This campaign isn’t like most international campaigns. The vision of the Indigenous network that is leading it isn’t just to mobilize support to interrupt the immediate violence that they are facing at the hands of the Brazilian government. It also issues a very different kind of invitation: a call for the rest of the world to wake up to the indifference and indulgence that has brought us as a human species to the brink of extinction – and that has already led to great human suffering, and to the extinction of many other-than-human species. It’s a call for growing up and out of the harmful habits of separability and consumption that have led us to believe that we are actually separate from one another and therefore that we can wall off and protect ourselves from the collective pain that surrounds us, and that in many cases we have caused. It is a call to un-numb ourselves in order to be open not only to this pain but also to a fuller range of human experiences (the good the bad and the ugly), and to non-human wisdom. To engage the world and its human wrongs with maturity, discernment, and accountability.
It’s hard for myself, as a millennial raised on irony and eye rolls, to make sense of this campaign. We are used to being mobilized by guilt, shame, righteousness, the promise of purity. We speak these languages fluently. The communities calling for this shift are speaking a very different language; of course, in the literal sense, for many of us, but also on a much deeper level. This language speaks not only in human voices, but also with the voices of the earth, and of even more intangible mysteries that no human has yet to solve. This other language doesn’t really have a place to land within a millennial sensibility. We have come to believe that spirituality is inevitably cheesy, appropriative, and a means of distraction from the ‘real’ work of politics. (To be fair, this is because many of the examples of spirituality we have access to actually are these things.)
We were taught to only pay attention to and invest in the things that increase our capital – whether that be literal economic capital, or its many other forms (social, intellectual, moral). This programming remains in place, even as all of these economies increasingly show their unsustainable faces. But too often when they crash, instead of questioning their soundness, we lament that they no longer give us the things they promised they would and seek their reform. In other words, even when our existing language has proved to be clearly inadequate for ensuring collective flourishing for present and future generations, many of us have a hard time imagining that there are other ways to ‘speak’ – to know, to be, and to relate.
I’ve been training as a ‘translator’ of this other language for several years now, and have come to realize that it is likely impossible for me to ever ‘master’ it. In fact, to continue the metaphor, I can barely string a few sentences together. And because of that, at times, this has led me to ask ‘what’s the point’? This is a product of my education, which has taught me that the point of learning is to become an expert, to claim authority, and competence. In the process of my very slow, very non-linear, and mistake-filled unlearning of this notion, I have come to sense how poorly it prepared me to navigate our crumbling world, and to be in good relation with others. It has enabled many other important things, to be sure; but it has also left me deeply unprepared to encounter the world as it really is, while also assuring me that being unprepared is one of the worst things one can be.
Some of us might balk at the idea that we are indifferent to human and non-human suffering. Many of us are passionate about many causes. But I fear, for many of us, we are still doing this work from the relative safety of our walls, which are heavily patrolled with armed guards. The communities calling for this campaign are trying to sound the alarm – and in doing so, they are asking us to call off the guards in order to mobilize them around something, something that is threatening their lives and our lives too. They are letting us know that the castle we are protecting so fiercely is crumbling. They are especially concerned at the moment because they do not want this castle to fall on their heads, yet again, as the Brazilian government is currently threatening, and are asking for support to avoid this. But they are also concerned because of the suffering that even those inside the castle are experiencing, will experience, and will inflict on others. They are calling, therefore, for a timely evacuation of that castle, and efforts to soften its fall, especially for those who are most at risk of the violence that emerges around times of collapse.
They are inviting us to step outside the castle walls, to see, first, the true costs of building and sustaining that castle, which are generally invisibilized; to see, second, that the walls are not as sturdy and sustainable as we may have once imagined; and third, to remind us that there are other ways of living, without these kinds of structures dividing us. The problem is that many of us would still choose the comfort, security, and sense of superiority that the castle offers, even as its roof caves in. We would rather die under the debris of the known, no matter how bad it is, than risk the potential uncertainty and discomforts that exist outside of the castle walls. The latest attacks on Indigenous rights and the Amazon in Brazil are not new; they have 500 years of precedent. But they also signal the desperation of the lords of the castle to keep up the ruse of endless, self-made abundance.
In many ways, this campaign asks us to challenge easy answers or binaries, always looking for other, healthier, more sustainable options. But it nonetheless feels as if we have a choice to make: do we cling to a castle that will eventually fall on all of our heads – some of us much sooner than others; or do we make an evacuation plan, prioritizing the protection of those who are at the most immediate risk? We are of course free to choose either, and many of us will choose to stay. We will have various reasons and rationales for doing so. This campaign asks us to make a different choice. But it does not use the usual weapons of guilt, shame, purity, or righteousness to do so; this is the language of the castle itself. It speaks to us in another language that most of us cannot understand, but that is calling to us nonetheless, or at least to the parts of us that have not yet been completely numbed.
The question is: Will we answer the call? If we don’t, because we are too scared about what we don’t and can never ‘know’ about what lies outside the castle, then who pays the cost?
Campaign coordination team.