Diagnosing Ghosts

It never stops, apparently. Would-be greens just love to blather on about “our culture” being the root cause of ecological destruction, as if capitalists don’t exist, and “we” somehow freely and pristinely chose what we got.

The latest purveyor is a source who damned well ought to know better: The Post-Carbon Institute. Here is the pronouncement of Peter Whybrow, M.D., whom the POI publishes as its voice on “culture and behavior”:

We had perfected the consumer-driven society. The idea was simple and irresistible. It tapped deep into the nation’s mythology and for a brief moment, during the exuberant years of the dot-com bubble, the Dream was made material. Vast shopping malls proclaimed prosperity throughout the land. Horatio Alger’s story was once again our story—the American story—but this time on steroids. Temptation was everywhere. And true to our instinctual origins, we were soon focused on immediate gratification, ignoring future consequence. Shopping became the national pastime. Throwing caution to the wind, at all levels of our society we hungered for more—more money, more power, more food, and more stuff.

The United States is the quintessential trading nation, and for the past quarter century we have worshiped the “free” market as an ideology rather than for what it is—a natural product of human social evolution and a set of economic tools with which to construct a just and equitable society. Under the spell of this ideology and the false promise of instant riches, America’s immigrant values of thrift, prudence, and community concern—traditionally the foundation of the Dream—have been hijacked by an all-consuming self-interest. The astonishing appetite of the American consumer now deter-mines some 70 percent of all economic activity in theUnited States.

Wow. To borrow from E.P. Thompson: Folks, this here is what you call an orrery of errors. It’s 100 percent made-up, unexamined mainstream pseudo-history, repackaged as being somehow alternative and liberating and honest.

According to Dr. Whybrow, not only have “we” somehow “hijacked” ourselves, but “Our nature has no built-in braking system. More is never enough.” Sure, right. I think I’ll go home tonight and kill myself by eating 27 pepperoni pizzas. According to the good doc, that’s my biologically-dictated fate, and yours, too.

With liberators like these, with this kind of quarter-baked rot parading as rebellious social criticism, who needs the corporate media?

Same as it Ever Was: Post-Carbon Reader Craps Itself

If you’ve been looking at TCT for a while, you may recall my disgust with the Worldwatch Institute’s annual report for 2010. That report, which described itself as “subversive,” was full of flatulent attempts to squeeze something sharp and liberating out of the thought-killing “consumer” vocabulary. As always with such efforts, the noises were all about “culture” (an amorphous, sophomorically handled concept by which the assembled babblers seem to mean “a whole shared way of life, shorn of actual institutions and power formations”), and none about capitalism.

But of course. As James Keye observes, it is extremely hard if not impossible to describe oppressive institutions if one starts by adopting the biased terminology of the oppressors. Slavery becomes a house of mirrors, if one agrees that “slave” (or, worse, “nigger” or other racial slurs) is a proper descriptive category for the human beings held in bondage. Likewise, “consumer” is the capitalist’s reduction of human beings to mere appendages of the profit-making process. Issues of product-usage, product-promotion, and product-selection — and all the ecological issues attaching thereto — are difficult or impossible to describe, if one starts by presuming that commoners are somehow (though we won’t say how) asking for everything that happens, that people really are “consumers” in any but a very narrow and controversial sense.

I mention all this because yet another “green” operation has just tripped and ruinously vomited on this very issue. The Post-Carbon Reader includes a chapter by one William Rees, who blames “human nature” and “consumers” for existing ecocidal trends, and omits all mention of capitalists and capitalism.

As I say in the DbC Hall of Mirrors, where I collect important examples of such damaging thoughtlessness:  With friends like these, who needs enemies?