Following the recent post on Monbiot’s war on ‘liberatians’, Alex Cull points towards Monbiot’s latest article in his ….
Bruenig explains what is now the core argument used by conservatives and libertarians: the procedural justice account of property rights. In brief, this means that if the process by which property was acquired was just, those who have acquired it should be free to use it as they wish, without social restraints or obligations to other people.
Climate change, industrial pollution, ozone depletion, damage to the physical beauty of the area surrounding people’s homes (and therefore their value) – all these, if libertarians did not possess a shocking set of double standards, would be denounced by them as infringements on other people’s property.
It is frightening to think that Monbiot has taught politics and environmental policy at UK Universities; the students really would be better taught by simply being at the pub. Garret Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons is a primary text in any course on environmental politics:
An alternative to the commons need not be perfectly just to be preferable. With real estate and other material goods, the alternative we have chosen is the institution of private property coupled with legal inheritance. Is this system perfectly just? As a genetically trained biologist I deny that it is. It seems to me that, if there are to be differences in individual inheritance, legal possession should be perfectly correlated with biological inheritance–that those who are biologically more fit to be the custodians of property and power should legally inherit more. But genetic recombination continually makes a mockery of the doctrine of “like father, like son” implicit in our laws of legal inheritance. An idiot can inherit millions, and a trust fund can keep his estate intact. We must admit that our legal system of private property plus inheritance is unjust–but we put up with it because we are not convinced, at the moment, that anyone has invented a better system. The alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate. Injustice is preferable to total ruin.
In 1968, private property was understood — by Hardin at least — as the way to best protect the environment from over-exploitation. How can Monbiot not know this?
Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons lays the ground for much environmental regulation. Carbon markets are owed to the logic he proposes: the privatisation of the ‘commons’ — the atmosphere. What Monbiot doesn’t get is that you can use the ‘environment’ to make an argument for the abolition either of the commons, or of private property. The argument made on this blog is that between Hardin’s and his own times, political arguments are increasingly framed in terms of their environmental ‘necessity’, precisely because advocates of the arguments fail to make them persuasively on their own terms. It is moral blackmail, in other words… ‘Abolish private/public property, or the planet gets it…’ rather than an appeal to your conscience or ability to reason.
And that is why those of a greenish bent also seem preoccupied with the general public’s faculties of reason. Monbiot questions it routinely. Chris Mooney goes even further, suggesting that the differences between individuals on the left and right can be explained biologically, as can such individual’s attitudes towards scientific evidence. As discussed previously on this site, the fact that Mooney, the liberal, finds that liberals are more rational hardly needs an explanation. What is interesting, however, is the tendency of many — not just of the left, as it happens, as Hardin shows — to form scientific perspectives on the political/social world.
I feel somewhat annoyed that I may have flattered Monbiot by making him the subject of the last three posts here. In fact, I think he gets too much attention. It would be generous to say that he has even a mediocre grasp of his subject. The fact is though, that in this respect, he epitomises environmentalism. Ideas such as Monbiot’s and Mooney’s are in vogue amongst a narrow, sector of society. But it would be a great mistake to imagine that Monbiot and Mooney had much to do with their success.
Monbiot’s attempt to explain ‘denial’ as an expression of a particular political idea or philosophy is an attempt to draw lines over the debate: to give it dimensions and coordinates, not unlike ‘left and right’. As long as he can make ‘libertarians’ and conservatives just look greedy by their emphasis on private property, he feels he can explain the climate change debate. Never mind what libertarians actually believe, what they have traditionally argued for, and that the history of these ideas crosses with environmentalism’s development. Monbiot wants simple categories — nouns, to which he can put faces, at which he can shout. And he wants simple coordinates to the debate: goodies and baddies. It’s not really a matter of his simplifying matters for expediency, it’s more a case of him struggling to fit the world into a schematic that already exists in his head. His rants about ‘libertarians’ are an attempt to have a debate without understanding it, and thus it reduces ultimately to being about the world’s failure to conform to Monbiot’s will. It’s all the fault of ‘libertarians’.
The fact that Monbiot has no idea what ‘libertarians’ are, nor what they say or stand for, nor how they were able to engineer the world as they wanted it is immaterial. They’re just against him, on his view. And that’s enough, for someone who can’t tell the difference between Monbiot and the world, to think that ‘libertarians’ want the end of the world. Environmentalism, if it is anything at all, is mediocrity and narcissism combined.
