Against Humans

by | May 26, 2011

I have an article up on Spiked-Online today, about the Third Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability and their mock-trial of humanity.

The ‘trial’ was merely a stunt, of course, designed to make a stuffy, pompous and self-serving enterprise such as this more appealing to the media and the hoi polloi it sought to prosecute. It was one of a number of sessions at the event, each intended to qualify the sustainability agenda with the expertise of its participants. But this circle-jerk, show-trial symposium revealed far more about its members and the hollowness of the sustainability agenda than it revealed about humanity.

The Laureates and their pals seem to want to create political institutions at all levels of government to enforce the entire human race’s observation of the sustainability agenda. This is legitimised, on their view, by their own expertise (“science”, they say, though even they admit that their knowledge is incomplete) and the end-of-the-world scenarios it foresees. It is not legitimised, as we’d expect, on a democratic basis of popular assent — agreement with its values, principles, perspective. However hard environmentalists try to claim that theirs is not a political agenda, there is no escaping the fact that, whatever the basis of their argument in facts, their aims are political. They seek a reorganisation of the world, the same as any other political philosophy. Moreover, as this blog aims to show, what makes the ‘science’ produce such catastrophic consequences is not a value-free investigation of the material world, but a heavily value-laden premise. That premise is identical with the conclusion of the sustainability agenda: anti-humanism is at its heart.

In the Guardian yesterday, President of the Royal Society, Paul Nurse protested that ‘freedom of information laws are used to harass scientists‘.

Nurse said that, in principle, scientific information should be made available as widely as possible as a matter of course, a practice common in biological research where gene sequences are routinely published in public databases. But he said freedom of information had “opened a Pandora’s box. It’s released something that we hadn’t imagined … there have been cases of it being misused in the climate change debate to intimidate scientists.

Nurse doesn’t seem to have been one of the Nobel Laureates at the symposium. But his predecessor, Martin Rees was. Both men, in their capacity as president of the RS, have argued for a greater role for science in the policy-making process, and emphasise that catastrophe is what legitimises this influence. The symposium demonstrates what that means. Nurse’s complaints about the treatment of climate scientists in a Horizon programme last year, of which I pointed out:

Nurse might argue that this reorganisation of political life around environmental issues comes with the blessing of scientific authority, and that it is science which identified the need to adjust our lifestyles and economy. But the greening of domestic and international politics preceded any science. The concept of ‘sustainability’ was an established part of the international agenda long before the IPCC produced an ‘unequivocal’ consensus on climate; the IPCC was established to create a consensus for political ends. Nurse, nearly recognising science’s role in the legitimisation of such political ecology, worries about loss of trust. If scientists are not ‘open about everything they do’, he says, ‘then the conversation will be dominated by people driven by politics and ideology’. But it is already ‘driven by politics and ideology’: it’s simply that Nurse does not recognise environmentalism as political or ideological, and he does not notice himself reproducing environmental politics and ideology. The loss of trust he now observes is not the consequence of politics and ideology, but the all too visible attempt to hide it behind science and highly emotive images of catastrophe. If the presidents of science academies want their trust back, they will first have to admit to the politicisation of their function in an atmosphere of distrust. Nullius in verba, indeed.

Nurse, ignorant about the role that science is playing by lending its authority to such nakedly undemocratic and anti-human political agenda, does not understand that the only way to challenge environmentalism is to interrogate the ‘science’ behind which environmental politics is hidden. He seem happy to allow politics to be hidden behind science, and now asks for more protection for ‘science’ — i.e. more protection for environmental politics. Nurse invites the harassment of scientists. Until he realises the nature of the ‘new contract between science and society’ demanded by the laureates, institutional science will continue to lose the respect and trust of the public, and it will increasingly be the battleground in which political debates are fought. He should expect more ‘harassment’ from ‘vexatious’ FOI requests, and they will be well deserved.


