Climate & Political Correctness: A Look at Leftist Ideology…by Scott Thompson

Note: since this is an essay it doesn’t have a geographical setting on this, much less any other, planet. In the absence of such a setting the photographs are from one of my backpacking trips to the Superstition Wilderness in Arizona.

Next best thing.

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“It will be objected that a constantly increasing population makes resistance and conservation a hopeless battle. This is true. Unless a way is found to stabilize the nation’s population, the parks cannot be saved. Or anything else worth a damn.” – Edward Abbey, 1967

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Thirty years ago, as a neophyte counselor, I was learning something different. Which was: if you want to help a person who is mired in a seemingly unsolvable problem, find out in detail what they’re doing to solve it and then tell them to do precisely the opposite. It works wonders – if you can persuade your clients to act against their deeply ingrained assumptions.

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Forty years ago, as a neophyte Zen meditation practitioner, I was also learning something different. Which is that if you simply sit still and become aware of thought streams and emotions, no matter how upsetting they may be, and then learn to keep doing that through the day, they’ll lose much of their power to upset you. Now I teach such meditation to others and they discover that it does work wonders – if they’re willing to suspend their ingrained assumption that shoving away awareness of painful emotions is the best way to deal with them.

As a result of the foregoing, I suspect that plausible solutions to difficult problems, even where catastrophic consequences hang in the balance, are often not considered simply because they don’t fit within a dominant paradigm. This may be the case both on an individual and a societal level.
This phenomenon may also apply to our ever escalating eco-crisis, and in particular to climate change. At this point I can’t say (can anyone?) whether it’s already too late to avoid a global catastrophe but it’s safe to say that matters have been at a crisis level since at least 2008, with little progress toward phasing out fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases.

Is that because in developed countries anyway, we’re so addicted to our relatively prosperous ways, and the most privileged people among us to their wealth and power, that collectively we can’t bring ourselves to surrender them? Even to protect our own children and grandchildren and vulnerable people all across the globe, much less other species?

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This may well be the case and I have made such arguments in one way or another in a number of stories in The Canyon Country Zephyr. But in this story I’d like to focus on another possibility: that in the long run certain key aspects of our treasured concepts and assumptions just don’t work.
The big picture may be as simple as that: that the very ideas and assumptions that have seemed to lead to such remarkable progress for humanity since the industrial revolution began are actually making things worse and that we’ve been too blind to see it and too stubborn to listen to those who do.
Not evil. Not bad. Not greedy (I’m hedging some on that one).

I want to begin by questioning one such cherished ideological tool, in this case of leftist politics: political correctness.

Some background. Financial and political oppression by the privileged and powerful of the poor and vulnerable seems to have been endemic to hierarchical societies ever since they emerged from the tedium and murk of large-scale agriculture. The Biblical prophets were chewing on the big dogs’ derrieres about this circa 2800 years ago, and hooray for them. Those who are blessed with material plenty and power to boot indeed need to help vulnerable people world-wide which they’re generally too self-preoccupied to do without massive external social pressure.

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So the political left has an honorable and necessary societal function; I’m not questioning that.
But I suspect that what’s been gumming up the works when it comes to dealing with climate change in particular derives from Marxism’s ideas about class struggle, which remain more influential than we might care to admit. It carefully divides societies into the oppressor class and the oppressed and then forges this distinction into a rigidly effective ideological and political tool. A tool that is every bit as unbending as Biblical fundamentalism and which imposes desired social changes through ostracism and public shaming. Which is effective in keeping people from thinking things through.

The essential assumption behind class oppression is that the suffering of the oppressed class derives almost entirely from the behaviors and dastardly scheming of the oppressor class. Therefore the presumptive blame for just about any individual or collective problem within said oppressed class must fall upon the oppressor class.

Only one thing can instill enough fear to maintain such a rigid distinction on a social level: speech codes. Which work as follows. If any member of the oppressor class says anything that is critical or arguably disparaging about any member of the oppressed class, or that attempts to redirect responsibility for the key problems, the speech code is ipso facto violated. The speaker is then subjected to social shaming if not ostracism. Within this framework a career or reputation built up by decades of hard work can be demolished by a single ill-considered sentence.