Monbiot says, “…the new right in the UK.” I wonder who they are? No names given.
“Environmentalism, if it is anything at all, is mediocrity and narcissism combined.”
A great line. This deserves to be quote of the week somewhere!
The underlying philosophy of environmentalism is in fact very close to the presuppositions of free market economics, principally in its assumption of a natural equilibrium. Just as mainstream economics is equilibrium economics, assuming that prices are there to establish a proper balance, so, too does environmentalism assume a proper balance between man and nature. The system is self-equilibriating, as the jargon goes. To the extent that the balance is disturbed, it will reassert itself. That was the thinking behind the idea that nature would ‘have her revenge’ on man for disturbing the natural balance.
Most recently the Tea Party propagandist C Jesse Duke’s pamphlet Spread the Wealth explains that just as a tree exchanges oxygen for carbon dioxide, and fire exchanges heat for oxygen, so the free exchange of time and energy between people is the God designed, natural order (see Thomas Frank, Guardian Weekend, 7 Jan 2012).
Equilibrium economics and equilibrium ecologics are from the same intellectual source.
Hardin and Monbiot remind me of Proudhon and his superficiality – ‘Property is theft!’. At least he had a nice turn of phrase, unlike these chaps. But his ‘Philosophy of Poverty’ was beautifully demolished by Marx’s ‘The Poverty Of Philosophy’ (I remember being in one of my intellectual seven heavens reading that!). By the way, who was Hardin’s editor: “As a genetically trained biologist…” Now, to be a trained biologist is one thing but to be ‘genetically trained’! Or is that a biologist joke? But that would assume he was capable of irony!?
Talking about irony, the perfect put down:
“But it would be a great mistake to imagine that Monbiot and Mooney had much to do with their success.”
‘Free market economics’ is a movable feast but your essentially right, if we mean Greenspan economics. “Equilibria’ is the Achilles heal of that philosophy and, as it were, it’s metaphysical idee fixe. And, exactly analogous, to ‘ecological equilibria’ and, indeed, and ironically, and unbeknownst to them, borrowed from the aforementioned. But the three hundred years of Enlightenment ( or. perhaps, the 2500 and more years – Heraclitus “You cannot step into the same river twice”!) should surely now have born fruit – that dis-equilibria must be a fundamental assumption. Without that assumption, we get this woeful inadequacy to ‘predict’ the ‘market’, never mind the ‘weather’!
Don’t you know, Mooloo, there inanity has no end! I blame the Californian ‘New Agers”. As Chandler said of Los Angeles: the personality of a paper cup!
What you forget, goeffchambers, (though I get your import – sometimes I feel, cantankerous that I am, that people should not be allowed to be ‘heard’ until they’re 35 – nor vote, either!) that you think (no you don’t, but allow the ‘rhetoric’!)! And have thought, deeply and, I believe well. For God sake, I was once tempted by Christianity and, even worse, later, and to my shame, by the Socialist Workers Party! But we’ve resisted, haven’t we, in the end! Called growing up, I suppose.
I meant ‘No you don’t forget’, not ‘think’! Sorry
As to the substantive question: Why do these people exhibit this particular intellectual behaviour? I think, first, we have to leave that up to history, I mean in it’s deepest sense. I keep coming back to the haunting quote “I’m a sleepwalker through history” (ie, “I’m an idiot”). But, also, I think people make prostitutional ‘bets’ with their own reason: That ‘this’ side is winning and it’s better to ‘be’ on this ‘side’. As you perhaps know, Geoff, the ‘individual’, enlightened or vicious, and the ‘crowd’, the ‘herd’, are very much historical phenomena. The whole interest, in the ‘game’, is surely, rather, how this will turn out? Hence, our fascination (apart from being ‘existentially’ somewhat important!)
Ben, you say
They are as absurd as they are unpopular
But I wonder, unpopular with whom? The question is always what people who have power think. The paradigm is that the ‘populace’ is ‘irrational’ but don’t we have continual ‘evidence’ that those who ‘rule’ are the really ‘irrational’ ones? For bleeders sake, one only has to look at their alleged ‘steerage’ of the economy! Moonbat, mad, quite clearly insane and self defeating. Isn’t the definition of someone who is ‘mentally unwell’ that they harm themselves, first, and, of course, as a necessary consequence, others. Of course, there is the possibility that I, and many others, are the mad ones!