Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Intergenerational Injustice

There has been much in the news over the last couple of days about the generational rift in the Brexit vote, with 75% of 18 to 25 year olds who voted doing so for remain. An emerging narrative is that of a future destroyed by the decisions of an older generation who will not have to live through them, and also a strong sense of betrayal. The tensions between and anger across generational divides, especially within families, has been widespread. I was reminded of Hobbes’ reflections on the English Civil War and families being torn apart by the political divisions of his time. And while this example is perhaps overstated, I do wonder how defining of twenty first century politics generational divisions will become.


My throwaway comment at a family gathering at the weekend was that no one over the age of fifty should be permitted to vote. This was a fairly arbitrary figure, although it would exclude me from voting too, and was justified on the basis that the over fifties have less invested in the future. However, Brexit wasn’t my only justification for this claim. There have been no shortages of environmental writers who have argued that it is the young and future generations who will be most severely impacted by the political decisions made today.


Moreover, as Martin O’Neill has noted, “[t]he more substantive issue is whether it could be normatively justifiable for those who will be less affected by the consequences of such a huge decision to impose it on those whose interests are more extensively at stake, and who strongly favour a different outcome. Yet that is certainly what has happened.”


One can deploy some defensive hardy perennials here, such as that with greater age comes greater experience and greater wisdom (little evidence of wisdom in the Brexit campaign!); plus there is the far more common assertion that if one has paid one’s dues and taxes for the past X number of years, then one should have the full democratic right to make political decisions. Except, of course, each of these claims is problematic, subject to deconstruction and not directly or necessarily relevant to political representation.


I’m not sure how one proceeds with this. Today most of the debates about political representation that I focus on concern the ecophagic tendencies of plutocracy and the distortion of politics by capital and neoliberalism. But rulership by the old, gerontocracy, seems a pressing issue given the demographics of an aging population. I have always objected to those who project hopes and optimism on to the young and the next generation, because it has always seemed to imply that people decrease in value as they age, and also because it lets the middle aged and elderly off the hook and unfairly puts pressure on the young to sort out the problems of their parents and grandparent's generation. However, there is certainly a strong rationale – and perhaps even a hedonic/utilitarian-style argument - for those with a potentially greater investment in the future, as a future to be lived through, to have a proportionally greater say in political decisions than those who do not. The closest that I have seen to an age-based form of proportional representation was suggested by Jean Kazez yesterday. Her question and proposal was that, beyond a minimum threshold, “would it have been more fair if the Brexit vote had involved a multiplier, so the vote of a 20 year old counted for 1/20 and the vote of an 80 year old counted for 1/80?” Although she admits that this may “sound repugnant”, there is also “something sensible about age-based multipliers.” I find myself agreeing, and not particularly for Brexit reasons, but more especially for environmental ones.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Remain and Women's Rights

Part of my rationale for supporting Remain, alluded to below, is that the EU is probably far better for women's rights than Brexit. There is a good discussion of the issues at the F word blog here.

John Oliver on Brexit



Monday, 20 June 2016

EU: Leave, Remain, Collapse

I rarely get sucked in to the minutiae of national and party politics these days. As only one human sub-system amongst the collective cluster-fuck of global eco-systemic crises unfolding around, through and within us, I find it too easy to view party politics as an irrelevance, a trivial sideshow, or, more often, as merely epiphenomenal, a shadow play for deeper systemic powers and agencies. Trying to make sense of the kaleidoscopic mess of networked systems and assemblages frequently relativizes the local stuff away.

However, over the past few months I’ve stared in sick fascination at the successes of Trump in the US, and, more recently, the EU referendum has pressed itself ever more forcefully into my consciousness. Like many, I’ve been stirred and shocked by the affect-driven and toxic politics of our age. The spectacle is a heady show of irrationalism, obfuscation, rhetoric, threats and scaremongering. It’s impossible to avoid being perturbed by the agitation of the political body within which one is inevitably entwined. The political is already personal in its dreadful proximity. Whether through friends and family, co-workers and community members, institutions and materialities, there is no escaping the political. But what to do?

