Sustainability of Progressive Politics

What is sustainability? It seems to be a term that has been loaded with additional baggage since the Progressives have reappropriated the term for their own use. It seems to be a word used to describe the longevity of a given system, usually in an ecological context. Yet, as with many ideological terms of the left, it manages to translate itself into virtually every facet of human life. For example, sustainability encompasses what kind of house you live in, the food you eat, the types of vacations you go on, the politicians you elect, your choice to have children (or not), the types of investments you make, and many other aspects. But what is sustainability with regard to politics? (I am not speaking of sustainability policy–I’m speaking of the longevity associated with political constituencies.)

Victor Hanson wrote at his Works and Days blog about the sustainability of San Fransisco–no, not the ecological sustainability, but rather the sustainability of the (strongly-Democratic) human population:

I spent some time speaking in San Francisco recently… There are smartly dressed yuppies, wealthy gays, and chic business people everywhere downtown, along with affluent tourists, all juxtaposed with hordes of street people and a legion of young service workers at Starbucks, restaurants, etc. What is missing are school children, middle class couples with strollers, and any sense the city has a vibrant foundation of working-class, successful families of all races and backgrounds. For all its veneer of liberalism, it seems a static city of winners and losers, victory defined perhaps by getting into a spruced up Victorian versus renting in a bad district, getting paid a lot to manage something, versus very little to serve something. All in all, I got a strange creepy feeling that whatever was going on, it was unsustainable–sort of like an encapsulated Europe within an American city. The city seems to exist on tourism, and people who daily come into the city to provide a service, get paid–and leave….
I remember SF in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a kid visiting with his parents. A much different place altogether of affordable homes, vibrant docks, lots of construction—and children everywhere.

This is the future of the Democratic Party: “smartly dressed yuppies, wealthy gays, chic business people.” Child rearing is generally not high on the list of priorities of such people, and consequently the future looks bleak for that demographic. Even the babbling Paul Begala caricatured the Obama coalition as “eggheads and African-Americans,” and lamented that the Democratic Party is losing touch with its working-class, child rearing base (who often “cling” to religion and guns.”)

The Republican Party, as well as most conservatives, are not viewed as in support of sustainability, at least as far as the left has defined the term. Yet Republicans have dominated in so-called Jesusland, where incomes are a bit lower, and the people work in manufacturing, farming, the military, and extractive industries, and most importantly, families are a bit larger.

As the old cliche goes, the future belongs to our children. And conservatives have more of them. Indeed, if you look at this table, you can see that the Blue States tend toward the bottom of the list in terms of birth rate, with California being the lone exception. Red States dominate with higher birth rates.

Perhaps we ought to redefine what sustainability is. It ought not mean organic soy milk, fair-trade coffee, the Toyota Prius, or voting for Obama along with the rest of your sorority. It should be more radical than that. It should be an unabashedly pro-human philosophy, as we should recognize that sustaining humanity is our top mission, not sustaining nature. This means using nature for human benefit, not Gaia’s. It means giving economic vitality to humans by creating trade pacts where they can export to the world market. It means opposing autarky. It means recognizing that human life is more important than nature, and affirming humans’ mastery of nature. This sustainability is really humanism, and is the stuff of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the Globalization, where in each case people have created systems to increase fertility, wealth, and freedom.

Sustainability, as the Progressives understand it, places nature as the master of humanity. (Indeed, Michael Crichton has commented on how environmentalism has become a religion in the postmodern parts of the world.)

So who should own sustainability now? The party of Progressive (extinction), or the pro-live-birth conservatives?

Crossposted at Smitten Eagle.

14 thoughts on “Sustainability of Progressive Politics”

  1. You speak of “using” nature to sustain humanity; that sustaining humanity is more important than sustaining nature. The fact is, the planet was around long before us. We developed to function within the natural ecology of this planet and our continued existence depends upon it. If we destroy that ecology with our desire to “dominate” it we will destroy the foundation on which we live. There is no food or water without that foundation. There is no civilization without that foundation. And there certainly aren’t any automobiles, iPods, or plasma HDTVs without that foundation. Sustainability means using resources only at the rate at which we can replace them. It’s a simple equation and a simple concept. It’s only difficult because we, as a society, are too greedy, short-sighted, and lazy to act.

