Big Bodies : 1997, Breathy Things : 0

Hot air in the hills
  Vile gas in the town
    COP3 came to Kyoto
      Fossil fools burned it down

There always seems to be a spirit-draining instant at big UN conferences these days when you realize that this battle is lost and we the people must again repair to the hills for another season of wound-licking, funk and heavy medication. This realization implodes in different minds at different times. For some it happened last week at COP3 as they watched review/enforcement clauses being gutted or host Japan maliciously harass Europe or New Zealand drag in noisome last minute red herrings. Others felt it months ago when the US Senate voted in august unanimity (95-0) to reject any industry-discomfiting emissions limits that delegates here may commit to. Still others didn't really take the hit until Al Gore publicly auctioned his environmental credentials for election-buying small change this week. But sooner or later it clobbers each of us, and what then?

But what if the real responsibility for this crashing depression lies not with a suborned Senate, feckless delegates, MITI, Gore or even the greedheads in Australia and OPEC land? Is representing your true supporters and constituents a crime? Is it their fault if the regimes they serve now blithely represent corporate concerns rather than human interests?

What if the problem is really with us citizens/ activists and our surrogate NGOs? This is not a popular question these days, but suspicions are mounting and demand some answers. Why, for example, is it so impossible for us to define these conflicts in ways that we can prevail? After all, we have everything going for us - smarts, good looks, public opinion, scientific evidence, biological self-interest. With all this backing, we should have a dynamite win/loss record, especially in arenas as clear and crucial as the atmosphere and environment at large. Why then do we always end up just as media sideshows at these soirees, content and/or resigned to generate heat, light, even evil humor, but little actual power? Calculating just the overhead (jet fuel, nosh, rent, paper spew), our cost-effectiveness is a ridiculous sin. "But hey, cheer up, next year there's always Buenos Aires or Bali or Aspen or..." Why win when the losing's so amusing...

Thomas Szasz once said, "In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined." In this vein, let us redefine our situation in ways that both make a little sense and finally confer some power on us. Since new definitions require a bit of imagination, we often have to pretend something is true to finally make it so (like pretending the king isn't god or all men are equal or gays and women are equal too).

Pretend, for example, that our most potent adversaries (in environmental, human rights and political reform battles) are "merely" a few thousand vast social bodies - each commanding tens of thousands of synchronized members, each armed with stunning political juice, each solely committed to perpetual growth and survival. Where others descry a huge diversity of bureaucracies, corporations, even armies and churches, pretend you see only pretty similar Big Bodies with pretty similar physiologies, appetites and predatory agendas.

Next pretend the Gaia Hypothesis is true - that the Earth really is a unique living system and that most of the ills she now endures are caused or exacerbated by Big Body plagues. That is, pretend the lion's share of pollution, extinctions and habitat destruction is directly due to Big Body activities and the unnatural appetites they excite in human minds.

Finally, pretend that since you, perhaps inexplicably, really care about this stuff, you may be somehow involved in Gaia's immune system. This would define you as one of the "immunogentry" - that minor, but relatively constant, percentage of human beings who are unaccountably sensitive to distant pain. For such people, far off tragedies can provoke resonant suffering in the heart, and a vague but incessant desire to "do something!" This compassionate urge is the first seed of activism and a sure sign that you are in some fateful (and occasionally fatal) way implicated in the planet's bio-defenses.

Like our blood-borne brethren, immunogentile activists spend a lot of life being drawn to trouble spots, identifying/engaging/possibly attacking the "enemy," and then, if we survive, returning to instruct the youth and next round of resistance regarding the invader: What the hell is it? What are its weapons? And, most importantly, what are its exploitable vulnerabilities? If the returning veterans' reconnaissance is wise or at least accurate, the next generation has a fighting chance to prevail. But if their analysis is erroneous, our new recruits march off to certain futility, defeat, and/or COP3.

The alternative reconnaissance offered here, that vast corporate bodies are a new species, anti-democratic, eco-carcinogenic, and the primary sources of planetary disease, is both evident and unacceptable. Since these same bodies now control virtually all the world's media, schools, economies and political systems, it is a tough message to sell.

But if the hundreds of flavors of activists in the world suddenly recognized we all share a singular enemy, and that Big Bodies are in every important sense alive, in charge, and totally out of control then we have an entirely new and more hopeful path of approach. Our own body's relatively tiny population of immune cells is so effective because it attacks the basic pathogens rather than their incessantly proliferating symptoms. Moreover, if our adversaries are indeed livings systems, they can be made to shrink as well as grow and be split into much smaller, safer, more sympathetic entities. Since the real point of COP3 is too reduce toxic threats to the atmosphere and environment, it does not really matter how shamelessly the suits vote or posture inside the hall as long as we get the job done outside. But first we must recover control of our own corporate-ridden societies. That in turn requires that we all focus for a while on the 3 Big Zings - miniaturizing/localizing/democratizing our dominant social organisms, while stripping them of usurped human rights to free speech and political power. (Just try pretending that anything unable to love Nature or a child or our millennia of struggle against hierarchic injustice just doesn't deserve any political perks whatever.) And to accomplish all this?

Successful immune systems like successful eco-systems are diverse - with a wide variety of cells and tactics at their disposal. We too should use every cunning means imaginable to expose the malignancy of Big Bodies to mothers, youth and the still unincorporated to shut off their source of fresh bodies. We need to revoke their civil rights and slowly shrink them to sizes that can resonate to human and environmental needs. For this we shall need inspired new myths, music, literature, movies, and perhaps even computer games. And to back up the show business, we require clear proof of their pathology (for which we simply have to collate all that we already know about the thousands of social and environmental disasters they have perpetrated upon us for the last 100 years). But most of all, we have to understand and spread this revelation:

"Big Bodies live! They are a primitive new species toxic to our world, our children and our most precious values. They are competing against us for the future. And at the moment, there is absolutely no doubt who is winning."

When this message begins to get through, and activists everywhere start to realize that we are all confronting different symptoms of the same corporate plague, we may finally see results commensurate with our many years of effort. May the force be with us...

by w. david kubiak

(Mr. Kubiak lectures on memetics & mass media at Ritsumeikan University. He is a Kyoto Journal editor, a director of Japan Civil Liberties Union, a founder/member of the International Society to Save Kyoto, and a media advisor to the Asian Environmental Council. Internet mail:

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