Well, I’ve already chosen (postal vote … done and dusted), but the question remains: why? Humans are far better at rationalising their decisions after the fact than reasoning forwards. How, therefore, might I rationalise my decision? My first pithy and smug answer was “Better a mitigated disaster (Remain), than an unmitigated one (Brexit).” Siding with what seemed to be the overwhelming wealth of evidence for political, economic and social stability in the short-term, Remain was the obvious first choice. Of course, this was also helped by my visceral and negative assessment of the three main political advocates of Brexit: Gove, Farage and Johnson, political demagogues who frankly couldn’t be any lower in my esteem. But was there anything else?

As a doomer and collapsenik by intellectual inclination, whether Britain is in the EU or not, I think we are screwed (i.e. ecologically, economically and socially). The more pressing questions are: how badly, how quickly and how much of the biosphere and nonhuman world are we likely to take with us? With these points in mind, I was pleased to see Monbiot characterising Remain, in terms with which I fundamentally agreed, as the ‘worst choice – apart from the alternative.’ For those touting Brexit as a route to political autonomy and economic recovery, Monbiot echoed my own early conclusions that ‘[w]e do not release ourselves from the power of money by leaving the EU. We just exchange one version for another: another that is even worse. This is not an inspiring position from which to vote remain. But it is a coherent one.’

This also returned me to one of my favoured go-to analogies for the current situation, namely, civilization as the post-impact Titanic. In a comforting manner I’ve reminded myself that the EU referendum probably amounts to little more than a rearrangement of the deckchairs or orchestral music on the sinking Titanic, or, perhaps more accurately, it is a change with regard to where and with whom one stands.  But there is little point rocking the boat when the boat is already sinking. As to whether we are nearer the aft, the stern, the lifeboats, or how much time we have left, all that we can know with much confidence is that the ship will sink. The only meaningful thing that we have any significant control over is how we behave towards one another as it goes down!

So much for rationalising Remain. Only two things have rattled my position during the past few days. A couple of days ago, I was surprised to see another writer at the economic collapse edge of the internet also deploying the Titanic analogy to illuminate the Brexit debate. Only in this case, “[t]he Brexit vote is, in a nutshell, Britain’s last chance to hit the lifeboats and jump the Titanic before it hits the iceberg.” I wasn’t convinced. For reasons of economic, political and social inertia, ecological overshoot and hitting the limits to growth, plus crossing various planetary tipping points and boundaries, it is more plausible to think that the iceberg has already been struck (or more aptly, it is still ripping its way though the bulkheads of civilization]. But it was intriguing to to see Brexit being touted as an opportunity to dodge an EU specific economic iceberg.

The second piece was by another collapse blogger, Jason Heppenstall, whose opinions and arguments I very much value. In a lengthy, measured and also very entertaining post, Jason eventually sides with the Brexit vote as ‘the chance to throw a spanner in the works of the inevitable onward march of the EU machine.’ Again, I wasn’t wholly convinced. There are elements of EU membership that I value and believe will atrophy and wither away in a post-Brexit Britain (e.g. Human Rights legislation, labour and environmental laws, health, education), but I strongly recommend that you read his article and line of argument yourselves. I certainly appreciated the sentiment and tone of the piece. If it is indeed the case, as has been argued by the likes of Norberg-Hodge, Read and Wallgren, that ‘global capital fears “Brexit”’, then there is quite a powerful anarchic justification for a leave vote. Moreover, it may be this line of thinking that will help me keep going if (when) Brexit triumphs on June 23rd.

Following a phrase coined, I think, by John Michael Greer, and popular amongst some permaculturalists and doomers too, Brexit may simply be a way of getting ahead of the curve and/or else hastening certain inevitable processes of social collapse. The phrase, “collapse now and avoid the rush”, implies that the best preparation for the forthcoming collapse is to experience and consciously choose it sooner, rather than having it inflicted on you later, a process that requires re-skilling and reducing one’s reliance on as many of the products, structural elements and dependencies/addictions of industrial civilization as possible. That is, be prepared, collapse early and through choice. Now, the majority of Brexiters certainly aren’t voting for collapse (quite the reverse, I suspect – economic prosperity and political autonomy seem to be high on their wish list), but I may have to console myself that the unintended consequences of the Leave vote may be ones that are ultimately for the biospheric and more-than-human best.

