George Monbiot’s “Out of the Wreckage”: A friendly critique.

7 05 2018

By my old mate monbiotTed Trainer

Few have made a more commendable contribution to saving the planet than George Monbiot. His recent book, Out of the Wreckage, continues the effort and puts forward many important ideas…but I believe there are problems with his diagnosis and his remedy.

The book is an excellent short, clear account of several of the core faults in consumer-capitalist society, and the alternatives advocated are admirable.  George’s focal concern is the loss of community, and the cause is, as we know, neo-liberalism. He puts this in terms of the “story” that dominates thinking. Today the taken for granted background story about society is that it is made of competitive, self-interest-maximizing individuals, and therefore our basic institutions and processes are geared to a struggle to accumulate private wealth, rather than to encouraging concern for each other and improving the welfare of all. Thatcher went further, instructing us that there is not even any such thing as society, only individuals. George begins by rightly contradicting such vicious nonsense, pointing out that humans are fundamentally nice, altruistic, caring and cooperative, but we have allowed these dispositions to be overridden primarily by an economic system that obliges us to behave differently.

He gives heavy and convincing documentation of- this theme. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with several indicators of the sad state of affairs.  “ … this age of atomization  breeds anxiety, discontent and unhappiness.” (p. 18.) “An epidemic of loneliness is sweeping the world.” (p. 16.) Chapter 3 deals with the way neoliberalism has caused the social damage that has accumulated over the last forty years.

But my first concern with the book is that disastrous as it is, neo-liberalism isn’t the main problem confronting us and likely to destroy us.  The main problem is sustainability.  George does refer to this briefly and rather incidentally (e.g., p. 117) and again it seems to me that what he says is correct… it’s just that he doesn’t deal adequately with the magnitude or centrality of the problem or it’s extremely radical implications.

I need to elaborate here.  Few seem to grasp that the “living standards” enjoyed in rich countries involve per capita use rates for resources and environmental impact are around ten times those that all people expected to be living on earth by 2050 could have.  For fifty years now a massive “limits to growth” literature has been accumulating. For instance the Australian per capita use of productive land is 6 – 8 ha, so if the almost 10 billion people expected to be living on the planet by 2050 were to live as we do now, up to 80 billion ha would be needed.  But there are only about 8 billion ha of productive land available on the planet and at present loss rates more than half will be gone by 2050. Many other areas, such as per capita minerals use, also reveal the largely unrecognized magnitude of the overshoot. (For a summary of the situation see TSW: The Limits to Growth.)

The inescapable implication is that we in rich countries should accept the need to shift to lifestyles and systems which involve enormous reductions in resource use and ecological impact.  A De-growth movement recognizing this has now emerged. Yet the supreme goal in this society remains economic growth, i.e., increasing production, consumption, sales, and GDP without limit. To refuse to face up to the absurdity of this, which is what almost everyone does, is to guarantee the onset of catastrophic global breakdown within decades.

Thus the sustainability problem cannot be solved unless we abandon affluence and growth […the title of Ted’s 1985 book which changed my life and is the reason you are now reading this…]  Just getting rid of neo-liberal doctrine and exploitation is far from sufficient.  Even a perfect socialism ensuring equity for all would bring on just about the same range of global problems as that we face now if the goal was affluence for all.

When all this is understood it is clear that the solution has to be transition to some kind of “Simpler Way”.  That is, there can be no defensible option but to shift to lifestyles and systems that involve extremely low per capita throughput.  This cannot be done unless there is also historically unprecedented transition to new economic, political and value systems. Many green people fail to grasp the magnitude of the change required; reforming a system that remains driven by market forces, or growth or the desire for wealth cannot do it. Just getting rid of capitalism will not be enough; the change in values is more important and difficult than that. Yet we advocates of simplicity have no doubt that our vision could be achieved while providing a very high quality of life to everyone.  (For a detailed account of how thing might be organised see TSW: The Alternative.)

George doesn’t seem to grasp the significance of the limits, the magnitude of the overshoot, or therefore the essential nature of the sustainability problem and its extremely radical implications.  Above all he does not stress the need to happily embrace extremely frugal “lifestyles”. Sustainability cannot be achieved unless the pursuit of affluence as well as the dominance of neo-liberalism ceases, and he therefore does not deal with what is in fact the main task for those wishing to save the planet; i.e., increasing general awareness that a Simpler Way of some kind must be taken. George does not discuss the simplicity theme.

