Articles by this Author
How To Save The World
Colonization, from Without and from Within
Dave Pollard, August 2, 2010
“And where will we hide, when it comes from inside?” — James Taylor
Colonization is a loaded word, depending on whether you are the colonizer or the colonized. Throughout the history of our civilization, colonizers (imperialists, conquistadors, missionaries and, most recently, globalization corporatists) have asserted that colonized people were “savages” who needed external rule imposed on them “for their own good”. It matters little whether such assertions were honest, well-intentioned and misguided, or blatant excuses for theft, murder and oppression. The whole world is now substantially a single homogeneous colony, a single culture imposed and enforced by political and media propaganda, economic coercion, and of course, brute force.
The world “colonize” is from the Latin (whose speakers were accomplished at it) meaning “to inhabit, settle, farm and cultivate”. This definition carries no pretense of doing anything for the benefit of the “colonized” peoples. It just means taking over the land and resources, with or without violence and displacement. The words “culture” and “cultivate” also referred strictly to farming activities until, a mere two centuries ago, their meaning was expanded to include the intellectual, political, economic and social activities of civilization.
Such is the malleability of the human mind and conscience, that colonization occurs, to a greater or lesser extent, at four different levels, and the fact that the more interior forms of colonization are less obvious and often sub-conscious merely makes them, and their effect, more insidious. The four levels, depicted in the chart above, are, reading from the outside-in:
1. External colonization — where people from one land move into and colonize another land (e.g. various recent invasions of Afghanistan; NAFTA)
2. Internal colonization — where a dominant culture undermines and exterminates another culture within the same area (e.g. the ongoing brutality that the dominant European culture subjects indigenous peoples to, worldwide)
3. Self-colonization — where a group of people undermines and exterminates diversity within their own culture (e.g. McCarthyism, groupthink and hazing)
4. Personal colonization — where an individual molds her/himself to better fit in with her/his group and/or culture
External colonization historically occurred when there was insufficient land to sustain a group. Boundaries were tested, and, in Darwinian fashion, the conflict was resolved in favour of the “fittest” — not the strongest, necessarily, but the group that could best “fit” themselves to the types of food and the carrying capacity of the disputed land. Most such conflicts were won by the incumbents, since they “knew” the land better, and since an easier solution for the invading group would be to manage their own numbers to adapt to the carrying capacity of the land they already were familiar with. The same is true for most wild species — it is in the best interests of all-life-on-Earth to avoid massive conflicts and instability, while introducing new variations that, in some cases, will improve “fitness” and resilience, even though they may create a temporary disequilibrium. Resilience is optimized by diversity, which is why, in the absence of catastrophe, evolution tends towards greater complexity and variety of life forms and “cultures”.
Sometimes, however, there are major natural catastrophes that produce sudden changes and extinctions, that may take a long time to find equilibrium again. The fifth great extinction, 65 million years ago, was the result of a massive meteor collision with Earth, which extinguished most of the life-forms on our planet and made possible the emergence of our weak and ill-equipped (relative to the dinosaurs) species. Then, some other unknown event about a million or so years ago knocked the Earth slightly off its axis and precipitated the Ice Ages. Our species’ (brilliant) response to this catastrophe was to invent hunting tools (the invention of the arrowhead and spear marked the dawn of the sixth great extinction), agriculture and civilization. And with these inventions came explosive population growth and the need for colonization. This colonization was assisted (and made more violent) by the discovery that our hunting tools could also be used as weapons against our own species. As our numbers continued to explode beyond sustainable limits, violent land conflicts accelerated. And as our inventions allowed us to move much faster much more easily and learn about life elsewhere, we discovered the need for “preemptive” colonization to prevent the peoples who might resent our invasion of them, or covet our wealth, from attempting to attack us. We also learned that we could colonize without physically occupying the land of the colonized — we could colonize economically or (with nukes or drones) militarily.
With the growth of civilization, colonization became the major economic activity of our species, and it has remained so ever since. But now that we’ve run out of new places to colonize (and space will, despite the dreams of the technophiles, never be colonized by our species, though the bacteria are likely to succeed at it). And, while we continue to recolonize areas that refuse to accept the dominant culture, we are now struggling with the challenge of dealing with the colonized survivors who cannot or will not “fit” into our culture. A popular solution to this challenge has been to exterminate them, and the number of languages disappearing every year on our planet attests to our success at this solution. Physically non-violent attempts at internal colonization, however, have been less successful. As convenient as it may be to blame indigenous peoples for the high rates of suicide, substance addiction, violent crime and unemployment in many of their internal communities and in our cities, these are all artifacts of internal colonization, the failed attempt to force people to adapt to a culture that is not, and can never be, theirs.
