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Lived Crisis vs. Systemic Crisis: Notes on a "New Narrative"

A New Narrative?

I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural narratives and, especially, the call for a new narrative that might guide modern society through a transition to a sustainable culture.  This narrative, we are told, needs to be compelling and, it is often emphasized, not too depressing or negative.  Be positive, keep it simple, lead with the good news and prospect of hope—and so the imperatives fly.

There is some good advice, here, but some problems as well.  These problems might become clear if we think about the topic more analytically.  For a new cultural narrative to be widely adopted it needs to do something for the public, whether it offers an explanation, solves a mystery, or provides a sense of affirmation.  In the rush to "do something" for an audience it is possible to ingore more difficult truths.  It is sometimes assumed, I think, that this new narrative can be created easily enough, with enough brain-storming and positive inspiration.  This is the way marketing campaigns work--or at least are thought to work within a culture increasingly modeling itself after some idealized view of inspiration and ingeniousness--the sort dramatized in Apple or Microsoft advertisements.  If incubated under the right conditions, or so the image goes, impassioned creatives can always produce the perfect new brand identity or advertising campaign if, of course, they are working with a decent enough product. 

 In a way that I find disturbing, I have often enough heard the boards or leaders of non-profit organizations, or serious activists, think about things according to the same sort of marketing-speak.  What better “product” than continued life on the Earth could there possibly be, after all?  All we need to do is mix together enough enthusiasm and inspiration, and a dash of authentic community (warmed up with a few yoga poses, perhaps), and we’ll find our new narrative and rebrand our movement for success.

 I think this is to underestimate the depth of the problem and the difficulty of the solution.  Sustainability, except when proposed as a green fantasy, requires difficult choices and the acceptance of counter-intuitive truths.  Even though the “intuition” that needs to be challenged, here, is the illusory product of a perilous ideology, this ideology is also the result of immense work and investment, and has secured its authority by seizing with its shoots and vines nearly every aspect of modern being with its twenty-four hour a day system of dependencies and ceaseless drumbeat of messaging.  Because the change from a modern mind-set bent entirely on growth, expansion, competition, and accumulation will be difficult on so many levels, a suitable transitional narrative will be equally difficult and complex.  Simple narratives, in contrast, are putting themselves at the ready for what Marxists used to call “reappropriation”— the greening of corporate America, organic produce at Walmart, a political revolution sponsored by MSNBC, reheated hash warmed up with another spin in the microwave, and all the other freshly coifed abjection that will pave the road to ecological ruin.  

 A new narrative will need to be prickly enough to resist easy appropriation, yet warm and fuzzy enough to draw people in; difficult and rigorous in its concepts to make it relatively slogan-proof, yet accessible enough to engage a distracted people.   Such a narrative may turn out to be a supreme fiction.  But perhaps not.  At the very least, it may be worth considering in greater detail some of the challenges that lie ahead. 

Lived Crisis/Systemic Crisis

As part of this sort of consideration, I’m reminded of a distinction from Marxist cultural analysis between lived crisis and systemic crisis.[i]  And while Marx’s own attempt to resolve this tension didn’t work out so well, the tension and contradiction still remains and deserves some attention in our potentially radical moment, today.

A lived crisis refers to the most direct apprehension of drastic change or danger experienced by a people, often as a mass phenomenon.  Lived crises might include the bread shortages that sparked the Russian Revolution and so many since; police or military brutality are another kind; there are other, perhaps less dramatic, kinds of lived crisis, as well—like widespread unemployment or layoffs, triple digit inflation, growing wealth inequality, or long and drawn out foreign wars that take the lives of too many of a nation’s sons and now daughters.  For Marx, lived crisis referred to the misery and alienation of the industrial worker, perhaps best described by Engels in his The Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844.  A lived crisis refers to the events and conditions that start protests, spark unrest, precipitate a riot, and in some cases lead to a revolution.  It is difficult to imagine a mass revolution that is not in some sense connected to a lived crisis.  Cold abstractions and structural contradictions do not move many people to action, unless they are hungry, cold, or humiliated as well.