Why is it so important to continue directing the fire of blame right at the oppressor class and also to greatly minimize any criticisms of the oppressed class or its members? One reason, an honorable one, is to rid societies of prejudices and to protect the already oppressed from further burdens. But another, the pernicious one, is that if more wide-ranging criticisms and assessments circulate enough throughout societies they may dilute the perceived antagonism between the oppressors and the oppressed, thereby weakening the political influence of the liberal-left.

So no, it’s not just about holding the designated oppressors accountable in a responsible way, though that’s essential. It’s about labeling them as the bad guys and keeping that flame of resentment against them burning hot, thereby preserving the left-leaning party’s influence.

Let’s see how these premises of political correctness obstruct dealing with a difficult and admittedly sensitive aspect of climate change: human overpopulation.

Note the following from Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything, her emerging 2014 classic on climate change. On page 114 she states: “…the roughly 500 million richest of us on the planet are responsible for about half of all global emissions. That would include the rich in every country in the world, notably in countries like China and India, as well as significant parts of the middle classes in North America and Europe.” A rightful assertion on her part, surely.

But watch out for her footnote: “This is why the persistent positing of population control as a solution to climate change is a distraction and moral dead end. As this research makes clear, the most significant cause of rising emissions is not the reproductive behavior of the poor but the consumer behaviors of the rich.”

What just happened here? It takes a moment to figure it out: she’s just made an amazingly vast assumption sound so normal that it could float past all of our heads. Yet here it is: that those who are overwhelmingly responsible for reducing the scope of a natural disaster are those who have played the largest per capita role in causing it. Not those who could now greatly reduce its impacts through prudent behaviors of their own.

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Of course she’s right that those who have primarily caused the greater eco and climate crises should rightly bear the lion’s share of the financial and other remedial responsibility. What this means to me is that the prosperous, powerful, and privileged either knew or should have known the seriousness of the situation and nevertheless failed to take timely, appropriate action to prevent it or minimize its effects. But does that free the rest of us from responsibility where our own actions can make a significant difference in reducing the cataclysm’s impacts on our fellow humans and other creatures?

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An analogy here is a family’s recovery from the impacts of a family member’s drug or alcohol addiction. Yes, the addict bears primary responsibility for admitting the problem and then getting the treatment necessary to get and stay clean and sober. And for making amends for harms caused and for righting financial damage as well. But in the real world the addict’s efforts alone are seldom sufficient to foster the family’s healing. Family members, despite their very real innocence, need to work on recovery too, usually through counseling and 12-step work of their own. That’s when love within the family can blossom once again.

I think the situation is similar on an immensely larger scale in the case of climate change and the greater eco-crisis. The people of the Earth as a whole need to take responsibility for the impacts of overpopulation and reduce them as much as possible, with of course generous financial assistance from those with the bulk of the money and other resources. And this isn’t just about humanity’s well-being. The survival of many, many other species populations depends on whether we humans are willing to get serious about what the carrying capacity of each ecosystem for human beings is.

Now for political correctness’s enforcement mechanism, ostracism and public shaming. The following is a paragraph-long quotation from a five page article, “The Population Myth,” written by George Monbiot in The Global Warming Reader, Edited by Bill McKibben in 2011. Monbiot is described as a British journalist and activist whose work often appears in the Guardian newspaper. Here’s the happy quote:

“It’s no coincidence that most of those who are obsessed with population growth are post-reproductive wealthy white men: it’s about the only environmental issue for which they can’t be blamed. The brilliant earth-systems scientist James Lovelock, for example, claimed last month that ‘Those who fail to see that population growth and climate change are two sides of the same coin are either ignorant or hiding from the truth. These two huge environmental problems are inseparable and to discuss one while ignoring the other is irrational.’ But it’s Lovelock who is being ignorant and irrational.” (p. 269.)

