I’m a Muggle who’s been gassed. I think most of us progressives, if we were to be brutally honest, would have to admit that we still are Muggles. Think hard: Aren’t you still making money a priority in your life? Did you risk losing your job to go to Seattle? Would you sacrifice everything you have to save an endangered species that you never heard of? Or would you just rather send another check to Greenpeace?
Yes, we know who’s killing wildlife and who’s polluting our world and who’s oppressing workers. We can point our fingers in the right direction. But aren’t we still perpetuating this evil system?
Do you drive a car? Use electricity in your home? Do you put your savings in a Domini or Pax fund? Feels good, doesn’t it? Socially responsible investing … but it’s still playing the market, putting profits first.
The big difference between now and then is that the anti-war movement had a clear and defined goal. A hippie could easily define and live by his or her ideals. If you didn’t want to go to Vietnam, you could go to Canada or Sweden. As Mr. Raphael points out, nowadays there is “… no visible sense of a way…,” no obvious steps to take, often no obvious enemy. We are a large part of the problem ourselves now. We are global producer/consumers, and therefore global polluters and global oppressors as well. We are the enemy. But we feel powerless to make a change, because the more we get gassed, the more we realize what a fundamental change is required. And unfortunately, the greatest opposition to that change comes not from Monsanto’s shareholders, but from our own ability, or lack thereof, to act upon our convictions.
Business has no conscience. Free enterprise has but one purpose: growth. The only way to stop it is to stop feeding it.
Bill McKibben responds:
True. Fundamental change is required. And I think it will come. It is impossible for me to believe that a hundred years from now we’ll still be seeking our pleasure in the ways we seek it now; human beings simply aren’t made to be that shallow. We’re not, in the end, built to be Muggles. The only question, for me, is how fast that change will come, and how much damage will happen along the way. My fight is to speed the transition, and minimize the (unavoidably enormous) pain that will be caused by environmental deterioration.
The fantasy “Muggle” motif of McKibben’s article suggests the real distinction between the two movements: Seattle’s haphazard “movement” was a fictional charade, a rebellion with too many causes to congeal and become a relevant, “non-fiction” movement. The evil “Voldemort” scapegoat of the global economy for everything from Mumia’s incarceration to Taliban oppression was clearly the work of yuppie kids with pretensious literary aspirations. McKibben vastly overstated the long-term significance of this hocus-pocus spectacle and the Dungeons & Dragons crowd that composed it. It doesn’t make sense when he writes that the “new left” has come of age when the central metaphor of the article is a children’s novel.
Bill McKibben responds:
Ah well, children’s novels. Half my moral understanding of the world comes from having read the Narnia books at an impressionable age. In an age entombed in irony, I think there’s a lot to be said for J.K. Rowling.
The anti-globalization movement is led by nongovernmental organizations whose leaders and followers are international in scope, politically literate and technologically connected. Although progressive, this movement is an exclusive minority. Specifically, the anti-globalization movement is predominantly (perhaps totally) run by white males, campaigning against those who benefit from globalization in the name of those who lose because of it. Although this minority progressively speaks on behalf of that majority, there is not a significant representation of the majority within their agencies.
The vast majority are not Muggles who are oblivious to what is happening around them — they are simply not drivers on the information highway. Most do not own a license to drive, many do not know a highway exists, and others are simply gas station attendants. The majority are isolated in their villages where they are attacked by police and engulfed by consumerism.
The lack of diversity in the non-governmental organizations is what makes today’s civil society/third sector so unique and distinguishes it from the anti-war, civil rights, and women’s rights movements of the 60s and 70s. Those movements were about inclusion; hence, they were revolutionary and did transform society. In order for the anti-globalization movement to affect transformation and build a true civil society, it must follow the (dare I say) corporate lead and fight for diversity within its ranks.
Bill McKibben responds:
Actually, that’s not what I saw in Seattle, or on the Web either. The movements I know about increasingly incorporate voices from all over the world — if there is one person who’s been leading this fight the longest, it’s probably Vandana Shiva, from India. Look at what you have in Washington this week: a vast diversity of people, skewing young but with tons of union input, veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle, you name it. The debt relief fight has been led from the Third World. To my mind, it’s way more inclusive than the campus-based politics of the 60s. But if it isn’t, then make it so!
Read the previous exchanges on globalization.