The Next Eclipse
Perhaps eclipse is something we do. Perhaps eclipse is something we become.
On August 21, a total solar eclipse path will stretch across the entire United States. Thousands of people are headed to Carbondale, Illinois to experience it, which also marks the intersection of this year’s eclipse and the next one on April 8th, 2024. This is a slightly contracted version of a text put out by a group of people in Carbondale. Read the full version here.
What Is an Eclipse?
In ancient Greek, éklipses meant “the abandonment,” “the downfall,” “a failing or forsaking,” or “the darkening of a heavenly body.”
Two of the most pronounced differences of the natural world – day and night – find themselves momentarily confused, reshuffled, paradoxically intertwined.
In those moments, all the ranks, badges, and hierarchies that bind the powers of the earth are revealed for what they are: the stupid games of humans, who have forgotten their place in the mortal order of things. The eclipse reminds us, contrary to the meticulously structured optical illusion of this social system, that it is the sun and not money that breaths life into the inhabitants of earth.
What is an eclipse?
An abandonment of those dependencies which prevent our lives from flourishing; a downfall of those powers that destroy us; an honest recognition of what has failed and forsaken us; a darkening of those entities who seek to decide our fate as if from the heavens.
Perhaps to eclipse is something we do. Perhaps an eclipse is something we become.
Let’s allow the eclipse to be an invitation to be present, together, before the challenges we face.
This is a call. It is meant for those who hear it.
We’re not trying to argue. We are writing for those who have all the arguments and reasons they need. Consider this a flare shot into the momentary night of the totality: for those who are looking, for those who are sending out flares of their own, for those who may have caught sight, through an accidental glance, and recognize a part of themselves in what they see.
For those who understand that we are living through the end of a civilization, and who want to build a new world within its empty shells, its ruins, its ashes, its wake.
For those who see that such a world will not come from the politicians or divine economic forces, but only from our own prolonged and committed efforts.
For those who have given up faith in all the mechanisms of “change,” and are ready to assume responsibility for their own future.
For those who understand that there is no hope on the horizon, unless we create it.
We offer no argument. We only want to state the obvious and point the direction that follows.
What Is Obvious
We all know it is ending.
Trump is not an aberration. There will be no “return to normal.” The damage has been done. America is over.
For some of us, America – while flawed and incompletely realized – was inseparable from an inspiring vision of human progress. It is therefore not without some pain that we watch it become a parody of itself, its hallowed institutions transformed into reality television, its ideals turn into propaganda for the naïve, its most evil traditions of white supremacy, exploitation, and sexism once again resurgent.
For others of us, we say “good riddance” to a country whose founding values were inscribed in blood-red hypocrisy, and whose world-historical legacy is to have accelerated the genocidal and eco-cidal forces of capitalism.
But whether it is a moment of solemn acceptance or celebratory joy, the truth is obvious: America is over. The question now is whether we have the courage to go beyond it, or whether we will accept its zombie-like afterlife, marked by a blatant effort at total control over its population.
Many are looking for a way to jump ship, to leave town and find some stable employment elsewhere. But there’s not enough room in the world’s gated communities for everyone. Instability and precarity are the present and future of this world. You can desperately try to save your own and hide, but the odds are stacked against you. Another path must be created for those of us who understand that stability at the expense of others is an illusion, always threatened by the fear of those excluded others. Another path must be made for those who want to create the conditions for a good life – abundance, comradery, virtue, compassion – here where we call home.
Such a path cannot be found on the existing political or economic map. It is off the boring charts of liberal and conservative and libertarian and socialist. It is a road that must be made by walking.
There are some, in their own places, who have taken steps in this direction. Small experiments in resurrecting a sense of collective life, a concern for the fate of a whole community. A town of 3000 people in the hills of Spain, Marinaleda, has created an agricultural co-operative that is owned by and employs the whole town. They deliberately chose labor-intensive crops to make sure they could give everyone work. If you help build your house, it’s yours for 15 euro a month. There are no police, because there is no crime, because there is no poverty. The city is cleaned every few Sundays by its own people, who make a party of it. While the unemployment rate in Spain is approaching 50 percent, and while the foreclosure crisis displaced hundreds of thousands, Marinaleda remains insulated from these market forces because it has built material and political autonomy at the local level.
There are other examples, each a unique attempt to forge a different world. The ZAD, or Zone to Defend: an autonomous zone the size of Carbondale and Makanda, composed of occupied farms and blocking the construction of an airport in the north of France. Two dozen small, interlinked communes inhabit the zone, building on it a world that is inconsistent with the airport and the world that demands it. A few times a year, tens of thousands of people flock there to express their support and show their commitment to defend the zone from eviction.
