. Plants are good, right? Let’s be like plants. Plus, it had the added bonus of lending itself to include other things that happened to share the same hue. Kermit the Frog is green. Money is green. The old dichotomy between the health of our economy and the health of our planet and selves was instantly overcome. Green is good.
Well, Green was good. Unfortunately, we can’t live in 2006 forever. First green was derided for its singular focus; how did issues like social justice and health fit into green? Obviously, green was the last color you would associate with health, so the marketing gurus put their heads together and came up with the new color of the movement… wait for it… BLUE! Beautiful! Everyone loves blue! Water is blue. The sky is blue. 73.4% of grade schoolers list their favorite color as blue! But blue did not catch, probably for a lot of reasons not least of which because it’s impossible to define such a foundational, holistic, far-reaching transformation of worldview and action in such reductionistic terms as one freaking color. If they wanted to use color to define the movement, I don’t know why they didn’t just go with the rainbow… oh, right. Nevermind.
But it wasn’t being too narrow that killed green. No, the death of green began when Clorox started using the color to sell more of its toxic cleaning products, angled up sharply when Fox News launched their “How Green?” website, and pretty much came to a climax when McDonald’s changed the colors on the signs of their European restaurants from yellow and red to yellow and green. Recuperation complete. Congratulations society.
Since any self-respecting green ecological revolutionary wouldn’t be caught dead using the now defunct green, the new buzz word has become sustainability. Are you sustainable? Is this able to be sustained? Are we in the sustain lane? This new term brought with it the added bonus of actually inherently conveying a concept, namely, the ability to make what is happening continue to happen. This is great when we’re talking about something like human beings existing on Earth. Unfortunately, the shadow of the term sustainability lies in its subtle suggestion that we can somehow take the extractive economy on which all of our lifestyles are built and tweak it a little to make it go on forever. This of course makes sustainable a double-edged sword: it conveys the general mission that we all need to get behind (sustaining life on Earth), but does so in a way that guards against the general action that needs to take place, namely ending a great many things, foremost of which is a worldview and ethical system that is not founded on the goal of sustaining all of life on Earth. It’s a great term for the visioning process, not so great for actualizing that vision. Besides, who wants to merely sustain our quality of life or way of being? Most of us around here think we can do better. Critics of the term will be happy to hear that the media frenzy is on and it’ll only be another year or two before sustainable joins green in the abysmal realm of non-sense.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Geez, Wigg Party, is there nothing left? What words shall we craft our catchy slogans with now? Should I have my ‘sustainable4life’ neck tattoo altered?” The good news is that there’s already a new term that’s rising up to replace sustainability: resilience. This one, near as we can tell, grew out of the cultural hotbed of rural England, with Rob Hopkins, he of the Transition movement fame, serving as the primary apostle. Generally, resilience is defined as the power or ability to withstand a considerable threat to the stasis of a system. When Rob Hopkins uses it, he’s talking about the ability of a community to withstand sudden breakdowns of the global system that provides us with food and water each day. The Transition movement highlights Climate Change and Peak Oil as the primary threats to the steady rhythym of this system, and they suggest that we get to work making sure our community has the ability to feed ourselves, access fresh water, provide all the basic services we all need to get through the day, and, all in all, be a self-reliant entity.
This is indeed a very good strategy, and we at the Wigg Party stand more or less behind this way of framing our challenge (everything except for the reductionistic way of understanding the threats we face). Unfortunately, we’re pretty sure once the media is done bastardizing sustainability, they’ll move on to take up resilience. We don’t know how “resilient” it’ll be (child please), but it’s a safe bet to at least maintain its meaning until December 21st, 2012, at which spacetime we’ll probably all either transcend to a plane on which verbal communication is rendered obsolete or become zombies able only to grumble brainnzz through our steady streams of drool.
In the unlikely event that we actually maintain some semblance of everyday consciousness and order, we may one day have to dream up a new way of defining our movement. Perhaps we should take a page from the Situationist International movement and try a little détournement, the answer to the media’s recuperation. Maybe we should take a symbol of all that is wrong with our world and make it our flag – so that when Consumer Capitalism takes it back up and tries to sell it to us, it’ll at least be really confusing for everyone for a while and we might end up forgetting what we’re all doing and just start over. The Corporation? An Oil Rig? A picture of the three-tiered flat world everyone thought they lived in when they established the generally accepted ethical principles of Western Civilization?
Might be tough to get some real movement around those. No, if I had to guess what might one day replace resilience as the rallying cry I’d put my money on something a little bit grander and nobler in vision. “Cosmos” or “Omega” come to mind, but it might be a little too soon for those. Maybe “Survival?” A little gritty. Perhaps Nietzsche had it right in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Perhaps we will ultimately settle on The Child as the everlasting symbol. Yes, The Child, the ever-renewing source of new beginnings and creation. Now there’s a symbol that can never be commodified.