Archive for the ‘Karl Marx’ Category
In The Road to Hell (1989), Chris Rea questioned where our growth-obsessed country – with its often over-congested and gridlocked road network was headed. If he were writing this song today, I feel confident he would incorporate into it questions regarding the unsustainable way in which humanity is currently using the Earth’s non-renewable resources – including minerals and energy – and the inequitous distribution of access to all resources (renewable and non-renewable alike); particularly clean fresh water (undervalued and wasted in developed countries – and highly-prized if not yet fought over in the rest of the World).
We have had globalised Capitalism for a few decades now and, one thing seems certain, the “trickle down effect” so beloved of messrs Reagan and Thatcher was a cruel myth; just as was the “arbeit macht frei”-style Utopia espoused by Marx, Lenin and Stalin and Co.. Furthermore, while engaging in a bit of anti-Marxist rhetoric, let’s clear up one thing: Karl Marx may have denounced Capitalism for being money fetishism but:
Marxism = Growthmania minus Capitalism. End of story.
I will leave the rest to Chris. Enjoy.
Brendan O’Neill is an unusual climate change ‘sceptic’ because, I am fairly certain that unlike me, he is not a Conservative voter. Despite this, he maintains a blog on the website on one of the most widely-read right-wing broadsheet newspapers in the UK (i.e. The Daily Telegraph); and his work is often published in various similarly-minded newspapers in other english-speaking countries. In addition to all of this, he is a founding editor of – and regular contributor to the Spiked website; formerly known as Living Marxism (i.e. the journal of the now-defunct Revolutionary Communist Party).
Given such a revolutionary pedigree, it is hardly surprising that O’Neill regularly appeals to a universal right of freedom to dissent in order to justify not accepting the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD):
– He did it to defend his old friend Martin Durkin for his Global Warming Documentary Swindle in 2007; and much more recently
– He did it to defend our old friend Johnny Ball for speaking his mind as well.
According to its own publicity, the Spiked website is “…waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism [...and would be...] endorsed by free-thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx… if they were lucky enough to be around to read it.” Thus, there would appear to be two aspects to O’Neill’s refusal to be concerned about ACD, namely that such concern is being peddled by people who are (a) misanthropic and regressive; and (b) irrational and illiberal.
The only trouble with these beliefs is that they are deeply flawed: Dealing with ACD need not be any of these things. However, those with a vested interest in the continuance of “business as usual” want you to believe that taking any serious action to tackle the problem is all of these things; and therein lies the problem: Their self-serving campaign has been immensely successful.
In a brief discussion of left-wing scepticism in his 2010 book, Requiem for a Species, Clive Hamilton highlights the links between the erstwhile Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), Living Marxism magazine, and the Spiked website (pp.113-5). In spite of this, O’Neill is given a platform on websites like that of The Telegraph and the Global Warming Policy Foundation, demonstrating that one’s politics are irrelevant in the crusade to deny ACD.
I guess I should not be surprised at this, because Marxism is merely growth-fetishism without the Capitalism. The problem is that perpetual growth is unsustainable in a closed system; the only way for us to escape that fact is to do as Stephen Hawking has suggested – and plan to colonise Space!
Tomorrow, I will look at the writing of Melanie Phillips, followed by Christopher Booker (on Thursday) and James Delingpole (on Friday).
A Review of ‘Socialism’ by Mary Mellor, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R. (2006), Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge (pp.35-50), Cambridge: CUP.
In the first two chapters of Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge, the contributing authors, Roger Scruton and Marcel Wissenburg, attempt to challenge the orthodoxy that says one cannot be concerned for the environment and be a conservative or a liberal respectively. Conversely, the third chapter by Mary Mellor seeks to challenge the orthodoxy that says all environmentalists must be socialists; or at least explain how and why it is not as simple as that.
