As Germany’s Green Party ascends in popularity and electoral support, American environmentalism slips deeper into eclipse than ever before… It was a similar situation with American socialists and their toothless appendage, the Democratic Socialists of America… These two movements share some critiques of industrial capitalism but have wildly different visions for human society…
As Germany’s Green Party ascends in popularity and electoral support, American environmentalism slips deeper into eclipse than ever before. Its own Green Party self-destructed as the party elders, determined to mould the party into the left wing of the Democratic Party, sidelined and squashed not just environmental causes but its own internal process and by-laws at its 2004 presidential convention. The remains of that day disintegrated into thin air.
It was a similar situation with American socialists and their toothless appendage, the Democratic Socialists of America, who reiterated the only two themes they knew: the need for socialism and their contempt for the American electoral process. This was rounded out by a determination to insert an environmental chromosome into the socialist genome. This, they thought, would provide a pale cast of Nature-based thought to enhance their environmental creds.
These two movements share some critiques of industrial capitalism but have wildly different visions for human society. Now they are in collapse politically and culturally. The cause: the explosion of culture wars waged by identity groups seeking to displace western Enlightenment values and achievements, using racial equity as their cover. Such wars are impossible to win except at the expense of social stability and, not least, the condition we call democracy. As a result, civil society is unravelling at an alarming rate. The prospect for the survival of both democracy and human civilization is dim. Both the Left and the environmentalists have been marginalized, dimming all prospects for both equity and ecology.
The onset of culture wars setting humans one against another based on race or gender has marginalized these two movements. Racial justice movements have intentionally and overtly subverted environmentalism, sidestepping science by substituting “climate justice” for “climate change.” Instead of confronting the fomenters of poverty and ecological destruction, the culture warriors have – conveniently for capitalism and corporations – redirected attention onto the exaggerated or baseless grievances of identity groups.
In so doing, they have forgone any attempt to curb the exploitation of humans, of the Earth and of its natural systems. Lacking principled policies or attainable real-world social or economic reforms, they target human nature and its imperfections. Rather than institutional and electoral reform, they have chosen social engineering, the manipulation of human behavior in the interest of racially based ideology. It is an eery echo of the Lysenkoism that Stalin used to deform science to serve the interest of communism in the former Soviet Union.
What this new doctrine does not address is human civilization’s real enemy: the industrial growth system of overconsumption that is eating away at the support systems of the biological and physical world, the very things upon which material growth depends.
That the culture wars are wars for power, not humanitarian or ethical purposes, has become crystal clear in the choice of battlefield: not electoral, not through persuasion or moral example, and not educational, but a battlefield of intimidation and threats against dissenters, with manipulation of mass media using time-honoured liberal buzz words such as equity.
This struggle claims to be one of resistance to illegitimate power but it is nothing of the sort. It is one of overarching ideology, closer to religion than politics in its doctrines and weapons. It demands full-fledged allegiance ( “intersectionality”) to all of its commandments. It uses fear of reprisal and loss of status as weapons. It establishes a hierarchy of phenotypical characteristics united in hatred of existing institutions regardless of actual culpability. At its core is a fierce anti-intellectualism that scorns logic, reason and science; it is, in effect, a modern-day Inquisition of witch hunts and purges.
What this new doctrine does not address is human civilization’s real enemy: the industrial growth system of overconsumption that is eating away at the support systems of the biological and physical world, the very things upon which material growth depends. This system and its manifestations (climate change, loss of biodiversity, destruction of marine ecosystems, habitat loss) have historically been viewed differently by the Left and by the environmentalists. The Left regarded material growth and industrialism as a means of ending poverty. Environmentalism exposed the incompatibility of endless growth with the preservation of the resources and natural systems of the planet.
The Left’s antipathy to capitalism and its promotion of socialism showed that, at the very least, they understood the role of corporations and their government minions in exploiting workers and communities. The environmentalists’ antipathy was similar if not anti-capitalist: a recognition of the culpability of corporations and financial institutions in destroying the natural world. Beginning with Earth Day 1970, a sea change in public consciousness of Nature began as a tide and turned into a decade-long torrent of pro-environment policies, legislation, and public education. Its end was forecast by the election of Ronald Reagan and the bureaucratization of the large national Washington-based groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Regrettably, and probably inevitably, there was never an accommodation or cooperative relationship between the Left and environmentalists, due to leftist intransigency on insisting that growth would benefit the poor and that socialism was the solution. Outright hostility of the Left and blacks to environmentalism was not uncommon in the 1970s and 1980s, hence the subversive change from “environmentalism” to “environmental justice.”
The Left and black critics refused (as many still do) to acknowledge that economic growth and overconsumption were both unsustainable and unjust. They ignored the fact that preservation of the natural world benefitted everyone. Instead of questioning the exploitive nature of industrial capitalism, they aimed their bullets at environmental groups, accusing them of racism and exclusion, and of ignoring the “real” problems of minority communities, while refusing to join these groups or work alongside them. Corporations and government must have welcomed these allies.
