- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Snottiness rebutted!

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on August 20, 1999 at 10:58:58:

In Reply to: Some different grist for the socialist mill posted by bill on August 19, 1999 at 01:47:22:

: "1.16. The Politics of Ecology

: Ecopolitics presents the real alternative to the bankruptcy of mainstream politics, one uniquely relevant to our times. As the Earth's life-support systems begin to collapse, there is a desperate need for a distinctly ecological framework of values, analysis and policy development.

SDF: What says "policy" is the real alternative to the bankruptcy of mainstream politics? What I'm saying is that there's an insufficiently-made logical connection above.

: On issues as varied as genetic engineering and taxation, most discussion is still trapped, however, within a framework that has no deep awareness of environmental or social constraints. Ecopolitics seeks to blend the wisdom of ecology to long-standing traditions in society of personal responsibility and moderation.

SDF: The question begged by this above formulation is one of HOW late-capitalist society empowers the person to take personal responsibility. If personal responsibility under the current system limits Joe Six-Pack to the role of being a well-managed employee while making responsible consumer choices when off-duty, is this relevant to what the authors want out of Joe Six-Pack in terms of personal responsibility? Please see James O'Connor's ACCUMULATION CRISIS for more detail.

Also it's important to note my critique of the sort of environmentalism that approaches it from the other end, that environmentalist utopia is SOOOOO far away from Joe Six-Pack that the only thing left to do is denounce as insufficient Joe Six-Pack's efforts to turn out the lights when leaving his house. From my essay:

Often the shrill environmentalist call advocating that
which people should do does not take us far along the path toward
that which people will do. An example of such environmentalism is
Paul and Anne Ehrlich's Healing the Planet. This book describes in exact and brutal detail the sort of trouble the planet is in, from the shrinking of the Amazon rainforests, the worldwide biological
genepools and the ozone layer in the atmosphere, to the threats of
chemical, atmospheric, and nuclear pollution,to the damage done to
the world by oil spills, the loss of global soil fertility, the
greenhouse effect etc. etc. In its manner of suggestions as to what
should be done, the Ehrlichs' only offer the appeal to civic duty
("write your Congressmember, call up big corporations on the
phone and demand environmentally safe practices from them," etc.)
and the overarching ideal (which was popularized in the "deep
ecology" movement and will be critiqued later in this essay) of
"paradigm change."

The most critical moment in Healing the Planet is its criticism of the trivialization of environmentalism through "pop
environmentalism." in one of its more innocuous manifestations: the
bestseller 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. The
Ehrlichs, after telling us about the narrow scope of the
recommendations in 50 Simple Things (their main criticism of the
suggestions themselves is that "have fewer children" was left out),
then tell us that

If those suggestions constituted the environmental
agenda followed by every Earthling, Earth would still
go down the drain (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 3)

This is true, they argue, because the human race is heedlessly
dismantling its ecosystem, and needs to pay attention to saving it
instead of concentrating upon "simple things you can do," i.e.
keeping the current set-up in place.

In short, I'm not sure that environmentalism has the intellectual resources, all by itself, to draw up a feasible plan to save the Earth. Paradigm change? Get outta here! One can see this in the behavior of the various Green Parties today, as adequately critiqued below. Wisdom about the social end of the bargain is missing.

: The first task is to face the reality that humanity is entering what gives every sign of being the most critical period in its entire history. The decisions we make over the next two decades are likely to decide whether or not the Earth life-support systems are sustained or become irreversibly impoverished. The crisis 'outside' society is mirrored within it. Despite unprecedented levels of affluence and massive leaps in technological know-how, the fabric of society is, nevertheless, coming apart at the seams.

: These interlocking social, economic and environmental crises in turn are reflected in the realm of politics. The political system is in a deepening state of crisis, unable to respond to the challenges of our times. None of the major political parties has really grasped what is at stake while the one force that seemed most promising, the green movement, is itself in a state of disarray and confusion.

SDF: One solution: be a Green organizer. It's my choice.

: Politics today reflects and feeds upon wider assumptions in society, where the dream of unlimited growth and affluence for all holds sway. None of the major parties is prepared to stand up and tell everyone that the game is up and that the consumer society as we know it is doomed. Even the Green Party fails to talk of limits imposed by ecological reality. Instead, it increasingly has taken refuge in wishful talk about expanding personal entitlements.

SDF: Perhaps it's unclear HOW it is so, that consumer society "is doomed". It could be doomed, I'd like to see the proof tho. It's easier to see that consumer society could become the privilege of plutocrats while at the same time becoming an ephemeral luxury for the rest of us. In such a way, the world could grow to become like present-day Brazil. But consumer society would not thusly be doomed.

