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January 20th, 2008

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09:58 am - A distrust of doomsaying and individual-level solutions
I made a comment in a response to this post that struck me as something worth expanding on.

In addition to simply not trusting a focus on morality and moral solutions to what are ultimately technical problems, I've also come to increasingly distrust doomsayers, regardless of whether they claim that doom in imminent and unavoidable or whether they say it can only be avoided by extreme, unlikely, and exceptionally unpleasant actions.

To start with, doom-saying is an excellent way to support the status quo while simultaneously creating a politically useful climate of fear and despair. In addition to fostering hopelessness or (at most) causing a few people waste time with extreme solutions that most people are simply not going to accept, fear is actually a dreadful motivator. This is clearly backed by a host of studies. One set I remember was done in the mid 1980s – in the 1970s and early '80s, there were a host of anti-smoking ads featuring images of cancerous lungs and other horrors that were used as scare tactics to attempt to get people to stop smoking. Such ads are far rarer now, because many studies have clearly proven that they don't work. Fear paralyzes people, it instills hopelessness and most of all inaction, which is also why it's the primary domestic social tool of our Republican overlords.

In addition, only discussing individual solutions to problems that emphasize "what you can do to directly help", with no mention of governmental or other larger-scale solutions fits in perfectly with widespread libertarianism distrust of governments and large institutions that has been produced and in many cases been active fostered by the last 28 years of Republican rule. During this time, Republican leaders have consciously and knowingly attempted to cause people to turn away from governmental solutions to social and environmental problems, in large part because such solutions actually work, and they do so by upsetting the current balance of power by taking it away from the wealthy and giving it more to the people – just like the many grass roots anti-pollutions campaigns of the 1970s did (much to the great dismay of the automakers).

The late 1960s and early 1970s proved that collective action is exceptionally powerful, so powerful that it terrified many people in power - their academic apologists like Francis Fukuyama refer to this time as "The Great Disruption", and I suspect that the real reason behind his neocon obfuscations is that it was a disruption of not just the old social order, but of existing structures of power and wealth. It is my firm belief that many of the Republican tactics that we've seen since that time have been an attempt to make certain this sort of collective action never happens again. Libertarianism, with it's distrust of precisely the solutions that work the best and it's emphasis on atomization certainly fits in perfectly with this plan. Similarly, fostering the current level of fear and hopelessness, along with current levels of cynicism also go a long way towards helping to stop similar sorts of grass-roots movements.

In any case, focusing solely on individual-level solutions without any mention of larger scale governmental solutions to environmental problems helps to turn public attention away from these government-based solutions. I'm not quite paranoid enough to believe that some of the doom-cryers and more extreme enviro-puritans are in the pockets of the large corporations and the far-right PACs, but I do wonder about this occasionally.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:January 20th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
I think a problem is that many Green fundie and indeed also a good deal of lefties are too dedicated to individual, vanguard action, both ideologically and probably because of their personality. The don't trust anything Big, be that big corps or big politics.

In that manner, I suspect they are rather close to libertarians in how they perceive the world and themselves. I mean, switch out the hot button topics and they are surprisingly alike. I don't think it is a plan, it is a personality type. But it is a minority type, and that's why these people generally don't get any real power unless we for some reason consider them some sort of model citizens, which of course societies at times do for various reasons.

Personally I find myself often sympathizing with the rational, moderate Greens. But I wouldn't support them politically until they get rid of the fundies.

That said, I think fear can work as a tool for progressive action too.
[User Picture]
Date:January 20th, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
I think a problem is that many Green fundie and indeed also a good deal of lefties are too dedicated to individual, vanguard action, both ideologically and probably because of their personality. The don't trust anything Big, be that big corps or big politics.

Very true, which is a belief system that I find to be astoundingly idiotic, since every one of the (moderately many) green and other progressive victories was accomplished through well-organized, large scale grass roots action to either pressure corporations to change their practices, pressure governments to change laws, or voting sympathetic legislators into office. In contrast, individual vanguard action accomplished absolutely nothing beyond (occasionally) personal aggrandizement or (equally often) making the person or small group performing them look like semi-stable cranks.

Personally I find myself often sympathizing with the rational, moderate Greens. But I wouldn't support them politically until they get rid of the fundies.

I completely agree. I was definitely quite impressed with your post of a few months back which discussed the idea of not voting for crazy people.
[User Picture]
Date:January 20th, 2008 11:09 pm (UTC)
If I recall correctly, you stated in previous entries that you can't understand why people would become Libertarians.