As I said before, public shaming is the enforcement mechanism for political correctness. Its use against a person who has made a forbidden statement or brought up a forbidden issue, must include labeling him (or her) as a member of an oppressor stereotype. So let’s take two of Monbiot’s defining criteria for the stereotype with which he attempted to shame Lovelock and see if either holds up to even cursory scrutiny: were “most” white males at the time they first seriously raised the issue of overpopulation really “post-reproductive”? If not, then being “post-reproductive” can’t be meaningful as a criterion for the stereotype; otherwise Monbiot would be guilty of ageism; another political-incorrect-ism.

(I think he boxed himself in here.)

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Let’s now look at four white males who have most credibly raised the issue of overpopulation and see if “most” of them – hell, any of them – were “post-reproductive” when they did so.

I admit that strictly speaking I couldn’t discover on Google whether Lovelock was “post-reproductive” when he first stated concern about overpopulation. But since he was born in 1919 and concern about this issue was widespread by the 1960s it seems unlikely that he was over 50 when he was first talking with people about it. That’s not a “post-reproductive” male age.

The eminent Stanford scientist Paul Ehrlich was born in 1932 and first published his noted book, The Population Bomb, in 1968, when he was 36. Think he was post-reproductive then? Ha!

The author Edward Abbey was born in 1927. He finished writing his book Desert Solitaire in 1967, in which he notably expressed his concern about human overpopulation, quoted above. He was 40 at the time and his book was published the following year. No way was this guy “post-reproductive”!

Gary Snyder, the esteemed poet and student of Zen Buddhism, was born in 1930 and was expressing at least some concern about population growth by 1977, when he was 47. Not a “post-reproductive” age either.

So none of these deeply respected men were likely “post reproductive” when they first expressed their concerns. Much less “most” of them!

I also doubt that any of them could have been described as “wealthy” at the time when they first expressed concern about overpopulation (if they ever were). But given the facile nature of Monbiot’s criteria I see no need to plow into that.

To sum up, I’m not dissing political incorrectness per se. Overall I follow its dictates myself day by day because I believe the overarching intent is indeed to protect the most vulnerable people in any society. But too often there is an ugly edge to the process that we see all too clearly in this case. Namely that the political left has a tendency to drum up much of its political support by encouraging the human tendency toward resentment and prejudice, specifically against members of the designated oppressor class, and by humiliating anyone who questions the rigid assumptions and simplistic thinking that buttress its ideology.

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Bottom line: we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the problem of human overpopulation simply because (1) it’s a politically sensitive issue and (2) because addressing it may complicate the climate justice movement’s classical leftist strategy of garnering resentment against the privileged people within developed countries. Its failure and the failure of related left-leaning activist organizations to  make overpopulation an essential aspect of their grassroots movements validates my hypothesis that a key aspect of their political ideology leaves them unprepared to meaningfully address either the eco-crisis or climate change.

Are they willing to think differently?

No sign of it yet.

Note: although I’m 68 now, I’ve been expressing concern about overpopulation myself since my vigorous early 30s. And I’ve never been wealthy.

All photos courtesy of the author.

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SCOTT THOMPSON is a regular contributor to the Zephyr.

He lives in Beckley, WV.

 

 

 

 

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7 comments for “Climate & Political Correctness: A Look at Leftist Ideology…by Scott Thompson

  1. ted curry
    July 9, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Sounds like you are  also stuck Politcal correct Mr Thompson. We have a few years left on this planet. Buddhism teaches to not kill. The life support system on this planet is within a hair’s breadth of being poisoned irreparably by the the most acutely toxins known. The equivalent of ten thousand nuclear bombs of radionucleides were expelled into the environment when Fukushima went through a prompt criticality, 3 China syndromes, and 2 hydrogen explosions. 

    There were already enough radioisotopes in Chernobyl and from nuclear waste in nuclear countries. Now concentrations of radionuclide’s have like cesium 137 and strontium 90 are reaching critical levels as they have in Belarus. 85 percent of the children in Belarus have heart defects. Dr Miller and Dr Bandhazevsky measured 10 bq/kg in the tissues of children in Belarus. They measured 40bq/kg in the averaged soil samples. Possibly more than 3 reactors melted down in Japan at the time of the 9.0 quake that ruined Fukushima. tepco has finally admitted covering up the three Fukushima meltdowns at Fukushima.