There are, however, problems with the lived crisis as the initiator of change.  The feeling of alienation, even the unmistakable condition of deprivation, does not always explain where the crisis originates, why it has happened, and therefore how it might be addressed.  In Capital, Marx writes about the way early industrial workers attacked the machines themselves mistaking the wood and iron in front of them for the cause of their suffering and displacement. “It took both time and experience before workpeople learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital and to direct their attacks, not against the material instruments of production, but against the mode in which  they are used” (404).  But even then, they were not fully able to understand the systemic crises of capitalism, nor its increasingly destructive cycle “of moderate activity, prosperity, over-production, crisis and stagnation” (427).

 Capitalism, in other words, was a complex system with economic, historical, anthropological, and ideological elements, and it needed to be addressed on a systemic level in a way that could be understood only with significant study and reflection.  There is a good bit of writing in Marx’s oeuvre directed towards utopian socialists and leaders of other radical or progressive movements who did not understand capitalism as a system.  Often in Marx’s sights, as well, were the bourgeois economists who insisted that economic crises could be averted “if production were carried on according to the textbooks” and their theories.  These economists, Marx noted, ignored the way “the contradictions and antagonisms of bourgeois production are strikingly revealed” in economic crises, and thus fail to consider examine the broader capitalist system and its “conflicting elements” (Grundrisse, 443-4).

The challenge, of course, is this: if it takes a life-long study of history, Hegelian dialectics, and the workings of capitalism at a level exceeding that of the most notable economists of the day, how could the would-be revolutionary insure that the lived crisis bringing the masses into the street would be guided towards the true source of power and control?  How, for that matter, could there be any confidence that the would-be revolutionary would, himself [sic], truly understand the system causing the lived crisis?   As anyone who has spent time in activist circles can see, those often most inclined to action, and most adept at leading it, can often be impatient with the complexities that they are likely to face.  History, culture, economics, and the possibilities and limits of human organization are exceedingly complex and difficult to understand and accept.  Sufficient undestanding is almost always jeopardized by the clever slogans that excite the crowds.

Marx’s solution to this gap between the lived crisis and systemic crisis was elegant, a well-wrought dialectical urn; but history also tells us that it did not work.  Led by Hegelian wishful thinking, Marx believed that the progressive logic of history would resolve this contradiction.  More specifically, Marx believed that as the means of production developed to a certain point, what Marx refers to as “the decisive hour,” the industrial proletariat’s lived crisis would cross paths and join up with the systemic crisis driving that lived crisis.  As he put it in The German Ideology, “this ‘estrangement’ . . . can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises.  For it to become an ‘intolerable’ power, i.e. a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity ‘propertyless,’ and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture” (161).  Marx can be inconsistent and vague about how this would all work and what role the intellectual cognizant would play as the lived crisis of “intolerable power” came within view of the systemic “contradictions in the existing world of wealth and culture.”  Would the proletariat actually understand the nuances of the systemic crisis by virtue of its experience and objectified labor?   Or would simply following its members' interests and alleviating their complaints perform the necessary destructive and reconstructive work without a deep conceptual understanding of the movement of history and the contradictions of capitalism?  In either event, the proletariat would become a revolutionary class and its historically inevitable response to suffering and alienation would address the lived and systemic crisis in one fell swoop, when the time was right. 

Many lessons might be drawn from the failure and eventual tyranny of the Russian or Chinese revolutions, as well as all too many others.  But, it is safe to say, this convergence of lived crisis and systemic crisis did not occur in the way Marx had predicted.  Despite the political failures, Marxism continued to struggle on. One of the reasons Marxism was able to survive as a social philosophy and system of analysis has to do with the way cultural tensions like lived vs. systemic crisis remain unresolved and continued to maintain a nightmarish power over subsequent political orders, including our present political moment.

The Ascension of the Lived Crisis

Although the substantial failure, and terrors, of most Communist revolutions forced Marxists to rethink a whole host of concepts, the more agonizing blow to Communist optimism was the rise of Fascism and National Socialism.  This showed Marxists and Marx-influenced thinkers that the proletariat could, in fact, be the most reactive and conservative class, especially in the face of a lived crisis.  Instead of a unified international class with a single set of interests and motivations, working people had heterogeneous and often conflicting wants and, perhaps more significantly, identities and allegiances.  Race, nationality, a sense of historical destiny or entitlement—all of these could move the worker to all sorts of action.  Marxist thinkers were often right, in my estimation, to see many of these allegiances as the result of manipulation performed on the tired, hungry, and bewildered; other schools of thought were apt to see these allegiances and identities as a reflection of personal will, individual desires, and temporary lapses of self-interest. But either way, there would be no revolutionary class that might transcend ideology or speak for humanity as a whole.

