Sunday, October 30, 2011
The Materialism of Environmentalism
There is no understanding environmentalism without also understanding the function of religion as a means of infusing spirituality into the material. The politicization of consumerism is an attempt to mimic the religious dimension of life without a guiding deity.
Environmentalism provides the believer with the grandiosity of a human centered existence, in which the actions of individuals can lead to massive catastrophes, floods, extinctions and hurricanes. It's the old biblical epic of Noah set in what pretends to be a rational scientific universe, but actually borrows the religious significance of human ethics placed at the center of life. Sin and the Lord will bring a flood, says the Bible. Drive to work and the icebergs will melt and bring a flood, say the environmentalists. The only difference between the two narratives is that the latter has taken G-d out of the equation and replaced Him with a couple of think tanks.
Environmentalism rationalizes the "flood" as a purely scientific phenomenon and elevates it to dogma, driving out the heretics with stones and namecalling. The sin is no longer disobedience of G-d, but disobedience of the left. The new sinners are industrialists, SUV owners and large families. But the true nature of the sin is not in deed, but in faith. They who believe may fly jet planes around the world and be exempt. They may enter into cap and trade schemes to pass on their sinful pollution on to others because it is the dogma that matters, more than any supposed climatic effects. If you believe then you may ride in as many limos as you like.
Adding an ethical dimension to consumerism is meant to be a secular religion, substituting moral labels for moral precepts. But whose revelations is it following? The politicization of consumerism comes from the anti-capitalist left, which has an innate dogmatic opposition to middle-class prosperity. Its science comes from a field that had always been overlooked when it came to funding and whose PhD's had a weakness for sandals and hikes. The thing they had in common was a dislike of industry and a need for a cause.
The fusion of science and politics gave the left what it had always been lacking. An apocalypse. Marx had warned that the specter of class warfare was haunting Europe. But the revolution he had been predicting never came. Instead the Burghers and their bureaucracy successfully stole his thunder to create comfortable welfare states funded by industry that even the left had trouble objecting to.
Human apocalypses, wars and revolutions, had been the left's stock in trade. It predicted them and than rallied its followers to come to power so it could ward them off. Environmentalism gave it its own apocalypse. Its old arguments against capitalism depended on the oppressed rising up. Its new argument was that capitalism would destroy the world.
The old left had borrowed social justice from religion, while discarding everything but the moral imperative. The new left combined it with the grandiose spectacle of apocalypses while replacing the deity with the mechanics of consumerism as a vehicle of climate change. What the left created was an irreligious religion with a moral imperative encompassing every aspect of life.
The left's economics had been based on a pseudo-science. Its flood was equally pseudo-science. Pseudo-science was its substitute for miracles and its own thinkers were the new prophets. Their god was the mechanics of their pseudo-sciences which made things happen through the inevitable force of their own constructs. Once Marx or Gore posited the inevitability of an event, then it was bound to happen. Their constructs had become massive towering idols of dogma to which everyone bowed.
The problem of the idol-makers was that their gods had clay feet. Their predicted apocalypses had not happened and their ideological solution states were revealed to be horrifying societies. But their real problem was that their challenges to materialism were not based on any meaningful values.
The old left had the nub of a legitimate argument when it came to the treatment of the working class, but their solution was to replace a hierarchy and oligarchy with a much more repressive hierarchy and oligarchy. The solution was appealing only to fools and those who hoped to be at the top of the new system. And when the oligarchies and hierarchies were done with their internal purges, they proved to be even bigger fools.
Their societies did not elevate materialism by making its distribution more just, they rationed it for the benefit of their own hierarchy, and ran the output through an inefficient industrial system, creating poverty on two different levels.
The environmentalist critique of materialism depended on a philosophy that saw human influence as malignant. If the old left had fired up the steel mills, celebrating industry as a means to a better life, the environmentalists were not concerned with a better life, but a more moral one. And their morality was defined in terms of a philosophy in which human beings were only one species among many.
