(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
Americans are, generally, averse to “big” issues and thinking in the long-term. History is bunk (as Henry Ford famously said) to most Americans which is why exactly the same patterns in policy and execution of that policy are manifest in Afghanistan and Iraq as were shown in Vietnam. We, collectively, have learned nothing. At a time when people distrust government when it comes to the military or military actions believe absolutely everything the government says. 9/11 was a case and point. The government offered no evidence and, in fact, destroyed or seized any evidence that there was for the events with the excuse that we were “at war” though no war was declared and there was no country that we were at war with–rather, Americans swallowed whole that we were at war with “terror” which is completely impossible and irrational. This “War on Terror” which was to last, essentially, forever was swallowed by most of the left despite abundant evidence that the U.S. government has consistently deceived the public particularly since the national security state was established during the Truman administration. Some people on the left did object to this war on terror nonsense but no great figures on the left were the least bit skeptical of the government accounts of 9/11! Chomsky accepted that the government tended to lie about everything concerning war and foreign policy but not about 9/11! Somehow they found their hidden ability to tell the truth during that fateful date. Regardless of how any of us feel about the mechanics and cause of 9/11 I think we can agree that the government was hiding something.
The reaction to the events of 9/11 is why I have no faith in the American left–but I believe a real left can emerge but it must emerge out of what I call the Main Event. I don’t mean 9/11 either–it is just a milestone something that was, I believe, inevitable one way or the other. The Main Event is not actually an event but the ongoing horror of climate change. All the issues we talk about are important but they are candles in the sun of what is happening to our environment.
I want to talk about an article I read on the Counterpunch site. The article was written by the brilliant thinker Morris Berman and is entitled: Time to Abolish the American Dream: The Waning of the Modern Ages. He was musing about the issues we face when he came across something Naomi Klein wrote:
….she chastises the Left for not understanding what the Right does correctly perceive: that the whole climate change debate is a serious threat to capitalism. The Left, she says, wants to soft-pedal the implications; it wants to say that environmental protection is compatible with economic growth, that it is not a threat to capital or labor. It wants to get everyone to buy a hybrid car, for example (which I have personally compared to diet cheesecake), or use more efficient light bulbs, or recycle, as if these things were adequate to the crisis at hand. But the Right is not fooled: it sees Green as a Trojan horse for Red, the attempt “to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” It believes-correctly-that the politics of global warming is inevitably an attack on the American Dream, on the whole capitalist structure.
Ultimately, Klein points out, modern environmentalism is a fraud if it does not attack modern capitalism for the cancer it is. I believe capitalism is a great system that brought us to where we are now. Let’s say we are travelling over land on a highway–we are in a car. Being in a car is a comfortable and fast way to travel–much better than walking or riding a horse–at least over long distances. Mind you, there are things you lose–walking is a pleasure for me just in itself–the world goes by in a very leisurely way that has its benefits as does horse riding–but a car gets me to visit my family or whatever. Now I face the ocean–the usefulness of the car has suddenly disappeared–it cannot negotiate the ocean–so it’s time to take a boat or to turn the car into a boat–this requires a good deal of rethinking. Capitalism was useful and now, if we want to get across the ocean it is no longer useful. We are at the end of the capitalist age–not because capitalism is morally wrong (in some way it is and in other ways it is not) but because it is foolish and sure to lead to disaster if it continues to be pursued. Fortunately for us capitalism has left, in its wake, a multitude of riches–technology, tools, knowledge and so on that provides us with everything we need to build our boat to the future–but we have to say goodbye to capitalism. We might be able to use parts from capitalism but as a system it is useless.
Berman further quotes Klein:
The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal-and acutely sensitive to natural limits…. These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress.
….the powers that be have reason to be afraid, and to deny the data on global warming, because what is really required at this point is the end of the free-market ideology.