    Fukushima expelled more fuel and radionucleides into the environment than a hundred Chernobyl’s. I have 2 dear friends who died of cancer, in Tokyo, at young ages, this year. The fake census in Japan last year does not account for a million less people in Japan from other demographics. The pacific is dying. 
    hey ignore the core issues:

    The nuclear power industry has essentially priced itself out of the market for new power plants because of its 1) negative learning curve and 2) inability to avoid massive delays and cost overruns in market economies. This is doubly problematic because the competition — renewable power, electricity storage, and energy efficiency — have seen steady, stunning price drops for a long time.

    Hansen , Montbiot,  Lovelock, McKibbon continue the myth that somehow nuclear power is being held back by environmental opposition, rather than its own marketplace failures. more nuclear death to poison the work so people can run their toasters and blenders and TVs. Really Mr. Thompson. You must have a lot of money invested in Nuclear industries and the military industrial complex like old Dimwit George Montbiot does. Of course Montbiot also gets paid as a Tepco PR hack to cover up the three China syndromes still going on at Fukushima.

    Lovelock said he would bury nuclear waste in his backyard. Great Mr liar. Millions of tons. Eh!  Ronald Reagan said he could fit all the plutonium rcesium strontium 90 Uranium  produced by one nuclear reactor under his desk. Yeh right. All 2000 tons of the yearly nuclear waste from running a reactor 1 year has to be cooled in water tanked for year on site at a reactor.  It is not even safe when casked. If a person came within a football field of it they would get sick and die if it is not in water. Of course you cannot ask the 6000 liquidators who have died since Chernobyl about that.

    The peoples of India, Japan, China and had ancient spiritual wisdom of the tao and Buddhism.   It is sad to see them being corrupted by the trashers of the earth. I liked a picture called Wall-e
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/WALL-E
    Seems like that is where the greed guts want the human race to go or really worse with nuclear!

    Nuclear from vehicles and equipment for mining, refining, building reactors, trying to remediate and store wastes is one of the most carbon intensive industries on earth!  Even then the waste is never safe.
    As Justin Hamaker Says
    “We live in the “Nuclear security state.” The most Orwellian term ever! Nuclear production facilities, nuclear bombs, nuclear waste, and so-called benign nuclear medical and nuclear industrial applications are a further  tipping point of no return. They have evolved from, and are organically part of the Nuclear security state.

    Nuclear reactors are uneconomical and deadly enmasse. Nuclear reactors are huge monstrous vestiges of the fraudulent atoms for peace program dreamt-up by the nuclear-vampire monster Edward Teller. 

    Boiling water with uranium and plutonium for energy is the most insane notion ever conceived by humans.  We allow our Nuclear companies to continue building these rattle-traps with miles of pipes and hundreds of tons of metal that cannot possibly contain the nuclear death.  It was never technology. The combined nuclear and military industries of the “Nuclear Security State” have  carried out the creation of nuclear power plants, bombs,  and production facilities. Nuclear  industrial applications have been coincidentally funded and nurtured that are largely unnecessary. They have evolved  for the profits and dark ambitions of crazy psychopaths  on a massive earth covering scale.

    Nuclear power was  originated and is perpetuated  by the insane  military-industrial  complex and still largely affiliated with it.  The nuclear security state, that was evolved with the justification to protect us, has now extensively nuclear poisoned the United States of America with nuclear waste and death traps.

    It started with ambitious weapons programs. Nuclear weapons programs started the massive psychotic-boondoggles and creation of  death poisonings that have gone completely awry.

    The nuclear death poisons  now contaminate the entire continent and threaten to go from highly poisonous  chronic toxins to acute toxins. The sheer volume and density of nuclear poisons in our water supplies, food supplies, soil, and air is reaching a breaking point.

    The nuclear power plants  in the USA are like massive Armageddon terrorist bombs our corporate and government masters have unleashed against its own people. We are now one huge solar flare, any limited nuclear strike, or any terrorist strikes away from sure nuclear Armageddon for the whole continent. 