The most thoughtful Marxists and post-Marxists in the post-war period were therefore devoted to asking how National Socialism and the Holocaust could have happened in the heart of Enlightened Europe, and what to do with the still apt Marxist analysis of culture and ideology, even in the absence of a plausible political solution.[ii]  The notion of systemic crises, or at least systemic oppression and alienation, as one example, still loomed large.  Perhaps there was to be no revolutionary class, but if there was at least to be a resistant class, the (university employed) Marxist social critic seemed one of the few remaining options.  And if the stakes were now somewhat lower in post-war Europe and America they they had been in earlier times, there remained ongoing concerns: political and economic power and control, as well as many remaining obstacles to human emancipation, could still be identified in large systems and their ideologies.  The best that Marxist critics could hope for, however, was to impart some of their critical sense to the bourgeois aspirants who might cross their paths on the way to a liberal arts education.

It is in this context worth comparing and contrasting the Liberal response to Stalin, Hitler, and the other rogue’s gallery of revolutionary leaders, to the Marxist response.  Outside of the University, in the world of “real” politics and in much progressive activism, the idea of systemic crisis has more or less surrendered to the Liberal acceptance of lived crisis as the only plausible measure of political change.  Beating a retreat back to Adam Smith, Liberal society has held that there are no systemic crises, or if there are, following Smith, there is nothing we can do about them except make them worse.[iii]  Rather, just as there is individual desire, want, and self-interest, so also there is individual suffering.  The best politics we can possibly hope for addresses both by granting sovereignty to the individual and accepting that each individual can pursue happiness and explain successes and failures however he or she sees fit.  There is no system to fix, only individuals to help.

In response to Stalinism and the subsequent path of the Soviet orbit, the Liberal correctly notes that allegiance to a rigid belief in a certain kind of system might result in a whole host of new lived-crises, ones far worse than the democratically governed worker in Europe and North America was suffering at the same time.  When it comes to the alleviation of cruelty, few political philosophies can match Invidual Liberalism. In response to National Socialism, the Liberal held that when democracy was given a chance, people would prosper, and that when people prosper and are free they are also immune to the demagoguery of ultra-nationalism and other forms of tribalist hate.  With the prospect, then, of Keynesian control over economic crises, a Pax Americana could put an end to the sort of lived crisis that caused workers to revolt in the first place.  The Liberal free market system was as good a system as humans could hope for, and with its self-correcting abilities almost anything could be bettered through evolution and reform—or so the story goes as the Liberal dreams of permanent progress and the "end of history."

The End of Pax Americana and the Return of the Systemic Crisis

Unfortunately, this Pax Americana is coming to an end, and again for reasons illuminated by the gap between lived crisis and systemic crisis.  Lived crises are flaring across the globe.  There is of course the terrible conflict in Syria and the refugee crisis in a Europe which in turn is revealing old fracture lines.  The entire Middle East faces an uncertain future with a burgeoning population but few prospects and plenty of reason to lash out.  This unrest is creeping south into Africa, where old civil wars risk escalation with new strategies of terrorism.  In South America governments are on the verge of toppling, while in North America, one of the world’s most stable political system is becoming the side show of a cheap and tawdry circus.  Meanwhile, the Earth grows hotter and crucial agricultural breadbaskets are alternatively swept by floods and baked by droughts.  Sea levels are rising, hurricanes and typhoons increasingly batter islands and coastal areas.  But try as hard as Liberalism does to calm and heal an unsettled and anxious world, mainly by encouraging more freedom and prosperity, such an approach is unlikely to succeed.  Why?  Because all these lived crises are indicative of a systemic breakdown that Liberalism cannot comprehend.  It cannot comprehend this breakdown not only because Liberalism does not trade in the currency of the systemic, but also because this is a crisis in the Liberal system.