If we claim to be on the left we have to understand that there is no separation between “environmentalism” and progressive politics. You can’t have one without the other with environmentalism as the key issue. Both will get you to the same place. A more egalitarian, communitarian culture will bring us environmental values because it is our sense of separation from nature that fuels our sense of separation from each other and also between part of ourselves.
How do we change this? Berman puts it into perspective:
It’s going to be (is) a colossal fight, not only because the powers that be want to hang on to their power, but because the arc and all its ramifications have given their class Meaning with a capital M for 500+ years. This is what the Occupy Wall Street protesters-if there are any left at this point; I’m not sure-need to tell the 1%: Your lives are a mistake. This is what “a new civilizational paradigm” finally means. It also has to be said that almost everyone in the United States, not just the upper 1%, buys into this. John Steinbeck pointed this out many years ago when he wrote that in the U.S., the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The Occupy movement, as far as I could make out, wanted to restore the American Dream, when in fact the Dream needs to be abolished once and for all.
So first thing we have to understand–we can’t all live in luxury and waste our resources on toys–because that is what we are all doing. We don’t really “need” most of what we buy and the work we do really isn’t doing that much to help people or improve their lives.
Everything is related to everything else. Psychology, the economy, the environmental crisis, our daily mode of living, the dumbing down of America, the pathetic fetish over cell phones and electronic gadgets, the crushing debt of student loans, the farce of electoral politics, Mr. Obama’s rather rapid conversion from liberal hero to war criminal and shredder of the Bill of Rights, the huge popularity of violent movies, the attempt of the rich to impose austerity measures on the poor, the well-documented epidemics of mental illness and obesity-these are ultimately not separate spheres of human activity. They are interconnected, and this means that things will not get fixed piecemeal. “New civilizational paradigm” means it’s all or nothing; there really is no in-between, no diet cheesecake to be had. As Ms. Klein says, it’s not about single “issues” anymore.
Quoting Klein again:
The only wild card is whether some countervailing popular movement will step up to provide a viable alternative to this grim future. That means not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis-this time, embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.”
There is much else in the article so I urge all of you to read it.
But I will leave you with a couple of things I believe.
#1: The environmental crisis should shape our thinking. We need to view public and personal issues in light of this matter.
#2: If we are serious about reviving the left we have to stop supporting the old left and accept the reality that we are in deep shit and we have to give up our wasteful spending. Yes, it will not appeal to the masses but the masses are asleep and aren’t listening to you anyway–stop catering to their worst instincts–tell them the ugly truth.
#3: Start supporting each other–create alternate and/or unofficial economies. Politics can no longer be a matter of attending a demonstration or voting or calling Congress. Those things are almost useless. More important is to make your private life, your economic life, your political life, your family life all one. This takes time and consistency. Communities can’t be built instantly on the basis of a few weeks or a weekend of interaction. They can’t be built on the internet because virtual communities can disappear in five seconds–I can just drop out of this one if I don’t like what people are saying about me and never return and who will care? Only face-to-face communities mean anything (I say this for a variety of reasons) and only face-to-face communities can be enhanced by virtual community.
Finally, we have to remember the usefulness of the right in our work. The right, as Klein says, understands the real issues far better than the left. We are usually confused when the right attacks the Obama and the Dems for being “collectivist”, “socialist” and so on when there is no truth at all in those accusations. They know, instinctively, that the real struggle is between the ideology of communitarianism (collectivism) and individualism. The right is irrational because they cling to individualism as an ideology that says, essentially, that there is no such thing as morality. The right believes that we should be able to do anything we like (except things they don’t approve of) as long as we have the money to do it. They believe that we have no responsibility for each other or for posterity which is why they opposed, in a thoroughly hysterical manner, any kind of environmental law. The climate-change crisis is ultimately a moral crisis. I believe the right has embraced evil itself. I love the definition of evil made by C.S. Lewis in his great little book The Great Divorce. Evil, according to Lewis, is separation. The furthest reaches of Hell are the parts where the inhabitants are most separated from each other.