My friend linked me to an article on capitalism, the environment and socialism and asked me for my opinion. I spent such a long time answering her that I thought I might as well make it a blog post.
Here’s my opinion, as it currently stands:
The article sets out clearly what has gone wrong in the world and how Cory believes it is a function of capitalism and class, but his suggestions of what to do about it seem a bit foggy. I get hints of revolution (like in Russia and China?) with heavy dependence on the working class as hope for the future. This relies on a transformation in consciousness for the working class, perhaps via a bolder stance by unions and greater networks between activist groups?
The thing that concerns me is the previous examples of socialism which seem to have resulted in oppression and misery of a different sort. Russia, China and other once-communist societies are not currently leading the world in environmental responsibility.
I guess this leads me to the question of what went wrong for them and how a society might avoid making the same mistakes?
The other problem I have with Cory’s argument is more fundamental. I don’t believe the working class is unenlightened or that the ‘ruling class’ is evil. I agree that the goal must be harmony with the environment. I’m concerned, however, that to pursue harmony inside a dialogue where anyone is discounted or vilified, could perpetuate cycles of misunderstanding, conflict and confusion.
People are primarily motivated by two emotions, fear and love. All the logic in the world won’t budge a fearful person to leap over a perceived ledge, unless you can prove that it’s safe, that something else is worse, or that it’s the only way to fulfill their need to be loved.
How does that relate? Well fear causes mental blindness. I strongly doubt the National Party, for example, is rubbing their hands with glee as they sign bills allowing further unsustainable power generation. They’re not envisioning the destruction of New Zealand and shrugging, saying, “Oh well, I’ll be rich now, screw my grandkids.” My best guess is that they’re looking at the financial crisis we’re in and saying ‘well shit, gotta do something about that. What are our options?’
The environmental aspects are too hard to solve, in their minds. They avoid thinking about things that are fear-inducing and, since most of New Zealand seems to be ignoring the problem and putting it in the too-hard basket too, they figure someone else can worry about it later when it gets to be a ‘real problem’.
Of course this is going to lead to destructive outcomes, but not because they’re evil. Because they feel helpless, confused, scared and totally unprepared to tackle what seems like an impossible problem. Maybe also because they’re pretty sure that prioritizing the environment at the cost of the entire capitalist model is something that won’t get them re-elected.
If you think about it, changing an entire model like that has rarely, if ever, been done without significant chaos, resistance and bloodshed.
I believe the only way to create lasting change, peacefully, is to demand it as a nation via the democratic process. It’s been done for things like gay marriage and our anti-nuclear stance, and it can be done for the environment – with the right dialogue and grassroots inclusive attitude. That means every group, from teens, through students, working people, families, investors, business people, the elderly etc, need to agree not only that change is important, but that it is achievable.
The achievable part is the most vital in my opinion. There’s been more than enough films, famous actors and UN conventions to convince most people that climate change and environmental stuff is ‘important’. What there hasn’t been nearly enough of is inspiring visions of what the alternatives could be.
When you imagine the future, what do you see? For many of us, it’s the ice covered cities in Day After Tomorrow, or the never ending oceans of Waterworld, or the jungle cities of most zombie post-apocalyptic films. This future seems inevitable. If doom is coming, why not practice? We write stories to reassure ourselves that despite the complete destruction of our planet and our civilization, some scrap of humanity remains and we might personally survive to see it.
For people who find this end-of-the-world image too terrifying to contemplate, the response seems to be simply closing your mind to the horror and telling yourself it’s not real… that life will go on exactly as it has all this time (hence the insistence that climate change is a conspiracy and there’s no proof). People don’t ‘choose’ to believe these things, they simply must, because otherwise they’d break.
This is the problem I have wrestled with in the last few months. There are no easy answers. I’m only starting to understand the problem, but one thing I know for sure. It’s a human problem. I think it’s the human problem. It’s not just about environment or oppression or war, but these are the symptoms.
I believe we are, each of us, the problem and the solution.
Cory is right when he speaks of the need for a leap in consciousness, but it is not only the working class who need to make this leap… it’s everyone. Every time we choose to put another person in a box; to assume we know them and their motivations; to class them as ‘evil’ and fight against them; we are being part of the problem. Every time we push our point of view without genuinely listening, we are sustaining the cycles that keep us isolated and powerless.
I’m not a Christian, but I think the advice “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” is pretty much the leap in consciousness we require if we want to find a solution.
When you can stand in a place where you believe everyone is genuinely doing their best with the resources and world view they have, you can begin to ask questions like, what would inspire these people to take action? What has inspired people in the past? How could we make it easy for them to choose a different path?
One part of the answer is awareness, another is having the courage to gather solutions and present them in stories that redefine what is possible for humanity. Make hope the prevailing energy of our conversations. Inspire people to take action because they believe it will make a difference. Let people at every level of society be welcome.
Harmony with the planet starts with the courage to love each other. It’s something we are all responsible for. Every time you choose to smile, to forgive, to extend a helping hand, to listen… you are being part of the solution.
Well, that’s what I believe.
What do you think?