Welcome to Politics for the Apocalypse

now is the time

let’s get political

The grim reality of the Global General Crisis is inescapably depressing. It is therefore understandable and even tempting to want to throw our hands up in despair. To simply let what may come be. Que sera sera. What will be, will be. But then I see school kids on strike angry about the world they have been brought up into, and I genuinely believe there is real opportunity for change.

Life as we know it has surely changed irrevocably. But surely we also ought to do whatever is reasonably in our power to turn the ship around, so to speak, no matter how difficult or how long that takes, or how futile it might seem. Because continued mass inaction will plunge us into an unimaginable and unpredictable situation of permanent climate catastrophe.

Inaction is ghastly and profoundly irresponsible. It is not an option. It is an abrogation of our fundamental social, political and ethical responsibilities. Perhaps foremost, it is deeply morally negligent towards those who cannot themselves take action: children, animals, plants, people living under authoritarian regimes, among many others. It would also be profoundly unfair to those disproportionately affected by the climate crisis: those living in deep poverty, in climate vulnerable communities, people with disability, and many others again.

These are also often the people who have contributed the least to global greenhouse gas emissions or the rise of post-democratic politics of greed and oppression. These people are often one and the same. Those whom are most likely to bear the brunt of destructive climate change are also some of the least empowered to affect change. This is an intrinsic feature of the twenty-first century Global General Crisis. Grotesque levels of inequality, illiberal politics and catastrophic climate change are all mutually reinforcing phenomena which propel many of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems into a devastatingly dangerous downward spiral of destruction.

For these and many other reasons it is critically and urgently incumbent on those of us who live in relative wealth in relatively democratic societies to step up and take a stand. The personal and social cost of such action absolutely pales in comparison to the everyday lived experiences of adversity and deprivation for many people in our own communities, let alone in other places and parts of the world where daily life for most is a struggle at best. Perhaps more importantly, citizens of wealthy nations have been and continue to be the chief beneficiaries of this mass destruction of mother earth.

And if at the end of the day nothing else matters, the price of inaction will be the realisation of our worst nightmares.

Growing up in Australia in the ‘second cold war’ of the 1980s, the existential threat of nuclear war was real. Perhaps direct attacks were less likely in south eastern Australia then elsewhere, but the prospect of a nuclear winter shrouding the globe was distinct and frightening. Add to this a cultural diet containing a fair share of dystopia, from the immensely popular politically fantasy of The Lord of the Rings (1954-55), to the chilling state brutality of the Judge Dredd comics (1977-2019). Overtly and ostensibly political, environmental catastrophe nonetheless either loomed large or formed the backdrop of these imagined political landscapes: whether the dark mystical fires of Mordor, or the radiologically contaminated, lifeless wastelands stretching beyond the walls of Megacity One.

Meanwhile, the technologically enabled totalitarianisms of Aldous Huxley’s genetically ordered society in Brave New World (1932), or George Orwell’s sombrous surveillance state of 1984 (1948), have become, in some way or another and to varying degrees, a reality in different parts of the world. Concentration camps, drone strikes, incessant warfare, digital surveillance, facial recognition, fake news – the list goes on.

We are witnessing the manifestation of an all too real version of these apocalyptic nightmares on a global scale.

But we cannot afford to allow ourselves to be trapped in the darkness, to wander desperately in the ever expanding desert of our own creation.

Yet it is easy to say that we all need to be more politically active and effective, but how remains the critical question. And while the answer to this vitally central question is necessarily a work in progress, time is not on our side.

Even so, two key directions for ‘how’ present themselves as the starting point. One is the need to bring together diverse but fractured progressive elements from anarchists to moderate liberals via greens and labour. The second, related angle is the need for different groups and individuals to do what they can, when they can and how they can, in a multi-pronged and pluralistic approach to effecting urgently needed political change.

Politics means different things to different people. For some, politics is something of a dirty word. For others, political action is the essence of what it means to be a citizen, even an integral part of being human.

However you look at it, though, embracing and engaging in politics is fundamentally to surviving the climate emergency and navigating our way out of the Global General Crisis.

We have let our political inheritance be sold out from under us. Many of our politicians have been captured by cynical and destructive private interests. Our fourth estate, the media, has been handed over to a bunch of billionaires for overt political inference campaigns to subvert the democratic process and change the outcome of general elections.

More than ever, we need to engage tirelessly in thought, speech and action to steer our societies away from the edge of the abyss. To take back our democracies for all our common and diverse interests.

We need to be united by pursuit of a common goal: the restoration of decency and democracy to politics.

Diverse agents for positive change in this epochal struggle will take different paths. Some will work within the neoliberal capitalist systems that are morbidly malfunctioning – to bring politics and economics back under control. Others will work with these systems from the outside – to guide our public institutions back to better health. Still other will need to work against the established order – to push back against the sheer force of the state under the weight of oligarchical control. All this is required to preserve our ability to resist, and to catalyse political change which is ultimately essential for saving ourselves and the world we all share.

When resistance is necessary, failure is not an option.

* Updated 25 February 2020

Published by Kurt Vall

Based in Melbourne, Australia, Kurt studied linguistics, philosophy and Asian history at the Australian National University and is currently a graduate student in international relations at the University of Melbourne. He has over a decade's experience in public policy and administration in Australian federal and state government.

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