The way in which our civilization culture maintains internal order is through the exploitation of self-colonization. With the advent of language, and hence the ability to propagandize through control of the education systems and media, we can effectively allow groups to colonize themselves, to force their members to conform or be socially, politically, legally and/or economically ostracized. At this level it is no longer land that is the battleground of colonization, it is the real estate of the mind.
Despite my liberal upbringing, and being encouraged to think for myself, I was co-opted early (though uneasily) into participating as part of the political, social, legal, educational, technological, business and economic systems of my colony of civilization. It was not “the government” that co-opted me, not some conspiratorial clique or elite. It was the people all around me, the people in the groups I was born into and accepted myself as part of. I really believed that we had to work “within the system” to bring about change. I really believed that the forces that are leading our world to economic, energy and ecological collapse, could be reformed, changed, fixed, and that “together we could do anything”. I really believed that I, as a part of some imaginary “we”, could save the world. Everyone told me so. Everyone told me, when I was overcome by the darkness of depression, that I needed to pull myself out of it and get back to my responsibility to my communities, my society. There was a clear though tacit communication that if I were too radical, if I did not conform, or if I did not live up to my responsibilities, and let down the groups to which I accepted I belonged to, there would be dire consequences.
For the most part, this relentless peer pressure “to be part of the solution”, to accept responsibility, to work hard, to perpetrate all the nonsense about how this was the only viable way to live, was and is well-intentioned. My family and friends and co-workers and neighbours and the other people in my communities genuinely wanted me to succeed, to be happy, to be a part of them. I just needed to accept the terms of doing so. Self-colonization. Seven billion of us, all believing and doing what we’re told. Not by The Man. By the people we love, and trust. For our own good. Trust us, we know what’s best for you. You’ll never be able to get along with people, or get anything useful accomplished, if you think/talk/act like that. Get with the program.
So as I have had the opportunity to become more radical, as I have moved further and further to the edge, I have had to fight self-colonization every step of the way. When I acknowledged on this blog, after reading John Gray’s Straw Dogs, that I no longer believed it was possible to save our civilization, and that I now believed that civilization would collapse in this century, the fallout was enormous. I was labeled a “doomer” and much worse. Many readers assailed me for having “let us all down”. My readership is a fraction of what it was when I was spouting forth about the importance of knowledge management and the process of innovation and extolling happy green ideas. Each move further to the edge has been harder, and led to more push-back, expressions of anger and disappointment, pleas to “come to my senses”, and even threats. Poly, veganism, doing nothing. How dare I? Such sacrilegious talk is too radical, defeatist, “anti-social”. Even harder to take, my arguments are assailed as intellectually flawed, idealistic babble, positions that “wouldn’t survive logical scrutiny”. I was condemned as “unhelpful”. I was told what I was saying was just wrong. Dangerous to the integrity, energy and productivity of the group. I must be tempered, brought back into the fold, or shunned.
This is where the Borg metaphor fails. The most powerful and persuasive propaganda, the most debilitating constraint, the most compelling and dangerous instruction — comes not from the top or the centre. It comes from our peers.
And finally there is personal colonization, that works integrally with the other three forms. It is the most insidious of all, because it is entirely within us. It is a part of who we are. It is the accumulation of gunk that we have acquired over a lifetime of accepting what we’ve been told, and wanted to believe. It is the self-inflicted propaganda of our own stories about who we are, about our place, about our popularity and loveability and where we belong. It is the terrible fear of being alone. It is the little voice that says “If so many people believe X, and I seemingly alone believe Y, how could I possibly be right?” Of course this is the same voice that allowed Germans to do nothing to stop Hitler’s atrocities. It is the same voice that allowed Stalin to kill 80 million and Mao 60 million. But it is a voice with power.
The four forms of colonization have made our civilization culture, for better and for worse, what it is. They have made it possible, and unsustainable.
And, until it blows apart, unstoppable.
Read the whole article here.
The Oil Drum
It's Our Turn to Eat: How Politics Works and Why Activism is So Important
Posted by Prof. Goose on June 30, 2009 - 10:15am
This is a guest post by Dave Pollard, an author and activist who blogs over at How to Save the World (Dave's always been one of my favorites in the blogosphere). I found this piece interesting because it elucidates many of the problems and lessons that we talk about in my interest groups/social movements course--and in turn those problems and lessons inspired some of the foundational goals that we set up The Oil Drum to fulfill: to educate and inform, and then to inspire and organize those educated and informed people to be a positive and persuasive force in a difficult, seemingly path-dependent world. Yes, that's right, you folks here at The Oil Drum are a small (and very informed) part of a larger sustainability/resource depletion social movement; and, even though we may all have different ideas about how to get to a better world, I hope that we can still agree that continuing an informed discourse about how to make it better is an important part of getting there.
After the Bioneers conference last year, I wrote about the 24 steps to make political activism more effective. And, as the chart above shows, activism has long been part of my "what you can do to help save the world" list.