First of all, a few words about long words. Yet again, I have caught myself using the latter without adequate explanation (but then long words are just that – shorthand for complex ideas). Green politics is awash with long words and complex ideas, so I apologise; I really am not trying to put readers off!… Concern for the environment can either be focused on the needs of humans (i.e. “anthropocentric” [environmentalism] – such as movements concerned with nature conservation and the wise use of resources); or it can be focused on the needs of nature as a whole (i.e. “ecocentric” [ecologism] – such as movements concerned with wilderness and biodiversity preservation). Furthermore, if, rather than seeing these as two polar opposites, you think of them as an anthropocentric – ecocentric spectrum along which a number of positions is possible, then you may begin to understand why there are so many differing views on environmental matters: It all comes down to whether you perceive of nature as having instrumental, inherent, or intrinsic value? That is to say, is it valuable to you only for what you can do with it, because you like to look at it, or because it just is valuable (and would be even if we were not here to observe it)? All this, and much more besides, is explained in Neil Carter’s excellent 2007 text book, The Politics of the Environment (2nd Edition).
So then, back to what you might now call James Delingpole’s Watermelons question, “are all environmentalists just socialists in disguise?” Or is it more complicated than that? Well Mary Mellor is in no doubt that, far from being a challenge, concern for the environment (in any form) “greatly enhances the case for a redefined and refocused socialism” (p.35). However, as have many others, she points out that Marxism and Capitalism have one thing in common, the central aim of progressing via the industrialisation of the means of production (p.36) (i.e. Herman Daly’s ‘growthmania’). For example, whereas Jack Goody accepts that Capitalism has been “…connected with the growth of rationality and of secularisation; more recently with urbanisation and industrialisation”, he also notes that for Marxist regimes “…modern meant industrialisation without capitalism” (Goody 2004: 6). In this context, Robert Goodin identifies Capitalism as consumer-focused and Marxism as producer-focused; but neither is that concerned about nature per se. However, Goodin’s “green theory of value” is distinct from both of these because the value-imparting properties are neither those of the consumer or producer – they are “natural resource based” (Goodin 1992: 23-6). If so, Capitalism and Marxism are equally misguided.
Thus Mellor identifies environmental concern for sustainable development and limits to growth issues as a challenge to both Capitalist and Marxist orthodoxy (p.38-41). Furthermore, whereas Capitalism favours the privatisation of the means of production (including natural resources), Marxism favours state-ownership (p.41-3). Arguably, the only difference is that the capacity for protest is limited under the latter. However, either way, the environment is exploited ruthlessly.
Mellor reminds us that Marx coined the term ‘money fetishism’ for the Capitalist tendency to focus on the exchange value of money in abstract terms (p.41-45), which Daly correctly predicted would ultimately result in the paperless economy that caused our recent financial meltdown. It is in resisting this trend that Mellor is convinced lies socialism’s greatest potential to benefit from environmental concern (p.46). But even if all socialists were environmentalists (clearly they are not), this would not mean that all environmentalists are socialists. Delingpole’s Watermelons hypothesis is patently nonsense, as is his suggestion that Communists all became environmentalists after the fall of the Berlin Wall (view from 07:20 in this video). On the contrary, after the demise of the “red menace”, neo-Conservatives in the US had to find a new enemy to attack, so they chose the environment instead… and we are still dealing with the consequences today. This is just another denialist inversion of reality but, for the record, his Man-Bear-Pig exists but it is not climate “alarmism”; it is the blind pursuit of “profit at any cost” (i.e. without any regard for the environment).
In pages 46 to 49, Mellor then concludes her appeal for a new “invigorated socialism” by highlighting its tendency to focus on equal rights for all (humans at least); and its determination to avoid unhealthy concentrations of wealth (even if not always power). However, this raises important environmental questions about the “global commons” (i.e. things that cannot or should not be in private ownership). A good example of this is the way we humans fight over – and over-exploit – many of the world’s marine resources (i.e. fish). Without any form of collectively agreed and enforced restraint, this is inevitable (i.e. Garrett Hardin’s classic 1968 article entitled ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’). The privatisation of such things is highly controversial but, arguably, results in conservation via means of self-interest. Arguably, too, it is already happening by stealth in many cases.
In the final analysis, as was hinted at earlier, I think Marxism and Capitalism are equally flawed; and neither has an answer to the challenge presented by the Environment and our self-evident human propensity to despoil it. Furthermore, although as Crocodile Dundee once famously remarked “humans arguing about who owns the land is like fleas arguing about who owns the dog”, we must find a solution to managing our “global commons”; also known as common pool resources (things that we can use or eat) and common sink resources (things that can assimilate our waste).