The posthuman left, with its planetary grandiosity, had already taken a godlike view of human affairs. The endless evocations of the small blue marble came from men who were aspiring to a more than human view of the world-- and a more than human power to go with it. Men who spoke for the planet, whose constituencies were the polar bear and the sea turtle, and they were funded by wealthy men and women who cared about these animals, than they did about people.
If the old left's critique of materialism was that it was unfair to other human beings, the posthuman left's critique of materialism was that it was all too human. That it was a way for human beings to enjoy material comforts at the expense of other species and the entire planet.
The posthuman left's paradox lay in its grandiose condemnation of human grandiosity. Men and women who arrogantly presumed to speak for the planet were condemning the arrogance of their fellow human beings for driving SUV's. But that philosophical arrogance had always been the high ground of the left. Like prophets they presumed to speak for more than themselves, and if they were not speaking for the planet and the universe, then that was their final step on the road to godhood.
Having arrogated to themselves the powers and privileges, the omnipotence and infinite wisdom of religion, and its power to offer redemption or damnation to the human race-- the left made use of it. The irreligiosity of an irrational modern society in which assertion counted for more than truth and passion was the same as sincerity meant that few counterarguments could be made against it.
The left's predictions game had always been played for big stakes. Either the modern industrial society was headed for a complete crack-up or it wasn't. Either the oceans would rise and swallow the world or they wouldn't. The very grandiosity of the prediction meant that it could not be ignored. And once it was noticed, then it had to be debated. Opponents were put into the position of atheists, forced to deny a belief that a growing number of people asserted was true.
Because even its opponents would end up adopting items from its agenda, it could never properly be disproven. And so even in losing, it still won by getting a sizable portion of its agenda through. Through the apocalypse never happened, it still gained power.
What the left understood was that a society without religious conviction could be convinced of religious ideas if they were passed off as irreligious ones. A secular priesthood could rise to power by acting as shamans of social justice and protectors of the planet. The trappings of the thing would do.
Modern industry had made production cheaper by making it more efficient. The beneficiaries of that life believed that manna came down a conveyor belt and innately trusted what the scientific progress that had made so much of their society possible. And that same belief could be twisted into a hatred of the conveyor belt, into the view that the conveyor belt was sinful.
The left had an innate distrust of practical solutions, because it eliminated the need for ideological ones. It despised religion, because it sought to take its place. The strange Luddite faith built on the pseudo-science of environmentalism was a strange thing, but also an inevitable one. It challenged the prosperity by demonizing it and offered a solution in its own form of the sin tax.
The Communists had not made life more just, they had made it more deprived and more expensive and the trick repeated itself with the environmental movement which used the advertising language of consumerism and its up-branding to associate their more expensive and worse products with a higher moral standard. The more money passed into their hands, the more moral the product was.
Passing universal regulations would mean a larger cut from every product and service for them, and lower expectations for consumers. The increasing efficiency of industry had given consumers more for less. They sought to reverse that trend by taking from them more for less. It was a successful counter-revolution to the materialistic bounty of the industrial revolution, a counter-revolution founded on dubious science in the name of abstract theories and polar bears.
The phony priesthood of the posthuman left had catastrophe mongered its way to being a green mafia claiming its share of everything. This time around fairness wasn't even really on the table as the left was leaving behind its egalitarian roots and revealing the nakedness of its elitism. There was no longer any pretense that life would get better for most people. On the contrary it would get worse. That was one of the selling points. Those with the most money would take the least hit to their living standard. Especially if they donated to the green mafia and the phony priesthood.
The religious vacuum of the modern era had not made it any less susceptible to arguments of sin and guilt, only less able to recognize them. Materialism had helped create the vacuum along with the seeds of its own destruction. Material welfare had bred apathy and unease, with the latter born from the former. And these were violins that the left knew how to play. The less there was to worry about, the more people welcomed something to worry about.
Materialism was comfort and worry both. The left fed the worry and took away the comfort, making people pay for the privilege, giving their seal of approval to materialism in exchange for money and power. Its "ethical dimension" was nothing more than it and its many organs getting paid. And we are the ones forced to do the paying to the phony priesthood of the flying thermometer.