This has been a criticism in terms of goals. I think the book also has a problem regarding means.  The book is primarily about politics.  It is a sound critique of the way the present decision making system works for the rich and of the need for us to take control of it into our hands via localism. But George is saying in effect, ”Let’s get out there and build community and take control and then we can fix things.” Unfortunately I think that advice is based on a questionable analysis of the situation and of how to fix it.

My case requires some discussion of what I see as perhaps the book’s major problem, which is to do with the nature of community, more accurately with the conditions required for it to exist or come into existence. Again George’s documentation of the sorry state of community today is to be applauded.  But I think his strategic recommendations mostly involve little more than a plea for us to just come together and commune, as if we have made the mistake of forgetting the importance of community and all would be well if we just woke up and knocked on our neighbour’s door.

Firstly George’s early pages give us powerful reasons to believe that such “voluntaristic” steps are not going to prevail against the massive and intensifying forces at work driving out community.  Economic reality gives most people no choice but to function as isolated, struggling, stressed, time-poor, insecure individuals competing against all others to get by, having to worry about unemployment, the mortgage and now the robots. Mobility obliges the individual to move through several careers in a lifetime, “development” eliminates stable neighbourhoods and rips up established support networks. Developers and councils prosper most when high rise units are thrown up everywhere, and the resulting land prices weigh against allocating space to a diverse landscape of mini-farms and firms and community gardens and leisure facilities likely to increase human interaction. Smart phones preoccupy with trivia and weaken parental control. Commerce and councils takes over functions families and neighbourhoods once performed for themselves, making us into privatized customers with fewer social responsibilities.  People understandably retreat to TV and IT screens for trivial distraction, and to drugs and alcohol. No surprise that the most common illnesses now are reported to be depression and loneliness.

Just ask yourself what proportion of national productive capacity and investment is explicitly targeted to building cohesive and mutually supportive communities … try finding that line item in the Budget Papers. Now how much goes into trying to increase business turnover and consumption. I rest my case.  George is more aware of all this than most of us but he falls far short of explaining how it can be overcome … or that it can be overcome. In my firm view it cannot be overcome until the capitalist system and several other unacceptable things have been scrapped, and that will take more than knocking on your neighbour’s door.

More important than recognizing the opposing forces, George’s recommendations for action seem to me to be based on a questionable understanding of community, leading to mistaken ideas about how to create it.  As I see it community is most important for a high quality of life, but it is strange, very complicated, and little understood.  It involves many intangible things including familiarity, a history of interactions, close personal relations, habits and customs, a sense of common interests and values, helping and being helped, giving and receiving, sharing, lending, debt, gratitude, reciprocity, trust, reliability, shared tasks, resilience, concern for the community and readiness to act collectively to achieve common goals.  It is analogous to an ecosystem, a network of established dynamic interrelationships in which a myriad of components meshing spontaneously contribute to the “health” of the whole …  without which the components couldn’t do their thing.  But the community ecosystem also involves consciousness, of others and of the whole, and it involves attitudes and bonds built by a history of interactions.  This history has established the values and dispositions that determine the communal behavior of individuals and groups. Community is a “property” that emerges from all this.

Community is therefore not a “thing” that can be set up artificially at a point in time, nor is it a property or ingredient that can be added like curry powder or a coat of paint.  It cannot be brought in or installed by well-intentioned social workers, council officers or government agencies.  It is about deep-seated ideas, memories, feelings, habits and social bonds. It therefore has almost nothing to do with money and economists can tell us almost nothing about it. You could instantly and artificially raise the “living standards” of a locality just by adding dollars, but you can’t just add social bonds. They can only grow over time, and under the right conditions. George explains clearly why neo-liberalism eliminates those conditions – my problem is that he doesn’t explain how to get them back and he proceeds as if it is simply a matter of individual will or choice, of volunteering to go out and connect. As I see it we won’t get far until social conditions make us connect. George’s urging will prompt some few to make the effort, and he refers to many admirable initiatives underway including community gardens, local currencies and cooperatives. I see these “Transition Towns” ventures as extremely important and George is right to encourage people to get involved in them. They are the beach-heads, establishing the example local institutions that must eventually become the norm and that people will be able turn to when the crunch comes, but I do not think they will grow beyond the point where a relatively few find them attractive … until macro conditions change dramatically.

