The Rock Touches the Hard Place

Last week, the great Jared Diamond, whose Pulitzer-winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, is the greatest thing since Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital, published an op-ed in The New York Times. Titled “What’s Your Consumption Factor?”, the piece hits one of two very big political nails right on the head:

[W]hether we get there willingly or not, we [residents of the USA] shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.

Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.

This is all very true, as far as it goes. But it only goes half-way.

What Diamond is basically saying is that, if we were to use our democracy to end the criminally insane and egregiously outdated reign of the automobile over transportation (and life in general) in the US, we could have a higher quality of life and also finally get serious about genuinely helping the world’s other people live better.

The big problem, however, is the fact that our extremely well-entrenched economic overclass is quite literally and intractably addicted to perpetuating autos-ueber-alles in America. Without the auto-industrial complex’s trillion-plus-dollars-a-year “stimulation” of a huge array of business opportunities, corporate capitalism would quickly implode into an intractable economic depression.

Meanwhile, as Diamond argues, replacing our cars with world-class railroads and towns reconstructed around rails, bikes, and human feet is not only possible and desirable. Thanks to Peak Oil, it is, as Diamond almost says directly, simply the only imaginable way forward to a decent future.

And here’s exactly where Diamond’s rock meets the still-unmentionable hard place: Both because it is certain to be managed as an urgent, profits-NOT-first public project, and because it would put an end to the vast, self-renewing flows of capitalist-friendly economic waste (and investor profit) that inhere in our existing cars-first arrangement, ending autos-ueber-alles is simply verboten as a subject of public consideration. Modern railroads and cities that favor human-muscle-powered locomotion, you see, are exactly as bad for long-term profit-making as they are healthy and vital for the welfare of ordinary Earthlings.

Hence, until we commoners learn to see the light and put our collective foot down, our economic and political overlords will continue to shove the issue of decent survival raised by Diamond down the “un-American” hole. The reason is simple and classic:

“Après moi, le déluge!” [“After me, the flood!”] is the watchword of every capitalist and every capitalist nation. Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society. To outcries about physical and mental degradation, premature death, the torture of overwork, it answers: “Ought these to trouble us, since they increase our profits?”

Hence, if we are to do what Jared Diamond rightly says we must, we will have to conduct one hell of a fight just to get the human future onto the public agenda. History’s richest (and, thanks to the “market” structure of capitalism itself, most deniable) ruling class, armed as it is with history’s greatest mass-sedative (TV), is simply not going to permit the choice Diamond highlights to reach the public mind.

It will only do so through our own conscious and militant insistence upon it. Of necessity, a big part of this consciousness will have to be (hold onto your hats!) class consciousness. If we don’t begin to acknowledge, emphasize, publicize, and combat corporate capitalism’s addiction to selling cars, the jaws of historic defeat will finish snapping closed.

This coming struggle is not just a fight for the world’s children and grandchildren, it is, as Diamond says, a literally necessary one. Hence, as somebody on a crashing airplane once famously said, “Let’s roll!”

One Reply to “The Rock Touches the Hard Place”

  1. I want to raise a question. Which is better? Eating whales or eating kangaroos? The recent Aussie anger against Japanese whaling instigated a series of audio-visual battles in Youtube between two idiotic nationalities about their positions about the environment and cruelty. But to me this question is the fundamental one that cross-cuts all questions regarding environmental degradation, including the Peak Oil thesis, too. Which is better? Using fossil fuel or any other chemical alternatives? I believe environmental degradation cannot be dealt with in separation from working class degradation. In a similar vein, the battle over kangaroos and whales is inseparable from racism. The whole issue of class struggle, racial injustice, and environmental implosion are all connected from the beginning of the human civilization. The ruling class just doesn’t want to recognize this, because the whole capitalist academic project is to show that white capitalist democratic civilization is a big progress from all other human trials and errors in history. It makes me sick to see that it is the same white capitalist gurus who make the comment that we can make more wealth and progress by drilling oil fields, AND we can destroy our own white civilization by drilling more oil. The answer is simple. They will never give up until the earth explodes by itself. I am too pessimistic today, because I got sick after seeing all those idiotic video tapes about pro- and contra- Japanese whaling. Japanese claim Aussies are racists, while the latter claims the former are also racists and cruel and natural born killers. Japanese and Australians equally destructive peoples of the earth. And they have destroyed human beings (aborigines in AUS and Ainus in Japan) and the environment as much as all capitalists have done in the last 6 centuries. It’s just sick to see how they are trying to masquerade their cruelty and absurdity using digital technologies. I personally hate eating whales or kangaroos. I personally detest any killings of animals for human consumption, unless you have to. But debating which is better to consume (whales or kangaroos) is just another case of stupidity gone too far. I don’t want to see the same stupid debate in energy sciences: which is better, fossil fuel or chemical fuel? Neither IS! As Michael says, we just need to use our reasonable mind on this. Use our own feet and bikes. Use trains and public transportations. That’s it.

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