So back in Maybe I’m Not Here to Save Your World I said:
”They don’t want the world to change. … So when I see Halstead saying “This World” I’m ken to take him literally. He means the world, as it is, at this moment. And that doesn’t just mean the planet, or the environment, it means the whole package. Economics, politics, etc.”
And miracle of miracles, Halstead himself responded in the comments section, to refute my supposition that he doesn’t want the world to change (even as he fights to protect it from environmental changes).
“It occurs to me that humanity’s paralysis over the impending environmental (and corresponding economic) collapse is a function of the psychological strength of the myth that “things will always be the same”. … but they won’t. One way or another, capitalism — at least a capitalism built on a model of infinite growth — will no longer be. My hope, is that we humans are around to see that day, and that the demise of this particular economic system does not correspond with the demise of our species. What we need is the courage to imagine a different future — the courage to imagine both a future where we have committed collective suicide through our desecration of the environment and a future where we have escaped that fate by creating a new kind of society.” — John Halstead
So I went and checked out that article. And we’re going to talk about it. Now, this one is going to be a little different because I’m skipping the first part of his post this time. It has to do with his own personal experiences of learning that the inconceivable is in fact all to possible. As this is a lesson everyone learns, and there’s not much of his philosophy or ideology in them, I’m leaving it alone, because I’m here to dissect ideas and reasoning, not make fun of a person’s life experience.
And I do try not to be petty.
So we’re going to jump to the part where he starts talking business.
The Myth that Things Will Always Be This Way
It is easy to live under the illusion that things are the way they always have been and they will always be the way the are now. But there really is no excuse for this kind of failure of imagination, at least among adults. This is true on both the personal level, as we contemplate our individual deaths, and on the collective level, as we contemplate the future of our society and our species. Every adult person should realize that, one day, the United States will no longer exist. No doubt this would be considered unpatriotic heresy by many people, but it seems an inevitable conclusion looking at the history of other empires. What’s more, one day, human beings will no longer exist. Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. One day, no matter how much we rage against the dying of the light, we will not be.
I would like to think there aren’t many people who would have this failure of imagination. Honestly though, I’m sure it’s pretty common among people who tend to avoid the sci-fi genre or spend all their time on social politics. But he’s right, the USA will one day not exist, though I suspects peoples and so forth will. Rome fell, but it left behind the living. And yes, human beings will one day no longer exist. That time might come sooner or later depending on how well we do with colonizing space, which is pertinent as we will be discussing Halstead’s take on the movie Interstellar.
Yesterday, I went to see the movie, Interstellar, which came out in theaters on Friday. The movie is set in a near-future, where the earth can no longer sustain humanity. The population has been decimated by famine. The USA still exists, but is no longer what it once was. And a combination of blight and dust storms seems intent on wiping out what remains of a struggling humanity. (I’ll have more to say about the movie in a future post.) We’ve seen many such post-apocalyptic cinematic visions in the past, from Road Warrior to Terminator to The Postman to, more recently, The Book of Eli. What’s disturbing about Interstellar is not the changes, but the similarities, of the near-future depicted in the movie to the present day. Many post-apocalyptic stories describe a future that is unrecognizable to present-day Americans. But the future of Interstellar, a future of environmental disaster and only partial social collapse, seems very real. (I had a similar reaction to Octavia Butler’s science fiction series, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.)
Now, I myself saw Interstellar and thought it was quite an interesting movie, with some interesting takes on things. Where as Halstead was interested a society which had only partially collapsed, I was more struck by something which has become only too relevant with Halstead’s other posts I’ve been talking about.
This World vs Other Worlds. At one point early in the movie, the young girl gets in trouble at school for insisting that the moon landing was real. In case that was too subtle for you, American Text Books had been changed to teach that NASA had faked the moon landings, all of them. The reasoning behind this was that “this world” was the important one and we needed to focus on living on it and saving it, rather than worrying about “Other Worlds.”
It occurs to me that humanity’s paralysis over the impending environmental (and corresponding economic) collapse is a function of the psychological strength of the myth that “things will always be the same”. The sun always rises in the morning, and winter (more or less) predictably follows autumn which is followed by spring, and I go to work during the week, and rest on the weekend, and put money in my 401K, and go on being a good consumer, largely unperturbed by war and famine and plague, and it’s easy to believe that things have always been this way and always will be …
… but they won’t.
Honestly, it sounds like Halstead has a really nice life. I work regardless of it it’s week or the weekend. I don’t have a 401k. My concerns even as a Capitalist are not being a good consumer, but how much can I get for my meager funds? And I am greatly perturbed by war and famine and plague, because all of those greatly affect the prices of what goods I do buy.
And yes, some things are constant, like the sun rising, the changing of seasons, the advent of taxes. But I don’t think that these things incur a “paralysis” in humanity over any impending environmental (or economic) collapse. It is not a function of “things will always be the same.”
