Politics, said Bismarck, is the art of the possible. Yet we are living in a time when politics as widely practised is quite the reverse: the art and worship of the Impossible, namely of the impossible dream of fostering infinite greed, infinite accumulation, infinite “growth,” on a finite planet; of fighting infinite war to control finite and dwindling fossil reserves… Politics today is defined by the futile and stupid dream of impermeable borders, by an obsession with micro-control and hypersurveillance, with Enclosure at every level from the land to the air to the arts, with an hubristic conceit of totalitarian control of the biosphere itself. And it is conducted in large part by the kind of people who can speak, with a straight face, of “the reality-based community” as someone other than themselves — and of “the environment” as if it were something separate from themselves, and expendable by comparison with really important (imaginary) things like money profit, compound interest, national borders, and so on. Politics these days is the art of imagining, promoting, defending, and trying desperately to enforce the Impossible.
So resistance, these days, seems to be the reclamation of the Arts of the Possible, our desperate last-minute search for exit doors from the Empire of the Impossible that surrounds us. We are trying to reclaim, more than anything, possibility itself: the possibility of a continuity of human culture and human life, in face of massive momentum towards the impossibility of survival. We are trying to imagine and adopt possible ways of life. Trying to assert a “life-wish” against the strong current of what seems almost like a civilisational death-wish. Trying to assert the claims of reality, counter to the Culture — as D Jensen has it — of Make-Believe.
What is and is not possible, seems more and more our contested turf. Accusations of “impracticality” or “impossibility” are bandied about whenever reform, reparations, repentance, repair are proposed. Recently I read this jaw-dropper in the Independent:
A seismic shift in thinking is needed, according to senior researcher Erik Assadourian, project director of the report: “Making policy and technology changes while keeping cultures centred on consumerism and growth can only go so far. To thrive long into the future, human societies must shift their cultures so sustainability becomes the norm.”
But the report’s findings were attacked last night by Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. “Let’s face it, by 2050, the combined population of China and India alone will have grown to three billion. By then, most Chinese and Indians will have adopted an urban lifestyle. This… makes demands for radical curbs in consumerism and CO2 emissions utterly unrealistic.”
The most reputable science we have is warning us in no uncertain terms that continuing to emit CO2 at present levels amounts to civilisational suicide; and yet we can still speak of radical carbon reduction as “unrealistic” and be taken seriously, even quoted in newspapers of record. It is still a respectable position to take in public, to insist that the changes we need to make in order to survive are simply Not Possible.
The borders of what is Officially Possible constrain what can be seriously discussed, what can be seriously proposed, what can occupy the fleeting attention span of mass media, what politicians are allowed to say, what individuals are allowed to think. It is not possible, we are told, to meet our energy “needs” from sustainable sources. It is not possible to rethink or reduce our energy “needs”. It is not possible to feed ourselves without factory monoculture farming. It is not possible to achieve a binding CO2 emissions reduction treaty. It is not possible to reform our commercial and banking systems. It is not possible to feed the hungry. It is not possible to stop fighting wars. It is not possible to pry one more scrap of privilege from the clutch of the ruling classes, not possible to raise taxes, not possible to open borders, not possible to provide basic health care, not possible…
… when all the time, what is clearly not possible is to go on as we are. Hence, the deep defiance, the deep subversiveness of the World Social Forum slogan, Another World Is Possible.
I therefore submit for discussion the Arts of the Possible: a random handful of recently-encountered reality-based documents, just a few things people have done (are doing) that have worked, however locally and for however long, to increase the possibilities for our collective survival, for some increase in justice, for some reduction of suffering, for some augmentation of sanity — for the life of the soil, the river, the forest, the ocean, the prairie, the farm, the biosphere, for our own lives and prospects — a few momentarily successful interventions on the side of life.
Life wants to live. Life so completely wants to live. And to the degree that we ourselves are alive, and to the degree that we consider ourselves among and allied with the living, our task is clear: to help life live.
This is what is possible. In the end, this is all that is really possible; when we set ourselves up in opposition to and enmity with all that lives, the end result is a cultural and political trajectory arcing out into the unsurvivable Impossible. If there is a cultural task for our time, perhaps it is to push as hard as we can for the tipping point at which the people and projects I’ve linked to above are not seen as ‘impractical dreamers’ or ‘well-meaning idealists’ but as hard-headed practitioners of the Arts of the Possible, contending valiantly with a failing, flailing culture of delusion, fantasy, and petulant denial.