Making New Habits

By December 7, 2016Uncategorized

by Guy Zimmerman

We’re all familiar with bad habits, the kind that can tip into addiction. Habits, by definition, are tough to break, residing as they do in the pre-conscious formations out of which we are constructed. Vision LA seeks to illuminate the scaled-up, collective bad habits of overconsumption that now threaten our survival as a species. As many scientists and activists combating climate denialism no doubt understand, the resistance to wise action often comes from cultural formations that must be dragged out of the dark and deconstructed. A second function of Vision LA is to provide the emotional juice for this challenging task by sketching out an inspiring vision of what life might be like were we able to liberate ourselves from these cultural shackles. A sustainable future—one in which human beings are fully engaged in the creative work of managing the living systems of this planet—can offer the kind of inspiration that brought pilgrims across a wide and dangerous ocean, and sent men to the moon in rocket ships.

One of the strengths of the Jung-based 12 Step programs is the way they view habitual patterns as formidable opponents. These affective formations are adaptive, resourceful, wily, drawing on the energies of the organism to avoid the kind of deconstruction we are talking about. All this applies to the kinds of collective, cultural patterns and formations that need to be dismantled before progress can be made on the environmental front. The challenges are sobering, and it is good to know that ahead of time.

The critical, deconstructive project outlined above is only half of the picture. The other half is creative, positive, visionary—we need to collectively imagine a sustainable way of life—what it might look and feel like—before we can inspire people to help us create it. This cannot be simply an impoverished version of our current social world. We should not tell people they’ll “have to learn to live without” and expect them to get in line. On their own, fear inducing messages simply advertise the climate deniers Kool-aid—when we are terrified we cling to what we know. Engaging instead with the full plasticity of human potential combats the reductive message of the right wing—they idea that there is no alternative to our unsatisfying, dehumanizing status quo. We cannot concede this crucial point and expect to prevail. Instead we must celebrate the astonishing capacities human beings have to actualize new capacities, new modes of relation, new social and political institutions that liberate rather than enslave.

Like any creative act, to imagine a sustainable future we must first engage with the equivalent of an empty canvas or a blank sheet of paper. This work promises to address also the persistent social imbalances that give rise to poverty, alienation and other social maladies. This positive feedback effect will be familiar also to those who have struggled with addiction—often addictions are signposts of buried traumas, and we are better off dragging those into the light where they can heal. Viewed this way, habits are invitations to a greater freedom. The current climate crises invites a new vision in which women and men work cooperatively with living systems to maintain and enhance the webs of life in which we are embedded.

The logic laid out above explains our decision to follow up our December 2015 Climate Action Arts Festival with a series of initiatives and collaborations oriented toward the kind of pragmatic, imaginative work regarding new and sustainable ways of being on this planet. By engaging with narrative story tellers at work in the popular media, and with documentarians, advertisers and other communicators, Vision LA seeks to seed the collective imaginary with the transformative energies of hope and inspiration.