"The times are urgent; let us slow down." (Plus, my poem "Nightmare")
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“With climate action, climate justice, and sustainability, there is a somewhat subtle reductionism that is at work here. We are trying to frame the unframeable.
We're dealing with something that is, in my calculations, fundamentally incalculable. It is unframeable.
It is something that calls for a shapeshift—not for a resolution or solutions, or technological or techno-bureaucratic deletions, or funding.
It is an invitation to stop in our tracks and feel—like failure is the gift that we are looking for right now.” –Bayo Akomolafe via Green Dreamer EP317.
Observing all that has been happening at and around COP26, I am bursting with conflicting emotions.
I, at once, feel that I have so much to say, and at the same time, I feel incoherent. I, at once, feel that I have so many learnings I wish to pour out in one giant word vomit, and at the same time, I feel that I do not know anything anymore.
But I am finding solace and affirmations in “post-activism” as conceptualized by Dr. Bayo Akomolafe—whose work has helped me to feel like I have a home in the in-between, in being a metaphorical fugitive.
So I am focusing today's post on the wisdoms he's shared with me. And I'm dedicating this to those, who, like me, may feel lost, who are tired, who know intuitively that our current “solutions” are not it and yet still do not have the answers—those who dwell in a space of inquiry more than defined absolutes.
Notice the forms, not what's being said
At the most superficial level, I took Bayo's message to notice our crisis in form to examine how COP26 itself has been taking shape. As I first shared to Instagram:
“For anyone attending COP26 and similar events or who are observing, I encourage not focusing on what's being said (talk is cheap), but notice especially the *form*.
In this case, the exclusivity, elitism, hierarchy, access (blue zone, green zone, whatever zones), social ladder climbing, branded everything, shiny displays and objects, overpriced food, overworked personnel…
All of this speaks louder than any of what's actually being said.”
Gearing up for the event, the climate summit's policing bill was estimated to be £250 million—noted as the largest mobilization of police officers in the UK.
It's almost as if the political leaders knew that there would be increasing numbers of protests against their evident failures. Rather than listening to and engaging with the responses, they have chosen, instead, to increase the policing budget in order to suppress potential uprisings and to keep people in line.
There will be many news reports written about what's promised, what's discussed, what new targets have been set. Maybe the commitments will seem bold and ambitious. Maybe they will be celebrated.
But we cannot forget that most of the past agreements have been both subpar to begin with, then unmet. We don't have time for the abusive relationship of lies, manipulation, and false promises to continue. We don't have time—yet we must slow down.
“The times are urgent; let us slow down.
Slowing down is losing our way—not a human capacity or human capability. It is the invitations that are now in the world-at-large, inviting us to listen deeply, to be keen, to be fresh, to be quick with our heels, to follow the sights and sounds and smells of the world.” –Bayo Akomolafe via Green Dreamer.
So let's go deeper. With radical tenderness, let's hold a compassionate mirror in front of ourselves.
The violence of inclusivity politics
The following excerpts on the violence of a politics of recognition will likely be challenging for many to sit with.
“The trouble with the shadow of seeking recognition might just be neatly articulated by that old, supposedly Chinese saying, I think.
There are three curses. The first one is, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ The second curse, growing in intensity, is, ‘May you be seen and recognized by the king and the empire.’ And the final one is, ‘May you get what you want.’
Many people will not take them as curses.
But there is a risk in being saved, because once you are included, you behave, you are entrapped, and incarcerated within the systems that you've bought into.
We've lost sight of the violence of inclusion. Inclusion is no less violent than exclusion.
To be included is to give up our names, something, just to be seen. Recognition is not to be beheld; it is to be reformulated in ways that are acceptable to a dominant force. So there’s something lost in the act of recognition…
And that is not to belittle the politics that seeks justice; that is not to dismiss those heartfelt, passionate attempts to find a place for us within white modernity.” –Bayo Akomolafe via Green Dreamer.
What might we lose in the process of fighting for a seat at the table, for the mic, to be included, to be seen? And what dynamics might we even inadvertently help to calcify through our actions intended to dismantle oppressive relationships?
Are we reinforcing the power structures we hope to compost through our activism?
As Dr. Akomolafe notes:
“The heroes of climate change, such as Greta Thunberg, are appealing to our conscience to do something about climate change. But that doing seems to always move and flow back to the institutionalized places of power—nation-states, legislative houses, giant corporations.
But it is increasingly visible that the status quo does not know how to address this phenomenon—that all our forms of organization today, all our frameworks, do not know how to embrace this monster called climate change or climate collapse.
So appealing to these powers only reinforces the same paradigms of death and demise.”
He elaborated more within our interview:
“A politics of recognition is conservative in that it seeks to reinforce and reinscribe the same, old patterns.
When we're seeking out, anchoring, and grieving for climate justice, we're still dealing with the same powers. We're gathering at the foot of the nation-state, seeking giant corporations to be more responsible. We're giving them legitimacy and saying, ‘You have the power, so do something about this.’
It's almost like we take these forms without knowing them. Protests tend to look like long, linear lines, heading towards where power is.
I think there is more power available—queer power available. So this is why I talk about fugitivity.
There are other kinds of moves we can make that aren't about reinforcing these humanist, exceptionalist measures.
That is not to say that there is some pure way out. And I'm not trying to make some kind of strict, binary configuration here.
We will seek justice, we will pay our bills, we will still need to do gigs, podcasts, do courses, use Zoom, use Facebook.
But there is another kind of activity, maybe supplementary politics, that is ongoing, that is about resuscitating the agency of grieving. There is another kind of work that brings us to meet the world in a new way that gives us permission to fail—like to follow our poop.