Here is a brief indication of how Simpler Way transition theory sees it.

There is now no possibility of heading off an extremely serious multifactorial global breakdown.  For instance, greenhouse gas emissions would have to be reduced at maybe 8% p.a., and yet they are rising.  Renewable energy would have to replace fossil fuels in a few decades … but presently it contributes only 1.5% of world energy use. There are strong reasons to think that oil will become very scarce within ten years. (See Ahmed, 2017.) Global debt levels are so high now and rising so fast that the coming CFC 2.0 will dwarf the previous GFC1. Did you know that global insect populations have suddenly begun to plunge? Forget about your white rhino, it’s the little fellows at the base of food chains that really matter. Need I go on.

There are many other accelerating problems feeding into what Mason (2003) described as the coming 2030 spike. What we have to pray for is a slow-onset terminal depression, not a sudden one, giving people time to wake up and realize that we must move to The Simpler Way.  The Transition Towns movement is the beginning of this but I do not think it will really take off until the supermarket shelves thin out.  Then people will be forced to come together in their suburbs and towns to work out how they can build cooperative local self-sufficiency. They will realize this must be done collectively, that the market must be prevented from determining what happens, and above all that the competitive quest for wealth is suicidal and that frugal “lifestyles” must be embraced. In other words, if we are lucky and the breakdown in global systems is not too rapid, the coming conditions of intense scarcity will force us to create local economies, committees, cooperatives, working bees, commons etc. … and these conditions will produce community … out of the wreckage.

But community is not the crucial goal. What matters most at this early stage of this revolution is people coming together to take collective control of their town, that is, to go beyond setting up a local swap shop here, a community orchard there a cooperative bakery somewhere else, and to start asking questions like, “What are our most urgent needs in this town … bored teenagers, homeless people, lonely older people, too few leisure activities…well let’s get together to start fixing the problems.” Essential to The Simpler Way vision is citizens in direct participatory control of their own situation, i.e., the classic Anarchist form of government.  The big global problems cannot be solved any other way because only settlements of this kind can get the resource and ecological impacts right down while providing well for all.  For thousands of years people have taken for granted being governed. That is not just political immaturity, it is not viable now. Distant, central agencies like the state cannot run the kinds of settlements that will enable per capita resource rates to be decimated. These can only be run by conscientious, cooperative citizens aware of their local needs and keen to work together to build and maintain their own local water, energy, agricultural, social etc. systems. (There will still be a remnant role for central agencies.)

In TSW: The Transition it is argued that this taking of control at the town level must be seen as the beginning of a process that in time could lead to revolutionary change at the level of the national and international economies, and of the state itself. As townspeople realize they must prevent the global economy from determining their fate and as they find they must build their power to take control of their own situation they will increasingly pressure state policies to be geared primarily to facilitating local economic development…and in time they will replace state power by citizen assemblies.

The activities and projects George advocates could be most important contributors to this process, but I don’t think they will add up to the required revolution unless they are informed by a basically Anarchist vision whereby people come to understand that the main goal is not a town containing nice things like community orchards, nor indeed one with robust community, but a town we run on principles of frugal, cooperative, needs-focused, local self-sufficiency.

Ahmed, N. M., (2017), Failing States, Collapsing Systems, Dordrecht, Springer.

Mason, C., (2003), The 2030 Spike, Earthscan Publications.

Monbiot, G., (2018), Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, London, Verso.

TSW: The Limits to Growth, thesimplerway.info/LIMITS.htm

TSW: The Alternative, thesimplerway.info/THEALTSOCLong.htm

TSW: The Transition.  thesimplerway.info/TRANSITION.htm

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34 responses

7 05 2018
Dr Bob Rich

Yup. Agree on every point. Like Ted, I’ve been shouting this from the rooftops since the 1970s, but GDPitis still rules.