  1. geoffchambers

    Excellent article at Spiked. I can find nothing about this conference in the British press, which is odd. A case of the dog which didn’t bark, or the Moonbat which didn’t jerk.
    The concept of sustainability is about 30 years old, isn’t it? Which, coincidentally, is the time it takes for weather to become climate, or the working lifespan of the average member of the Great and the Good.
    It’s odd how environmentalists, with their obsession with the long-term future, have such a limited knowledge of the past, and of the precedents for their peculiar beliefs. It’s another thing they have in common with Pol Pot, as well as the show trials and the totalitarian desire to impose conformity: the belief in Year Zero – the idea that history started at the moment they read Rachel Carson or the Club of Rome report or whatever.
    They have antecedents – Malthus of course, but also Diogenes and Job. I don’t think they’ll be remembered so long though.

  2. Chris T

    Ideological environmentalism is an attempt to fill the spiritual void created by the demise of Western religion among the elites. People need purpose, a sense of meaning and religion usually provides that. Science has provided understanding and control of the material world, but in pursuing it, the West has lost the unifying motivation that started it on that path in the first place.

    The rise of environmentalism as an ideology is one of several attempts to fill that void and avoid nihilism. The critical problem with it is that it can only provides an illusion of meaning. It fails in the critical task performed by religion of answering ‘why’. It attempts to broaden the focus beyond humanity while removing humanity as a central player. By doing so it loses any capability to be a motivational force for human survival. If man is simply one species among many and ultimately doomed, then why does our struggle for survival matter? Why does the biosphere matter when it too is ultimately doomed? At its core, it is simply another nihilistic philosophy.

    For this reason, as an ideology it is doomed.

  3. The Iceman Cometh

    I joined the IPCC mob because I reckoned the upper price someone would ever charge for carbon would be the cost of burying the stuff. A group of us wrote a report which showed that the burial was a very expensive exercise indeed, but our work was then tarted up by a group of ecopoliticians serving a Technical Group and the pablum hit the fan. I thought no more about it until I received a sweet certificate through the post, informing me I had shared a small part of the glory of a Nobel Peace Prize with none other than Al Gore.
    My first thought was to send the thing back. In the end I decided to keep it, as proof that not all Nobel Prize holders are agreed that the climate scam represents the scientific view. Indeed, I regularly rail against ecomaniacs who inform us that X parts per million of carbon dioxide are ‘required by science.’ The longer the supposed disasters remain hidden, the happier I am. The world has been warming for at least 150 years, according to most measurements. Isn’t that long enough for the disasters to have put in an appearance? Instead, we get a few clear signals that the world is a bit warmer, but otherwise is just like it used to be.

  4. geoffchambers

    Chris T:
    I agree that environmentalism is best looked at as an ideology or replacement for religion, but I’m not sure that:
    “the West has lost the unifying motivation that started it on that path” [of understanding and control of the material world]
    Surely what characterises Western civilisation (in comparison with China, say) is that we’ve been squabbling like cats in a sack since the Trojan War. It’s being so divisive that keeps us on our toes, intellectually.
    I don’t see that the fact that environmentalism “fails in the critical task performed by religion of answering ‘why’” necessarily means that it’s “simply another nihilistic philosophy”, and is therefore doomed.
    As a world religion, it seems to have gone quite successfully from the “prophets of doom” phase (with Carson, Ehrlich &co as Job) to the Edict of Constantine (enshrinement as the official creed of the civilised world) without having to go through the messy in-between phase of miracles, mythmaking and martyrdom – and all in thirty years.
    If we are to take seriously the glib statement that it is a religion (or an ideology, which I take to be the same thing, expressed less contentiously) then we need to be far more sophisticated in our analysis. Telling believers they are wrong never dented a religion.
    I don’t know what the answer is, apart from continuing to support the likes of Climate Resistance in their patient analysis. Or maybe we should form a sect of our own, and keep an eye out for for a Saviour?

