Art For A Sustainable World / An Interview with Michael Green




 
 
 
 

One of my favourite tools at raising awareness and adding my part to social activism, is INTERVIEWS. 
Why? Because I found that when I ask some questions to those who are really making a difference in the world, their answers, insights and example can inspire many people to start thinking and acting.

 

Massive thank you to every one of you who responded my requests positively and give me some precious time of your lives to answer my questions!
 
In this piece, I was asking some questions to Michael Green, a Sustainable Artist who has dedicated his life to creating a world that is sustainable and cruelty free for human and nonhuman animals as well.

 

57Despite the fact that he is suffering with social anxiety and depression, he is going on the streets and doing activism and artwork which truly make him a hero in my eyes. (And in C. G. Jung’s terms he is indeed one of those few people in society who go on the “hero’s path”.)
 
– Since when have you been doing any kind of artwork?
 
– 2002.

 
– Tell me more about you, so the readers can get to know you – your personal things, anything that you feel is important and define you.

– What can I say about myself that really is no different from anyone else?
Nothing really; born on the same planet as everyone else, travelled quite regularly as a child, due to the fact my sperm donor was in the navy. Pretty ordinary, boring person who got fed up with what i was taught to believe, started questioning it, travelled again, to places i’d never been, became introduced to mind expanding/opening possibilities, became an activist. Although this contains many i/me references, talking about myself is not something i like to do, mainly because i don’t think i’m interesting, important or have contributed anything of meaningful value to the world.

– I never interview people who aren’t interesting. 🙂42

What kind of influences could you mention that helped you to understand our problems? What was the ultimate urge for you to start doing art and activism? Who are your favourite speakers, activists, – artists?

 

– Many influences have been present, all through my life. From the protest singer/songwriters i’ve heard, politicians, corporate bosses and advertising (the incessant lies and stupidity), and other people like me on the streets but it was the reading of one particular book, “A Reasonable Life” Ferenc Mate in 1999, that was probably what brought about the most profound changes in me. A nicotine and alcohol habit, begun in my mid teens, became very heavy, and was followed with cannabis use in my twenties; the reading of the above book, got me questioning what i was doing to myself and the example being set to others because of it, and brought the end of my use of all three substances simultaneously 14 years ago.
The book itself was about government, corporations, televison and money and their effect upon the environment and our lives. It was, at the time, what i thought was the “goal”, but actually was just the key to further learning.

At that time, being married, we agreed to stop watching television, and the only way to describe the effect that has on how we think/behave, after years of it’s hypnotic like effect, can only be experienced by the individual. This was quite probably the catalyst for becoming involved in art and using it as a form of activism.
It’s incredible to realise just how ignorant i’d been for most of my life; it was the introduction over the next few years of learning about food, nutrition, psychology, our use of animals for all reasons, environmental issues and this all led to further learning about other ideas and subjects.

I do my best to avoid “favourites”, but must admit to being influenced by these people in particular, in no order of preference: Gary Yourofsky, Melanie Joy, Phillip Wollen, Simone Reyes, Dr Michael Greger, Gabor Mate, Jacque Fresco, Arundhati Roy, Naomi Klein, Gary L Francione, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Abby Martin, Dr Helen Caldicott, Banksy, Van Gogh, Dali, Edward Hopper, John Lennon, Joan Baez, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Buffy Saint-Marie, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, George Orwell (there are others, they’ve just slipped my ever failing memory); all those activists with whom i “work”, and those who are unknown to me, and those who for a very brief time have been in my life but have imparted something material or piece of wisdom, all deserve a great deal of credit for helping me to continue, because what they do is invaluable, for nonhumans and humans and the very planet upon which we all depend.

(The written part of the conversation continues below)
 
   


 


 

– I know you regularly go out in the streets, talk to people about sustainability, human rights, animal rights. How is it working, how do people react? What are the achievements so far?
 
