A comment on a New York Times story on the new Indian car, the Nano [h/t Instapundit]:
Somehow, we need to get the “developing” countries to quit copying our disasters in the first world. Showing real respect for the quiet life in villages would be a help. How about a Discovery Channel series on “The Truly Sustainable” – showing village life wherever it can be found, and not focused on “gosh, no plumbing”, but on – “this clan has lived here for 1,000 years…’ – and showing community dynamics.
Obviously, the writer has never had cholera. The scary thing about this comment is that it showcases a school of thought more common than not on the far Left (25% most left).
Here we see the culmination of the Left’s evolution from technophiles to technophobes. Only a politically driven collective delusion could cause an educated person to believe that 1,000 years of cultural stagnation is more important than preventing the enormous suffering and death caused by sewage-borne illnesses.
We now have a powerful segment of our mainstream Left that seems to sincerely believe that the point of existence is mere stasis and stability. Gone is the desire to create, explore and improve. The pre-’60s Left that thought only in terms of onward and upward is dead.
Science fiction tells us little about the future but it tells us a lot about the cultural milieu in which any particular story is written. When Gene Roddenberry wrote the original Star Trek in the Sixties, he articulated the mainstream American-leftist vision of a future in which socialist-created, -managed and -distributed technology would eliminate poverty, disease, crime, ignorance and internal strife. In the original Star Trek, humans seeking adventure had to journey to the farthest stars because life at home was so good as to be boring. Such a future seemed quite plausible to a country then engaged in a great project to send men to the moon just to prove that it could.
No leftist would write a technological-paradise story like Star Trek today, nor would they support any adventure like the Apollo program. The Left today wants us to view ourselves as a failed civilization, one that needs to be crippled and reduced to a static and stagnant culture that never dreams of a better and greater future. They want us and the rest of humanity to keep our heads down and accept the lives of drudgery and the pain of preventable death that a lack of technology brings.
Fortunately for humanity as a whole, the leftists will fail. The poor of the planet have no romantic notions of what it is like to live without industrial technology. They will improve themselves and will wage war against us should we try to stop them. The leftists can, however, cripple the West, locking us into a downward spiral in which we starve for energy and fear any technological change. Should they triumph, the West will have no future and the rest of the world will pass us by as we enter cultural senescence.
There won’t be a future Captain Kirk, but rather a Captain Singh or a Captain Lu Cho. Not bad from the perspective of the entire species, but did we and our forbearers undertake the experiment of America to be left on the sidelines of history?
20 thoughts on “Environmentalism and the Death of the West”
Here is my comment on that article:
The beating heart of environmentalism is racism and misanthropy. It is a perverted and unkind religion like the one the Aztecs practiced. It pretends to be a political theory, but, because it repudiates Cicero’s maxim, which is also the epigraph of Locke’s “Two Treatises of Civil Government”, “Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto“, in favor of the non-human world, it cannot be political in any way. It is a mere expression of contempt towards men. As Virginia Postrel commented years ago, at least when they were Marxists, they favored some part of humanity.
Environmentalism and its practitioners must be exposed, mocked and driven from the public arena.
Can we arrange an exchange of citizens? How about we send the tree-hugger types to various third-world countries in exchange for hard-working farmers or ambitious people who only need an opportunity to improve their lives. Which group do you think would not want to move? I have never met an environmentalist yet who wants to give up electricity and all that runs on it but they expect others to do so.
Or, as I have said, Marxism used to critique capitaism because it did not rasie peoples’ standard of living enough, and promised that socialist states would be better at producing material goods. Once that was disproven, the left began to critique capitalism because it produced too many goods, and promised that socialist states would be better at failing to produce goods. They might be right there.
Of course the Soviet bloc managed to minimize production of useful goods while maximizing input of raw materials and output of polluting byproducts. Once economists actually got to measure Eastern European industry accurately, they realized that it actually subtracted value from the raw materials, rather than adding it: the pile of raw materials and energy used to make, say, an East German Trabant car, was worth more than the car itself, brand new. That’s when the nomenklatura realized they would be better off just stealing the raw amterials and selling them for cash in the West, and then move to London and buy real estate and soccer teams.