7 05 2018
I agree with every word ofTed Trainer’s message | Bobbing Around

[…] via George Monbiot’s “Out of the Wreckage”: A friendly critique. […]

7 05 2018
svenaake

Excellent points. Unfortunately, substantial steps in the right direction require substantial disasters first, I fear. Even most green activists refuse to accept the realities of increasing population vs sustainability of ecosystems. So really, how do we convince the big masses of people to take the Transformative Leaps? https://ufbutv.com/2018/01/27/leap-into-the-future-detrump/

7 05 2018
pendantry

“…there can be no defensible option but to shift to lifestyles and systems that involve extremely low per capita throughput”

That would only help temporarily. The Jevons Paradox would set in, as the reduced demand on the environment would simply allow there to be still more people on the planet — for a short time, and then we’d be back to square one.

8 05 2018
Barry Kirkwood

A brilliant essay. Should have wider publication. Some approximation to the society you envisage was achieved in New Zealand under the first Labour government from 1935 until ca 1950. The same applied to Australia to a lesser extent. BTW contra Jevons consider demographic transition theory.

8 05 2018
Rob Mielcarski

Now we need someone to critique Trainer for not acknowledging the need for a birth lottery. It’s all blah blah blah unless the population is going down quickly.

8 05 2018
foodnstuff

And population reduction has to be mandatory and controlled. Otherwise the selfish will out-breed and out-compete the unselfish and the human world will ultimately consist only of selfish genes. That won’t work either. I can’t see planned global reduction happening any time soon.

8 05 2018
Rob Mielcarski

Agree. There will be no planned reduction in anything. There will be a lot of unnecessary suffering and no clue why.

8 05 2018
Idiocracy

Meh… whatever happened to Monbiots promised “New Way Forward”? It seems to me this book just covers the same old ground many others have before, often long ago, with far greater nuance/deeper analysis…. and to wrap things up in the typical fashion these days, throws in some weak ass “solutions” (there MUST be a way forward, a happy ending, otherwise who’ll buy the book!).

And Ted, fair analysis, but comeon old boy…

“Few have made a more commendable contribution to saving the planet than George Monbiot.” Really? I think primitive, indigenous and peasant folks around the world could argue this point. Not to mention those dirty Anarchists, Monbiot so despises.

“The activities and projects George advocates could be most important contributors to this process, but I don’t think they will add up to the required revolution unless they are informed by a basically Anarchist vision” – as noted above, good luck getting an Anarchist vision out of Monbiot.

Finally, on “saving the planet”… there’s only one George who gets this right – George Carlin:

“We’re so self-important. Everybody’s going to save something now. “Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. Save the planet, we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. I’m tired of this shit. I’m tired of fucking Earth Day. I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is that there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!

We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam … The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.

The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed. And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice toward plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?”

Plastic… asshole.”

10 05 2018
Brendon Crook

Idiocracy,
I’ve always admired your writing. I see you around the traps on various blogs but just want to say I support what you say 100%.

The destruction of this neon lit death cult and Rewilding is the only way that makes any sense.
Anything else is an anthropocentric ruse to keep this narcissistic holocaust going.

Keep up the great work..

10 05 2018
Idiocracy

Hey, thanks Brendon. And right on… you fuckin nailed it there – fight the Mechanopalis!

In the words of Resident Anti-Hero –

Cut the power
So we can see the starts
Not the smog of the city or the streets full of cars
Cut the power
Straight kill the machines
I wanna live free but its still just a dream

8 05 2018
Brandon Young

I will try again Mike, assuming you have had a chance to look at my first comment and decided to delete it. I think it is important to air opposing views. It might even generate some interesting debate.

Trainer writes:

“Many green people fail to grasp the magnitude of the change required; reforming a system that remains driven by market forces, or growth or the desire for wealth cannot do it. Just getting rid of capitalism will not be enough; the change in values is more important and difficult than that.”

Clearly he presumes that the system is driven by consumption. The reality is completely the reverse, with consumption driven by the system.

It is not people’s values and behaviour that need to change, which is actually a good thing, because it would take decades to undo the consumerist conditioning that has been running relentlessly for generations now, and we don’t have decades to spare.

It is the system that needs to change. The system must be forced to value things differently, according to the ecological requirements of sustainability, and our collective goals for social outcomes.