  2. Absolutely sustainable. As nature shows, parasitism is a sustainable evolutionary choice as long as the organism parasitized exists. Since the poor, the honest, and breeders will always be with us, SF is sustainable.

    “Sustainability means using resources only at the rate at which we can replace them. It’s a simple equation and a simple concept.” Absolutely. We need the highest imaginable technologies beyond our primitive technology to replace water fouled by water clean, to use one example. Only by industrial, intellectual, and material progress can we gain the knowledge necessary to replace resources.

  3. Brandon W,

    We developed to function within the natural ecology of this planet and our continued existence depends upon it.

    That’s what we are doing. Humans depend on technology to survive, We cannot even eat without fire. We cannot hunt or gather without tools. We have been altering the ecosystem of the planet for over a million years, just as every other breakthrough species has. Yeah, we’re rough on other species but how do you think the anaerobic bacteria viewed the first oxygen generating species?

    Life changes and evolves. The old dies and young is born. We’re part of that process. Our tools and technology are the natural way humans adapt and survive.

    Sustainability means using resources only at the rate at which we can replace them. It’s a simple equation and a simple concept.

    That would be true if any such thing as natural resources existed. The only resource we get “naturally” is oxygen. Human effort creates everything else. We create resources as we go. More knowledge, more technology means more resources. “Sustanability” comes down to creation and moving forward, not huddling in the dark.

    It’s only difficult because we, as a society, are too greedy, short-sighted, and lazy to act.

    Translation: “We’ve angered the gods with our sinful ways! Return to the idyllic past of our forbearers!”

    Sigh, somethings never change.

  4. On second note, I have contact with people in San Francisco and I find it amusing that they pat themselves on the back for their pro-nature lifestyle all the while living in a city so dependent on advanced, resource hungry, energy intensive technology that it might as well be a space ship.

    I operate from a biological perspective and I must agree that any culture that fails to reproduce is doomed to failure just as a species that fails to do so.

  5. Good post, SE. It’s often struck me that…for all their talk about environment..the “progressives” don’t generally have much respect for the mental/cultural environment. For example, the insane excessed in “self-esteem development” are leading to a destruction of values…like hard work, the ability to recover from failure, and the ability to accept criticism…upon which the sustainability of civilization depends.

  6. The post seems to assume that a political group can only increase its size by natural–i.e. biological–increase. The obvious alternative is recruitment. Even if Republicans have more children than Democrats, their relative numbers might decline if, on net, more children of Republicans become Democrats than the other way around.

  7. David Friedman-

    Fair point. Nor did I look at the effects of immigration.

    Yet in the long term, even if the Progressives drive down their own birthrates and manage to survive by recruitment, that recruitment is a zero-sum game, as each new member deprives non-Progressives of a member. Therefore, population will continue to trend down, which is not a good thing.

    Bottom line, in the long term, we are going to need people who support child rearing at rates of at least the replacement levels. Otherwise we risk creating a hollow society that has no basis except for 1) Aging, and 2) Serving the Aging population. Such a society cannot be vibrant or “sustainable,” to use the today’s lexicon.

  8. Shannon Love,
    “Humans depend on technology to survive”
    We depend on our ingenuity, to replace physical strength we do not have in relation to the other animals.

