August 2003
volume 1, issue 2



ix. towards a politics of reality

Reality is that which is.
The English word ‘real’ stems from a word which
meant regal, of or pertaining to the king.
‘Real” in spanish means royal.
Real property is that which is proper to the king.
Real estate is the estate of the king.
Reality is that which pertains to the one in power,
Is that over which he has power, is his domain, his
Estate, is proper to him.
The ideal king reigns over everything as far as the
Eye can see. His eye. What he cannot see is not
Royal, not real.
He sees what is proper to him.
To be real is to be visible to the king.
The king is in his counting house.

- Marilyn Frye The Politics of Reality 1983

Feminist author Marilyn Frye writes about reality from the perspective of a lesbian fighting to 'exist' within an oppressive heterosexist culture for which the idea of a women who is not sexually dependant upon men is unimaginable. Her poem eloquently reminds us that reality is constructed and that those in power get to decide who or what is 'real'. Or in the words of the 80’s disco-industrial band My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult: 'reality' is the only word in the English language that should always be used in quotes.”

Frye’s poem uses the etymology of the word reality to expose the flawed assumptions that shape the dominant cultural lens. The king’s counting house is the origin of today’s corporate driven doomsday economy. A “reality” which has colonized our minds to normalize alienation from nature, conquest and patriarchial hierarchies. A “reality” based on the censorship of our history of collective struggle that makes us think rugged individualism is the only tact for resistance

“Reality” is the lens through which we see the world so if we want to create a different world we’re going to need to create new lens. We can begin by understanding that the values which currently underlie the global system didn’t win out because they are time tested, democratically supported or even effective. This “reality” is a product of the naked brutality of European conquest which systematically destroyed the cultural and economic alternatives to our current pathological system.

The struggle to create political space for a truly transformative arena of social change is the fight to build a new collective reality. Our last (or is it first?) line of defense to the spreading consumer monoculture is the struggle to de-colonize our minds and magnify the multitude of different “realities” embedded in the planet’s sweeping diversity of cultures, ecosystems and inter-dependant life forms.

At the center of these efforts must be the understanding that the ecological operating systems of the biosphere represent an over-arching politics of reality. If we want to talk about reality in the singular, outside of its conceptual quotation marks, then we must talk about ecological reality- the reality of interdependence, diversity, limits, cycles and dynamic balance. A politics of reality recognizes that ecology is not merely another single issue to lump on to our list of demands, rather ecology is the larger context in which all our struggle takes place. A politics of reality is grounded in the understanding that the ecological collapse is the central and most visible contradiction in the global system. It is an implicit acknowledgement that the central political project of our era is the re-thinking of what it means to be human on planet earth.

We have to confront the cancer and pull the doomsday economy out of its suicidal nose dive. The move towards a politics for reality is the essence of a fight for the future itself.
Indian writer and activist Vandana Shiva said it eloquently in her speech at the World Summit on Sustainable Development counter-summit in August 2002 “There is only one struggle left and that is the struggle for survival.”

Ecology must be a key ingredient in the future of pan-movement politics. But to do so, we must insure that Earth centered values don’t get appropriated by white, middle class messengers and get artificially separated from a comprehensive critique of all forms of oppression. A global ecology movement is already being led by the communities and cultures most impacted by the doomsday economy, all we need to do is listen and follow their lead.

The Western Shoshone people— the most bombed nation on earth who have survived half a century of U.S. nuclear colonialism on their ancestral lands in what is now called Nevada—have mobilized under the banner of “Healing Global Wounds”. This inspiring slogan reminds us that despite the horrors of brutality, empire and ecological catastrophe the strongest resistance lies in the ability to imagine change.

In facing the global crisis, the most powerful weapon that we have is our imaginations. As we work to escape the oppressive cultural norms and flawed assumptions of the corporate system we must liberate our imaginations and articulate our dreams for a life affirming future. Our actions must embody these new “realities” because even when people realize that they are on the Titanic and the iceberg is right ahead, we still need to see the lifeboat in order to jump ship. It is these possibilities and alternatives which can help catalyze mass defections from the pathological norms of modern consumer culture.

Our job is to confront the sickness while articulating the alternatives, both ancient and new. Our true strength lies in the diversity of options presented by earth centered, life values whether we find the alternatives in the wisdom of traditional cultures, local economies, spiritual/community renewal or ecological re-designs. As we de-colonize our own revolutionary imaginations we will find new political frameworks that name the system and articulate the values crisis. We can imagine a culture defined by diversity that embraces collective empowerment over individual coercion, promotes revolutionary optimism over nihilism and has an honest assessment of privilege, equity and a commitment to healing historic wounds. We can re-define the possible.

We are already winning. Life is stronger than greed. Hope is more powerful than fear. The values crisis is in full swing and more and more people are turning their back on the pathological values of the doomsday economy. The global immune system is kicking in and giving momentum to our movements for change. Call it an Enlightenment. Call it a Renaissance. Call it a common sense revolution. The underlying concepts are obvious. As the saying goes— for a person standing on the edge of a cliff, progress must be defined as a step backwards.

Imagination conjures change. First we dream it, then we speak it, then we struggle and build it. But without the dreams, without our de-colonized imaginations our efforts to name and transform the cancer will not succeed in time.
I always remember the slogan spray painted on the walls of Paris during the springtime uprising of 1968, “Be realistic. Demand the Impossible!” The slogan is more timely now than ever because the king can’t stay in his counting house forever. And then it's our turn….


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