I became one because I got pissed off at constant guiltmongering by both the Left and the Right. Whatever their faults, Libertarians don't hector you constantly and push the guilt button. They are pro-freedom on social issues, which is why I admire it as a personal philosophy. They also are pro-responsibility, which is far better than blaming the government for all your problems, as too many people of all political persuasions do.

As a political part, of course, Liberatariasm is simply impractical. Corporations are not people; they are not alive in any sense. They should be duly restrained and hampered severely so they cannot run roughshod over actual people, particuarly non-wealthy people. Lots of Libertarians ignore this, for whatever reason.
[User Picture]
Date:January 20th, 2008 11:36 pm (UTC)
They also are pro-responsibility

While true in one sense, from my PoV libertarianism is an utter failure because it ignores and denies both collective responsibility and the usefulness of collective action. I've encountered far too many libertarians who claim (often quite loudly and proudly) that they "earn their own money" (which is of course almost never remotely true in any modern first world society, where we depend on others for so much) and so have absolutely no responsibility to spend any of their supposedly hard earned money to help others, who should either "shoulder their own responsibility" or starve.

Lots of Libertarians ignore this, for whatever reason.

That would (from my PoV at least) be because they don't want anyone (such as the government) telling them what they can and can't do, even if what they are being told they can't do is directly or indirectly harm or blackmail others. From my PoV, that's an attitude suitable for ill-mannered small children and not adults living in a diverse and largely urban society.
[User Picture]
Date:January 21st, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of the issue with individual vs. group action is that a lot of the time group action gets buried under bureaucracy. Infighting, corruption, and other things can be really disheartening. Granted, it happens in both the left and the right, but as has been mentioned the left is already a lot more disillusioned with group idiotics.

People want to know what *they* can do, as individuals, when faced with Goliath. The average wage slave can't buy solar power, or a new Prius, or donate a ton of money to the candidate of choice. They may not have time for volunteering. But they want to do something. This is why I tend to really emphasize small-scale, personal habit changes for environmental issues, and such--to me, composting and recycling are as important in their own way as letter writing campaigns and votes to get pro-environment bills passed and enforced.

IMO, we need both the small-scale and large-scale efforts. Yelling about laws in COngress won't reduce water consumption or lower the amount of chemicals a person takes into their body through their food and water. Recycling part of your garbage won't stop Monsanto from polluting crops with their modified genes.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2015 04:43 pm (UTC)
A couple of counterexamples imo. Bicycling lowers the price of gasoline today so people have more for their bulldozes and chainsaws. The fewer plastic bags we use, the more petroleum goes to fuel; better bury it in the landfill as plastic, than send it into the air as smoke. (They're not going to stop pumping it up and using it for something.)

Otoh composting works both on the one-garden scale and raisews support for a municipal composting project. Recycling same.
[User Picture]
Date:January 22nd, 2008 04:29 am (UTC)
Let me tell you about my first encounter with fundy greens.

This was back in college. THere was a fledgling new environmentalist student organization. I was interested; I was into the environment, etc. Seemed like a good idea.

A local activist came in and made a presentation about Doe Run Industries. Now, if I were trying, I don't think I could come up with a more stereotypical environmental "bad guy" than Doe Run. These guys have been polluting the environment for decades with their lead mining practices. They've been doing their damnedest to hold up any legal action against them, wasting time in court with junk science while causing massive mental retardation and ruining economies. I really can't come up with a good thing to say about them.

But the thing was, the opposition to Doe Run was set on making protests against this company. Protests!

What's wrong with protests? Well, what could they hope to accomplish? Did they thinkt he CEO would just up and say "Hey! We're polluting the environment! Let's just shut down and be done with it!"
I asked if anyone had approached the company to try to find more environmentally acceptable mining practices. The response was that I was an idiot: you can't negotiate with these people. The only answer is to PROTEST!

I got sick of talking to a brick wall. There was no desire to change to a tactic which had a chance in hell of succeeding. No thought as to what would be accomplished or how. Just a venting of rage at The Man.

I think you're right - there's a distrust and failure to understand the value of organized action and compromise. It's a "my way or the highway" mentality which will seldom if ever achieve results, but which does achieve a very endorphin-laden sense of righteousness.
[User Picture]
Date:January 22nd, 2008 04:30 am (UTC)
I think, too, that you've got most of the same view as I have about Libertarianism. I see why people may find Libertarianism very appealing: they talk a good talk, but when you think about what the actions they propose will actually accomplish, it's pretty clear there's very little relation with the supposedly desired goals, and it sure opens up the way for a lot of very dangerous things to happen.

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