  5. Chris T

    The development of Environmentalism as an ideology (versus pragmatic environmentalism) is a distinctly western phenomenon (as represented by Western/Central Europe and its direct ethnic and cultural offshoots). It has been commented that the tenets of Environmentalism map almost perfectly onto the Judeo-Christian worldview and indeed, they actually make very little sense divorced from it (particularly the concept of ‘sin’). Thus it has made very few inroads outside of the West (the industrialized East pursues a more pragmatic environmentalism).

    Surely what characterises Western civilisation (in comparison with China, say) is that we’ve been squabbling like cats in a sack since the Trojan War. It’s being so divisive that keeps us on our toes, intellectually.

    Indeed this was true, until the intensely destructive World Wars and the collapse of the European empires during the first half of the twentieth century. The trauma of those events severely undermined the Western belief in human progress and Europe has never fully recovered from that shock. It is notable that the one Western country that many accuse of ‘imperialistic tendencies’, the United States, is also the one where Environmentalism has made the fewest inroads outside of the cultural elite (there are other reasons, cultural and historical).

    If we are to take seriously the glib statement that it is a religion (or an ideology, which I take to be the same thing, expressed less contentiously) then we need to be far more sophisticated in our analysis.

    To understand anything, it is best to take a step back and understand why and how it came about, which is what I’m attempting to do. You say it has become a world ideology, yet if you actually examine it, it’s almost entirely limited to the West.

  6. Chris T

    Or maybe we should form a sect of our own, and keep an eye out for for a Saviour?

    Lol, nah, too much work (where would we get the money for brochures?). For the moment, I think it is best to first try to isolate the advent of Environmentalism as an ideology and analyze its cultural and historical origins. It is much easier to combat something when you understand why it came about and what it is and isn’t.

  7. Peter S

    There is no such thing, of course, as an environmentalist.

    There are a number of people who share a belief in a similar idea. If the belief is strong enough to become an obstacle to them getting on with the rest of their lives, we might see that they are people who believe too much. Alcohol plays pretty much the same role for people who drink too much.

    We might also think that anyone who does something to excess is trying too hard to fill a hole in their lives. Perhaps the most useful question to ask in this instance is, ‘What would you be doing if you weren’t so busy believing (or drinking, or having more sex than the rest of us, etc)?’

    The content of the answer, of course, would be the very thing they are trying to escape from – which makes it a particularly difficult answer to give, or get. Environmentalism could be a good way of forever changing the subject… just as being drunk is a good way of stupefying any exchange where the question (and what it invites attention to) is a sober inevitability.

    Perhaps that’s why people who do things to excess like to stick together.

  8. geoffchambers

    Peter S
    You’re undoubtedly right to say that “Environmentalism could be a good way of forever changing the subject,” of “trying too hard to fill a hole in [one’s] life”. And that people who are trying thus to “escape from something” “like to stick together”.
    But precisely the same thing can be said of those of us who come here to comment.
    Once again, the psychoanalytical method shows itself as being undoubtedly useful in illuminating the motivations of individuals, but quite useless for explaining why one particular form of displacement activity (for that is what you are describing, I think) should be adopted by a specific part of the population, and then elevated into a philosophical and political doctrine which has eased itself into all the major seats of power.
    Looking at the Symposium on Global Sustainability which is the subject of Ben’s article, it is hard to analyse its nature in any other terms than those of conspiracy – a behind-the-scenes political plot motivated by a utopian vision of world government. But reiterating this commonplace doesn’t advance our understanding either.
    The most interesting thing about this event that I can see is the almost total silence of the media about it. (It was clearly designed to be a media event; the list of participants demonstrates clearly that the Nobel prizewinners were just the icing on a fruitcake stuffed with hard eco-nuts). This suggests that something is going wrong with the Plan.
    Now they clearly haven’t been thrown off-course by anything we sceptics have done. Is common sense, media fatigue, or a healthy lack of interest in big ideas killing off environmentalism? I’d really like to know, because it would mean I could get back to doing all those things I should be doing and have put off because of my imperative need to save the world from environmentalism…

  9. Ben Pile

    Geoff, I agree with the thrust of your comment, but just want to add a bit of clarity about what I was trying to do in the article. I didn’t want to emphasise the conspiratorial angle, because I wouldn’t call it anything as coherent as a conspiracy. There’s a search for a new legitimising basis for authority/the establishment, but it’s not overt, or conscious of itself as such.