So, what needs to happen is a building consensus around one particular model of change for the system. Support for that model of change must grow to the point where the status quo can no longer resist it. The more effective the marketing for that model of change, the faster support will grow, and so the sooner the system can be fixed.

Self imposed austerity may feel noble, and it is certainly a good thing (I’d say I am a minimalist), but expecting long established consumer habits to be changed from the bottom up and across the population is wishful thinking on an epic scale.

8 05 2018
mikestasse

NO, I didn’t delete your post…….. I told you to be patient. This isn’t farcebook you know. And I can’t logistically manage this blog on my phone while I’m cutting concrete blocks….

8 05 2018
Brandon Young

Fair enough. Thanks.

10 05 2018
Brandon Young

Living systems are self regulating and self sustaining. As long as we don’t significantly impair their metabolism – their network of exchanges between systems and their containing environments – they will remain self regulating and self sustaining.

In other words, if we live within the constraints set by the evolution of the natural world, then our civilisation is sustainable. We have a long way to go to get back within those constraints, no doubt, but that doesn’t change the fact that taking control over economic outcomes is the most efficient and direct way to get there.

Really we have a simple choice between a controlled transition on one hand, and surrendering all control via a catastrophic collapse on the other.

10 05 2018
Brandon Young

Obviously that comment was in reply to your “NOTHING we do is sustainable.”

I haven’t figured out the logic of which comments get a reply button and which ones don’t, presuming there is a logic…

8 05 2018
svenaake

In marketing the rule of thumb is: Convince the 20% who are trendsetters, and the others will follow. 20% is possible. And we have to do this step by step. All or nothing at once is not possible. A new “green” future is possible, it is on its way. We can support it or turn our backs to it. The more people supporting the transformation, the quicker it will happen. We cannot know if things happen quickly enough. We can hope for it and work for it. We cannot give up because some dude says it is not possible. https://agreenerfutureblog.wordpress.com/6-greener-future/

8 05 2018
Idiocracy

Jeez Sven… the myth of progress sure has got you by the short and curlies!

“Sustainable Development” is oximoronical BS that only serves to keep this shit show we call civilisation rolling along, transforming the planets biomass into human mass.

Infact, thats the crux of this very article… we MUST give up this insane project and return to the natural order of things. Or the alternative is, as Carlin says – “Pack your shit folks!”

8 05 2018
Brandon Young

@Idiocracy

“Sustainable Development” is only oximoronical if the presumption is that it is built on the back of quantitative growth, but not when it comes to qualitative growth, which means the convergence of economic outcomes with our social and ecological goals.

Under qualitative growth, these sustainable development goals are indeed noble and exactly what we must aspire to achieve. As long as we can express these social and ecological goals in measurable real world terms, we can make the system deliver them.

9 05 2018
svenaake

Agree. It is therefore crucial to avoid the “Mickey mouse” strategy, where the environment and social factors are just interests in subordination of the economy. To achieve sustainability, the economy and social welfare demands must adapt to the ecological limits. In this perspective, the physical resources of the Earth are limited. Fair distribution of material wealth and global justice are therefore crucial elements. Neo-liberalism, liberalism, traditional capitalism and traditional socialism cannot cope with this.

The radical view places all economic activities and social justice issues inside an ecological framework. Sustainable development as a consequence must encompass not only environmental, economic and sociocultural perspectives but also include the promotion of ethics, values, the necessary changes of attitudes and lifestyles in order to build a sustainable future inside this framework. https://agreenerfutureblog.wordpress.com/6-greener-future/6-4-greener-business/

9 05 2018
Idiocracy

You pair are at least good for a laugh – what you are talking about is magic, a fantasy land held only in the hearts and minds of ecologically and socially conscious bourgeois hipsters the world over. As is typical for progressivists, you show that you want to (and think you can) have your cake and eat it too… with contradictory and all over the shop statements everywhere.

@Brandon thinks we (the royal we?) need to build consensus around one particular model for “the system” (THE, ONE, right way to live as Quinn would have put it), but luckily that doesn’t involve changing peoples values and behaviour… 8-P Say wut? And apparently we can “make” “the system” achieve qualatitive growth. The ONLY thing any “system” has EVER acheived is death to the biosphere. We need to destroy and dismantle the systems of domestication and civilisation – or the planet will do it for us… it’s our choice.

