Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Future We Have

(And the Presence We Need)
at Rio+20

by Quincy Saul
Spring 2012

(This article first appeared on The Africa Report.)

The world system is in universal crisis but a salvage operation appears to be underway. The latest exercise in PR for human civilization, as we know it, will be launched in a few months at the Rio+20 world summit on sustainable development. It commemorates 20 years since the first world conference on this subject in 1992.

While all indications of socio-political unraveling and ecological collapse accelerate beyond the most pessimistic predictions, hopes that the meeting in Rio will turn things around are staggeringly high.

The UN document "The Future We Want", prepared to inspire unity for Rio, is a shining example of these hopes. It highlights many noble and laudable goals. Unfortunately, the document and the hopes it represents are completely delusional. As John Robinson says, "we live in our heads. We live in storyland".

The fact that 20 years of humanitarian and environmental rhetoric has presided over one of the most brutal and destructive periods in human history cannot be acknowledged, as this would raise too many uncomfortable questions. So, instead, the rhetoric is simply amplified. Workers, women, indigenous, and even "rights of nature" are put to work in this document to inspire us into submission to the delusional hope that reality can be spun as easily as words.

The UN document decries in heartfelt terms the poverty and crisis that defines the world today. In this it is very effective at generating our sympathies. But as Oscar Wilde noted a long time ago, "it is easier to have sympathy with suffering than with thought." Where sympathy with suffering may inspire a superficial unity, thought forces us to inquire into the sources of suffering. If real unity is our goal, thought and not pity will have to guide us. Otherwise we will wind up with a kind of unity which, to paraphrase Nietzsche, may appear deep but is not even superficial.

If the UN document is any indication, superficial unity will be the name of the game for Rio+20. The poverty and ecological disasters of the last 20 years are defined here as anomalous "setbacks" and "interrelated crises." Never mind that it has been well and widely known and recognized since the 19th century that poverty and crisis are normal, predictable conditions of the capitalist mode of production. This of course cannot be mentioned. So instead we must resort to the clinically insane hope that voluntary actions on the part of the 1% will somehow transform the fundamental dynamics of the last several centuries.

Buried in the politically correct rhetoric is a barbaric kernel: "We welcome the outcome of COP17 at Durban and look forward to the urgent implementation of all the agreements reached." For those who haven't been paying attention, this outcome and these agreements ensure that no action to reduce carbon emissions will be taken until 2020. The result is premeditated genocide against the global South. Perhaps the UN cronies who wrote about the future they want should stroll down memory lane, and read the UN reports from the recent past about the consequences of these "welcome outcomes."

Increasingly we must resort to clinical psychiatric terminology to describe the mindset that characterizes this kind of thinking and behavior. How can we describe these high hopes for Rio, other than as delusional and schizophrenic? "We don't live in the real world, but live only in the world we imagine," says David Maggs.

Even FOX news seems to know better than the UN when it comes to Rio+20, describing it as "something like a global Green Woodstock, this time enhanced on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube."

Unfortunately, the conference in Rio is not just a joke. The principal goal of the global 1% in Rio will be to marry biodiversity, sustainability and all things green to capitalism, through the framework of the "Green Economy". Their goal is to renegotiate the principles of sustainable development to include big business and Wall Street as leaders. Given the lack of organized opposition, they are likely to succeed in these predictably catastrophic goals.

Regardless of the future we want, this is the future we have. Unless – and this is our only hope – a force from outside the ruling consensus shatters the illusion that there is any hope for this world system, and begins to organize itself around systemic alternatives.

This is the presence we need – not in symbolic protests and rallies – but in a revolutionary mass uprising. This uprising must both bury capitalism and fertilize a system capable of preserving biodiversity and democracy. I would call this ecosocialism, but the task of defining a sane civilization requires an international struggle. Unfortunately this is not what is on the table for Rio+20.

A few of those who are going to Rio in June know this, and they are going to build alliances and networks, preparing for the global united front against capitalism, which is humanity's and nature's only hope. But until these revolutionaries stop chasing the 1% around the world to their sham conferences and build their own autonomous bases of resistance and production, the future we really need will remain an opposite but mirror image of the delusional hopes for Rio+20.

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