    “That would be true if any such thing as natural resources existed. The only resource we get ‘naturally’ is oxygen.”
    This statement is so wrong as to be ridiculous. Natural resources includes air, water, wood, oil & natural gas, food, plutonium, coal, metals, and thousands of other things. You can’t have your iPod without natural resources; it’s made of metals from the ground, plastics made from petroleum, running on electricity that was likely made from burning coal. The same for your car: metal, plastic, leather (from an animal), running on oil sucked up out of the planet’s crust. If we deplete any of these resources faster than they are replaced, they will eventually disappear or – in the case of some things like oil – simply get too difficult to get any more of. What happens when you’ve depleted all the natural resources? You don’t have any more wood, or plastics, or oil to run engines. May I point out, as a side note, that for all our ingenuity, most of our energy is still derived from fire; burning gasoline, coal, or other materials to extract energy out of it. The fact is, resources are limited. We functioned mostly-sustainably throughout the majority of our history as a species purely because we didn’t have the numbers or machinery to be otherwise. That has changed in the past 100-200 years, and we are now wiping out resources faster than the planet can process and regenerate them. By some measures, 2/3 of the available resources on the planet are wiped out – mostly in the past 100 years. Whether that figure is absolutely correct or not, the most simple logic can show we can not use up resources faster than the planet can process and replace them, or we will cease to have modern civilization. We may even go so far as cease to exist.

    This isn’t political. I’m neither Democrat nor Republican. It’s just common sense. Something too many people have too little of.

  9. Brandon W, you have no understanding Shannon Love’s point.

    It has to do with the definitions of “natural” and “resources.” Shannon is using natural to mean “without human effort and ingenuity.”

    Most of the “Natural Resources” that you speak of, Brandon, were unknown five hundred years ago, thus, they were no resource until technology made them valuable and useful.

    It is this technology which makes those “Natural Resources” sustainable and this is where markets play their part.

    If prices are allowed to fluctuate, then, this leads to sustainability. If supplies are low and demand is high, then the price will rise. This will prompt conservation. It will force people to find new sources, substitutions or methods of satisfying our needs. Too often, people like you, Brandon, want to intervene in the marketplace.

    You have a “Club of Rome” mentality, Brandon. You want to use governmental, not market methods, to provide sustainability. Those policies always fail. Governments are inherently bad at picking winners and losers. Too often, they use “wage and price controls” to avoid the functions of markets. This is when the real shortages start.

    The long term trend is for technology to improve and this increases the resources which we can afford to utilize. This prompts businesses to expand production and this lowers the prices of goods and services for all.

    Of course, much of this increase in productivity is hidden by the fact that the government avoids increasing taxes by increasing the money supply–which is a hidden tax on us all.

    What is not sustainable is that excessive taxes invariably destroy economies. The consumers of tax funds cannot see their harmful affect on economies and societies. Regulations and controls stultify. Politics resists any attempt to free resources. Most cultures destroy themselves this way.

    A case in point is that America has enormous amounts of natural recourses which the Environmentalists will not allow to be tapped. We have enough oil and natural gas on the Continental East and West Coast and in Alaska to satisfy our needs for over fifty years. But, those “Natural Resources” are locked away by unsustainable politics.

  10. Republicans do not have more children than Democrats. The main reason is the high birth-rate of Hispanics (African-Americans also have above averate rates). Big cities throughout most of history were population sinks, largely due to disease. Now the old trend is returning due to lower urban birth rates.

  11. Now you say, Louis, that “Most of the ‘Natural Resources’ that you speak of, Brandon, were unknown five hundred years ago…”
    You are now arguing that metals, wood and fire weren’t used 500 years ago. Seriously? Then we clearly have no common ground to discuss this.

    Also, Louis, you wrote: “You have a ‘Club of Rome’ mentality, Brandon. You want to use governmental, not market methods, to provide sustainability.”
    Show me one place in either of my comments here where I suggested that. You can’t. You’re playing an old debate tactic where you fabricate something your opponent says and then attack them for it. I don’t play along with that.

    I also note, Louis, your condescending tone. As you can see, Louis, I CAN play that game. But I think this game has become moot.

  12. RE: Faster growth rate among Republicans than Democrats

    I was thinking about this argument, and it seems to me that most Republicans are much older. Since there is a huge boom of the population that is now older – and Republican – it also follows that a large portion of the Republicans will soon be dead. Maybe they have a faster birth rate in the sparsely populated red states, but their big, elderly voting base is also going to be dead soon.

    It would be nice if all the Republicans AND Democrats would just die, and people with their heads out of their asses would start running the country.

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