Tuesday, October 25, 2016

An Anti-Ecocidal Movement Needs Marginalized People

Today I read an essay on Patheos that just... ugh... it makes me cringe, because there's so many good things about it, and the author has a history of much better work, but the perspective just crashes and burns (mostly bridges, probably).  It's called "Who do you vote for at the (beginning of the) end of the world?"

First, I want to talk about what in this article really resonates with me, things that are really difficult to bring up because of the structure of the overall social justice movement.  Then I'll talk about some of the really gross stuff, and I'm sorry, but there's so much gross stuff.

Climate change and overall ecocide and environmental destruction are issues that I think should be more central to all social justice and political activism on the left.  This is because even if you're an entirely anthropocentric person it's important to recognize that there are key marginalized people who are disproportionately affected by this issue.  We talk about things like the deaths of polar bears and mass extinctions of other animals, but one thing we don't talk about a lot at all is that thousands upon thousands of humans--and they're largely marginalized humans--are also killed by climate change in the form of extreme overheating, drought, storms, crop failure.  Note:  This is not a future tense thing.  It is something happening right now.  Other environmental hazards also disproportionately affect marginalized people, from toxic water to noise and light pollution.  Not only is pollution more likely to be concentrated in places with more poor people, they also don't have the resources to leave.  And yes, if we don't work on environmental issues, there will be no livable world for anybody let alone marginalized people.  So I think Halstead has it right in centering ecocide.

Something that wasn't actually brought up, but which I think about often, is how ecocidal things are justified by talking about marginalized people's relationship with those things.  The biggest example was those damn Whole Foods pre-peeled oranges, which were brought up as an appalling example of waste before being shouted down by people insisting this is somehow an accessibility tool because not everybody can peel oranges.  There were two things I found entirely missed by this discussion.  The first is that it seemed to assume that encasing oranges in a non-reusable plastic package was the only possible way to facilitate accessibility in fruit.  The second was that it gave a lot of people the opportunity to be self-congratulatory about the fact that they would not buy such an absurd product who probably use things that are just as bad... the same packaging is used to encase much, much more than just oranges, and it's just as bad in those cases.  Basically, this was being complained about by people who probably aren't that deeply environmentally friendly to begin with.

The rest of this article is mostly about why Halstead is voting third party.  As I said back in February, I staunchly support people's right to vote third party without shame.  I don't always think people have great reasons, but the idea that only privileged people are "able" to do this is absurd.  The reality is much more complicated, with people both at the top of the privilege ladder and way at the bottom both feeling very little difference between the two primary candidates.  It always goes like this.  You have the privileged white dude types who don't see a difference because they're easily able to live approximately the same regardless of who is president, who get chewed out by the less-privileged people who proclaim that their voting choices are invalid because they are privileged, who are then chewed out by a group of people I don't think we talk about enough, those who are so underprivileged that their lives will be miserable under either a Democrat or a Republican and who rightfully seethe at the idea that their voting choices are based on privilege.  And regardless of people's reasons, it's a moral crime that Democrats can get away with behaving as though left-wing votes are inherently owned by them.

But then we hit this:
The best argument I have heard in favor of the “Clinton compromise” is that it is privileged to vote for a third-party candidate [link in original quote].  I can’t argue with that.  I’m white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered [sic], middle-class.  And so, a Trump presidency would be less disastrous for me personally than for women, people of color, etc.  So, yes, it is easier for me to overlook the evils of a Trump presidency.  And yet, I’m not convinced that my privileged position is a handicap in this election.
I'm pretty sure it is, but go on:
In fact, I think my privilege gives me a unique perspective: it enables me to look beyond the short term eclipse of human rights and focus the long term eclipse of human life.  That’s a terrible calculus, I know.  But on the one hand, we have Trump, who would terrorize women and people of color and who would continue policies that will lead to the end of life as we know it.  On the other hand, we have Clinton, who would do better for women and marginally better for people of color … and will continue policies that will lead to the end of life as we know it.
Here's where Halstead loses me, and actually to a degree makes my jaw just sit agape.  I agree so much with the analysis of the Democratic party as being ecocidal just as Republicans are, and how that will eventually lead to a collapse of the environment and by extension humanity that renders focus on human-on-human rights a moot point.  But the idea that this is a unique perspective that he's able to have because he's a white cishet middle class guy is miserably fucked up, like the height of ignorance in this statement makes my eyes bleed.

Halstead is able to say this shit because of the longstanding, bullshit belief that being a white cishet man makes you inherently impartial because you're not targeted racism, misogyny, et. al. and can pretend to be an emotionless robot about the ways these things deeply and disproportionately affect marginalized people.  This erases the work done especially by racial justice and indigenous rights groups that are informed precisely by the fact that they are not impartial to the issue.  High profile members of Black Lives Matter and similar groups--and entire chapters--have actively opposed climate change and the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Indigenous groups are at the forefront of climate justice in general, fighting against the destruction of the Amazon and the institution of projects that harm fragile ecosystems, release carbon, and destroy human life.

Yes, you have your Al Gores doing mass educational work, but this is an anomaly:  The distance white middle-class-plus cishet men have from the effects of global climate change are more likely to prevent them from doing anything (due to the perception that nothing is happening) than give them some magical ability to see the forest where most just focus on the trees.

Furthermore, and I brought this up earlier, how do you expect people to focus on the overall environment when they aren't experiencing any justice?  We can't assume that climate change is going to be fixed by just sending Democrats a message led by an army of white cishet dudes who are terribly ineffective at convincing anybody they aren't just irritated that a woman beat their favorite old white guy.  We need overall environmental and climate justice that seeks out non-ecocidal methods for giving marginalized people the ability to progress beyond the activist hierarchy of needs, and you absolutely cannot sit there implying that you're an impartial observer just because you personally aren't targeted by more imminent threats to your life.