As I have elsewhere written, Liberalism is dependent on constant expansion and growth.  The freedom to compete and the promise of increased opportunity is able to provide the social glue for a relatively stable and peaceful global order only if enough people can come out winners in Liberalism’s various contests and only if the promise of more and better remains credible. The Liberal focus on lived crisis was possible only as long as its system could maintain its growth and thus its growing affluence, freedom, and opportunity.  But of course this can only go on for so long on a finite planet.  What, then, if the lived crises shaking the globe are largely a result of the mother of all systemic crises—the breakdown of our global ecology as industrial expansion hurls itself unknowingly at the limits of growth?  We live in a world, after all, which uses a year and a half worth of renewable natural resources each and every year.  It is as if we are spending a year’s income in about eight months, and then wonder why times are so tough.  Our key fuels and minerals are difficult and more expensive to dig from the ground, and it requires increased levels of high-risk debt to undertake their retrieval.   We spend more energy and money each year chasing the growing cost of severe weather events.  There is, of course, the psychological stress of declining opportunities and dashed hopes, or the political trauma of national humiliation.  But remove those and it is still possible to relate our various lived crises to the decline of our previous hyper-abundance.   We live according to a global order that requires growth, but growth in increasingly unobtainable.  Ours is an ecologically unsustainable system.  Unsustainable means “cannot be sustained.”  When things cannot be sustained they breakdown.  They stop working.   But as long as we focus exclusively on the lived crisis as apprehended by the sovereign individual, and not the overall system-failure, we will only see the surface wreckage, will try to kick-start the machines right in front of us, will lash out at those within immediate reach, or curse the gods or government for our run of bad luck.  In the focus on the lived crisis there is little understanding.

As I have suggested in my discussion of Marx, people in the midst of a lived crisis are often unable to see the broader system.  Indeed, the turmoil and distress of a crisis make it all the more difficult to pause and examine the wider inter-workings of things.  Liberalism may be the best system ever devised to address lived crises—at least of a certain kind.  But with its emphasis on the perception and immediate wants of the individual, a Liberal and free-market world view has little ability to comprehend the whole and the interconnection of its parts.  Liberalism shies away from abstraction and any larger system that requires society-wide planning; its voters reject any sacrifice that might create so much as a minor discomfort in their lived world.  It is largely unequipped to deal with long-term problems with no immediate or apparent effects on the voting public or on the marketeers working ceaselessly to spin a profitable story out of each and every lived crisis.  As cruel and inept as the Bashar government in Syria is, it did not cause the drought and Syria’s subsequent agricultural collapse, any more than American wages have stagnated at the hands of Mexican immigrants.  Yet these are the events on the ground that move people to action—and action, in many cases, as misdirected as the early industrial workers were when attacking factory machines.  The deeper and more painful the lived crisis, the further the systemic breakdown seems to recede from view.

When put into a global perspective, the failure of wages in American to keep growing is hardly a crisis (though the contrast between lower and middle wage-earners and the wealthier part of society is unfair and inimical to a well-functioning society).  But this long-term stagnation is playing itself out with many of the features of a long drought or a quickly unrolling economic collapse.  The Presidential campaign of Donald Trump provides a glimpse into some of the dynamics we can expect when a lived crisis becomes disconnected from all sense of systematic fractures.  For among his followers, the feeling of a lived crisis is alive and well, fueled and stoked by Trump’s outrageous and simplistic belligerence.  Here we see angry and visceral responses to systemic global problems having to do, in part, with the limits to growth—as if punching someone in the face will help “make America great again.”  Trump’s is a campaign of categorically anti-systemic thinking, directed towards those in the U.S. perhaps most visibly shaken by complex and far-reaching systemic changes, but also among the least likely to face the personal discrimination they seem focused on.  These systemic convulsions are recast in Trump’s choreographed babble as the most simple drama of good guys vs. bad guys (as history reveals, the “good guys” in such dramas are often among the greatest barbarians).  Trump’s penchant for conspiracy theories is not coincidental, but is part of his resistance to system-thinking, whether this resistance is real or part of his persona.   His mean focus on immigrants, Muslims, and the weak and powerless provides a real person upon whom the distress and bewilderment of his followers is projected.  Comparisons to Hitler, as such comparisons usually do, contain a degree of hyperbole.  But in this they are the same: a lived crisis provides the foothold into mass manipulation and the pursuit of power.  Neither can survive a systemic world view.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign offers another valuable illustration of this point.  I have written frequently about Sanders, and usually with the caveat that I like many things about the man and his proposed policies—the desire to take money out of politics, to share more equally in our wealth, the underlying belief that government can be a more caring force than cutthroat business.  But, like us all, he is a child of his time and his place and his popularity is highly indicative of the same sort of lived crisis fueling the Trump campaign, and—it may surprise many to hear me say it—the same sort of exclusion of structural and systemic thinking. 