    You also mention the role of ideology in the comment prior, and I think we should be careful about this word, because it’s too easy to take it as reference to an ‘-ism’, or ‘-isms’. I think often ‘ideology’ is much less a formulated suite of arguments, with an idea about how society should be, and much more a kind of invisible constellation of ideas, prejudices, culture, and so on that find expression in ideas that are more easily identified as ‘political ideology’ as we’d understand it. So these Laureates don’t sit down to plan ways of cementing roles for themselves, and decide therefore to undermine the notion of humanity; the concept of humanity has already been degraded, and the Laureates are either too caught up in their own self-importance, or aren’t in fact sufficiently intellectually endowed to reflect critically on their own perspective.

    To the point about psychoanalysis, then, I’m not really that moved in this case, by the desire to force the Laureates to recognise their shortcomings; as long as there are enough of ‘us’ who know what takes ‘them’ to their conclusions, it hardly matters. After all, who really needs to know why the Emperor believes he is wearing clothes?

  10. geoffchambers

    Ben Pile:
    You say: “These Laureates don’t sit down … and decide to undermine the notion of humanity; the concept of humanity has already been degraded..”
    A useful point, which I take to be a corollary of your often repeated point about the “void” at the heart of modern politics. One of the most useful things any analysis can do is to reverse the “normal” order of causality and see if it proves enlightening.
    This is one of the things which psychoanalysis is very good at with respect to people’s unconscious motovations, and this is what Peter S does when he asks environmentalists, in effect, “Are you so nervous about the future because of the coming inevitable catastrophe, or is the catastrophe a symptom of your nervousness?”
    I think you’d agree with Peter S’s interpretation, but perhaps wouldn’t want to follow him down the psychoanalytical path, since, as you point out so well with respect to the Emperor’s New Clothes, understanding the motivations of actors is not particularly useful in the analysis of social movements. Andersen’s fable is an excellent example of belief and behaviour as social rather than psychological phenomena. (The courtiers weren’t victims of hallucinations. To what extent they believed what they said is irrelevant to the story).
    The end of the story is satisfying – as a story. When you say “as long as there are enough of ‘us’ who know what takes ‘them’ to their conclusions, it hardly matters”, you seem to be saying that pointing out the logical flaws in the basic concepts of environmentalism is sufficient to ensure its eventual demise. I’m not sure things will work out like that in practice, and therefore think that the analysis of personal motivations (especially unconscious ones) is a valuable direction for research, as long as it doesn’t become a reductionist exercise in “psychologising” politics.

    You say we should be careful about talking about ideology, and I would agree. (I say lots of things here I wouldn’t say elsewhere, before being much better informed). It’s because of the general tendency to compare environmentalism with fascism that I think the question of ideology needs to be looked at carefully, and dispassionately. Naive defenders of the environmental position like Sir Paul Nurse think we’re just being rude when we talk about “ecofascism”, but the similarities are there. We need to understand and enunciate clearly the question if we are to avoid looking like eccentric contrarian nutters.

  11. Peter S

    Modern people who believe things about the environment are often accused of being ‘anti-human’. The stories they tell about their surroundings are dismissed as a sophisticated coyness about a dislike of the other people they have to share those spaces with.

    Whilst the remedies they flirt with – for the problems they claim to exist – may be undemocratic, they might not be at all ‘anti-human’. The environmentalist might be a person who suffers from being too pro-human… and is simply looking for a cure.

