Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Excellant article by George Monbiot w/commentary: "This Is Bigger Than Climate Change. It Is a Battle to Redefine Humanity"

Yay for Monbiot!: "The meeting at Copenhagen confronts us with our primal tragedy. We are the universal ape, equipped with the ingenuity and aggression to bring down prey much larger than itself, break into new lands, roar its defiance of natural constraints. Now we find ourselves hedged in by the consequences of our nature, living meekly on this crowded planet for fear of provoking or damaging others. We have the hearts of lions and live the lives of clerks.

The summit's premise is that the age of heroism is over. We have entered the age of accommodation. No longer may we live without restraint. No longer may we swing our fists regardless of whose nose might be in the way. In everything we do we must now be mindful of the lives of others, cautious, constrained, meticulous. We may no longer live in the moment, as if there were no tomorrow.


The angry men know that this golden age has gone; but they cannot find the words for the constraints they hate. Clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged, they flail around, accusing those who would impede them of communism, fascism, religiosity, misanthropy, but knowing at heart that these restrictions are driven by something far more repulsive to the unrestrained man: the decencies we owe to other human beings.


While economies grow, social justice is unnecessary, as lives can be improved without redistribution. While economies grow, people need not confront their elites. While economies grow, we can keep buying our way out of trouble. But, like the bankers, we stave off trouble today only by multiplying it tomorrow. Through economic growth we are borrowing time at punitive rates of interest. It ensures that any cuts agreed at Copenhagen will eventually be outstripped. Even if we manage to prevent climate breakdown, growth means that it's only a matter of time before we hit a new constraint, which demands a new global response: oil, water, phosphate, soil. We will lurch from crisis to existential crisis unless we address the underlying cause: perpetual growth cannot be accommodated on a finite planet."

I agree with all of it and congratulate Monbiot on using ideas from the young Marx about species being in a good and cogent way. Our golden age in the United States is indeed ending, with the economic crisis being only one sign that this is occurring. One large strand of truth behind our lack of progressive programs and politics in this country is that for much of the postwar era our growth was so spectacular that even though there was inequality people largely were able to get high standards of living without the need for redistributive policies. Other countries weren't so lucky, particularly developing countries and countries in Europe that were ravaged by World War II and who were struggling to rebuild their economies. It appeared that prosperity would be possible by naturally letting the market go its own way, leading to the deregulation and neo-liberalism of the '80s and '90s. But it was all an illusion brought on by our position as an intact economy post World War II that could expand to meet the vacuum left by that destruction of nations. Now it's all ending.

We will indeed have to learn to live within constraints, but our basic humanity won't be threatened by this. On the contrary, constraints and how to live within them will give us the opportunity to organize our society in order to establish justice, since automatic prosperity will no longer be assured. If we have the will to do it we can take control of our destiny in a valid way. If we don't, and we don't organize, we face the eventuality of widespread chaos possibly giving rise to fascist and dictatorial movements that could take control of the country.

The choice is ours, progressive reordering or climate chaos, but either way the golden age will not be coming back and we better get used to it.

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