– This is not an easy one to answer, mainly because it can depend upon how i’m feeling, and those who take the time to stop and get involved in a discussion that invariably is going to challenge existing beliefs, be it veganism/animal rights or Resource Based Economy activism and for me you can’t separate them because they are both related to ending needless suffering.55
(Despite the fact i get out as an activist regularly, social anxiety has always affected my life, and the more i learn seems to isolate me further from those who surround me, causing further anxiety and severe depression.) 

The reactions range from very open, surprise, shock, willful ignorance, rejection and hostility. Fortunately, as far as animal rights/vegan activism is concerned i’m involved regularly with others who are amazing to work with, and we have been in some very hostile situations, but we do get lots of encouraging moments too. It’s hard to tell the effect you’re going to have on any particular person because the seed has been sown and you just don’t know when/how soon it will germinate.
From a personal aspect some people have, either in person or on social media, indicated that they have “changed” because of something i’ve said, done or posted, but my thoughts on that are, they already were thinking that way and they’ve been influenced by much of a similar type elsewhere.

It really has nothing to do with me, but is more about how open someone else is to new ideas, change and real progress. As for being involved in a group, we have tried a variety of ways/events to help educate others; for me “street theatre” type of events are really good, especially considering the seriousness of the subject matter.

– When and where can we meet you next?

– Who knows? Making arrangements is something of an anathema for me; realising that we live in a system that is so “time dependent”, to me destroys spontaneity, creating big problems for me in that respect. Having to “promise” that i’ll be going to an event with fellow activists, for instance, has now become a matter of “interested” on social media in most cases, rather than “going”. One of the things that affects me deeply is depression, and when i’ve been involved in activist events, group or solo, it hits very severely. Most days begin with a very self destructive thought, and getting motivated to do anything has become a problem.

Despite all i do, i really get frustrated by, what i see as my failure to have a much more positive effect on others.

– “Being in the moment” while doing your artwork and activism, I love this very much, tell us more about this.

This is very strange because for me it’s actually about creating a far more just, effective, efficient and resource 64sustainable system that omits nobody, human and non human animal alike, so our “moment/now” is about the future. These are two relevant articles: “The Acceleration of Acceleration: How The Future Is Arriving Far Faster Than Expected” (click here to read<<< ) and

“The Future Is Already Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed” (click here to read<<< )

– Amazing, thank you for the references! I’m going to put them in the article when published.

I love your “canvases”, especially the TV-s and the vacuum for instance. But all of your arts are very eye catching and thought provoking. I’dlove to hear about people’s reactions you’ve received so far. 

– Similar to my earlier reply about the reactions of others to activism, the responses vary. From one end of the spectrum to the other. Again it’s not really about me, but something i came up with because of the many influences to which i’ve been subject. If the “different canvases” create, or would provoke be a better choice, thought and discussion as to why those canvases are being used, as well as the subject matter, that is the purpose of the “art”.

– In what other ways do your artworks help us move forward towards a sustainable world?

– That’s a difficult question to answer because it would depend upon how much attention the, quite literally thousands of, people have paid to what they’ve seen as they’ve passed me whilst doing this in public and what effect any ensuing discussion has had.

– There are so many speakers, artists and activists out there who work for sustainability. I noticed that even the non vegan ones started to recognise and acknowledge that the meat and dairy industry is not sustainable and harmful in many ways, and began supporting the alternatives. I’m glad to see this, especially as I’m an AR activist too. And of course the vegan part is my favourite in your work, too. How can you get along with non vegan activists, and how do you see the chances of cooperating with them – at doing art and/or other ways of spreading awareness?65

– As much as i try to “get along” with non vegan activists, i realise that they, like i previously was, quite probably haven’t yet connected to the fact that animal agriculture is not sustainable in any way, and that they quite likely haven’t made the connection that if it’s unethical and needless for humans to suffer in any way the same applies to the nonhuman animals with whom we share this planet and upon which we all depend. I’m including the following because “the pertinent part” in a way deals with aspects of, what many others may see as my not cooperating, but is in fact the inability i have at times to explain clearly what i’ve learned/am still learning.