    Perhaps the great value of a democratic organisation of our spaces is its acknowledgment that we can’t all be human at the same time… or that we can’t be as human as we would like to be all the time. If nothing else, democracy requires that we surrender some of our humanness so that other people can have a go too. In other words, being a good-enough human is the best we can hope for… if we agree to live within the democratic space.

    If a person fails to surrender – or decides to unsurrender himself (perhaps, by joining a group of the like-minded) – then democracy becomes the obstacle to the fully human life he demands to live. The nazis could be said to have been intensely pro-human… just anti-the people who got in the way, or anti-anyone who reminded them of the benefits of compromising.

    Being pro-human and being civilised might be two separate things.

  12. Ben Pile

    Peter S – Being pro-human and being civilised might be two separate things.

    Sometimes, Peter, I think you must be reading a different blog.

    Environmentalists claim to be pro human by making an equivalent of the interests of humans and ‘nature’. For e.g., what’s good for ‘her’ is good for us, and what is bad for her is bad for us. In this schema, what’s good for us but bad for her cannot be good fir us in the long run. The difference is between an eco-centric and a human-centric ‘ethics’ or perspective.

    Then there are the more metaphysical claims about humanity, which deny its exceptional characteristics: agency, subjectivity, reason, intentionality, purpose, etc, such that ‘rights’ can be extended to ‘non-human’ animals, and even to resources themselves.

    Civilisation is an expression of humanity. Animals don’t do it. Environmentalists are inclined to think it is an inherently problematic thing.

  13. geoffchambers

    I like Peter S’s way of expressing psychoanalytic ideas. I don’t feel I’m being blinded with abstruse vocabulary as I do by the Lacanians, for example.
    By chance, I’ve just come across a very similar use of the metaphor of surrendering our space in order to be more fully human in an author who despised psychoanalysis – Hannah Arendt, in “The Nature of Totalitarianism”. It’s about the voluntary surrender of power which is the necessary condition of living in a republic. Despite her claim to be doing a rather abstract kind of political philosophy, she just can’t help making psychological observations of astounding perceptiveness.

    When PeterS talks about “… a sophisticated coyness about a dislike of the other people they have to share those spaces with” I think immediately of poor George Monbiot and his lament that the bus he had to take from Oxford to Cambridge went through the most dreary places. (Who was it said of his experience in the trenches in 1914: “The noise, my dear! And the people!”?)
    His problem, of course, is that, by refusing to use a car, he’s surrendered too much space in order to fulfill an unattainable image of human perfection which is particular to him. To those, like George, who claim that they want to share (i.e. surrender) everything, it’s maybe worth asking: “What exactly are you holding back?”

  14. Ben Pile

    “I like Peter S’s way of expressing psychoanalytic ideas.”

    I don’t, and I don’t see how they are useful to the discussions at hand.

  15. geoffchambers

    I believe you don’t find psychoanalysis interesting. Fair enough. You also find analysis of motives irrelevant, and there I’d agree with you, most of the time. I thought it interesting that someone like Arendt, who, I ‘m sure you’d agree, has much to tell us about socio-historical analysis, and who overtly rejects examining unconscious motives, nevertheless uses terms very similar to those used by PeterS. (I’ve also been reading Zizek on the same subject. He uses Lacanian terms in the analysis of the current economic crisis which, to my mind, add nothing. There’s no hard and fast rules).
    There’s an unavoidable subjective element to our first approach to understanding unfamiliar phenomena (another idea I’ve pinched from Arendt). I think it would be a pity to discourage approaches from other disciplines. One of the most interesting articles I ever read at Wattsupwiththat was about an African tribe which starved itself to death in order to fulfill a prophesy. No doubt most of his readers wondered what it was doing there.