And @Sven… so “the economy and social welfare demands must adapt to the ecological limits” – name me one Civilisation that has ever adapted to ecological limits, yet alone sustained itself within the limits of the biosphere. Last I checked over 32 (all that we know of) have collapsed before… guess who’s #33?

And “Fair distribution of material wealth and global justice” – how do you suppose you will enforce this fairness & justice… globally mind you! Through the UN? Maybe with Corporate controlled Social Responsibility Hit Squads? Or maybe there’ll be a revival of Blood & Soil with brown shirted Storm Detatchments enforcing your equitable and ecologically sustainable reigme? However you go about it, it will require hierarchical and industrialised force… planes, tanks, automobiles, jails, fences, walls, wire, guns, bombs, et al… yeah real sustainable.

So I’m sorry to crash your party boys, but if we’re going to get to the root of our predicament, make truly radical and sustainable changes… then the only way to get out of here alive is to dismantle all systems/frameworks and rewild, anything short of that is death (eventually & ultimately… as I noted above I have no doubts about our ability to keep this shit show on life support).

9 05 2018
Brandon Young

@Idiocracy

We – humanity as a collective – have already faced down and resolved a potential existential threat:

https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/montreal-protocol-parties-achieve-complete-phase-out-ozone-depleting-cfcs

That proves that a global change of outcomes can be achieved without tearing down the system. Changing the system is not fantasy, it is historically proven fact.

Perhaps you can post a rational argument explaining why we cannot do it again. What has changed?

9 05 2018
Idiocracy

My rational argument is that the system is THE existential threat… programs or reforms that fiddle around the edges of the system can only ever slow the pace of destruction, but destruction is utlimately always guaranteed.

François-René de Chateaubriand has this shit figured over 150 years ago – “Forests precede civilizations and deserts follow them.”. As noted, every Civ before us has failed. The “Fertile Crescent” has long been turned to desert. Desertification is growing everywhere. Despite your cited 1996 Montreal Protocol, countless species have since gone extinct, old growth forests clear felled, human populations skyrocketed, etc, etc… need I go on.

Do you see my point – our very way of life, the system, our vision for humanity (a civilized life) is itself death – no matter how much we fiddle. To quote Daniel Quinn again – “If the world is saved, it will not be saved by old minds with new programs, but by new minds with no programs at all.” We need to realise that the world does not belong to us, we belong to it.

Now to be fair, I’m not saying much of what you/Sven are saying wont help… if the programs/reforms/actions you propose are part of a journey, on the pathway of a vision, that returns “humanity” to nature (i.e a natural/primitive state). However I don’t think that’s what you are saying, your vision is still framed from within the cage of a Civilised life, and that can only ever mean death.

Can anybody post a rational argument explaining why/how civilisation can go on for ever? What has changed?

Until I see such a thing, I will be eternally unconvinced by your arguments.

9 05 2018
Brandon Young

@Idiocracy

That is at least an attempt at a proper argument. The system is an existential threat precisely because it fails to price in the real costs of depletion of natural resources and systems, or the real costs of damage to the society we could otherwise have.

To the extent that we change the system to include those real costs in every price, the system will be compelled to preserve and cultivate things of real value, and to minimise or eliminate things with real costs.

The individuals and businesses within the system do not need to change anything – their values, their behaviours, or their soulless pursuit of profit without regard for anything else – but the system dynamics will ensure that aggregate outcomes follow whatever trajectory the pricing demands.

Surely you can agree with that in principle, even before drilling down into the details of any implementation scheme.

9 05 2018
Idiocracy

Are you fucking serious!? Despite my final sentence and without addressing any of my points (pricing in real costs IS just fiddling – read below), you expect me to “surely” agree with you in principle? Um – No. No. And NO! Your propensity for bullshitting yourself is remarkable (precisely why Homo is likely doomed to be an early evolutionary dead end) – you really should go read Dave Cohen’s Adventures In Flatland essays, it may help you snap out of it.

Civilisation fails to price in the real costs, because it simply cannot. It’s an oximoronical impossibility.

