What of Justice? – Delivering Dark Hope #5
David R. Weiss – August 2, 2021
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This is #5 in an 8-essay series in which I’m thinking out loud and a bit on the run about what it means to be church (or any authentic human community) … in a time of approaching ecological-social collapse. I’ll develop many of these thoughts further in the future, but I want to set out an overview of sorts. (Here are links to essay #1, essay #2, essay #3, and essay #4. While each essay treats a different facet of the larger project, there is a narrative arc to them. I encourage you to read them in order when possible.)
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Given my position that ecological and societal collapse is now inevitable, does that mean that nothing else—not even climate activism—matters anymore, and that we should all simply “brace for impact”?
No. And No.
Yes, we should “brace for impact.” But climate activism still matters—as does every other social justice cause. In fact, precisely at this precarious juncture, as we slide toward potentially precipitous collapse, about the worst thing we can do is ignore everything else. (The worst thing we can do is pretend everything will be fine.)
I regard collapse—massively disruptive collapse on both ecological and societal levels—as inevitable by the end of this century, and likely much, much sooner. This is not negotiable. We’re on the very cusp of “game over” for the apex of humanity in its techno-racist-extractive-capitalist expression.
(Whether we get the chance to refashion ourselves in a different human expression remains to be seen. Clearly, there are other possible forms of human community. Unfortunately, this form—and with the enthusiastic consent of Constantinian Christianity—has become cancerous … and has metastasized across continents and cultures. This present form of pathological human “community” is driving collapse in a way that will impact and undo every human community everywhere on the planet.)
What remains negotiable is just how catastrophic, brutal, and dehumanizing collapse gets as it plays out. But we’re not negotiating from a position of strength. We’ve wreaked havoc on nearly every biophysical Earth system that supports our well-being. Worse, we’ve established whole human-built systems that now functionally compel our individual participation in further undoing the planet regardless of our own intentions. (“Individual responsibility,” while critical for our own integrity, is largely impotent at slowing the damage done by large-scale destructive systems.) Nonetheless, every system of injustice we can challenge lessens the evil that collapse will usher into our world.
Consider Enbridge’s Line 3 project in northern Minnesota. It serves one purpose only within the Earth System: to facilitate (and accelerate!) the incineration of tar sands oil into the atmosphere. Some say it will “power” the economy and provide jobs. But “it’s NOT the economy, stupid.” It’s the land, water, air, heat, animals, plants, and the people. Given the scientific awareness we have, Line 3’s ongoing construction is an act of willful ecocide carried out by persons, companies, governments addicted to a way of life that deals in death. Stopping Line 3 matters, not because doing so will prevent collapse, but because doing so will lessen the severity of collapse. It will save lives. Climate activism is quintessential and existential work in a collapsing world.
But … the same is true of every other social justice issue. To name only a few examples:
Nuclear storage. As electrical grids become less reliable around the clock, nuclear waste storage facilities represent the very gates of hell, with radioactive waste just waiting for our grid to drop its guard. There is no longer arc of injustice nor reach of evil than that we have forced future generations to protect themselves from our lust for energy. Anti-nuclear work is quintessential and existential in a collapsing world.
Immigration justice. The history of undocumented immigrants is the history of unjust foreign policies used to enrich our nation by mal-developing other nations’ economies, agricultural policies, and societies. Climate breakdown—driven largely by the exorbitant energy use of over-developed countries—is creating additional human and ecological crises in other nations, which will drive waves of climate refugees across our borders. Immigration justice, redressing both past injustices as well as the unfolding climate reality, is quintessential and existential work in a collapsing world.
Racial Justice. Black lives have been historically—unremittingly—subjected to socio-physical violence (of which the police/prison industrial complex is only the most visible manifestation). This is inseparable from a culture and economy that “live” by extraction and exploitation. Our ability to navigate collapse with our humanity intact rests on our readiness to affirm how deeply Black Lives Matter and our willingness to abolish the systems created to control them. Racial justice work is quintessential and existential in a collapsing world.
Indigenous Rights. Our genocidal treatment of Native Americans foreshadowed our ecocidal treatment of the land to which they knew themselves to be intimately related. There is no path toward a life-affirming relationship with the land on which we dwell without repairing the deeply broken relationship we have brokered with the land’s indigenous peoples. This work is quintessential and existential in a collapsing world.
Gender and Sexual Justice. The biases we carry toward gender or sexual expression reflect a mistrust of the mysterious forces at play in our own embodiment that in turn drives an unwise impulse to control and/or condemn those same forces when they manifest differently in other lives. This dynamic of being so ill at ease in natural bodies is interwoven with our assumption that nature itself needs our control and/or merits our contempt. Gender and Sexual Justice is quintessential and existential work in a collapsing world.
Gun reform. As our politics becomes more polarized and our societal fabric becomes more frayed, and climate change stresses our personal and communal lives far more disruptively than Covid did, does anyone think more guns will be a providential addition to this equation? Like the climate crisis, this problem has been deliberately created. Successive generations of politicians chose to ignore it until it’s now truly frightening to address. We must somehow reign in the actual proliferation of guns and our societal fetish that equates power with the capacity to kill. Gun reform is quintessential and existential work in a collapsing world.
Voting Rights. Electoral politics has shown itself more amenable to corruption than to collaboration in seeking real justice, but this makes the struggle to protect and extend voting rights all the more critical. Given the rise of Republican neo-fascist white-nationalist misogynist extremism, there can be no doubt that where they gain control of legislatures at the state or federal level they will undercut efforts to avoid climate catastrophe. (See essay #3.) Voting Rights work is quintessential and existential in a collapsing world.
I could go on. None of these issues—or countless others—can afford to wait until after the climate crisis has been successfully met. First, because the climate crisis has not and will not be “successfully met”; it’s “game over” on that count. Second, because the only way the collapse crisis might be successfully met (where “success” means unprecedented disruption and tumult instead of the catastrophic erasure of humanity), is if we work vigorously on all these fronts simultaneously.
Daunting doesn’t begin to capture the scope. It’s true, nearly all of us inherited some portion of the crises before us from earlier generations, even as we’ve entangled our own lives with them over the years. It’s also true, those holding the greatest wealth and power in almost every case hold the greatest culpability. But in a crisis, none of that really matters. What matters is responding in the present moment, and the quickest impulse, as the immensity of our situation becomes clear, is paralysis.
I believe one of the graces of Dark Hope is the invitation to follow our deepest passion in our response. We need not … ought not … cannot attempt to do everything. Attending to vocation, finding that sweet spot where our deep passion meets the world’s deep need—and trusting that others are doing the same—preserves our focus, and focuses our energy, when everything is clamoring for it all at once. I don’t pretend this is easy. It requires passions that are shaped by care for the world. And communities that shape such passions. Not easy. But possible. Necessary. Dark Hope. More tomorrow.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.