Since there is no time to waste, it is a great shame that those that would deny the existence of environmental problems are conspiring against humanity to do just that – waste time. Therefore, Peter Jacques hit the nail on the head, when he said that such people need to be exposed as acting “in violation of the public interest” (see About).
Goodin, R. (1992), Green Political Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Goody, J. (2004), Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate. Cambridge: Polity Press.
A Review of ‘Liberalism’ by Marcel Wissenburg, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R. (2006), Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge (pp.20-34), Cambridge: CUP.
In the opening chapters of Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge, the contributing authors attempt to demonstrate how different ideologies can claim common cause with environmental concern. As such, some readers might characterise this second chapter, following as it does that by Roger Scruton on ‘Conservatism’ (see yesterday’s post), as going from the merely foolhardy to the downright ridiculous. Certainly, Marcel Wissenburg acknowledges the severity of his challenge in his opening sentence by admitting that it is “…not uncommon to point to liberalism as the evil genius behind the ecological crisis”.
This is, if you like, the null hypothesis that Wissenburg then sets out to falsify, by proposing ways in which the liberalism of today has in fact matured from a very rebellious youth – into a pillar of the modern global community – ready to take on the new responsibilities posed by the ecological challenges that we now face. Wissenburg therefore starts his defence by pointing out the differences between classical liberalism “…as a ‘pure’ political theory…” and “…the practice of liberalism or the practices ascribed to liberalism…” (p.20).
Wissenburg alludes to the fact that, although the morality of human slavery was not questioned in the time of John Locke (1632 – 1704), it is now universally condemned as inhumane and racist. Therefore, Wissenburg’s defence of liberalism is based on an appeal to its philosophical roots rather than any of its political consequences (historical or current).
Over the course of pages 20 to 22, Wissenburg discusses what he considers to be the three main reasons for the demonisation of liberalism; namely that (i) it has inherited from the Enlightenment a false (Descartian) dichotomy between humans and nature (p.20); (ii) it is inextricably linked to the idea that progress and/or growth is a legitimate end in itself and therefore sees nature in terms of instrumental (rather than intrinsic) value only (p.21); and that (iii) when it comes to any “system of rights” it must be “neutral” (p.22). In this latter respect, liberalism is thus the archetypal defender of moral relativism (or “pluralism” as Wissenburg prefers to call it). He then attempts his “greening of liberalism” (p.23-31), tackling the issues of liberalism’s neutrality; anthropocentrism, and focus on economic development (i.e. Karl Marx’s “money fetishism” and Herman Daley’s “growthmania”).
With regard to neutrality, Wissenburg draws upon the work of John Rawls and John Stuart Mill in order to argue that liberal neutrality cannot be absolute; and is necessarily limited by ethical and ontological assumptions (i.e. that no-one can be entirely and consistently neutral without being an anarchist). So far, so good.
With regard to anthropocentricism, Wissenburg sees the ecological challenge as being twofold, namely a critique of (a) “the liberal subject (individual humans)” and (b) “its conception of the value of nature” (p.26). Building on his preceding argument, he dismisses the first of these critiques by asserting that, because it ultimately limits the neutrality of liberalism, self-interest ensures the environment is protected purely by virtue of its instrumental value to both existing humans and future generations.
However, Wissenburg concedes that adherence to the solely instrumental value of nature means that ecologism (i.e. ecocentric environmentalism) is much more of a challenge; and therefore proposes that there are three possible solutions to this problem, which are as follows:
– Abdication (i.e. liberalism cannot accept inherent value in nature and thus it cannot be “greened”); or
– Accommodation (i.e. “it is more important that the right things be done than that they be done in any particular way” ); or
– Appreciation (i.e. “if liberals value choice for the sake of autonomy, then they should value the existence of as many ‘life environments’ as possible”. [i.e. Wissenburg’s summary (p.29) of an argument he credits to Dobson]).