It’s like saying (as a rough analogy) internal combustion engines are only C02 emitters, because we let them be, we fail to price in the real costs of an ICE engine. Wrong – both CIV’s and ICE’s are “heat engines” (to quote Garrett), and if you suppose we can account for/minimise/eliminate the “real costs” of these things, the only way to possibly do so is to abolish/eliminate them – for them to cease to exist. There’s no other way around it.

Get it? If you eliminate the things with real costs within Civilisation… you cease to have Civilisation (and therefore must be living some other way – nomadic hunter gatherer, forest gardener, etc…). So tell me Brandon, how do you suppose we should live, what is your vision – is it Civilised or not?

And I double dog dare you to drill down into even the most rudimentary of detail. One example would do.

9 05 2018
Brandon Young

@Idiocracy

“Civilisation fails to price in the real costs, because it simply cannot. It’s an oximoronical impossibility.”

OK good. We have identified the presumption that prevents you from comprehending my view. Do you have some reasoning that supports that presumption, or is it more a gut feel thing? Your rough analogy does nothing to make your logic clear to me.

If your point is that the system is destructive because the system has to be destructive, then I agree with that much, because we generally do not have the capability to recycle 100% of any of the finite natural resources consumed in the production of goods and services.

There are of course finite limits on a finite planet. The question to answer is how long do we want those critical finite resources to last? 50 years? Or 100? Are we happy to collectively decide that civilisation will be sacrificed in the year 2118? If so, then the depletion rates of finite resources can be controlled with pricing mechanisms to achieve exactly that.

So, we can slow the depletion of finite resources, but not stop it completely. But the natural systems of the planet can be preserved and restored where possible, as long as the financial incentives compel the system to do so. If it is more profitable to preserve and regenerate rainforest for its carbon sinking capacity than it is to clear it for industrial agriculture, then that is what will happen. If it is more profitable to preserve and regenerate mangrove systems, because they are fantastic natural carbon sinks like rainforests, than it is to tear them out in the development of beachside real estate or palm oil plantations, then that is what will happen.

“… pricing in real costs IS just fiddling”

Are you serious? In economics, price is everything.

10 05 2018
Idiocracy

I don’t presume – and have given plenty of evidence/examples, which you choose to ignore. Your view is impossible to comprehend because its vague and evasive, interspersed with obscure references to “system dynamics” like its the “The Secret” for saving the planet or some shit. It’s frankly fuckin tiring.

And in spite of that, in the end, you provide the reasoning that supports my statements – you said it yourself… at the end of the day Civ will collapse (as it always has & will) – which is an admission that pricing IS ultimately just fiddling!

But this is obviously where our opinions diverge – you don’t consider slowing the burn rate of a dumpster fire as a trivial act – it’s essential we keep it burning as long as we can. BUT that’s not to say we can’t also save some trash by pissing on it? Imagine how much trash we could save with the right financial incentives to compel the system to do so!

So hey, not to worry – the profit motive will somehow manage to save the biosphere (or at least some enclaves/reserves here & there)! The very thing that, in large part, got the planet into this mess – is now going to bail it out… Jesus H Christ, you are in the Twilight Zone!

What do you suppose these Green Capitalists/Eco Entrepreneurs will do with all that cash anyway?

You’re like a zombie Ayn Rand on some sort of system dynamics inspired acid trip. The planet doesn’t need your financial incentives, your hallowed economics, businesses, et al… we don’t even need all this shit – the Homo genus did just fine without them for 3 million odd years, probably could have done so for probably billions. But no, instead we’ll blow it all on Man’s Great Adventure within the span of a mere blip of time.

I’ll conclude my clearly futile dialogue with a quote from Gandhi –

“Civilizations have come and gone and, in spite of our vaunted progress, I am tempted to ask again and again, ‘To what purpose?'”

10 05 2018
Idiocracy

Hey Mike, I did have a final response for Brandon but WP ate it.

If you could rescue it when you get a minute that’d be great.

10 05 2018
Brandon Young

@Idiocracy

“… at the end of the day Civ will collapse”

As I wrote, it is a question of when we want the resources to run out. If you think it is not worth the effort to control the prices and so control the depletion rates to make them last say another 100 years, then your view is not rational or constructive, it is fatalistic.