: Socialism, Capitalism & Industrialisation.

: Socialist thinking, particularly its Marxist variants, has been shackled to a model of history in which industrialisation is perceived as a massive step forward, breaking the chains of feudalism whilst creating the necessary preconditions for the subsequent advance to socialism. In 19th century America, for example, socialists denounced craft artisans and small-scale farmers for opposing the advent of wage labour and the growth of a propertyless proletariat.

SDF: The above sentence appears to be ballast for a rather one-sided presentation of the possibilities of socialism. Apparently the above author has never heard of William Morris, nor, it appears, of Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, or any of the utopians. Perhaps this author could use a visit to the monuments to the New Harmony commune in SW Indiana, or to one of America's many communes, or to this page.

: Marxists and non-Marxists alike could see only inevitability and progress in the fateful shift to a society based on an intense division of labour, large-scale units of production and dependence upon finite and grossly polluting fossil fuels and inorganic minerals.

: Of course, like many others, socialists have been deeply aware of the terrible social and environmental costs of 'progress'. However, they blame these ills on capitalist ownership, not the nature and scale of the productive forces themselves.

SDF: All production within businesses exists to satisfy effective demand. (Production for command economies follows pretty much the same rules, since the commanders are those displaying the effective demand.) Effective demand is defined, under capitalism, as coming from the amount of money chasing a particular product (rather than merely emanating from the desires of people, as the economist Ludwig Von Mises would have argued). Each business must anticipate effective demand in order to stay in business. Production for effective demand has no necessary connection to the human needs which ethicists would like to see satisfied in capitalist production (although such a connection may exist incidentally) because capitalists see effective demand as satisfying their attempts to make a profit off of production:

The capitalist does not produce a commodity does not produce a commodity for its own sake, nor for the sake of its use-value, or his personal consumption. The product in which the capitalist is really interested is not the palpable product itself, but the excess value consumed by it.

Karl Marx, from CAPITAL VOL. 3 p. 41

The point is that, since production for effective demand has no necessary connection to the needs of humanity as a whole, human needs can go unsatisfied or be destroyed by production. The planet isn't just (or isn't really, I might also say) being destroyed; it's being "produced" by people for effective demand, and the argument that the "nature and scale of the productive forces" is at fault ignores the fact that the tractors themselves can't bulldoze the rainforest without human drivers.


: The issue of agency is a real one and any political movement must be able to identify social forces it can tap. Though only a long discussion could do justice to this matter, it can be baldly suggested that support for moves towards ecological sustainability will be strongest amongst mature, educated adults in the social 'mainstream', not amongst the dispossessed and marginalised elements which many socialists today see as the vanguard of a new social order.

SDF: The author, doubtless living in petit-bourgeois comfort, visualizes the working class (the majority of us, and the party supported by real socialists, whom the author apparently has no acquaintance with) as "dispossessed and marginalized elements" (marginalized by money perhaps?), while seeing the social "mainstream" (all of us right-thinking petit-bourgeoisie) as containing "educated" (toward what end?) adults who could support ecological sustainability (doubtless while working at high-resource-consumption jobs to pay off their mortgages and to support the college educations of their grown-up children). The people this author would trust are the same ones who have bought most firmly into the status quo, and who have the most to lose should it change.

Look, the fact that ecological sustainability (as a desired goal) has been packaged-for-sale to the wealthy, educated, and alienated lawyers of Marin County, California (for instance), doesn't imply that a Green Party or an environmental movement assembled of such people will be an effective global movement, or anything more than a tiny collection of philosophical prophets lost in the wilderness of America. So who's marginalized now? If you want an effective movement you need to encourage working people to unite and act.

: Socialism, then, brings with it so much anti-ecological baggage that a red-green fusion could lead only to a quick divorce or a loss of greenery. To a large extent, this is what has happened in Die Grünen and it seems be happening in the Green Party in the UK and amongst American greens. There is a yawning chasm between a politics of ecology and that of all major traditions of socialist theory and practice. This is the case both at the level of values-anthropocentrism versus an Earth-centred ethics-and of policy-especially limits-to-growth versus expansionism."

SDF: "Earth-centred ethics" -- if the author wants to be more "Earth-centred" than anyone else, we should bury him or her in the Earth. The point is that human beings have human ethics. Your ethics isn't "centred" outside of you, it comes from your relations to others, your interactions with them.

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