In Rojava, northern Syria, the Kurds took the civil war as an opportunity to launch a revolutionary project in democratic autonomy against capitalism, patriarchy, and the state. They created a form of government that is answerable to neighborhood assemblies and have shown themselves the most effective combatants against ISIS.
On every inhabited continent there are tiny worlds breaking off from global capitalism, sometimes quietly, sometimes accompanied by a fight. People building the possibility of a world beyond this imploding civilization.
Meanwhile, in Southern Illinois, people are placing their bets on an eclipse to provide a windfall of cash... for what? So they can continue the same course for a few more years, against all the winds of history that are desperately trying to blow us in another direction. Why couldn’t a dozen towns in Little Egypt go the direction of Marinaleda?
There are some of us who feel ourselves to be inseparable from this region. Some others are scrambling to get out. In the latter group, many came for work, at the hospital, at the university. Some were raised here with the idea that their future is obviously elsewhere. No matter how many years we stay, many of us still think we are merely passing through. This is a local symptom of a wider phenomenon.
In the last few decades, the economy’s imperative to go where the money is has uprooted people from their places on a scale that is historically only paralleled by wars and colonization efforts. With that uprooting, we are sucked out of our networks of family and childhood friends, transformed into isolated individuals or nuclear family units, whose sole responsibility is to care for our small bubble. Nothing is worth struggling for in any particular place; if things get too hard, just move.
Of course, not everyone can. And not everyone will, even if they can. Two types of people are emerging: those who feel so connected to a place that they refuse to uproot themselves without a fight, and those who refuse themselves that contact with reality. The latter surf on the waves of a turbulent economy, thinking their work is more important than the ground they stand on to do it. Life is a highway and places are pit-stops.
The relation to every place as somewhere one is merely passing through is what prevents the kinds of struggles that are needed from emerging. It is what makes every particular place expendable.
Creating a future requires allowing ourselves to develop and take seriously our connection to a place. To recognize its fate as our own.
On April 8th, 2024, a second eclipse will pass through Little Egypt. We can let these two eclipses be nothing more than an astronomical coincidence. We can let the movements of planetary bodies remain separate from the movements of our hearts, let their migration have no effect on our social life apart from being two opportunities to scam the tourists. We can do that.
But why? Aren’t we looking for something? Aren’t we waiting for something to reorient us, to trigger the transformation of life that is necessary to survive, let alone to thrive?
Let the next eclipse be ours. Let the first eclipse be a period, a hard stop that brings relief to the long winded speech of those who have told us this is the only life on offer, there is no alternative, you’d tear yourselves apart without us, and on and on. Period. Thank you for your thoughts, but now its time for some of our own. What can be accomplished in seven serious years, here in Little Egypt?
Economic autonomy. The ability to meet the needs of Little Egypt through growing and producing in Little Egypt. With it, the confidence that, were the global economy to collapse, we’d be alright – better maybe?
A social safety-net from below. The ability to provide care for those whose health and well-being the state has abandoned, or is always a law or two away from abandoning.
Ecological restoration and defense. The ability to not merely beg those who call themselves our leaders to stop fracking, but to physically prevent such a disastrous industry from poisoning our region.
A sense of collective fate. Forms of celebrating the forgotten history of resistance, of feeling ourselves as we really are: fragile links in a human story of struggle.
How far can seven years take us? Seven years from now, will we have squandered our lives working to pay off debts and rents to those who we feel, deep down, that we owe nothing?
There are no maps for where we must go. There is a direction, and a path to make by walking.
Autonomy. It’s a word that today has more of a direction and a practice than a meaning, per se. Around the globe, from the Zapatistas of southern Mexico, to the Kurds of northern Syria, to networks of communes throughout Europe and North America, autonomy is the dream taking shape.
We could define it as collective self-determination, the ability for the people of a place to chart their own future. To eclipse the power of financial, industrial, and political elites.
The obstacles to autonomy are twofold: on the one hand, a global economy that wraps people’s everyday lives in an international network of money exchanges, and on the other hand, the governments and their police whose job, at bottom, is to keep it that way.
Struggles for autonomy, then, involve both building and fighting. Building the means for regional production outside the existing economic order. Fighting for the right to organize our lives in ways are inevitably contrary to the laws of the state. Those laws, whatever their stated intention, have the fundamental purpose of keeping us dependent on the institutions that are destroying the earth and its various worlds. Reducing us to isolated individuals, whose sole course for freedom involves submission to the gambling ring called the economy.