So, perhaps “Vote Brexit, collapse early, avoid the rush!” is a slogan I could get behind. However, my vote has gone for “Vote Remain”; the regimes of discipline and policy making generated by the EU are unlikely to be any worse than we can achieve through our own sovereignty.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Human Supremacism

A nice review of Derrick Jensen's new book, The Myth of Human Supremacy, at What is Sustainable.
When an unlucky person has been swept away by the brainwashing of a wacko cult, concerned friends or family members sometimes seek the assistance of a skilled deprogrammer to exorcize the demons.  It’s a painful process.  The scrambled soul is blasted with a fire-hose of strong rational arguments, hour after hour, hammering away at the many contradictions in the cult’s beliefs.  Ideally, the shining power of truth blasts away the illusions, and opens the door to healing.

I was reminded of this while reading Derrick Jensen’s book, The Myth of Human Supremacy.  In his story, the wacko cult consists of human supremacists, zombies who have been indoctrinated to believe that humans are the miraculous conclusion of the long evolutionary journey.  Humans are the one and only species that is sentient, self-aware, intelligent, and able to make tools and communicate.

The cult of human supremacy has grown rapidly, and now includes a large portion of humankind.  The zombie mobs are mindlessly destroying the living planet that everything depends on for survival.  Jensen puts a spotlight on the demon: “Unquestioned beliefs are the real authorities of any culture.”  We are bombarded with supremacist ideas from early childhood.  They define our understanding of normality, and encourage us to live like there’s no tomorrow.  Only humans matter, a living planet does not. [READ MORE]

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Malthus Again

An opinion piece by Madeline Weld of the Population Institute Canada (h/t Gail):
Saturday marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Robert Malthus. I would like to wish him many happy returns.
And he does keep on returning, doesn’t he, despite those who say he is wrong or passé.
His Essay on the Principle of Population argued that, if left unchecked, human population growth would encounter limits: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the Earth to produce subsistence for man.” He foresaw famine, disease and much suffering, especially among the poorest. But in addition to these “negative checks,” he also recognized “preventive checks” like limiting birthrates and later marriage. As a cleric, he advocated “the chaste postponement of marriage.”
Some 218 years after the first edition of his controversial treatise was published, we are still arguing about it. In 1798, the world population was under one billion. Now it’s 7.4 billion and counting. For the last 40 years, it’s been increasing by one billion every 12 to 13 years.
Some people say that’s no problem, that we’re better off than ever. The Green Revolution staved off the starvation in India predicted by Paul Ehrlich in The Population Bomb. Advances in agriculture, medicine and other technology have made us richer and healthier. The late Julian Simon even said that ever more people is a good thing, since humans are “the ultimate resource” and every mouth to feed comes with a pair of hands to work and a brain to solve problems. What could go wrong?
But things are going seriously wrong. To provision our ever-growing population, we are, in Ehrlich’s words, turning the planet into a “feedlot for humanity.” We have taken over about one-third of its land surface and scoured its oceans, wiping out several major fisheries and depleting the rest. Our “solution” of farmed fish creates other problems. High-yield Green Revolution crops require pesticides, fertilizer and water; the first two are becoming more expensive, the last scarcer in many areas.
Homo sapiens’ appetite is gargantuan. As we strive to get at dwindling resources for ever more people, we dig deeper into the Earth, blow the tops of mountains, divert rivers, cut down forests and pave over swaths of land. We fill the land, water, and air with our pollution. We’re driving record numbers of species to extinction and decimating others with activities from chemical poisoning to hunting for bushmeat, or simply by taking over their habitat.
Greenhouse gases from our industry are changing the Earth’s climate, with such dangerous consequences as ocean acidification, rising sea levels and flooding, changes in rainfall patterns including in vital “breadbaskets,” and loss of forest cover.
While the word “sustainable” has become popular, growing human numbers and activities are anything but. Increasing awareness of our impact has led to developments in renewable energy, recycling, earth-friendly farming and more. There have also been spectacular advances in family planning. But powerful —notably religious — opposition has kept governments and international bodies from actively promoting small families and prevented hundreds of millions of women who would plan their families from having access to modern methods.
Those who deny that overpopulation is a problem say the poor don’t consume much. Yet the poor want nothing more than to consume more, as proved by India and China. Who can blame them? And a burgeoning number of desperately poor people does have a major impact: they cut down forests to grow food, drain rivers, deplete aquifers, and overfish and over-hunt in their local area. But make these points and you’ll be accused of blaming the poor for the problems of the rich.
We seem bound to learn the hard way that there really is a limit to how many people the Earth can support.
We wish it weren’t so, but it really is starting to look as if Malthus was right.
Madeline Weld is president of Population Institute Canada, based in Ottawa.