“… the profit motive will somehow manage to save the biosphere”

Not somehow, but in a very specific way. Put a price on the things that are unsustainable, and pay the revenues out to things that are sustainable. It is not complicated, and you should be able to imagine thousands of possibilities.

A global price on greenhouse gas emissions to fund financial rewards for carbon sinking. A price on industrial agricultural activities that deplete soils to fund financial rewards for agricultural activities that actually serve to build soil quality. The possibilities are endless. Any negative economic outcome can be minimised or eliminated, and be replaced by positive economic outcomes, within the constraints of the real world and human ingenuity.

The global economy is the most powerful machine humanity has ever had at its disposal. You are angry at it, and want to throw it away. I want to fit it with a set of controls and a navigation system, and use it to drive wherever we want to go. Hey, it’s your choice, but I’d rather see if we can get another 500 years or so out of the thing.

10 05 2018
mikestasse

Put a price on the things that are unsustainable, and pay the revenues out to things that are sustainable.

That’s the problem…… NOTHING we do is sustainable.

10 05 2018
Idiocracy

His argument is basically one giant circular, flip-flopping, jerk around… don’t expect any “happy endings” here Mike! 😉

That shit ain’t worth any more of my time – I’ve got Hare skins to tan!

10 05 2018
Barry Kirkwood

Note that from 1914 there have been a series of major and minor wars with increasingly massive damage to life and infrastructure. All evidence is that WW III is planned and may be upon us shortly. To understand the metaplan see : Docherty & Macgregor: Hidden History – The Secret Origins of the First World War, plus Guido Preparata : Conjuring Hitler. Preface pp. xiv-xix summarises the plot. CJ can be downloaded as pdf. “So the West has to think again…that there is something far worse than Nazism, and that is the hubris of the Anglo-American fraternities, whose routine is to incite indigenous monsters to war, and steer the pandemonium to further their imperial aims.”
For evidence for this proposition just turn on the news. I well remember the Cuban missile crisis, when there was widespread well reasoned fear of a nuclear war that would inflict massive damage to life on the planet. What is building up as I write looks far more dangerous, but nobody seems to care. Rather they exercise themselves with popular entertainments or fret about fantasies of anthropogentic climate change induced by CO2. Nothing has been learned from the disastrous last century, the trends are obvious and there is little evidence of any social will to avert the disaster which is not just coming but has been building steadily for over a century.

10 05 2018
Glenn

We knew about all this from the 60’s through til now. And it just gets worse. How could you possibly think we will suddenly get it right now? It WON’T happen IMO.

It’s all too early and too late at the same time. Biology n physics don’t know. Ppl seem to mix up what is theoretically possible with what is practically possible.

In my mind we are in the thick of collapse and it is prob best to learn how to live well within it. Most refuse to.

A massive global economic downturn is about the only way to put the brakes on this wreak … at the same time create a horrible news as well.

10 05 2018
Brendon Crook

Idiocracy ,

You’re a rare voice in a world of delusion.

The whole of this culture is held together by smoke and mirrors that are rapidly falling to pieces and yet the zombies are still clinging to the delusions.

Everyday life for almost everyone trapped in it are indoctrinated lies that have grown from the thousands of years of lies we have inherited.
The mask of delusion is strong and most will never be able to peel it away to see the truth.
Almost everything I read or hear is a bending or slight token gesture to nature, a nature that is woven into the very fabric of our being.

It’s the great forgetting, the alienation of our connection to all life on earth. We are living like aliens on the very planet that gave us our very being.
I know I have to live in this culture, albeit on the fringes, but I refuse to wallow in the depravity I see the around me.

I fail to see how anyone can promote and support a culture that promotes extinction at all levels. This is a culture of doom for any non-human creature but humanities day is also not far away as our species walks blindly in a coma towards its own extinction and when the smoke clears the non-humans, I hope will be able to shake the dust off their collective bodies and rebuild their animal nations as they crawl out of the ruins of humanities arrogant temples to themselves.

This culture cannot and should not continue.

Would love to read more of your writing mate.

https://pantheistdefiance.wordpress.com

Brendon

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