Changing Time , Shea Howell
Boggs Center Living for Change Newsletter (boggscener.org)
December 29, 2019
We are at the beginning of a new decade. Across the political landscape, people are reflecting on the 2010’s and the first decades of the new millennium. Among liberal and progressive voices, despair seems the primary result of these musing. The New York Times year end editorial explains “Fear and distrust are ascendant now.” They cite the 16 year high in hate crimes, growth of nationalism, attacks on civil rights and democratic institutions, climate catastrophe, and distrust in the mechanism we have established to create more human and just futures as the accumulated results of our actions and inactions.
What is most obvious is how little these reflections offer guidance in the present or help us think about the future. The concerns that dominated the first decade of 2000 did little to prepare us for the viciousness of the next ten years. Today, the depth of crisis we face is far deeper than the problems of new technologies or recurring outbursts of anger and fear. Short term thinking, even attempts to look at the cycles of our own short history, as the Tmes does, are efforts to evade the magnitude of the changes we must make, the choices that are in front of us.
Grace Lee Boggs helped us understand this as she often explained we are in a moment of transition “as great as that as the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture or from agriculture to industry.” These changes happen rarely in human experience, and our consciousness of them is only beginning to emerge. Living in the midst of epoch change makes it clear that attempts to strengthen old ways of thinking and acting only compound the problems we face.
Instead we need to think about how the cornerstones of the industrial era: the deadening of the natural world, extractive cultures and industries, mass production, corporate organization, representative democracy, hyper rationalism, and hyper individualism, have all brought us to the point where this could well be the last millennia of the human experience.
So much of our attention turns toward what is slipping away. We have only weak frameworks to understand what is emerging that is life affirming, holding the possibilities of a future. That is why I think it is important for those of us working toward a just future to spend some time revisiting Marx and the Communist Manifesto.Marx, perhaps more than any other philosopher-activist, captured the emergence of the new industrial era out of the old dying feudal arrangements. Consider this passage:
The foundation of the dying epoch was the separation of human life from nature, the turning of natural world into “resources” for economic profit. The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.
Marx goes on to say, in what was one of Grace Boggs’s favoriate passages:
All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
This is why Detroit matters so much as a touchstone toward a better future. Here, as one of the first places shaped and reshaped by the industrial era, and one of the first to be utterly abandoned by capital, we have been forming a future on values that emphasize our connections with one another and the earth on which we depend. What we do matters. And in times of great change, what each of us does can and will have profound, unpredictable effects.