  16. Ben Pile

    Geoff — it’s not that I don’t find it interesting. You’ve persuaded me that there’s some merit in it, and as you know, I enjoy Zizek. He may well use psychoanalytical terms, but when he moves to them from political theory, or to express an idea more deeply, it is usually possible to see why. There is a discussion, and it progresses. The psychoanalytical terms do not suddenly appear as salvoes, and force the reiteration of the terms the discussion again, and again, and again. (However, I suspect that I will agree with you on Zizek’s use of them to understand the current economic crises).

  17. geoffchambers

    “The psychoanalytical terms do not suddenly appear as salvoes, and force the reiteration of the terms of the discussion again, and again, and again”.

    They do in therapy, sometimes whispered so low you can hardly hear, so you want to leap off the couch and strangle the therapist (or is that just me?)
    Of course it’s irritating, but that’s just your resistance. Now would you like to talk about it?
    Seriously, there are worse things on blog threads. Long after I’ve forgotten the profound discussions I’ve had here, I’ll probably remember PeterS’s baffling interjections (and jferguson discussing Gibbon, while steering a boat through the Georgia Sea Islands)

  18. James Cox

    “They seek a reorganisation of the world, the same as any other political philosophy”.
    I would argue that environmentalism cannot claim to be a political philosophy of its own. Most strands of “ecologism” have their roots in other – very well versed – political theory. There is no political “idea” that is novel to environmentalism, and to claim to be an environmentalist is to claim you don’t know what to do. I know its simplistic but “politics is the art of the possible”; blind “environmentalism” closes down political possibilites.
    It has given theoretical sustenance to political philosophy as a whole. Mainly as it is has revived philosophies that seemed to have fallen by the wayside. Some good, some bad, as per usual. Primitivism or eco-feminism, or Marxist ecology (green reds), green conservative etc. Worryingly, I increasingly find myself using primitivism as an “ideal type” to analyse or compare “ecologism”. Maybe due to the fact that they both lack any coherent social theory.
    Political theory will remain unchanged while ecologism remains only an oppositional political stance or a bit part of many hybrid theories. Or while it is being co-opted by disingenuous parties.

  19. geoffchambers

    James Cox:
    You say: “’politics is the art of the possible’; blind ‘environmentalism’ closes down political possibilities”.
    I’d agree with you that green politics can be pretty incoherent. But so is any political philosophy in its early stages – witness the early history of socialism. Nonetheless, they exist politically, and have already had a significant effect on western politics. Nader’s presidential campaign weakened the democrats in the USA. The need for Green votes in Germany and France has forced social democrats and socialists to accept green demands wholesale on nuclear energy and climate change. The same thing happened to the British Labour Party, despite the fact that the Green vote is insignificant nationally, and tends towards the centrist Liberals rather than to the left.
    “Political theory will remain unchanged..”
    But political reality doesn’t. Merkel’s promise to phase out nuclear power, and similar promises in Britain and France, are based on the perceived strength of environmental ideas among the electorate. These ideas are anchored on the left, and opposed by a part of the right. Environmentalism is a powerful political movement, despite the small number of people actually voting for it.

  20. Peter S

    James Cox
    “There is no political “idea” that is novel to environmentalism…”

    No. But what is novel to environmentalism is the prior ‘need’ which its incoherent philosophy seeks to validate, contextualise and then set out the conditions by which it will be met.

    The need which socialism identified and attempted to meet was a purely human one. That’s why the movement inspired widespread support (and why it became less relevant once the need was met). Environmentalism divorces its need and locates it in a dehumanised external environment. In fact, the human need that all political philosophy is born of is itself identified as the evil obstacle to the abstracted – and thereby, impoverished – need of the Green. To attack ‘consumerism’ is to surreptitiously attack the human need which precedes and motivates the act.