Now the cows are coming home: the role of corporations’ commitment to untrammeled economic growth that is destroying the very fabric of the planet itself has become clear. Now more than ever would seem like the opportune time for the Left and environmentalists to unify not only on ecological principles but to acknowledge that class, not race, is the real divider. But sadly this has not happened even as economic inequality grows larger each day both within this country as well as between nations.
It is puzzling to see how Black Lives Matter and its supporters have no word of reproach, much less anger, at Wall St., corporate profits, the abundance of billionaires and the shrinking wallets of the poor, the perks of CEOs, the heavy weight of transnational treaties…, nor express any chagrin at the utter destruction of forests, seas, grasslands, wetlands and wilderness in the name of economic growth from which few profit. In fact, it is impossible to see any clear statement of principle or goals from BLM and the social justice movement except for the suppression of white elites.
So the big questions never get asked. Instead, public attention is forced into a narrow bottleneck where all national problems are identified through a single lens: racial inequity. The result is that neither the concerns of the Left nor those of environmentalists are addressed, despite their being by far the most relevant and urgent questions of our time: human and planetary survival. Just how did this happen? Why? And who is responsible?
Thus social justice activism lets corporate environmental crimes off the hook.
The philosophical history of postmodernism and Critical Race Theory goes back many decades, grounded in the notion that there is no such thing as objective truth and that multiple “truths” of personal experience (as opposed to evidence-based science) are reliable guides for human society and endeavors. While science has suffered the most from this fantasy, it has been social movements that were the most vulnerable to, and therefore welcoming of, this world view. If one were paranoid, one could blame subversive provocateurs (religious leaders, media pontiffs, public intellectuals) of deliberate insinuation into the new Critical Racial Theory debate of views more accommodating to the corporate/economic growth sector. One would have to conclude that it is the growth sector that has won the debate and has almost won the war, by dividing enemies and utilizing words and arguments with strong humanitarian and moral appeal, an appeal that unquestioningly puts humans before the rest of Nature – as corporations and capitalism have always done. Indeed, there is little light between the goals of the Left and the corporations regarding growth, production, and consumption.
The social justice movement has gone off course by adopting exactly what the industrial growth sector believes: that human needs come before those of the natural world in the interests of “social justice.” Thus social justice activism lets corporate environmental crimes off the hook. Small wonder that businesses do not hesitate to display publicly their “anti-racist” credentials by setting up in-house “diversity” departments and buying full page ads in the mass media signalling their fealty to the secular faith-based catechism. These are the easy things to do — as opposed to stopping pollution, reducing energy use, and ending the destruction of forests or marine life.
Public expiation allows good liberals to wake up another morning and feel good about themselves and their actions, without having to make even minimal sacrifices (such as driving less, turning down the thermostat or installing solar panels) or wonder if they play a role in any of the global crises.
The eery resemblance to Soviet and Chinese totalitarianism should frighten us all.
We have nothing to celebrate. The social engineering of humans is futile, even despicable, in that it prioritizes human needs and relegates ecological principles to the back burner and to isolation from public consciousness. Yet this is now the manifesto of nonwhite “resistance” movements, shored up by white liberals desperate to escape the barb of the word “racist.”
The eery resemblance to Soviet and Chinese totalitarianism should frighten us all. But no vision of socialism or a green world in harmony with nature has been declared. It is no accident that the social justice movements shun political and economic involvement; these would require research, dialogue, dissent, compromise, and working with groups that do not share all of their objectives. Their recourse has been to the social network realm, to the media, and to conformist academia, where intimidation, shunning and threats work more quickly and more efficiently.
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that ecological collapse is now unavoidable. Whether it comes before or after social collapse is unknown. The alienation from nature, which has characterized the Left for decades, is echoed in the inadequate response to the climate crisis – inadequate in that it allows the public to believe that technological solutions with minimal sacrifice are available
The constituency that answered the calls of Earth Day in 1970 and led to major legislative and policy reform has dissolved or been absorbed into the fruitless and antagonistic culture wars. Had corporations infiltrated the environmental groups to subvert their activism, they could not have done a better job than the Social Justice Warriors in deflecting attention away from their own role in the destruction of Earth.
Nothing in the Paris agreement, the Biden infrastructure bill, or renewable energy development in ANY way mitigates the unremitting loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems and habitats.
Nothing in the Paris agreement, the Biden infrastructure bill, or renewable energy development in ANY way mitigates the unremitting loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems and habitats. The film Planet of the Humans drew attention to this, only to spark the ire of renewable energy supporters who, thinking they were saving the Earth, got angry that their efforts were exposed as flawed. In short, there is no plan, policy, or legislation domestically or globally that is commensurate with the growing ecological crisis. For social justice activists, reforming the human psyche has replaced planetary rescue. Perhaps some kind of malevolent Satan is behind all this – as opposed to real people.
As for the Left, at the very instant that the use of the term “class war” has real meaning, it too has been tabled alongside the word “ecology.” Two movements have been defanged, the only two cognizant of the fact that economic policies and institutions, not human foibles, are the roots of the exploitation of both humans and the Earth. There now remains nothing and no one to stop the deadly economic growth machine from destroying the planet. ♦