Interesting Excerpts

The extra heat that we trap near the planet every day is equivalent to the heat from four hundred thousand bombs the size of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima.

Life on a Shrinking Planet by Bill McKibben, The New Yorker, November 26th, 2018

DeMocker: You have talked about "climate victory speakers." What are they?

Wood: Back in World War II citizens known as victory speakers helped mobilize the nation rapidly. They were average people who would give five-minute talks at bridge clubs, movie theaters, PTA meetings — anywhere. My mother and grandmother were both victory speakers and gave four to five speeches a day, telling people how to garden and can vegetables to conserve resources for the war effort.

People listen to trusted members of the community more than they listen to scientists or academics. Victory speakers can wake Americans up to our new reality and tell them what they can do about it. Neighborhood associations are tremendous for this. Churches are already organized through their committees and membership lists. I also see a role for the Internet and social media. A league of concerned citizens has to step up and say, "This will be my purpose. I can't solve all the problems. I can't plant all the gardens. But I'm going to take on the task of waking people up."

Let there be no mistake, our government's energy policies are a threat to our collective survival. But we've faced tyrannical threats before and overcome them — by uniting in solidarity. This is an "all hands on deck" moment for planetary defense. If we come together to present this unprecedented peril, with everyone stepping up to contribute, we just might transform our present political divisiveness into a unified effort to preserve our country.

The Sun Interview Before It's Too Late Mary Christina Wood on Avoiding Climate Disaster, interview by Mary DeMocker. February 2019.

If we think about what it means to "concentrate" or "pay attention" at an individual level, it implies alignment: different parts of the mind and even the body acting in concert and oriented toward the same thing. To pay attention to one thing is to resist paying attention to other things; it means constantly denying and thwarting provocations outside the sphere of one's attention. We contrast this with distraction, in which the mind is disassembled, pointing in may different directions at once and preventing meaningful action. It seems the same is true on a collective level. Just as it takes alignment for someone to concentrate and act with intention, it requires alignement for a "movement" to move. Importantly, this is not a top-down formation, but rather a mutual agreement among individuals who pay intense attention to the same things and to each other.

I draw the connection between individual and collective concentration because it makes the stakes of attention clear. It's not just that living in a constant state of distraction is unpleasant or that a life without willful thought or action is an impoverished one. If it's true that collective agency both mirros and relies on the individual capacity to "pay attention," then in a time that demands action, distraction appears to be (at the level of the collective) a life-and-death matter. A social body that can't concentrate or communicate with itself is like a person who can't think and act. In Chapter I, I mentioned Berardi's distinction between connectivity and sensitivity in After the Future. It's here that we see why this difference matters. For Berardi, the replacement of sensitivity with connectivity leads to a "social brain" that "appears unable to recompose, to find common strategies of behavior, incapable of common narration and of solidarity."

This "schizoid" collective brain cannot act, only react blindly and in misaligned ways to a barrage of stimuli, mostly out of fear and anger. That's bad news for sustained refusal. While it may seem at first like refusal is a reaction, the decision to actually refuse--not once, not twice, but perpetually until things have changed--means the development of and adherence to individual and collective commitments from which our actions proceed. In the history of activism, even things that seemed like reactions were often planned actions. For example, as William T. Martin Riches reminds us in his accounting of the Montgomery bus boycott, Rosa Parks was "acting, not reacting" when she refused to get up from her seat. She was already involved with activist organizations, having been trained at the Highlander Folk School, which produced many important figures in the movement.40 The actual play-by-play of the bus boycott is a reminder that meaningful acts of refusal have come not directly from fear, anger, and hysteria, but rather from the clarity and attention that makes organizing possible.

Book: How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019) by Jenny Odell, page 81-82