  21. geoffchambers

    You say: “the human need that all political philosophy is born of is itself identified as the evil obstacle to the abstracted – and thereby, impoverished – need of the Green”.
    By “the human need that all political philosophy is born of” I assume you mean the need to live in society – the “polis” that makes us both political and polite. So far, I’m sure Ben would agree with you.
    You say this is identified as the “evil obstacle to the abstracted – and thereby, impoverished – need of the Green”, and again, I can follow your reasoning, if you mean that environmentalism tends to oppose to the philosophy of the Enlightenment something more primitive and naive.
    If only they’d come straight out and say “Rousseau and Carlos Castaneda are better guides to living than Marx and John Stuart Mill” we could have a good argument and get it over with. But they don’t (or not often) and I’d guess the reason is because the Green Need which you go on about is so unavowable that it has to disguise itself as a desire to save the entire world from danger.
    I get an idea of what that Need might be from reading the likes of Monbiot, who is a Romantic Poet manqué, and so much more transparent than the eco-bureaucrats whose work is the subject of Ben’s post. When Monbiot laments the fact that he can’t go by bus from Oxford to Cambridge without passing through Staines, one senses his longing for “10:10”-Fran’s Big Red Button, to Get Rid of Unwanted Staines. Not so long ago, he produced decent journalism, aiming to wipe out torture and poverty. Somehow, that wasn’t enough to satisfy his Need.
    As I’ve said before, I find this kind of musing enlightening, in a private kind of way. I’m still not sure that it provides anything that can be brought usefully to the public debate though.

  22. James Cox

    “Environmentalism divorces its need and locates it in a dehumanised external environment”
    Yes, if environmentalism can only talk about human needs, as opposed to their wants or desires then we arrive at the same poverty of pleasure that belied socialism as a political belief.

    “To attack ‘consumerism’ is to surreptitiously attack the human need which precedes and motivates the act.”
    Yet we talk about markets mostly as a “dehumanised external environment”.
    The markets say this, the markets say that. Who is this “market” is he/she “god”.
    What we should remember is that markets are ultimately a collection of human beings making decisions. A small collection maybe; but human none the less. Like consumers these beings (us) are not rational, they are creative. Thus markets are not quantifiable they can only be interpreted.
    I think we need to look again at the question of whether demand creates supply or supply creates demand. Although it is counterintuitive, ultimately supply creates demand.

  23. Peter S

    James and Geoff.
    By need I mean ‘felt need’. This includes the broad spectrum of needs, wants and desires (‘desire’ would perhaps be the classical word for this, but its meaning is even more open to misinterpretation than ‘need’).

    I think socialism – as political idea – inspired a large swath of people because it promised to empower them with the resources to act upon and begin to meet their felt needs. Socialism – as government – failed because it delivered a dictatorial and controlling attitude to what those felt needs should be. Its pathos was that the last thing the people it empowered had a felt need for was socialism (in the same way that the last thing the people empowered by parenting end up wanting is parenting).

    It seems to me that socialism and environmentalism are often equated because both can viciously attack this irrepressible human capacity to act in the service of meeting of a felt need. Returning people to an impoverished environment (or an environment impoverished of anything deemed to be ‘decadent’) appears to be the only solution to their ‘human problem’ that either group can think of.

    For the environmentalist, validating such a project entails asserting that human felt need is the cause of non-human catastrophic degradation. In other words, the supposed ‘needs’ of all that is not-human – which the environmentalist claims a (sentimental or militant) allegiance to – are unmet to the point of death… as the direct consequence of human felt need being met. This is what I mean by the environmentalist ‘dehumanising’ his own needs and relocating them as those of a fantasised external environment. From which detached position, he can attack humans – for being human (all the while indulging himself that his own self-impoverished need leaves him ‘at one with nature’).

    As for ‘the markets’… we might as well say ‘the shops’ or ‘the bazaars’. In essence, they are those spaces in between two or more humans where transactions are negotiated and exchanges made – all in the service of meeting felt needs. Some of these areas may have become so sophisticated and enlarged by the success of the process that tracing its actual function back to an identifiable felt need is hard. To comment on ‘what the markets are doing’ is to take an objective view of a profoundly human activity.



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