– The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (here<<< )

On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists,neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observations can be stated unequivocally: More at the link but the pertinent part of this paragraph is, “ is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states” Despite the fact that human beings use words on a daily basis, we still seem to not be able to understand what someone else actually means, listening not tto learn or understand but merely to reply. Having been interested in linguistics, etymology and semantics for some time, it was interesting to read “The Tyranny of Words” Stuart Chase a few years past (it was written in the late 1920’s).

– You have been travelling around the world – tell me how did it change you, what did you experience, what have you been learning and how do you use it in your current projects?

– Living in other parts of the planet enabled me to recognise that wherever we are, whatever our ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any of the cultural indoctrinations to which we have been subjected, the major “problems” that affect us all are human problems , and can be resolved by ensuring that we all have access to our basic needs.
Advertising has done it’s “job” on the majority of us by turning “wants” into “needs”.
This classic line from the film “Fight Club” sums it up: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, doing jobs we hate, to buy shit we don’t need”.
Because i’m not very intelligent, and quite slow to learn, it invariably takes me a while to put something i’ve learned into something tangible; example being the book I read in 1999 and i didn’t begin painting till 2002 and using the televisons till a year later. One of the changes that happened was that whilst in Central America i read a book, for the first time, that was not written in English, Eduardo Galeano “Patas Arriba la escuela Del Mundo Al Reves”

– What would you say to people who have no talent (or think they don’t have any) and have no knowledge and understanding, or just began to explore what’s wrong with our world today and looking for answers? What particular steps would you suggest them to take educating themselves and taking actions that make a difference?

– You’re asking some very difficult questions, in respect that i’m not the best person to give advice; however when i quit watching television and began to admit to myself that i was addicted to substance use, that were not in my best interests and i was using them to numb the pain of much abuse, both mental and physical, in my childhood was what paved the 96way for what i do now. It is also relevant to point out that the very system we are currently in, and in the process of eradicating, has in many ways caused people to believe they have “no talent” or “knowledge and understanding”. From my experiences as an activist, individual or with others, it is evident just from listening to others talk that this type of indoctrination happens from parents, school, the mainstream media and society as a whole.
There is an insightful piece about Edward Bernays and how he used psychology to get the US public to “support” the US military involvement in World War 1, and how that same use of psycology has been used/is still being used by corporations and governments against us.

“In 1917 Woodrow Wilson formed the Committee on Public Information, also known as the CPI. It was a propaganda agency and it’s purpose was to build support for the war with the American people. The CPI, run by a man named George Creel was known for its crude tactics, blatant exaggerations and outright lies. However one member of the CPI, Edward Bernays, had a much more subtle approach. Rather than resorting to low brow tactics Bernays studied the mindset of the American people, then based on his observations he created a campaign to promote the idea that America’s purpose in the war was to “make the world safe for democracy”. This meme was wildly successful, so much so that continues to be used even to this day.
Edward Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, and like his uncle he was avid student of human psychology. Some documentarians such as Adam Curtis in his film “The Century of the Self” have mistakenly assumed that the psychological techniques that Bernays went on to develop were merely the practical application of Freud’s theories. However, though Freud had a significant influence on his nephew, the reality of the matter is that he was not the source of these ideas.
Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann all subscribed to a school of thought that was first put forth in 1895 by a French social psychologist named Gustave Le Bon. Le Bon wrote several books, the famous of which was entitled “Psychologie des Foules”. It was translated into English as “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind”. “The Crowd” was a revolutionary piece of work. In it Le Bon not only presented an in depth description of group psychology and how it differed from individual psychology but he also outlined a very simple set of principles that enable leaders to spark ideological contagion and thereby rise to power.