Autonomy is about creating different freedoms. Creating different worlds. Creating the conditions to create ourselves, with all the potential dangers and joys that such a project entails.
How would we do it? How would we eclipse their power?
Many of us are already doing it. Around the continent and around the region, networks of organic farms are self-organizing. Spaces are being taken over and filled with people and projects for the struggle. What is necessary is not some party or political organization that sucks us into the dying gasps of a system that, with Trump, has shown its true colors. We are already a party, partisans, of a world that is inconsistent with this one. Acknowledging this fact, deepening our cooperation, and extending our ambitions are our first tasks.
Start with desires, and build what is needed to fulfill them. None of us want a life reduced to blandness and scarcity. We want a luxurious life that can be shared with others, and we’re willing to work for it. A craft brewery or ice cream company that builds its own local production network can be a partisan project, building within the money economy a set of skills and resources that could just as easily be detached from it. Create something, share it, and link up with others.
Don’t try to do everything. Make friends who have the skills you don’t have to accomplish what you want. We need engineers, farmers, computer scientists, permaculture experts, listeners, singers, thieves, nurses, historians, visionaries, carpenters, plumbers, and a thousand other people who love the skills they’ve developed and want to share them. Make your skills available, and look at something you can’t do alone as an opportunity to meet someone new.
What passes for “political debate” today is a trap. Political discourse today is designed to pidgeon-hole us into pre-defined, easily manipulated categories. If you have a neighbor or a high school friend that is on opposite sides of the political spectrum, find a common practice or form of sharing material things that can create common ground for a relationship. Chart a course off the political spectrum with unpredictable friendships.
Build a culture of resistance. Non-cooperation with the police and the state, solidarity with those who resist. Turn out to demonstrations and make them true expressions of our collective capacity to transform life and the city, if even for a moment. Ask yourself how you can best contribute to creating or sustaining joyous chaos, a breakdown of the sad reign of normalcy, and make a plan with those you know.
Diversity is strength. Racial and class diversity, but also ideological, spiritual, age, and any other kinds. We want a world that values each of our perspectives and unique abilities to contribute, and this is an ethos that needs to be in the genetic code of our struggle. Keep in mind, the most effective tool of the powerful is division along racial, ethnic, or other lines. Within any identity, there is more difference than there is across its boundaries. The only lines that matter are ethical lines: how you are, not who you are; what you want, not where you come from.
Think ethically and strategically. Breaking out of the structures of this world is not something that will happen simply because it is a good idea. Good ideas lay buried in the brains of millions of dissidents. Similarly, rigid moral principles paralyze people from acting in a context where no action can be safe from a context of suffering. I type this on a computer, using electricity created from burning coal, which is warming the atmosphere and destroying the lungs of people around the globe. Morality creates guilt around these facts, which are beyond any of our control and therefore responsibility. Guilt paralyzes and brings out nastiness, resentment.
What is needed is a strategic ethics, which starts from what is practically possible in any given situation, and is oriented toward expanding those possibilities for the next moment.
Morality commands, whether it is from a church pulpit or a conscience. Ethics, in contrast, invites us to steer a course through the undesirable extreme consequences to grow more powerful in each unique situation.
For our broad situation, there are clear extremes we want to navigate between. On one hand, we want to steer clear of what is normal, which is the destruction of the world at the hands of the economy. On the other hand, we don’t want to catalyze the outbreak of open civil war in a context where the state and right wing paramilitary forces can be deployed to crush everything we love. Veer too far from normal, without having built enough strength, and the reactionary forces will be shipping us off to the camps. Come too close to normal, and our projects will be captured in the economy and become a nightmare version of what we hope for, as has happened so many times before.
Which Future Past?
Fifty years ago, no one could have imagined the world we have now. Fifty years from now, the world will have transformed several times over in ways that we currently cannot imagine. This is beyond question. The only question is whether the terms of these changes will continue to be set by the interests of the wealthy and their political lackeys, or whether a new historical force will enter the equation.
Eclipses are useful to historians, because they allow the precise dating of events that otherwise may have been recorded unreliably. What will these eclipses mean to the future? A moment where the sublime movements of astronomical bodies was reduced to a marketing gimmick for a dying region? Or a moment when, however subtly, some otherwise inconsequential earthlings began seriously organizing to save themselves?