Friday, January 4, 2013

Go Green: The Delusion of Ecology

Karl Marx, one of the most influential thinkers of the 19th century, had a huge impact in the field of economics and social sciences. He is famously known for his work on the Communist Manifesto, which he completed in 1848 in collaboration with Friedrich Engels. In his quest for deciphering human nature, religion became a frequent target of his critique. More than just an isolated understanding of religion, Marx was more interested in the role religion played in the functioning of an economic system. Specifically how religion supported the operation of an economic ideology. His view of religion can he summed up as follows:

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."[1]

He compared the effect opium has on a person to the effect that religion had on the masses. Just like opium sedates a person and in effect blinds him/her from reality, according to Marx, so does religion aim at keeping the masses blind to the socio-economic forces that shape their condition. He theorized that religion effectually kept the masses depoliticized. If everything was up to God and to his will, our current socio-economic situation needed little questioning. Even though things in day to day life might seem hard, at the end of the day it was all a part of God's divine plan. This overwhelming submission to a higher power, prevented individuals in realizing the evils of the system that one operated within. In the same way opium relieves a person of immediate distress, religion functions precisely the same way. It creates an illusion of happiness..."If I am not happy right now, I will in the next life thanks to God, all I have to do is to submit to God's will". A fascist, authoritative society was not needed to keep people in control; religion already did that with high efficacy. Our inability to question this higher power will prevent us from emancipating ourselves, he claimed. Again the point here is not to attack religion in its bare meaning and to condemn it to a useless belief system, but rather to understand the role it played in the ideology of a political system.

Today more and more, this religious opium is being replaced with ecology (sustainability, green movements etc.). In an era where we are faced with serious environmental issues, it is hard not to imagine the eventual destruction of the fragile structure of nature. Scientific facts (even though some people will dispute these) clearly indicate that the rising temperatures of our oceans, the depletion of the ozone layer, endangerment of bio-diversity etc....have some link to human activity. It is no doubt that something should be done. The problem immediately arises of what exactly should be done. It here where I am very critical of such green movements. Slavoj Zizek, one of my favorite contemporary thinkers, says that - "The way you perceive a problem is a part of the problem. It mystifies the problem".  He claims that these green movements are in effect mystifying the problem. Our efforts through buying organic foods, recycling, etc. are only addressing a symptom - the symptom of ecological destruction. Partaking in the green movements prevents us from seeing the evils of the system that produced it in the first place. So by recycling we might be able to temporarily delay the destruction of our ecological structure, but we will fail to address the real issue. There is something in our system that produces this symptom.

Oscar Wilde, in his essay 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism' had the following to say:

"The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism. They find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, hideous ugliness, and hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all of this. The emotions of men are stirred more quickly than men's intelligence.....Thus, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease, they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease...”

I think this applies today in our reaction towards our hideous environmental conditions. Our remedies (green movements) are a part of the disease. A better understanding of this can be reached by peering into the business of organic foods. Organic food sales have gone up from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010 [2]. Our culture in the guise of protecting the environment has capitalized the environment itself. By buying organic foods, we feel that we are taking part in a global movement and helping mother earth. But this is precisely the opium that prevents the masses from identifying the real problem. We are 'high' on these green movements.  The predominant ideology forces us to become environmentalists.

Of course my point is not to give up environment conservation completely, but rather to be aware of the ineffectiveness of these remedies. Another great parallel is drawn by Wilde himself. He says:

"...the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it..."

I would like to end here by quoting another great thinker, i.e. George Carlin. His views on environmentalists even though comical have a deeper meaning that reverberates even louder today than when he started his standup comedy career.

"...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." WHAT? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet? We don't even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven't learned how to care for one another, we're gonna save the fucking planet? I'm getting tired of that shit....I'm tired of these self-righteous environmentalists; these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren't enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don't give a shit about the planet. They don't care 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 someday in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced....."

So I think now is the time that we need to take a deeper looking into ourselves. When we talk about ecology do we really want just a clean place to live, or do we actually want something else.


1 comment:

  1. The green movement (which is heavily loaded jargon on its own) is motivated through many different viewpoints, not all of which are about human well-being. That branch of "green" started in the 1960s with heavy push for legally enforceable rules to keep our water and air clean. The problem with climate change is that it appeals to a different part of our brain and isn't an argument for a better standard of living.
    In today's day diverting resources to protect the environment might seem silly when these resources should be diverted to poverty alleviation. Here is a very controversial essay by Holmes Rolston about this -