Thursday, May 1, 2014

1400: A Word With the Reader: The Illusion of Being in Control

By Kamran Nayeri, May 1, 2014
Assistant Editor Latte

Imagine you are aboard a huge spaceship with the rest of humanity.  In this imaginary spaceship everyone can peer through its many windows. Yet, each person can only see according to her life experience.  All important information about the spaceship's journey through the space comes from the crew that is organized into a hierarchy served by many experts and decision makers. The spaceship includes all the social stratifications and economic forms of organization of the present-day society and its political geography.  In some more democratic quarters of the spaceship passengers hear debate among leading crew member on the best course to reach The Destination. Passengers sometimes volunteer an opinion and take part in election of candidates for many offices within the spaceship hierarchy.  Still, the great majority of the passengers leave decision on major issues to the elected or professional crew.  That is because either they live in quarters where elections are not held or because they feel some elected officials in the hierarchy is looking after public interest. Instead, by and large the passengers focus on their daily personal affairs instead of choosing a destination for the spaceship or setting the course to get there.   

The truth is while all aboard the spaceship live in the illusion of being in control, they are lost in the space. The crew is merely seeking short term gains to meet their own perceived interests. They neither have a destination in mind nor the spaceship is following a course other than maintaing and promoting the interest of the ruling crew. The spaceship itself emerged from the ruins of the feudal Western Europe and it became self-sustaining when the fossil fuel-powered industrial capitalist economy developed. The capitalist crew and its hanger-ons have one central ambition: to accumulate wealth by extracting of surplus value from the world working classes and by exploiting nature. Thus, it was natural for them to promote the spaceship Free Enterprise while demoting and neglecting the true spaceship Earth that to our best knowledge is the only place to support life. In place of adoration of Mother Nature, the capitalist crew created the ideology of worshiping capital and its self-expansion. That is worshiping growth for the sake of growth.

The above analogy give the context of the current debate in the mass media and by various pundits about the recent set of reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the immanent world-historic catastrophe. Take for example, Paul Krugman’s recent column in the New York Times and the Times editorial “Running Out of Times” (April 20) that basically argued the same.  In Climate Change: Salvation Gets Cheap (New York Times April 17, 2014), Krugman writes about the third U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report: “even under the most ambitious goals [of confronting climate change] the assessment considers, the estimated reduction in economic growth would basically amount to a rounding error, around 0.06 percent per year.” Citing a drop of 75% in price of photovoltaic solar panels since 2008, Krugman celebrates that “there’s no reason we can’t become richer while reducing our impact on the environment.”

Clearly, in Krugman’s view the environment is subordinate to the capitalist economy and its “Prime Directive” growth.  That is, it is as if the imaginary spaceship Free Enterprise that has emerged out of the economic activities of one species, our own, is superior to the well being of life that has emerged on the planet Earth. A similar approach is adopted by all mainstream debate and is surprisingly present in the Green Capitalist arguments.  The Green Capitalists hold that interests of capitalism and the environment are compatible or can be made compatible.  But these run against hard truths that Krugman and others simply neglect.  First, it is a historical fact that global warming is a direct result of fossil-fuel powered capitalist industrialization. Second, for the past two decades capitalist rivalry among the key polluters (ten countries emit almost 70% of GHGs) and their refusal to address the financial needs of the global South in responding to the crisis have barred any meaningful action. Third, late industrialization is motivated by the desire to catch up with the Western material standards of living (that is also true of Soviet industrialization and current Chinese industrialization).  Fourth, market solutions to stop and reverse global warming have failed where they were adopted. It would be criminal to leave the future of humanity and much life on Earth to free enterprise! 

An anonymous reader of Our Place in the World provided the following wise comment about Krugman’s article:
“This is the famous decoupling trap. Namely, we can use technology to mitigate adverse environmental effects and then just get on with economic growth. It ignores the other adverse effects of economic growth so that overall the the decoupling has a negative effect. Such measures are only beneficial if combined with degrowth and an overall planned move to a steady state economy.” 
Nothing I said above negates the need to support any steps that would slowdown or stop climate change. If photovoltaic panels will help, we should subsidize them (although this is debatable as two future posts by Saral Sarkar and Ted Trainer will argue).  However, the strategy and tactic for ecological socialism is not to rely on markets or the state to overcome the crisis--that is exactly what the proponents of the capitalist system advocate.  We need to encourage education, self-organizaton and self-activity of the working people worldwide to ensure radical changes that are needed.  As Hegel taught us long ago truth is in the whole: global warming and catastrophic climate change are just one facet of the planetary crisis facing humanity.  They are all the result of the anthropocentric capitalist civilization, itself the latest reincarnation of earlier anthropocentric civilizations that exhausted their resource base and disappeared from the Earth.  However, the capitalist civilization encompasses the entire globe. Thus, its crisis has become the planetary crisis we now face.  It is necessary for humanity to replace it with an eccentric world culture of free association of direct producers that will live in harmony amongst ourselves and with the rest of nature. 

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There have been 99 posts since my last column.  There was an unusually high number of posts on the capitalist economy and economics (15).  Still, more common topics had high number of posts: environment (11), ecocide (11), global warming/climate change (10), and planetary crisis (8).  The drought in California and water shortage had 6 posts. Animal exploitation/liberation had 9 posts and posts about various species numbered 4. Eco-socialism had 7 and socialism had 6 posts.  Science, including evolution, had 6 posts. Cuba had 6 posts. 

Hot links follow:

1301. The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies
1390. Climate Change: Salvation Gets Cheap
1393. Are paradigms, theories, methods value neutral?
1394. What it Will Take to Tackle the Climate Crisis: A Push-the-Democrats View
1395. Rethinking Historical Materialism: Sociality, Solitude, and the Struggle for Socialism
1396. Book Review: Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: Selected Writings of Elisée Reclus
1397. Vermont Will Require Labeling of Genetically Altered Foods
1398. The Rainforests in Congo Basin Show Signs of Climate Change Stress
1399. Becoming the World Top Oil Producer: in North America Challenges Remain

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