I think there are a few factors at work here, two of which are:
1)Social snobbery. Landed aristocracies have traditionally looked down at those who are “in trade,” and looked askance at technological change. Even the highly-intelligent Duke of Wellington had concerns about railway building, on the grounds that railways would encourage the lower classes to move about the country too much.
Although we have no significant landed aristocracy in America today, we do seem to have lots of people who have adopted the more unlovely behavior patterns of these aristocracies, often without their partially-redeeming virtues.
2)Sheer boredom. People who have everything–in terms of material goods and life options–often tend to become nihilistic. Walter Miller, in his great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, put it like this:
“..children of Merlin, chasing a gleam. Children, too, of Eve, forever building Edens – and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn’t the same..”
Good post, as always.
Rousseau and 19th Century German Romanticism (the latter which also gave us Hitlerism, a not totally disconnected thought when considering the Left) gone rampant.
Has the author of the NYT piece moved to a village in Bangladesh or Brazil or New Guinea that is outside the modern grid of electricity, health care, and technology?
I thought not.
There have been other moments in modern history when an intelligentsia sickened of modernity. The Romantic Movement of the 19th century was such a moment. Think of all those young Germans who blew their brains out after reading “The Sorrows of Young Werther” and concluding they couldn’t make a life (or keep a girl-friend) for all that obligatory roaming about the countryside. After a few decades of that sort of stuff everyone tired of it – the Victorians came along and began to act like adults. Still, they didn’t simply reject Romanticism but incorporated it into a new synthesis. There was still lots of fantasizing about nature (now functioning more as escapism than philosophy) but also a commitment to principles of law, duty and empire. The sons rejected all those limp would-be Werthers in the generation of their fathers. It was ever thus.
Who can tell what swing of the pendulum lies round the corner? Previous generations haven’t had much success at the game of prognostication. Why should we of the present be any more prescient? Personally I’ve got a hunch that the reigning wisdom of our elites will end up in the dustbin before I myself do.
Usually it doesn’t take too long for people like that commenter to raise the ugly demon of Thomas Malthus.
Nuclear power was a liberal cause in the 50’s and early 60’s. It is certainly true that the left turned its back on material progress and well-being sometime in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This might be partly due to the Vietnam war or it could be due to the fact that the “left” did not get what it wanted in the 60’s and then became vindictive of progress as a result.
Ayn Rand actually predicted that the left would become anti-prosperity in the 60’s. She believed this would be due to left-wing ideology becoming discredited as a means of creating prosperity and, thus, rather than giving up the philosphy, the leftists would give up prosperity instead.
I agree that the Romantic movement of the 19th century was an intellectual piece of trash.
I have to say that the environmental movement was much necessary during the 70’s. There was considerable waste and environmental degradation when I was a child in the early 70’s. The environmental movement certainly had its nuts at the time, but was mostly a reasoned response to much of this degradation that existed at the time. The Hudson river was so polluted by the mid 60’s that it sometimes caught fire and Lake Erie was considered a “dead” lake. Most reasonable people, including myself, supported much of the “green” ideas at the time. As a result, the U.S. and other developed countries are far cleaner today than they were 40 years ago, which is very much a good thing.
The problem is that the well-intentioned environmentalists of the 70’s got out of the movement when they got married, pursued careers, had kids, and did the other things associated with having a normal life. This occurred a “power vacuum” in the movement during the early 80’s, which was filled by the hard-core anti-industrial leftists. This occurred around 1985.
I quit the “greens”, intellectually speaking, in spring of 1989 over the cold fusion fiasco when some of its prominent leaders proclaimed that they were opposed to the development of a clean, limitless source of energy. This told me that they do not care about the environment itself, only about their psychotic social engineering schemes. What I have seen of the greens since that time has made clear that they have only degenerated since then.