Finally, with regard to the liberal belief in the primacy of the pursuit of economic progress, Wissenburg proposes that the fundamental right of the individual to own property (as espoused by the founding fathers of the New World (p.29)) was based on the erroneous assumption that all resources (including land) are infinite; something with which Daley (and many others) would agree. However, highlighting Anderson and Leal as the proponents of “free market environmentalism”, Wissenburg insists that to argue that privatising natural resources makes individual owners directly responsible for [maintaining] the value of their property, is to conflate the exchange value of money with the (at least instrumental) value of nature (p.30). Furthermore, Wissenburg appears equally ambivalent about other attempts to reconcile liberalism and ecologism (i.e. green consumerism and ecological modernisation).
Wissenburg thus proposes two initial conclusions (p.31):
1. Classical liberalism “cannot meet the ecological challenge… [unless it accepts] …limits to neutrality and [rids] itself of its anthropocentric bias”; but
2. Liberalism thus transformed (“perhaps beyond recognition”) is capable of meeting the challenge (“at least in theory”).
However, it is debatable whether the arguments put forward actually support even these tentative conclusions: In the opinion of this reviewer at least, one does not have to believe that all property is theft in order to realise that liberalism is inherently incompatible with ecologism.
Therefore, although Wissenburg then goes on to accept that liberalism is irreconcilable with “green thinkers who… reject the notions of property and ownership” (p.32), he rebukes deep ecologists for seeking an unattainable utopia; demanding instead that we all deal with the world as it is – not how we would like it to be. However, by rejecting any notion of “a unique road to salvation” (p.32) – or of any moral imperative to protect the environment – in favour of moral relativism; true liberals must surely be inherently selfish and incapable of altruism? If so, liberalism genuinely is the “evil genius behind the ecological crisis”; although that does not, by any means, excuse the behaviour of the rest of us.
Accordingly, Wissenburg concludes by questioning why there is still a global crisis if liberalism can meet the ecological challenge. However, perhaps quite reasonably, he suggests that this is an unfair question because the world is run by liberals not ecologists, or to put it another way, he thinks the lunatics have not yet taken over the asylum!
What is the problem with Modernity?
The problem is that the accumulation of personal wealth has become the sole objective of many people in modern society; and perpetual growth is posited as a means whereby even the poorest might achieve it. However, the New International Version of the Bible records the Apostle Paul as having written, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” (1 Timothy 6:10); and economists and politicians have argued about this for centuries…
According to Jon Elster, it was Karl Marx that coined the term ‘money fetishism’ to describe the belief that money (and/or precious metals) have intrinsic (use) value rather than just instrumental (exchange) value, which Marx felt was as misguided as the religious practice of endowing inanimate objects with supernatural powers (Elster 1986: 56-7). However, the terms use value and exchange value were first put forward by Aristotle (384-322 BC) who, according to Daly, also recognised the danger of focusing on the latter (i.e. whereby the accumulation of wealth becomes an end in itself). Therefore, Daly suggests that the paperless economy (where no useable commodities actually change hands) is the ultimate destiny for money fetishism (Daly 1992: 186).
In 1987, the World Commission on the Environment and Development (WCED) was clearly keen to try and settle an argument and, therefore, made the following quite astonishing assertion: “Growth has no set limits in terms of population or resource use beyond which lies ecological disaster” (Brundtland et al 1987: 45). Instead, WCED gave us the much-touted – but ill-defined – concept of sustainable development (SD). However, in stark contrast to the WCED report, Carter much more recently observed that SD “…will require a fundamental transformation in attitudes to economic growth, consumption, production and work” (Carter 2007: 48). This appears to be a subtle acknowledgement of the legitimacy of Herman Daly’s insistence of the need for a move to a steady-state economy; precisely because infinite growth is impossible in a closed system.
A basic tenet of Daly’s thesis is that economic activity does not take place in a vacuum and that economic – not just ecological – collapse awaits us unless we recognise the limited capacity of the ecosystem within which we operate: “Of all the fields of study, economics is the last one that should seek to be ‘value-free’, lest it deserve Oscar Wilde’s remark that an economist ‘is a man that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’” (Daly 1992: 4).