For years, Democrat activists have been calling for Democratic candidates to follow the Republican formula for success.  As Obama describes it, these include vilifying, using wedge issues, exaggerating, oversimplifying and dumbing down political debate (The Audacity of Hope 39-40).  To put it another way, there has been a call to find a simple and direct narrative that will appeal to the public’s sense of fear, anxiety, and outrage, its expectations, and, it is true, some sense of unity and hope.  The national media has added to this pressure by judging campaigns in terms of their narratives, criticizing those candidates who haven’t yet “found theirs.”

Although perhaps not immediately apparent, Bernie Sanders has answered that call.  Part of his effectiveness is that he has tapped into the lived “crisis” of people like me and most of my readers—people who, among other things, believe themselves to be immune to simplistic thinking and the power of a simple message that dramatizes American politics in simple terms.  When I have presented this argument to Sanders supporters, their immediate response is, “no, this isn’t the message of his campaign.”  But they have a difficult time finding much complexity or a story that goes beyond the pseudo-systemic narrative of Wall Street and the banking system vs. the beleaguered middle class.  To say that Sanders’ supporters, many of whom share some key demographic similarities with me and my immediate cohort, are facing a lived crisis is both true but pathetic.  True, our lives do not have the prosperity and opportunity that we were promised.  This is even more acutely true for those who are in college or have recently entered the job market with a humanities or liberal arts education.  But when put in either a global or historic perspective, most Americans, and especially those with middle-class credentials and social passports, are among the most secure, wealthy, and privileged of humans—at least for now.

But that’s the thing about lived crises.  They appeal to one’s feelings and senses about themselves and the world around them and, importantly, without questioning them, without demanding a broader perspective or careful reflection.  To the extent that Sanders does talk about the lives, experiences, and prospects of Americans from the perspective of the systems in which we live, he employs a simple and limited system in which it is possible to insert a villain just upstream from we the victims.  Middle-America, he says, has been victimized by a “rigged” economy and Wall Street “greed.”  Both “rigged” and “greed” are part of a grammar of motives based on individual malfeasance.  Their use suggests that our “system” can be fixed if we dispose of or reeducate the bankers and the politicians who live in their pockets.  While it is true that Sanders' broader call for campaign reform adds some substance to this little morality play, his narrative does nothing to educate the electorate about the beliefs we all share—our adherence to an instrumental reasoning with which we are all encouraged to pursue whatever we want and taught how to do it.  It leaves untouched the web of interconnections between our use of energy, our history of conquest and exploitation and the benefits it has provided for people of European descent.  It tells us that we are correct to expect more and promises to give it.  The expectations for continued growth, prosperity, and material opportunity that Sanders’ followers passionately maintain are as much a part of our failing and lethal global system as are the Wall Street values they officially negate.  Sanders provides the sort of direct and rousing narrative that activists have demanded and this, of course, is what we get—another appeal to a lived sort of crisis with little perspective on the systemic crisis that could do us all in.

A New Narrative

Sanders (as we know him) is of course part of a Presidential election, and while we might hope for more, we shouldn’t expect it.  But, recall, I am not talking about how to run a Presidential campaign, but am more interested in the sort of narrative that sustainability activists employ.  The same applies to my talk about revolution earlier in this discussion.  I am not trying to plan a revolution, here, but am looking to revolutions past because of the way they make their appeal and position an audience.

Just as a successful revolution must combine a sense of lived crisis with the guidance of a systemic understanding of things, so too must a new narrative that results in real and substantive change bridge this gap in understanding and comprehension.  This is a tall order, especially with so much in our culture directed towards people’s narrow feelings and perceptions about themselves with entire industries devoted to telling everyone how correct their intuitions are.  A new narrative must weave and interlace the disappointments embedded in lived crisis with the deeper understanding from systemic ones; it must help translate people’s feelings and perceptions into an understanding of a global social, economic, and natural ecology.  And it must do so in a way that people trained to believe there are no limits to what they can have and do are able to accept and embrace a life with much, much less.

This will not be a simple narrative, filled only with the mush of heart, friendship, and enthusiasm.  It requires a grand and painful reckoning as well.  Two recent narratives that have, to my mind, fulfilled these criteria are Rob Hopkins’ Transition Handbook and Pope Francis’ On Care for our Common Home.  Both are brilliantly balanced documents.  Both lead off with a strong and unrelenting articulation of our systemic crisis, which is then used as context or metanarrative to explain the misery and frustration and unfulfilled lives of the richest and poorest alike. 

