|English: Naomi Klein on Thursday, Day 21, of Occupy Wall Street. Klein led an open forum at the event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
|With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
|Historian Howard Zinn speaking in 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
|Naomi Klein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Having not read Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything, when I went yesterday to see the film by the same name made by Klein and her husband Avi Lewis, I really had no idea what the “this” is that she says changes everything. I had rather got the impression from reviews of her book that Capitalism is the “this” in question, and that she is blaming Capitalism for the man-made events that have created the warming of the Earth in recent decades, which, if continued, seem to be leading the world to destruction. If true, I think, this would have been a somewhat questionable assumption, since the same policies have been, and are, followed by non-capitalist countries, with, in some cases, even worse results. but a moment comes in the film when she makes it clear that it is “climate change” and not Capitalism that she says changes everything.
The film is interesting, excellent even, in that it sets up the dilemma about this overwhelmingly important and yet difficult-to-grasp subject in terms that can be understood by everyone. Naomi Klein has always shown a genius for looking at events from an angle that is quite off-the-beaten track, as it were, and she has used her extraordinary analytical powers so successfully that she has become established throughout the world as a major intellectual, accepted as an equal by no matter how elevated a level of academics, and one who has, moreover, made no secret of where her political sympathies lie, that is, with the struggling peoples of this benighted world.
There were two screenings of the film yesterday in Montreal, the second of which was followed by a community meeting of activists. But I went to the first one, so as not to have my judgment of the film qua film influenced by the enthusiasms of others. It was an unusual experience, for it was the first time in my entire life that I have had a whole cinema to myself. No one else was there. I fought the impulse to take a message from that about public attitudes to the issue.
The film opens with the Alberta tar sands, said by Klein, who narrates the film, to be the biggest industrial project on Earth. (Before she said that, she opened the narration by saying that she had always been bored by the many films about climate change. This immediately established a difference between us: I have seen hardly any such films, and didn’t even know so many had been made. And it really must be damnable to live a life crowded with such films.)
The thought kept occurring to me as I was led through Klein’s appalling catalogue of the stupidities of the industrial machine, that with a bit of a tweak in emphasis, this could have been a comic film, instead of one overlaid by the tragedy she sees before us. A film of sardonic humour, it is true, about the inanities of which people are capable, the complete and utter stupidity of arguments made in favour of our destroying the land, water and air that lies at the base of all our lives, demonstrating the straight-faced idiocy with which people in positions of decision-making power can express their utter failure to grasp what is at stake. As these verities kept coming out of the mouths of engineers, small-town mayors, workers, businessmen and others, I kept breaking into hoots of laughter, trying to tell myself sternly that although it was all very enjoyable, it really is no joke.
Which I guess, brings me on to Klein’s solution, namely, the uprising of the peoples of this world against the indignities being perpetrated on them and their lands, just people, protesting, leaderless mobs, really, angry, confronting the batons, rifles and teargas of their masters. She takes us around the world from Canada to Greece, from Greece to India, from India back to the United States, and so on and on, revealing one horror after another, one official lie after another, one inanity after another in defence of what they are doing. She even includes an incredible quote from Barack Obama, the golden-tongued orator, a man of considerable understanding and intelligence, exulting in how much digging and shovelling and piping and interference with the processes of nature he has brought into play.
The Occupy movement that spread so irresistably around the world a couple of years ago occupies a central place in what seems to be this film’s recommended solutions. Unfortunately, the Occupies reached their sudden peak, and then, with the onset of winter, died away. It all reminds me of the social revolution, as it was called, that overcame the United States in the 1960s, as young people awoke from the torpor of the Eisenhower years, and threw off their respect for the timidity of their elders. The end of that was the election of Richard Nixon, a great triumph for revolution. You can’t help laughing.
All of this street protesting is great, I guess. Remember, more than a million people, maybe as many as three million, were in the streets protesting in advance of the decision to invade Iraq. Even that was not enough: they were simply ignored by an establishment that had made up its mind a year before to do the deed.
Similarly, this kind of protest is not new. As the late Howard Zinn shows in his marvellous Peoples History of the United States, ever since the republic was established there has been an active peoples’ opposition to the controls imposed by the elite to serve their own purposes, right from the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and this opposition has never ceased. Yet it has never succeeded either, because it has never found the way to challenge the political control of the wealth-owners and the politicians, institutions and information systems that are owned by them serve their interests.
It seems that only political action can take away the power controlled by these wealth-owners in every country in the world. Although this seems to me to be an old story --- I have lived longer than Ms. Klein, I guess, and seem to have always been confronted by these terrors --- there does seem to be one newish element in her solutions, namely local action, local political action, community-based action, but even that seems to be ideal only in confronting specific outbreaks of environmental horrors.
Anyone who doubts the determination of those who own wealth to hang on it it, and to the privilege of control that goes along with it, need only consider the tenacity with which the wealth-owners of Europe have been hanging on to what is theirs. The history of the Syriza uprising in Greece tells a melancholy story of an entrenched EU oligarchy refusing to abide any opposition within their neck of the woods. A story that has now been reinforced by the refusal in recent days of the President of Portugal to allow the dissenting socialist party that has won the biggest share of the seats, to take office.
He’s just saying no: you’re not allowed in, no matter what the voters say.
Of course, if there really was a world-wide political movement there might be some grounds for hope. It reminds me of what Arundhati Roy said in one of her surveys of world politics: The only thing about globalization that is worth supporting is the globalization of dissent.
I guess that is the dream of Ms Klein, too. A great coming together of all the forces of dissent around the world, to drive the hobgoblins who are, because of their greed and stupidity, preventing us from doing what we know has to be done to save the world from burning up.
Well, I guess, it is a hope of sorts. But it does seem a kind of long shot.