On 22 December 2010, the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme entitled “What Price Cheap Food” containing the startling revelation that, in the two years between 1 November 2008 and 1 November 2010, town planners approved applications for at least 577 new supermarkets across the UK. The programme also revealed that so-called “mega farms” (i.e. factory farming of cows and pigs – “dairy-go-rounds” and “sty scrappers” respectively) will be the next ‘big idea’ imported from the USA. The potential mega farm operators argue that there is significant scope for recycling and energy from waste schemes to be incorporated, although environmentalists would question (1) the wisdom of concentrating potentially polluting activities; and (2) the ethics of factory farming (which undoubtedly goes against the grain of green consumerism). However, although the potential for economies of scale cannot be denied, this could all be seen as symptomatic of what Daly called “growthmania“.
Growthmania versus Limits to Growth
One of the world’s most famous deniers of Limits to Growth arguments is Julian Simon, who once famously won a bet with Paul Ehrlich that the price of any commodity would reduce with the passage of time. Nevertheless, how can anyone deny that the Earth’s resource base or its capacity to accommodate human beings is anything other than limited? Quite easily, apparently: In 1994, Simon claimed that “humanity now has the ability (or knowledge) to make it possible to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next 7 billion years.”
However, the stupidity of such a dangerously fallacious argument was exposed 2 years later by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, who pointed out that at 1994 growth rates, “it would take only 774 years for the 1994 population of 5.6 billion to increase to the point where there were 10 human beings for each square meter of ice-free land on the planet!” Furthermore, they pointed out that if growth did not decline from 1994 levels, it would take only 1900 years for the mass of the human population to equal the mass of the Earth! (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1996: 66).
Fortunately, the UN now believes (May 2011) that the human population on this planet will probably stabilise by the end of the current Century at somewhere between 10 and 15 billion. The only trouble with that is that, we may well have already exceeded the ecological carrying capacity of the planet, and are therefore causing extreme stress to the global ecosystem; of which the most obvious symptom is AGW.
Daly, H. (1992), Steady State Economics (2nd ed), London: Earthscan.
Elster, J. (1986), An Introduction to Karl Marx, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ehrlich, P. and Ehrlich, A. (1996), Betrayal of Science and Reason, New York: Island Press.
I firmly believe that you do not need to be an adherent to any faith to find value in religious texts; and this is one of my favourite historical stories from the Old Testament: It tells of the Philistines (i.e. now Palestinians) capturing the Ark of the Covenant and – eventually – returning it to the Jews because of all the trouble having it caused (see 1 Samuel Chapters 5 and 6 if you’re interested). I think the moral of this story may be twofold: It tells us (1) that God can look after himself; and (2) we should not raise any object to the status of an idol.
Personally speaking, learning the first lesson from this story eventually convinced me in the mid-1980s that there was no point trying to persuade my devoutly-atheistic teachers at Portsmouth Polytechnic (as it was then) that not all Christians were Young Earth Creationists (see my Link to Falsifiable Theology [at bottom-right] if this issue is of interest to you). However, globally speaking, learning the second lesson from this story will be necessary before humanity can dig itself out of the hole it is now in – as a result of (1) pride (in our own resourcefulness); and (2) complacency (regarding the Earth’s sensitivity to our activity). This was the warning given by E.F. Schumacher in Small is Beautiful (1973) and, most-recently, by James Lovelock in Revenge of Gaia (2006)… Karl Marx called it “money fetishism” and Herman Daly called it “growthmania” but, whatever you want to call it, we need to renounce it; and acknowledge that all human actions – most important of all being waste production – have consequences… Therefore, more than anything else, this is a plea for anthropogenic humility, intellectual honesty, moral courage, and determined action. This is because if we fail to act soon then, yes, I do firmly believe that we face an environmental catastrophe.
If all of the above merely convinces you that environmentalism is a new religion, so be it but, I think you are wrong: I think consumerism is the new religion and, on the contrary, environmentalism is just a natural response to the realisation that humanity is having a terrible impact on the planet; and needs to change its ways before its very existence – in anything like current numbers and at current average levels of affluence – is seriously compromised.
Authors will have to forgive me if they feel I have here plagiarised any of their work, because this is an amalgamation of many different things I have seen or read. However, above all, it is influenced most-recently by watching Civilisation: Is the West History? by Niall Ferguson; and reading Requiem for a Species by Clive Hamilton… I do not believe either of these two men has been ideologically “captured” by any political agenda; they are merely being (at times painfully) honest and objective about the predicament in which we now find ourselves (though to be fair we were warned almost 40 years ago but chose not to listen).