Both documents also avoid another pitfall explained by the distinction between lived and systemic crisis.  Zealous adherents of a new systemic understanding of reality can become indifferent to the suffering and realities of real people, easy enough to do when their explanations seem so misguided or when they are following a path of division and cruelty.  The “great” revolutionary leaders of our time have all come to believe that their broader story (and their own centrality within it) are more significant than the lives of the people, a tendency equally alive (if less perilous) in many works of philosophy, analysis, and criticism.  By virtue of their beliefs and practices, both Hopkins and the Pope maintain a direct concern for the individual and the people.  Both Transition and the current Pope’s version of faith are movements of kindness, in which the lived crisis remains central, where humility is part of a spiritual discipline, and the perspectives of all are treated with respect.

The only problem with the balanced approach of Hopkins and the Pope is their relatively limited appeal.  Their writing requires focus, discipline, and thought.  They do not create a visceral reaction for most people, but, in fact, remain largely beyond immediate comprehension for many.  The Handbook was presented with an expectation of a mass movement (I know that was my initial hope) but it has moved thousands, rather than millions or billions, to take action in the garden or at the local market.  There is always talk about broadening the appeal, of leading with the hope and promise rather than the more difficult truths.  It needs new branding some might say, a more compelling story.  I cannot and will not sit here and say, “no, this is a bad idea.”  Because it is in fact a legitimate dilemma.  But I will sit here (and stand there) and insist that the risks of simplification are real, and that the desire for broader appeal can erode the difficult landscape of truth into the gentle scenery of desire.  To “politicize” such movements, making them campaign-ready, would need to be done with the utmost care and lowest expectations for popular success.  Otherwise the desire for votes will overcome rigor and discipline.

I would, however, like to close on a hopeful note.  If any difficult narrative has a chance of success, it is an ecological one.  Although untangling ourselves from current ones about the desirability and possibility of permanent growth and progress will take some work, as will dealing with the backlash and counter-reactions.  And figuring out new ways of organizing ourselves and our politics is no small matter either.  But the story of human dependence and interconnection on and to the earth and its natural systems is not, on the face of it, overly complex—nor, for that matter, is the story of human and earthly limits and the reality of a finite planet.

Our current stories of infinity and limitlessness may, in fact, be conceptually more difficult.  Although humans seem to gravitate towards simple narratives, exceptions abound.  The belief, for instance, brought to us by Ronald Reagan, that lower taxes will increase tax revenue involves more conceptual steps than the opposite one.  Similarly, the idea that we can have more consumption while using fewer resources is far less intuitively straightforward than the truth of the matter--that such “decouplings” (as economists call them) are relative and temporary.  The idea that a people might be saved by a simple carpenter's son or that a single God is composed of a trinity at once separate and indistinguishable are also complex and offer abstract and postponed rewards when compared to many alternative.  In each case, of course, the narrative had some sort of appeal.  With Reagan’s “supply side” voodoo economics or the “decoupling” story, the appeal is obvious, and the antecedents in Liberal technological society are apparent; for the Christian one, these may be less so.  But in any event, with enough incentive and appeal, humans certainly have the capacity to wade through difficult concepts and accept new forms of intuition.  Perhaps a new revolutionary class will organize itself by building bridges from lived crisis to systemic crises, and back again.

In outline, a new ecological story of transition will need to include elements of hope and promise, as well as real and potential pain and suffering.  It will need to provide a new cosmology, an understanding of the way the world fits together and works.  It will need a theory of human motivation, perhaps a “theory of power” and an understanding of the way ideology works.  For those living in wealthy and powerful societies, it may require elements of confession, a plea for forgiveness, a path towards redemption.  Like individual psychotherapy, a difficult cultural narrative can unravel old stories, weaving new ones out of many of the same threads.  But this is not simple cultural or narratival work, nor will it be confined only to the stories we tell.  As The Transition Movement has articulated, it will also require works and deeds.  A difficult and painful pathology does not find healing in the quick and simple slogans of pop-psychology and nor will a cultural transition find its way if led by pop-philosophy and pop-theology.

What I am saying here may amount to a plea for complexity and a steadfast commitment to difficulty.  Let us hold our ground and make minimal sacrifices for the sake of extensive appeal alone.  Let us be patient, even in the face of impending emergency.  The only other option, I believe, is tyranny or destruction or both.

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