The reason I think human’s don’t care about an impending environmental collapse is because we largely don’t believe in it. Not because such a concept is beyond us (though when you’re worried about paying your bills on time and putting food on the table, there is little time to worry about if the trees are all going to commit suicide because you have to drive your car to work). But rather because we’ve been hearing “THE WORLD IS GOING TO END!!!” for the last twenty years in regards to the environment and, wonder of wonders, no only do we still have an environment, literally every scientific prediction model of global warming or climate change has proven a failure. Completely wrong.
When a prophet has a 100% failure rating, it’s time to consider him a false prophet.
As for the Economic Collapse, well, we’ve had those before. They happen with nearly every twenty years. Some are big, some are small, but with every collapse, something strange happens. It regrows. The truth is that as long as there are people, and these people can produce goods desired by other people, there is going to be an economy. And it will grow, and it will shrink, and if something runs out we generally find something to replace it.
It is likely that I, or maybe my children, will live to see a day when our everyday experience, living in the United States today at the beginning of the 21st century, will be entirely foreign to the children being born at that time. Things will not always be as they are. And I think realizing this may be the first step toward making the system-level changes which are needed to address the environmental disaster. Certain things which we take as inevitable … things like capitalism, for example … are not inevitable…
I got my BA in history. The amount of things that can happen in a person’s lifetime are stunning. My grandmother lived before any household machines had been invented for mass sale and she died as Apple was revealing its iWatch. Think about that. A woman who as a child had to wash her clothes by hand died able to talk to anyone around the world via a device that (when she was my age) was the stuff of fantasy spy stories. So he’s probably right. By the time I am her age (if I live that long) the world will be as strange to my childhood as hers was.
So, is capitalism inevitable or not?
To understand this mess, we have to understand what Capitalism is. Capitalism is an economic system. It’s principle is the idea that goods are traded for Capital, meaning money. Now, this money can be metal coins, jewels, or paper currency. In and of itself, Capitalism is nothing more than the use of money to purchase items.
Now, capitalism grew out of the Barter system of economics, and fundamentally is the exact same thing as the original Barter system. Man A has goods, Man B has goods, and each wants the others goods. Now, they have to transport these goods to each other and agree on how many of A’s goods are worth how many of B’s goods. The only difference between Barter and Capitalism is that instead of trading Wood for Sheep, A can sell his wood for Gold and go buy sheep, and B then takes the gold and buys wood. A bit of an extra step, but it’s easier to transport a small bag of coins than it is 3000lb of wood or 500 sheep.
So maybe capitalism was inevitable.
But the truth is, that as long as there are humans, there will be trade. Trade is perhaps inevitable as well. I will never be able to produce everything I need, but I will be able to produce excess of what I need that I can exchange with someone who has something I need. And sometime that trade will be done with money.
Of course, Halstead disagrees:
…As Naomi Cline writes in her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,
“[O]ur economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”
“Because, underneath all of this is the real truth we have been avoiding: climate change isn’t an ‘issue’ to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve.”
“So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.”
What Cline (and by extension Halstead) have created here is a False Dichotomy. It’s the Economy or the Planet. Part of this is because I don’t think they understand what Capitalism is, or even economics. But the larger part is because they do not want to admit what they’re actually talking about.
What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion.
A contraction of resource use vs an expansion of resource use.
Capitalism is in reality a fairly stable economic system. It doesn’t need to have unfettered expansion to continue to exist or thrive. Certainly, our economy is growing under capitalism and is certainly taking more resources. But that’s not because the economy needs too.
It’s because there’s an ever growing amount of people in that economy.
The more people, the more resources they need to live and then to thrive. Our planet is about the 7+ Billion mark last I checked. Now, admittedly if every human stood should to shoulder and roughly front to back, we’d all fit in Rhode Island, but that’s still a lot of people, and that takes a lot of resources, especially now that we have things like washing machines, mass farms, and computers. And humans, regardless of race, will try to maximize their comfort levels during their lives.
So it really comes down to two options for people in Cline and Halstead’s position. They either need to give up their comforts (in this case, Capitalism which is the easiest way to obtain said comforts by the easy transport of cash) or the other option.
I wonder, if perhaps, Halstead has seen a movie called Kingsman.
It’s been out for a bit and I recommend people go see it because it is one of the Best spy movies in forever. Especially if you like classic Bond humor with modern brutality. But the main villains are environmentalists who want to save the planet. And they at least admit what the problem is: Too Many Humans.
So they come up with a way to make billions of humans kill each other.
The truth is people like Halstead and Cline who talk about how it’s capitalism vs the planet and we need to get rid of capitalism, are in my eyes, intellectual cowards. They refuse to admit what its they really want, and what its really going to take. IF the environment really is under such a threat from humanity as they claim, then the only solution is to murder enough people so that humanity doesn’t present a threat anymore. They think that by eliminating capitalism this will “naturally” solve the problem of mass recourse use.
And perhaps it will, if only because without trading for resources, people would got war over them.
But that brings up talk about who is “worthy” of living and who is “unnecessary.” Who provides benefits to society, who is the right kind of people, and who are the people who will only be a drain, and should be eliminated, and how.
Continued in part 2