Recently, however, I've become more skeptical in my writing about whether or not political activism really has any effect. Most of my attention has been focused on personal change, on adapting to the world rather than trying to make it better.
More recently still, I've begun to think that personal change is equally futile: that we cannot be other than who we are, and that the best personal coping strategy is to know and accept yourself. My friend Janene has tempered my thoughts on this somewhat; she says that while we may not be able to change who we are, we can change what we do.
To some extent this takes us full circle. If we have the opportunity and responsibility to change our behaviour, our activities, to make different choices about what we do, and don't do, what is this if not political activism? And if those actions do make a difference, then skepticism about the effectiveness of political activism is at best unwarranted, and at worst defeatist. My political activist friends have called me on this, and I promised to recant any suggestion on these pages that political activism is a waste of time and energy.
So I'm doing so. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." She was right. Social and political movements have always pushed people and institutions to make important and meaningful change that they would not otherwise make, by appealing in part to their sense of what's fair and just and reasonable (an intellectual appeal), but more importantly by appealing to human emotion, by moving them. Without such movements there would be no movement, and we would probably be living in a world with much more slavery, violence, destruction and tyranny than the one we live in now.
I've been trying to figure out why this is so. I have a fairly optimistic view of human intention and behaviour, as befits an incurable idealist. But I also confess to being misanthropic -- I don't much like most people. I find them stupid, unimaginative, indifferent to the suffering of others, and conveniently ignorant and agnostic. It is easy to give up hope on people, and to blame "the system" that grinds the sense and sensibility out of them, and just give up.
Read the whole article here.
This economic crisis may be just the push you need to find the career of your dreams.
Dave Pollard | April 2009 issue
The economic news is the worst in at least a generation. What most people have done is cut personal spending, put off major purchases and try to pay off debts from the boom times. These are wise steps to take. But what should you be doing about your job in this economy? A recent report suggested working harder, updating your resumé and strengthening your networks. While these steps, too, are sensible, they’re steeped in “learned helplessness”—the perception that we have little or no control over a situation due to repeated failed attempts to exercise such control.
This perception of helplessness is reinforced by our society for all sorts of reasons. Employers want their employees to be loyal and obedient; schools and universities teach us we have to find a job or career working for someone else. Government programs to “combat unemployment” generally entail giving money and tax breaks to corporations in the naive belief that this will “trickle down” to the rest of us. So, conditioned by learned helplessness, we perceive ourselves as passive consumers, passive citizens and passive employees. The key to overcoming learned helplessness is realizing that we aren’t helpless, that we have more control over our situations and destinies than we’ve been led to believe.
Entrepreneurship need not be stressful, risky, expensive, lonely, exhausting or require great skills, ideas or self-confidence—a perception that’s reinforced by the mainstream media. Right now, when the economy is falling apart, is the best possible time to start your own enterprise, and doing so could propel you into work that’s more responsible, sustainable and joyful than what you’re doing now.
I spent more than a quarter-century with Ernst & Young, the big accounting firm, where I discovered a small group of entrepreneurs (I call them “natural entrepreneurs”) who had found a better way to make a living. These natural entrepreneurs were resilient and recession-proof; their businesses thrived in good times and bad. They didn’t work that hard, and the people who worked for them never wanted to leave the company, even if they were offered more money elsewhere. They were responsive to their employees and customers and responsible to the places where they did business. They were sustainable both environmentally and economically. They were non-hierarchical, drawing on the wisdom of their employees, customers and community members to make decisions. And they didn’t need to grow bigger to succeed; they were content to grow better instead.
These natural entrepreneurs did six things differently from all the other stress-prone, boom-and-bust, struggling businesses that made up the majority of my clientele:
- They had found their sweet spot, the work where their gifts, their passions and their purpose intersected.
- They had found the right business partners, people who shared their purpose and whose gifts and passions complemented their own.
- They did world-class research to identify real needs that weren’t being met by any other enterprise in the marketplace.
- They used a rigorous, continuous process to invent and commercialize products and services that met those unmet needs.
- Instead of planning for the future, they had learned how to improvise, to adapt easily to changes in the economy and demographics.
- They acted with integrity, operating in a way that resonated with their values, and made principled decisions, not opportunistic ones, in the long-term interest of their partners, employees, customers and communities.
This is the formula that successful small enterprises have effectively followed since the time of artisans. And it still works.
If the idea of ending your learned helplessness appeals to you, you don’t have to quit your job to discover the work you were meant to do. The first three steps can be done in your spare time, evenings and weekends. Do them right, and by the time you’re ready to give notice, you’ll know you’ve got a winning idea, a winning team and the basis of a natural enterprise that will provide you with a lifetime of meaningful, joyful, recession-proof work.
Dave Pollard is the author of Finding the Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work, published by Chelsea Green.