Dec 2008

Where it's at

My hastily written post (Tories living in Stalinist Britain) about the arrest of British tory MP, Damian Green (or more accurately about the absurd statements made about his arrest by the tory party) got quoted all over the place. As a result my readership has more than doubled in the past couple of days. Not quite as dramatic as the infamous Joss Whedon link that saw thousands of people showing up, but a bit weird all the same. Of course, it’s pretty much guaranteed that none of the new folks will stick around to become regulars, but all the same, I bid you a hearty “Welcome!”

From what I can gather, I’ve mostly been cited or linked-to in a positive context (e.g. Bloggerheads, Chicken Yoghurt, Liberal Conspiracy, Shiraz Socialist, and more). Though there has been one clear denunciation, from a blogger called A Very British Dude (I know!), who accuses me of promoting a “pinko mythology”. As well as that, someone on the comment-thread on the Liberal Conspiracy post seems to imply that my position is based upon support for the British Labour Party.

Regular readers will — of course — realise just how absurd both accusations really are. However, many of my visitors right now won’t be regulars, so let me take this opportunity to dispel those misconceptions as well as provide a little bit of information about where I do stand (in the hope that it might, perhaps, provide some food for thought).

Firstly let’s point out that ‘pinko’ implies a kind of wishy-washy left-wing liberalism. According to Wikipedia (that font of all conjecture):

Pinko is a derogatory term for a person regarded as sympathetic to Communism, though not necessarily a Communist Party member. The term has its origins in the notion that pink is a lighter shade of red, the color associated with communism; thus pink could be thought of as a “lighter form of communism” promoted by mere supporters of socialism who weren’t, themselves, “card-carrying” communists.

I am not a communist. However, I am a collectivist. Albeit in a restricted sense. Certainly I am an opponent of capitalism and I believe that a free-market in non-renewable natural resources is both a symptom of, and a contributing factor in, a collective psychosis that dominates modern civilisation. If you insist upon viewing politics in terms of colours, then I guess I’d be dark green with enough red to create a kind of muddy brown hue, flecked with non-militaristic white.

The reason I balk at the “communist” label is because I strongly disagree with a whole host of traditionally communist positions which are common to both the Marxist-Leninist and Maoist flavours. Two points in particular make it utterly impossible for me to board the communist bus.

Firstly, there’s an emphasis on “work” — in the sense of economic activity — and “progress” within communism that I believe; (a) is almost identical to that found in capitalist ideology, and (b) leads inevitably to large-scale ecological destruction, which is little short of suicidal.

Secondly, communism — like capitalism — is an ideology which insists upon viewing the world primarily in economic terms.

I just can’t get behind that. I’m not disputing that the economic model of human activity has valid uses and is appropriate for many situations. However my own position is that the vast majority of people who subscribe to an economic and/or political philosophy are guilty of ignoring Alfred Korzybski’s famous golden rule: “The map is not the territory”.

I believe that our civilisation is facing an imminent crisis; one that we are ill-equipped to deal with. That crisis could be loosely described as “unsustainability”. In other words, we have developed systems of production and distribution upon which we have come to depend, but which cannot be sustained even in the short term because they rely upon the consumption of non-renewable natural resources at a rate that cannot be maintained for very much longer.

As a result, I do not believe that the economic model of human activity should be given anything like the prominence (indeed, the primacy) it has enjoyed during the last few centuries. Partly because economics is so riven by politics that it engenders a kind of tribalism in those who view the world in economic terms. A tribalism we can ill afford right now. And partly because economics is an extremely limited map; one that ends up actually contradicting reality when a certain narrow set of preconditions are not met. But because so many people fail to grasp Korzybski’s golden rule, those contradictions are simply ignored — occasionally even openly denied against all the evidence — by those who seek the comfort of a simple model of reality.

I’ve recently completed a Master’s thesis on Group Psychodynamics. I believe that a synthesis of psychodynamics and systems-theory will provide the best model with which to understand the issues surrounding sustainability. We should also be cautious, of course, about mistaking that map for the territory, but I believe that it will prove to be a far more useful one, all told, over the coming years and decades.

Leastways, it will do if anyone bothers to consult it.

Road to … where?

So broadly speaking, where would this map take us?

Firstly profit needs to be eliminated as the primary motive for the production and distribution of food, energy and all non-renewable resources. Concentrations of power and capital need to be curtailed in all but the most narrow of circumstances. Biodiversity should be preserved as a matter of extreme urgency and the conversion of currently ‘untouched’ land into agricultural or urban land should cease immediately.

Economic activity needs to be minimised. Not maximised as is the current trend. This is not a prescription for starvation. “Minimised” does not mean eliminated, and a policy of minimisation would involve differentiating between essential and non-essential activity; retaining the former in as efficient a manner as possible while eliminating the latter if it consumes any non-renewable natural resources.

Non-essential economic activity could continue so long as it is sustainable (under a strict definition of sustainability). In the words of Gregory Bateson:

[A sustainable civilisation] shall consume unreplaceable natural resources only as a means to facilitate necessary change (as a chrysalis in metamorphosis must live on its fat). For the rest, the metabolism of the civilisation must depend upon the energy income which Spaceship Earth derives from the sun.

It goes without saying that the replacement of our current unsustainable life-support systems (the production and distribution of food and other essentials) with sustainable substitutes will itself require a significant investment of those “unreplaceable natural resources”. This is unavoidable, though we should obviously strive to make the process as efficient as possible.

All of this needs to be done in an environment of rapidly decreasing consumption in those areas currently over-consuming and a planned, incremental increase of consumption (particularly food) in those areas currently experiencing shortages (this will hopefully prevent the movement of large populations which itself consumes resources in a number of direct and indirect ways).

A large number of powers currently enjoyed by central governments need to be delegated to local communities and the localisation of production and consumption should be encouraged where possible.

Conversely, some powers need to be denied to “the public” entirely. Whether or not a population votes to continue — for example — burning petrol in their private cars, is entirely irrelevant. Such activity is damaging to humanity and the planet as a whole, and those who decide to act in that way should be prevented. This is why democracy will have to be abandoned. Local communities should be organised along democratic lines, but their powers limited by a framework of rules defined by an understanding of sustainability.

Oh, there’s plenty more, but that should be enough to be getting on with. I trust, though, that I’ve provided enough information to demonstrate that I’m not a stooge of the British Labour Party trying to score partisan points against the tories in order to keep Gordon Brown in power…?

Posted in: Opinion