Wednesday, February 15, 2012

externalities and the non-negotiable way of life...,

vtcommons | A double bind is where you’re given multiple options, but no matter what option you choose, you lose, and you can’t withdraw. Well, at this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one—if we avidly participate in the industrial economy—we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternate” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we haven’t even had to give up all of our empathy (only enough of it to not stop the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. And unless we’ve found a way to leave the planet—which would be an odious abrogation of responsibility anyway—we can’t leave. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary, for a number of reasons, including, but not restricted to, the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power will kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world. None of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet: any option is a better option than a dead planet.

Making this bind even tighter is the fact that we’ve been systematically trained to identify more closely with industrial capitalism than with life itself, and to care more about industrial capitalism than about life itself. To convince yourself of this, simply contrast how much routine attention is paid to the height of the stock market versus that paid to the health of the natural world, and contrast the response by the government to the collapse of the economy versus that paid to the collapse of the natural world. Here’s a tangible example: a forty-year study of songbird populations recently revealed what we all know, which is that many are collapsing, as are so many populations of so many wild beings. Bobwhites, down more than 80 percent. Whippoorwills, down 70 percent. Boreal chickadees, 60 percent. Rufous hummingbirds, almost 60 percent. And the response in public by a mainstream environmentalist (Carol Browner, former head of the EPA, former head of Audubon, and current Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change) was to tell us this is not an emergency. I can guarantee that if the stock market or GNP declined 80 percent, we would constantly hear that this is an emergency. It’s a measure of the grotesque, irredeemable, and near-complete insanity of this culture that GNP is deemed more important than life, and more to the point, it’s a measure of how much most of us have been trained to identify more with the economy than with the real world.

So because we’ve been taught to identify more closely with the industrial economy than with life itself, the continued existence of the industrial economy must never be questioned, much less threatened. Further, since we must always be disallowed from realizing that the problem is the culture, not us (just as in any abusive situation all people must always be disallowed from realizing that the problems are caused by the abuser, not the victims), many of us make the very reasonable choice to “fight back” by decreasing our involvement in the industrial economy, by “living simply so that others may simply live.” So we eat less. We drive less. We don’t own a car. We take shorter showers. We live more and more simply. We feel more and more pure. The bottom line is that we are doing what we know we can control.

Living simply is a good thing to do. Sadly, it in no way stops this culture from killing the planet. In no way is it a sufficient response to this culture’s destructiveness. In no way is it a substitute for actively and effectively resisting actions and policies that harm our (and others’) habitat. That’s why I brought up activists living in Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa, and so on: in those circumstances we can easily see that personal simple living would have been insufficient to bring about social change. It can be much more difficult to see that when we don’t have the perspective history brings.