    The insidious phase of nuclear poisoning from our nuclear industries and military industrial complex is dwindling. We are rapidly approaching the tipping point of no return from the ubiquitous, acute- nuclear toxin poisoning. The acute poisoning phase is not simply coming from us. It has  a horrendously cumulative effect from nuclear pollution all over the world, as the eye-opening cause and effects of Fukushima on us and Chernobyl on Europe “

  2. ted curry
    July 9, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    You have a bad case of tunnel vision Mr. Thompson and perhaps you are desenstitzed from all those nuclear reactors in your neck of the woods that are slowly poisoning everyone. Maybe even dementia from all the heavy metals and radionucleides in the water there.

  3. ted curry
    July 10, 2016 at 7:22 am

    There are undoubtedly more manmade radioactive element in the environment than we are being told. These readioactive poisons come from purifying natural radionucleide for thing’s like thorium welding rods and smoke detectors. Cobalt 60 used for food irradiation. radioactive cesium used in large oil and natural gas pipelines to monitor the flow of natural gas and oil in pipeline that are several miles long. Radioactive cesium, iridium, and cobalt used to image the structural integrity of large manmade structures and ship hulls. I am sure there are many more.

    Manmade and refines radionuclide’s also come from current reactors, catastrophes, refining uranium and plutonium, radioacive medical wastes, refining radioative isotopes used for medical and just plain old waste sites from all these sources. Some of the waste sites we know about. Many we do not.

    Fracking leaches natural radionucliedes like radium, uranium, thorium and polonium out of the earth from the deeper wells and treated water used to leach out gas or minerals. . So what ya get is lots of radioactive waste water coming out of cracking sites. I am told they use crack water in California to water crops. Thus the epa increases the limits on water and food a hundred times inn the United states to accomodate crackers, nuclear accidents, nuclear waste, and nuclear industries.
    The frackers attitude is “What is another drop in the bucket gonna hurt?”. Then there is the radium and uranium and other natural radeonucleides from burning fossil fuels. People also forget that radionucleides are genotoxins that cause cancer, more autism, cystic fibrosis. What has posterity done for me? I agree there are too many people but soon there maybe no people and few living things. We lose 200 species a day as it stands from nuclear pollution that has grown exponentially for 70 years, trash, habitat destruction, chemicals and other idiocy from humans.

  4. ted curry
    July 10, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Many in the aunited States have thyroid problems and chronic inflammation now that contributes to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimune diseases, cancers , early onset dementias.etc . we have expensive pharmaceuticals and bio engineered drugs to treat the symptoms of these maladies. Do ya suppose radionuclides and heavy metals might play a part? We use radiation therapy to treat cancers, many of which are from all the pollution. People who get chemo and radiation therapy have a poor prognosis are many tims immune compromised and many require stem cell transplants. Talk about iatrogenic disease.

  5. ted curry
    July 10, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Many in the united States have thyroid problems and chronic inflammation now that contributes to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimune diseases, cancers , early onset dementias.etc . we have expensive pharmaceuticals and bio engineered drugs to treat the symptoms of these maladies. Do ya suppose radionuclides and heavy metals might play a part? We use radiation therapy to treat cancers, many of which are from all the pollution. People who get chemo and radiation therapy have a poor prognosis are many tims immune compromised and many require stem cell transplants. Talk about iatrogenic disease.

  6. ted curry
    July 10, 2016 at 7:35 am

    One also has to wonder about Parkinson’s from pesticides. What’s up with all the ADHD and autism in the US. All the mental illness and depression?

  7. ted curry
    July 10, 2016 at 7:53 am

    There is w middle way that is not dependent on extremes. Not dependent on greed , gluttony, consumption, shopping.
    When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
    When it knows good as good, evil arises
    Thus being and non-being produce each other
    Difficult and easy bring about each other
    Long and short reveal each other
    High and low support each other
    Music and voice harmonize each other
    Front and back follow each other
    Therefore the sages:
    Manage the work of detached actions
    Conduct the teaching of no words
    They work with myriad things but do not control
    They create but do not possess
    They act but do not presume
    They succeed but do not dwell on success
    It is because they do not dwell on success
    That it never goes away

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