I have to say that the environmental movement was much necessary during the 70’s.
Yes, but the subsequent evolution fits the pattern in which leftist take a real problem and then inflate it to cataclysmic proportions. So, you get very real difference in income and class discrimination in Europe and the leftist response to that is Communism.
The environmental movement certainly had its nuts at the time, but was mostly a reasoned response to much of this degradation that existed at the time.
I would disagree. That was the same time as the Club of Rome report, The Population Bomb and The Energy Crisis. Environmentalism in the 70’s was already in full blown apocalyptic mode. I would say they were the less hysterical in the period of 1985-1995 when the end of the energy crisis and the failure of the population explosion to manifest took the wind out of their sails for a time.
I think what really happened was that the real problems faced in the 70’s were relatively trivial and easily fixed but the political hysteria they engendered infected the baby boomers. As the boomers came into power during the 90’s they reignited the hysteria of their youth in a new package.
I would disagree. That was the same time as the Club of Rome report, The Population Bomb and The Energy Crisis. Environmentalism in the 70’s was already in full blown apocalyptic mode.
You have a good point. I was thinking more of the local and national stuff that went on during the 70’s. I was also thinking about the efforts to reduce pollution from cars as well as removing lead from gas (which turned out to be a VERY good thing to do). Yes, I do remember hearing the Club of Rome claptrap (I had forgotten about them until you reminded me). I also think that the energy crisis was way overblown. However, the population bomb was a legitimate concern at the time, although Ehrlich’s predictions turned out to be massively wrong. The people then did not realize that improved standards of living and consumer choice would ultimately diffuse the population bomb by now.
The movement today revolves exclusively around global warming, which is horse puckey. I think global warming has been latched onto by these people because all of the REAL pollution problems have been solved in the developed countries (places like Bangkok and Shenzhen certainly have a problem). Anyone who lived in SoCal during the 80’s and who has been there in recent years can tell you that it is FAR, FAR cleaner today.
The real problem today is the same problem we’ve always had, which is poverty. Of course, the left does not give a s**t about this problem except to berate western (and east asian) civilization for overcoming it.
However, the population bomb was a legitimate concern at the time…
Actually it wasn’t. Serious researchers had already shown by the late-60’s that population growth slowed with increasing urbanization and rising standards of living. The left created a hysteria right at the time right after the post-war boom in population had ended.
This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 3/25/2009, at The Unreligious Right
They will improve themselves and will wage war against us should we try to stop them … and the rest of the world will pass us by as we enter cultural senescence.
WAY too romantic. The (worldwide) economic progress mankind has experienced since 1800 is a profound historical aberration. This is one deep implication of William Nordhaus’s famous paper, “Do Real-Output and Real-Wage Measures Capture Reality? The History of Lighting Suggests Not.”
Just where, then, does history tend when left to itself? The default is “nasty, brutish, and short,” not “onwards and upwards.”
One time only, in medieval Christian England, according to sociologist James Q. Wilson, did ordinary men and women begin characteristically to choose each other, regardless of what their families thought or tried to arrange to the contrary, and were able to pull it off, both by the power of the Catholic Church, which blessed those marriages, and by the peculiarly diffuse feudal structure in England. And that was the beginning of the diminishment of the power of the clan in Europe, a precondition for the rise of a kind of state that was both powerful and had a concept of, protected, and expanded, individual power; above all, the power to keep one’s property, to exchange it with others in the way that seems best to you, and hence, to marry, reproduce, and flourish as one wishes.
Physicist and theologian Fr. Stanley Jaki, building on the work of Pierre Duhem, claims that science was “stillborn,” save in the Christian West. No need to go into the argument here, except to propose that the questioning, and then the rejection, of the Ptolemaic epicycles, whose beginnings can be located in the thought of medieval philosopher and theologian John Burridan, and the rise of the New Physics of Galileo and Newton, represents a qualitative, not merely a quantitative, advance, an advance not merely in ‘science’ but in the very idea of science and its project.
