“… a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.”
The first movement of our apocalypse was the loss of the illusion of global unity and univocality, and with it, the loss of our sense of progress. But if globalism was not really leading us to the promised land, and instead down a false path, where are we to go?
Our immediate reaction to being unable to proceed is to try to go back the way we came; to where we were before we started our flight towards the globe. This takes us towards the red horse and its rider.
If the scientists now tell us that it’s impossible for everyone to live our lifestyle without leading to catastrophe, then whether we believe them or not, we might as well look out for our own. We can’t control everyone else, and we don’t want them controlling us. “Warming will be good for us, anyway,”we reassure ourselves. We’ll take back control of our nation, and make it great again. Our borders will be protected and our industries will be privileged. Let the others deal with the consequences; we must, after all, eat, drink and be merry. Or else what’s the point of living? We shake ourselves loose of the grip of nihilism.
Yes, it’s time to look out for our own, to bring back the jobs that went overseas, and to enjoy life while we can. Forget the experts and their attempts to strip us of our sovereignty; forget the rules that apply only to us and not to others, making it harder for us to survive, while letting others get away with murder. If we don’t strengthen our nation, then how else can we stand up to large corporate interests, including the banks, and so win a better life for our people?
In the medicine wheel, the colour red signifies — among other things — the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, those who have already suffered through their own apocalypses. And while they can hardly be accused of taking peace from the Earth, they have reminded non-indigenous peoples forcefully that the voice of global capital is not their voice, and that the right of a people to make their own decisions in accordance with their own values, cannot be ignored.
The path seems to have promise. Just as red banners begin to be raised as we move towards the second horse and its rider, we are struck an unexpected blow.
We all know the story of how the Canadian Pacific Railway bound us together with steel and wood, making Confederation possible. Canals, highways, and other infrastructure projects followed. But now, every pipeline built or left unbuilt brings the federation closer to disintegration. As for the railroad, it too has been severed.
The horseman of nationalism wields the sharpest of swords. Having separated us from our vision of the globe with a mighty cut, the sword only continues its work of division.
There are 634 First Nations from coast to coast to coast; many Quebecois see themselves as a separate nation; and now voices in Alberta and Saskatchewan begin to call for their own version of Brexit, that attempt by the British to take back sovereignty from the European Union, to return to the old kingdom; a kingdom which looks less and less united with each passing month. And in the USA…
The way to the land of old suddenly seems barred; the dividing sword of the red horseman has caught us all by surprise. But if we could not find the univocality and unanimity required to reach the globe, then why did we expect to find them at the national level either? Mistrust lurks in every unequal distribution of power; between majority and minority; in every disagreement over who will access resources, and where the wealth from the resources will flow. As with the oceans and the atmosphere, these are crises of the commons, and of their governance.
The tattered pieces of our social contract lay on the ground. At the mercy of the second horseman, each country enters a state of cold civil war. But with a warming planet it is not clear how long these wars will remain cold.
In the midst of this new turmoil, the red horseman raises his hand and indicates where the land of old really lies: ethnic nationalism. That was our home before we departed for the globe. Did we forget, or just not care to see? We pause for a moment, and then step towards the rider.
If everything is falling apart, we think, at least we can trust those who look like us, and talk like us. The horseman appears clothed in traditional garments we recognize, smelling of our native cuisine. He offers us nostalgia; promises us a return to the old kingdom, land, and customs; protection for our way of life and our children. Don’t we dream of simpler, happier times? Don’t we long to feel organic unity; to feel whole again? To speak freely, without fear of offending?
In Canada the Quebecois separatists, the Wexiters, and the indigenous sovereigntists all represent minorities within the federation. And yet, the desire to protect a way of life is contagious and not limited to minorities. The more the minority groups attempt to protect themselves, the more the majority begins to grow frustrated. Why can’t we also have our unity? Why can’t we be sovereign? Why can’t we have our univocality?
And what of multiculturalism? Is it only for the Global North while everyone else gets a nation of their own? Are they trying to replace us?
We begin to whisper.
Across Europe, whispers turn into murmurs and shouts. President Modi of India has stopped whispering and now declares loudly the right of Hindus to dominate that country. The Hungarians, the Saudis and the Israelis, to name a few, join the chorus. And we all know there have been others to sing the tune of ethnic nationalism.
But is ethnic nationalism really resistant to the dividing power of the red horseman’s sword? Even amongst a nation as small as Wet’suwet’en there is disagreement over how to govern the common, how best to protect the people.
We look everywhere for the land of old, but the soil, the oceans, the people, have already changed, and are changing increasingly rapidly. The treaties signed with indigenous peoples guarantee the right to fish and hunt and trap as the ancestors did, but how is that possible when the species of fish are changing, the populations of caribou and moose declining, and the population of humans growing?
The Earth is once again disappearing from our horizon. None of the problems that emerged when we attempted to live as a single globe seem to be solvable through a return to the old, because the old is not there either.
This then is the second movement in our apocalypse; we realize that we can’t return to the land of old, because it doesn’t exist anywhere anymore. We did not reach the globe, but every nation is interconnected, not only by trade, but in our dependence on the commons for our health and prosperity.
Those who want the pipelines built say we need them for our nation, our economy, our survival. Those who block the pipelines say that we must do it for our nation, our future, our survival. It seems no one can survive without either the cooperation, or the annihilation of the other.
The horseman holds his sword of division threateningly. Schism could be sown in every collective, until we’re reduced to individuals in the war of all against all.
We couldn’t go forward, and now we awaken to the reality that we can’t go back. So we linger, caught between the allure of (ethnic)nationalismwith its false promise that we will be able to fully take control of our own lives on an Earth where everything is interconnected, and the false promise of an already unified globe. Between the legitimate desire for control over our communities, the well being of our friends and families, and our inescapable dependence on others outside of our preferred collective for our survival. Between the white horse and the red horse, amongst the ruins of our lost kingdoms, we languish, confused, shouting insults before retreating toecho chambers, full of mistrust.
Would we stay here in paralysis, unable to address any of our problems, unable to find a way back to Earth? The critical zone trembles, creaks and groans like lake ice in early Spring. The momentum of our apocalypse can’t be held back.
The sound of hooves.
A black horse approaches.