Hitler, Goebbels, and Mussolini all studied Le Bon’s writings and applied his techniques to the letter. The results they attained were precisely those that Le Bon claimed that they would have. Funny how they leave that little detail out of most history books don’t you think?

Sigmund Freud’s book “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego” was in fact a direct critique of the writings of Gustave Le Bon and William McDougall which focused on the relationship between individual psychology and group psychology, and explained how human groups can be controlled for long periods of time through the manipulation of group identity, belief systems and social structures.

Edward Bernays studied Freud, Le Bon, Wilfred Trotter, Walter Lippmann and many others. He then combined their perspectives and synthesized them into an applied science. He named that science public relations.

The success of his “make the world safe for democracy” meme during the war, both at home and abroad, planted the seed of an idea in his mind. Could group psychology tactics be applied during peacetime? After the Committee on Public Information was disbanded he decided to find out, and in 1919 he opened the world’s first pubic relations agency. He referred to his office as The Council on Public Relations. This was Bernays’ specialty, engineering social trends for clients, and he was very, very good at it. Perception was now a commodity for sale to the highest bidder.

Bernays aided the CIA and United Fruit Company (known today as Chiquita Brands International) in a successful campaign to topple a democratically elected Guatemalan government in 1954, he headed up the public relations campaign to garner support for the fluoridation of municipal water supplies on behalf of the aluminum mining Alcoa Inc, who was looking for a cheap way to dispose of their industrial waste, and he even helped a company convince the American public to eat heavier breakfasts so that they would buy more bacon.

What made Bernays so successful was his skill in applying of 3 psychological tactics:

1. Creating carefully calculated associations with the subconscious fears and desires of individuals.

2. Influencing opinion leaders and perceived authority figures in order to reach those who followed them.

3. Initiating the contagion of behaviors and ideas through social conformity.

Bernays wrote several books promoting these psychological tactics including “Propaganda” and “Crystalizing Public Opinion”. In these books he specifically encouraged governments and corporations to use his methodology to manipulate public perception.

This suggestion did not fall on deaf ears. His techniques worked so well that they were adopted by virtually every sector that sought to influence the public: media, politics, advertising, even the military. As Walter Lippmann had indicated, it was a revolution. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, found Bernays’ approach very useful. Bernays acknowledged this fact in his 1965 autobiography entitled “Biography of an Idea” where he wrote:
 

“Karl von Wiegand, foreign correspondent of the Hearst newspapers, an old hand at interpreting Europe and just returned from Germany, was telling us about Goebbels and his propaganda plans to consolidate Nazi power. Goebbels had shown Wiegand his propaganda library, the best Wiegand had ever seen. Goebbels, said Wiegand, was using my book Crystallizing Public Opinion as a basis for his destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me. … Obviously the attack on the Jews of Germany was no emotional outburst of the Nazis, but a deliberate, planned campaign.” (Biography of an Idea, page 652)The events that transpired in Nazi Germany stunned the world and they inspired several prominent psychologists to investigate how populations are convinced to commit atrocities. In the process they inadvertently established the science behind Le Bon’s and Bernays’ methods.”

And this:

“Most societies have an elite and the elite try to stay in power. And the way they stay in power is not merely by controlling the means of production (the money) but by controlling the cognitive map – the way we think. And what matters in this regard is not so much what is said in public, but what is left undebated – unsaid.”
– Gillian Tett, Anthropologist / Assistant Editor – Financial Times

As i have no “proof” that what i’ve learned about and with what i’m involved is due to stopping watching tv and quitting my previously mentioned habits, it would be appropriate to suggest to others that the only way you will know is to do it yourself, begin learning as much as you can about the issues that affect us all, understand that what affects us individually does so to us all, and vice versa, that sticking our head in the sand will not solve the issues and only prolongs them and the needless suffering caused by them. Be open to any new idea that challenges the status quo, research it, however strange it may seem to you, because what we currently have is based upon the values of the system to which we’ve been born.

 

The second part is coming soon, stay tuned!