The point is not to score points for the West but to emphasize how radically uncharacteristic in history these essentials are. Now, of course, they are gifts, available in principle to anyone. But there is no law, historical, economic, or otherwise, that says these gifts cannot be rejected, or simply ignored, by those who have other things on their minds.
Moreover, although all men are created equal in the sight of God, the mean IQ of all men is not equal across the globe. The maintenance and growth of an advanced technological economy can only be the responsibility of what the pseudonymous ‘La Griffe du Lion’ calls its “smart fraction.” From this population alone comes the capable secretaries, nurses, store managers, physicians, scientists, and Nobel Prize winners. Even given a stable polity and free markets, the cognitive burden, both mathematical and verbal, of such economies, is not sustainable by all men equally. In Belgium, about 34% of the population are at least somewhat capable of it; in Morocco, only 8%; and in sub-Saharan Africa, barely 2%.
No, we should not assume that “the rest of the world will pass us by as we enter cultural senescence,” (and, one might add, given the below-replacement fertility rate in countries like Belgium, demographic senescence, as well).
That is not the null hypothesis. What we have now is something unparalleled in history, and perhaps more precious, and fragile, than we know. It is not the default we can simply assume, not the cultural and economic and social level toward which mankind, like water, inevitably flows.
Usually, the people who sing the unrestrained praises of traditional tribal & village societies are academic intellectuals of precisely the kind that would be most out of place in those societies.
I’d like to write a screenplay called “A Connecticut Professor in the Lakota Tribe” about a modern “progressive” professor who is magically transported back to an Indian encampment in Montana, circa 1850. The council of elders has to decide what role he can best fill. Warrior?…no, he’s a pacifist, and isn’t very good with bow or rifle, anyhow. Hunter?…see prior comment. Storyteller?…well, maybe, but that position is already filled, and beside, this new guy’s stories are pretty boring.
Now, of course, they are gifts, available in principle to anyone. But there is no law, historical, economic, or otherwise, that says these gifts cannot be rejected, or simply ignored, by those who have other things on their minds.
Except what they have on their minds right now is raising their standards of living and their place in the hierarchy of nations by rapidly building their technological infrastructure.
History has shown that it is a fool’s wager to bet that one’s own people possess unique traits that will let them remain dominance over others. This is in fact what most civilized cultures believed when they first encountered Westerners. The Chinese were particularly bad about that. Europeans in the 1800’s believed that Americans could not create but could only exploit natural resources. At the end of WWII no one imagined that Japan, Korea or Taiwan would be the economic powerhouses they are today.
Our unique cultural and historical advantages won’t do us any good if we refuse to use them. If we suppress creativity and technology, if we abandon economic individualism, if we seek stasis, then our competitors won’t have to match our highest accomplishments in these areas, they will just have to be better than we are at any particular time in the future.
A China that has abundant electricity from nuclear power can make up for a lot of institutional and cultural weaknesses if it only has to compete with an America powered by windmills. A China with an inefficient private sector can out compete an American one so strangled by regulation that it cannot build.
History shows a pronounce pattern of highly successful societies growing fat, lazy and static. They take their dominance for granted and stop believing they have to compete. They usually lose to societies that have far fewer innate advantages but which possess energy and drive often born of hunger.
The trend lines of the last 30 years strongly suggest we will follow the same course.
Possibly it is the case that the present groveling before the gods of environmentalism will render us senescent, decadent and redundant in the era now a-borning. Possibly the Lions of the East will take up the cause of civilization, while we relapse into a beautiful swooning stasis. Possibly. But think back again to the early 19th century. Grant that the quality of thought at the outset of that era had a large component of sophomoric moonshine. But time passed, and a later generation actually used those sophomorisms productively. All that febrile earnestness, lugubriousness and feelingness was channeled into a sturdy dutifulness, seriousness of purpose and moral attitude to life. That was what the Victorians culled from the visions of the Romantics, who were themselves revolting against the “satanic mills” of pure abstract thought.
