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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 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.

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