Thursday, October 22, 2009

Strange Bedfellows

FLG has been thinking about Imagining the Future for the last few days. One thing that it very clearly pointed out is that environmentalism is somewhat oddly placed on the political left. It flies in the face of the history of progressive ideas. Ideas that say the basis for our knowledge should be rational and scientific.

At first, that doesn't seem to conflict with environmentalism. Environmentalism is science, no? Ah, but FLG's been reading a lot lately, and the purpose of science is to understand and control nature. I'm sure that's a controversial statement to some readers, but trust me the evidence is overwhelming going all the way back to Bacon. And when you think about it, it's pretty clear we expect to use the knowledge we gain about the material world for some purpose at some point. It's not just knowledge for knowledge's sake.

But then FLG was thinking about the oddity of environmentalism on the Left. From what he can tell, it seems that the debate, internal to the Left, seems to be more heated about the merits of genetically modified crops than extracting stem cells from human embryos. Perhaps FLG's wrong, but he doesn't think so. And he thinks it demonstrates the strangeness of the Left being the environmentalists.

There are conflicting stances about the power of science to dominate and control nature for "the relief of man's estate." The other reveres nature to such an extent that, for some, man's mere existence mars it. FLG is not trying to create a false dichotomy, but using the two extremes to point out the underlying tension.

Odd, no?


George Pal said...

No. Not odd at all.

Liberalism/Leftism is all pistil and no stamen, therefore unnatural, impossible to please, and forever at odds with rationalism, science, and itself.

Rationalism always loses out to good intentions, as they always trump economic considerations, practical limits, and even undesirable results.

Science has its uses but only insofar as it props up the manifesto. As an example, Darwinism is elevated from theory, accepted as undeniable fact and always trumps any other theory - scientific evidence notwithstanding.

The moral basis under which Liberalism/Leftism ostensibly operates, for “the relief of man's estate”, also suffers from this internal dichotomy – such as when a right to choose takes moral precedence over the right to live.

No. Not odd at all.

PS: Personally, I think all these internal dichotomies are what’s back of the derangement pandemic we seem to be under.

Anonymous said...

Don't know how this exactly relates except that it's about Leftists and environmentalism and stupidity as well as one of the plain old funniest things I've read in the longest time. George, maybe you an make sense of it- From The Guardian:

"People should use the climate change crisis as an opportunity to become human again, setting aside the addictive and self-destructive behaviour that has damaged their souls, the Archbishop of Canterbury said today.

"Dr Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, told an audience at Southwark Cathedral that people had allowed themselves to become "addicted to fantasies about prosperity and growth, dreams of wealth without risk and profit without cost".

"The consequences of such a lifestyle meant the human soul was "one of the foremost casualties of environmental degradation".

"Small changes, such as setting up carbon reduction action groups, would help them reconnect with the world in addition to repairing some of the damage to the planet, because it was too much to expect the state to provide all the solutions.

"Many of the things which have moved us towards ecological disaster have been distortions of who and what we are and their overall effect has been to isolate us from the reality we're part of. Our response to this crisis needs to be, in the most basic sense, a reality check."

"Williams added: "We need to keep up pressure on national governments; there are questions only they can answer about the investment of national resources. We need equally to keep up pressure on ourselves and to learn how to work better as civic agents."


Anonymous said...

"In the lecture, sponsored by the Christian environmental group Operation Noah, Williams outlined a Christian response to the climate crisis.

"When we believe in transformation at the local and personal level, we are laying the sure foundations for change at the national and international level.

"If I ask what's the point of my undertaking a modest amount of recycling my rubbish or scaling down my air travel, the answer is not that this will unquestionably save the world within six months, but in the first place it's a step towards liberation from a cycle of behaviour that is keeping me, indeed most of us, in a dangerous state — dangerous, that is, to our human dignity and self-respect."

"In a message to heads of state attending the Copenhagen summit, Williams said leaders had to create a "suitably serious plan" for the speedy implementation of protocols on carbon reduction.

"We have had unexpected signs that the east Asian countries are readier than we might have imagined to put pressure on the economies of the US and Europe. The idea that fast-developing economies are totally wedded to environmental indifference because of the urgency of bringing their populations out of poverty no longer seems quite an obvious truth."

"Earlier this year Williams said that God was not a "safety net" that would guarantee a happy ending and that human pillaging of the world's resources meant the planet was facing a "whole range of doomsday prospects" that exceeded the results of global warming.

"Humanity faced being "choked, drowned or starved" by its own stupidity, he said, and he compared those who challenged the reality of climate change to the courtiers who flattered King Canute, until he proved he could not command the waves by going to the seashore and trying to do so. "Rhetoric, as King Canute demonstrated, does not turn back rising waters," said Williams in a lecture in March.