William Wordsworth exemplifies this transition. He began as a wanderer and outsider, a fervent advocate of the French Revolution, fatherer of an illegitimate child, adherent (with his friend Coleridge) of a crazy communistic scheme called “Pantosocrasy” which was to be established in Virginia. These guys were the hippies of their day. But there was more to Wordsworth than moonshine, and more to Coleridge than opium. Wordsworth may have been prone to “wandering lonely as a cloud”, but usually what he found in nature was “the still, sad music of humanity”. This in contrast to the abstract utopias of the Revolution. He and Coleridge got more and more conservative as they grew older. Both renounced the Revolution. Wordsworth raised a family, and Coleridge longed to do so. Wordworth wrote an “Ode to Duty” and “Ecclesiastical Sonnets”. Coleridge stopped writing poetry but wrote wonderful prose on the organic life of people and nations. In short, both men evolved into Victorians.
At the core of Romanticism was a longing to be more serious. It took a while for that core to be exposed. Conservatives of the present day should think historically and dialectically. The bubble of time we’re imprisoned in here in this first decade of the 21st century will not be what it seems to be when viewed a hundred years hence. Maybe by then America will have become the Sick Man of the Western Hemisphere. But not necessarily. Our children and grandchildren may well have drilled down into the core of the present beliefs and extracted something usable and valuable for the world a-borning. In the tumult of the present we can’t possibly know any of this. We can be combatants, but we ought also to be sceptics and dialecticians.
It only seems mysterious when the collectivists cheer for prosperity and development in one era, and then do everything to prevent it and discourage it in another.
Both of these positions are merely pretexts to advance the constant and relentless purpose of the collectivist movement—the destruction of capitalism, and representative government based on liberal democratic principles, which requires unacceptable levels of freedom in human activity to survive and prosper.
In the 19th and early 20th century socialist/progressive movements, the failure of capitalism to provide instant equality in all things—living conditions, health care, education, wages, etc.,—led to demands that the state should provide those “public goods”, since greedy capitalists never would. And, in cases where the factory owner did provide all these goods, the left quickly condemned it as a form slavery in “company towns”, demeaning in comparison to receiving them from a benevolent state.
In the middle to late 20th century, when many of the crises that social activists had been protesting for decades had largely been solved (although never completely, so that that lack of perfection could always continue to be protested), it became apparent to the collective mind that the true danger of capitalism was its ability to succeed in solving many of the social problems that had plagued mankind forever.
Therefore, a change in tack was in order. The goal never changed, but the tactics did. Now, it was too much success, too much prosperity, too much food, too many technologies, too much good life, even too many people, as if human life itself was a threat.
And so now, as Shannon has posted about repeatedly, we see a concerted effort not to promote progress, but to demean and inhibit it, even demonize it. As the heretic Lonborg has discussed, it is the wealth of developed societies that allows them to address environmental issues, among the many other problems that are solvable when one has enough resources to address them.
But, if one can demonize technology, and can progressively impoverish a society (pun intended), then the wide range of problems and difficulties engendered become fodder for further collectivist solutions, as, clearly, the evil, greedy capitalists have had their day.
I would contend that this latter course is exactly what we are seeing all around us today.
Every failure is immediately blamed on too much freedom, too much greed, to much private interest. Solutions are inevitably framed as requiring massive state action, controls, and programs, using enormous amounts of resources that are then sucked from productive, i.e., commercial, endeavors and poured out into allegedly “public interest” sinkholes which always somehow seem to enrich the friends of the collectivists doing the defining of what is, or isn’t, in the public interest.
Look around. Ma Chalmers is running the show. Want to buy some soybeans?
“showing village life wherever it can be found, and not focused on “gosh, no plumbing”, but on – “this clan has lived here for 1,000 years…”
The idiot who wrote that should spend a day in a rice paddy behind a water buffalo
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