This is the ongoing framing that I call post-activism, or what you might think of as post-disaster spirituality.
What do we do after we fall? What do we do when we can no longer have hope? Or what do we do when hope becomes toxic because it leads us back on the highway?
Then we need to find ways of creating a cartographical project that honors failure, that honors desires, that looks for other beings to meet us halfway.
But unless we do that, we'll be stuck in repetition and cyclicity.”
The thread I want to pull through from here is the fact that those “in power” do not have the answers. In fact, most of them have been drunk on domination, disassociated from our interconnectedness, and disillusioned by dehumanizing notions of “progress” and “success”.
Even giving them the benefit of the doubt, that a few of them may be uncorrupted by industry interests, we still need the reality check that they, as most of us were as well, have been programmed to hold certain disoriented beliefs and values about what societal “advancement” means. Plus, the political machine works as a sort of filter—those who do not agree with the nation-state's core values and visions would likely not end up in control.
With these things in mind, with this feeling that there is no adult in the room of the mess, perhaps we need to decenter our focus from begging at the feet of those who clearly do not know what they're doing nor what is actually necessary to address our collective ailment.
Beyond strategic direct actions aimed at gaining leverage or halting extraction, how might we re-align ourselves with power elsewhere that we actually would want to turn to for guidance forward, and how might we center the wisdoms that lie in the more mature cultures and more-than-human communities of our world?
What if we (people and activists who can do so) dug our hands in the dirt and learned to revive our skills, knowledges, and intuitions to live in relation with each of our own bioregional landscapes right where we are—helping render our communities’ reliance on energy-intensive, destructive, centralized systems obsolete?
And consider this: If those in control of our governments, tomorrow, magically ended all forms of extraction and shut down all corporate monopolies and their global supply chains, what would we do to rebuild decentralized systems to meet our basic needs? And how might we begin to crack and shift our power structures if we reclaimed our agency to accelerate that sort of grassroots work, collaborating inter-communally and across arbitrary borders, starting now?
The exploitative power of mega-corporations actually is being upheld by our globalized economy’s dependency on them—regardless of the unjust history of how this reality was materialized. If we do not dig our own hands in to reimagine and recreate place-based networks and communities—which is just not the role of those “in power”—then we place ourselves in a position to go from helplessness and dependency on one centralized system to the next.
Finding other ways of being in power
We, collectively, have never faced the monstrosity of Earth's fever, aches, and chills before in this same way—while at the same time feeling trapped in a speeding train that's gone off the rails.
No one knows the way out—or what unexpected openings may emerge. And this is why remaining a sense of humility is of utmost importance.
Even with all of my critiques, I do not have the answers—as again, I operate from a space of questioning, queering, and deconstructing, more than I do with an intention to prop up any particular ideology or solution.
There are many pathways towards transformation. They can and must be worked on simultaneously. At the same time, honest discussions and reflections—on what has not worked or may just replicate our patterns of domination and destruction in new forms—are necessary.
For me, post-activism has offered a safe space for me to remain in the not knowing, to be okay with being lost, and to feel strangely affirmed in my hopelessness. It's been an invitation to deepen my awareness, sense of being, and the ways I am embodying change at every level.
But since its messages can feel abstract, as it rekindles our other ways of knowing that have largely been suppressed, I'll leave us off with some guidance from Bayo:
“Fugitivity, and rejecting the human, is about losing our way, meeting the world in a way that hacks that algorithm.
What does the human, as in the city, as in the nation-state, invite us to do? What does it invite us to notice? And then how do we notice differently?
This is how I want to invite this post-humanist politics—hopefully, an emancipatory politics of acting that goes beyond the tropes that we're used to.
As Marisol de la Cadena shared with me some time ago, when the slaves from Africa were brought across the Atlantic, they were humanized. Their vast, fleshly, carnal, embodied states were reduced into these boxes of humanity. And they were placed at the end of the spectrum of being human—closer to the animal, closer to nature, while white bodies were perched at the other end of the spectrum.
I think we have been fighting within the spectrum for too long.
Our task now is to remove ourselves from this spectrum and find other ways of being in power with the world.”
An offering, my poem written as a private form of release but which is so relevant here as a felt summary.
Note: This is not a rejection of those trying to “work from within”, although I acknowledge my wariness of reforms (that have ended up strengthening the status quo). This speaks to my own fear of turning into that which I'm running away from.
As I strive to be heard,
fighting against the powers that be,
I learn to play their games,
climbing ladders to be seen.
It doesn’t always feel right,
but this is what it takes to win.
So I dig in deeper,
dismissing the voices within.
I don’t need to listen
to inner hesitations.
For I’m fueled by recognition,
propped up by the establishments.
Mingling with the powerful,
I got that seat at the table.
It feels good to be included,
no longer looking up from below.
But I get used to this life,
having access, being pedestalled.
I cozy up to those in control,
thinking this is how I’ll be influential.
I become addicted to the rewards,
growing further from what’s at stake.
The crises feel less urgent,
and to maintain my place, I capitulate.
Then, when I finally dominate,
I find my people protesting me.
You see, in mastering the game,
I became the powers that be.
Thankfully, it was just a nightmare.
But it was a scare I wanted to share.
I yearn to exit and then shapeshift—
just opening up for anyone who cares.
More from Dr. Bayo Akomolafe:
An invitation to radical tenderness by Vanessa Andreotti and Dani D’Emilia (I didn't know how much I needed this — it's a 5-10 minute read.)
Hospicing Modernity by Vanessa Andreotti (I just interviewed Vanessa about this and our conversation will publish late December.)