Flash encampments. Guerilla occupations. A movement for change driven by people with a ‘spiritual backbone’. Kalle Lasn, founder of Occupy Wall Street, Editor of Adbusters Magazine and author of Culture Jam talks about the future of the Occupy phenomenon, of progress and of the world.
The magazine Kalle Lasn founded has evolved from a ‘journal of the mental environment’ into the creative engine-room for a movement that values people over profit and seeks to protect the mental and physical environment from the degrading influence of greed-media. His book about creatively undermining the power of global Capitalism has changed countless lives. Kalle Lasn‘s emphasis on design as a force for change is an inspiration to this site. He’s also as responsible as any one person can be for the Occupy movement. Here he answers questions about the future.
How you feel about the success and impact of Occupy? It had a huge impact but in some ways didn’t achieve what it wanted to. Do you view it positively?
Of course, yeah. It’s been a hell of a blast and it’s not over yet. There’s kind of a question mark hanging over the movement right now and people are wondering where will it go next and so on, but movements like this always evolve in stops and starts. My own feeling is that hundreds of millions of young people around the world still have this kind of nagging feeling in the pit of their stomach that the future does not compute, that their lives will be full of ecological and financial and psychological crises and that they really have to stand up and fight for a different future. This is a very powerful gnawing feeling, and that’s why I think this movement will be zig-zagging along and doing all kinds of weird and wonderful things over the next few years.
One of the greatest strengths of the Occupy movement was that it didn’t have a central hierarchical leadership. Could that also be one of its weaknesses in terms of getting consensus on action?
That reminds me of a knee-jerk analysis from people who want to pontificate on the movement, who want to say: has it failed? has it succeeded? did they get it right or did they get it wrong? and it’s not as simple as that. Movements and revolutions have a kind of rainbow quality to them and they start off on a certain kind of footing and then they move on. I think that this leaderless, wonderful, magic thing that we had going in Zuccotti park and a thousand other occupations around the world, I think this was the beginning of something. A lot of people got politicised. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of young people around the world got politicised for the first time in their lives and as such I think that that original leaderless kind of way of doing things really worked. I think it was just perfect the way it was. And now there’s all kinds of other things happening. There’s all kinds of leaders emerging and projects emerging and we will see what happens over the next few years.
And, actually, the leaderless quality of the movement seemed to inspire a lot more faith in democracy than perhaps many people had ever had.
Yeah, and I think it was the perfect first step. It was magical and it got so many people out into the parks and into the streets and they rubbed shoulders and they got to know each other. And now I think that that particular magic moment is over, but I think the movement is going from monolithic occupations of parks to flash-encampments if you like, or guerilla occupations I guess you could call them. I think that over the rest of the Summer and for the next year or so we will see myriad flash encampments, myriad guerilla actions all around the world. They will be small, they will be hard to snuff out. They will be occupations of banks, occupations of foreclosed houses. There will be stink-bombs going off in various places. I think small cells of people in cities around the world will be strutting their stuff and these flash guerilla encampments and actions will be the next phase of Occupy.
And after that, there will be a third phase and we have no inkling of what that could be. But one thing is for sure: the global economy is tanking, capitalism is in crisis, young people know their future doesn’t compute and there are going to be some interesting shenanigans happening.
The future is often discussed in terms of progress: scientific, economic, social. And yet the world as we see it in terms of the environment, in terms of the mental environment, and human rights around the world doesn’t seem like progress.
For a couple of hundred years or more, the Enlightenment gave us a very progressive, optimistic way of moving into the future and we thought that this trajectory could go on forever. And our whole global economic system right now, for example, is all projected on this idea that we can keep on growing forever and that we will be making progress forever. And all of a sudden young people are waking up to the fact that this kind of unwritten assumption about the future may not hold. And I think that for the first time in a very long time, perhaps for the first time in human history, we’re starting to wonder whether we do have some kind of future and what that future may look like.
Many people think that this whole human experiment of ours on planet earth is just going to collapse suddenly because there’s almost seven billion of us now and the climate change tipping-points are hovering on the horizon , the global financial casino seems to be collapsing and psychologically we’re in an epidemic of mental illness that seems to be escalating. There’s a feeling that this human experiment of ours may descend into another long dark age. That we may actually be on the brink of another medieval kind of dark age period where the ecology and the bond that keeps humanity together will suddenly dissolve and usher in a brutal, thousand-year dark age.
And then there’s some other people who think that no, we human beings are smart – and especially young people with their internet and their social media skills and all the rest of it – that we have it within our grasp to save the future. That it may not be the kind of corporate-driven ‘God is growth’ kind of future that the current leaders of the world are telling us will happen, but it may be a whole different kind of a future. But it’s up to the young people of the world to come up with this, what people are calling a ‘singularity.’
It seems like a battle between ‘nightfall’ – which is the one-word name for a thousand-year dark age – and then the word ‘singularity’, which stands for this one chance in a million that we can pull humanity out of this dark trajectory and come up with a whole new way of living together, a whole new way of living our lives. And I think this is the kind of bifurcation of what’s happening in people’s minds right now. Will we have singularity or will we have nightfall? And this tension between the two is what’s driving the young people of the world right now.
So many of the potential ways in which that singularity might come about could so easily be harnessed the traditional forces of global capitalism and turned into a force for the negative rather than the positive. Are you personally hopeful?
Well, I must admit I’m not too hopeful when it comes to the one billion people who have had it really good and who are living in the so called first world, in the developed countries: we, the people of North America and Europe and Japan and Australia. These one billion affluent people of the world . We’ve had it good for so long and even though we know that something isn’t quite right, that our five-planet lifestyles don’t really compute, and that something radical needs to happen, we’re not really ready for the radical stuff yet. We still feel that we should just keep this thing going, because we have it good.
There doesn’t seem to be very much revolutionary spirit among the one billion rich people of the world. And yet I believe in some places like Greece and increasingly Spain where half the young people cannot find a job. And revolutionary hotbeds like the UK (which has always been a kind of revolutionary hotbed) and especially in places like Egypt and and Tunisia and Africa. The rest of the six billion people on the planet, who’ve been living like dogs for the last half a century (and now it looks like they’ll have to live like hungry dogs now that the global economy is tanking and the future is looking even more painful than the current situation) – among those people, among those suffering six billion, I think a revolutionary spirit is coming to the fore and those people are ready to rumble in a way that we haven’t seen in a long long time, perhaps since the Russian Revolution.
Absolutely. I think that the future will be exactly those people who have a passionate spiritual feeling about what has to be done. And people who are driven by this passionate spirituality, these are the people that will be creating the revolutions of the future. The people who in some rationalist maximiser way are trying to figure out what has to be done, these people have no spiritual backbone and they will achieve nothing. I think the future is going to be driven by things like this incredible self-confidence that the Chinese people have in their own multi-thousand-year history. I think the future will be driven by Islam, which has this way of looking of human relations and our relationship to spiritual forces that goes well beyond what we have in the West. And I think it could also be driven to some degree, by Christians, if the people in that wonderful Christian tradition can get it together and move beyond this kind of horrible downfall that the Catholic Church has had recently. Yeah, I think that the future will be driven by people who have a spiritual passion and these are the only people that will drive the future. That’s the only force strong enough to drive the future.
God bless Kalle Lasn.
This interview forms the basis for an feature in Threads.