"Tonight's remarks came days after research suggested that Britons had little appetite for shrinking their carbon footprint by reducing the number of flights they took.

"The study, from Loughborough University, showed that the vast majority of the public would rather cut energy use at home than go without flying for a year. While 88% of participants in the Propensity to Fly survey said they were willing or very willing to "reduce how much energy I use in my home throughout the year" only 26% said the same when asked if they would "not fly in the next 12 months".

Mrs. P

FLG said...

Mrs. P:

Rowan Williams' point does kinda make sense though. We have become too powerful in our mastery of nature, and this power is distorting our souls. We have trespassed onto a territory of power over nature that ought to be reserved for God. Therefore, it is best to return to the limits proscribed by God for man within his creation.

I don't agree with the conclusions he is drawing from it, but it does make sense.

To be specific, if we go back to Genesis, we have:
"And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day."

To the extent that we are changing it so that it is no longer God's creation, perhaps we are trespassing. Interestingly, as most readers probably know, the passages leading up to the quotation above seem to support the opposite:
"Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so."

Withywindle said...

I would have said both science and romantic environmentalism are different modes of an interaction with things rather than people, and that that matters more than the differences between manipulation and contemplation.

FLG said...


Levin argues scientific utopianism and romantic environmentalism, both housed on the Left, are fundamentally opposed. One endeavors Man's utter domination over Nature the other to subordinate man beneath Nature.

Modern environmental debates, wherein science is used to determine what is occurring in the natural world, obscure this opposition.

Global warming offers a good illustration. Science and technology created the problem. Romantic environmentalists would like to return to a pre-industrial, non-scientific state in response. Scientific Utopians believe that science can resolve its own problems. For example, we can terraform our way back.

These are obviously extremes, but there is a tension there.

Anonymous said...

FLG, wow! I've got to ponder this:

"We have become too powerful in our mastery of nature, and this power is distorting our souls. We have trespassed onto a territory of power over nature that ought to be reserved for God."

I don't can't if we have done this with actual Mother Nature. Though I don't think it's wise to build homes in natural flood plains or in the natural lava paths of what we think are dormant volcanos. Have we trespassed with into areas that belong to God with human nature? Yes.

In the meantime, yes in some ways the Archbishop words' do make sense. But in one really big way they don't and unfortunately it's at his starting point..

Man made global warming of which he is referring to as global warming has not been proven.

If man did not create the global warming then man can do little to stop it. I'm not suggesting we rape and pillage the earth. At. All. I'm suggesting we understand some things are beyond our control.

Now affluence of which he speaks in conjunction with global warming and destruction of the environment is totally destructive for the soul- anyone's soul:

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

It does warm the heart to read that Williams still believes there are things that do destroy the soul.

Mrs. P

Anonymous said...

That should start off with "I don't know.."


Mrs. P

George Pal said...

Mrs. P.

I’m all for giving the Archbishop’s ideas, as much as I or anyone else can understand them, a go. To begin, we can have the Archbishop relieved of his spiritual duties and his flock and put him in charge of composting. He could begin with the organically decaying remnants of the C. of E.

From the Archbishop:
"The consequences of such a lifestyle meant the human soul was ‘one of the foremost casualties of environmental degradation’".

To conflate “environmental degredation” with “global warming”, the results of which can’t be known (even if the phenomenon were genuine) is the height of ingenuousness. One would expect more from an adult let alone an archbishop.

The rivers, lakes, forests, et al, i.e. that part of nature which humans most depend on for their “lifestyle”, are cleaner now than fifty and one hundred years ago – all throughout the West. Where “environmental degradation” was, and still is, most evident is the former communist utopias (parts of present day China flood almost on a monthly basis). That the Archbishop would make a crisis out of thin air and have the solution centralized in the national governments (who have been pushing the materialist lifestyle he complains about with unchecked credit/debt for the last couple of generations) fails on intellectual and spiritual levels. Perhaps the Archbishop might use the pulpits of the C. of E. to rail against the destructive lifestyle instead of, per usual, calling on the government to “do something”. Then again the Archbishop may be under the impression the C. of E. no longer holds any sway.

Withywindle said...

FLG: As I say, I think to be more concerned with nature than with man - whether to subjugate or to regard in wonder - is in underlying alignment, and helps explain why two ill-assorted bedfellows are in the same political alliance.

FLG said...


What then do you deem to be the Right's attitude toward Nature? Indifference? Simple acceptance?

FLG said...


I must've skipped your previous comment. That's a damn good point about equating environmental degradation with global warming.

Although, if one doesn't examine only the West, but the entire world, then has it been getting better in the aggregate? I'm not so sure.

Then again, I think as developing countries reach developed status, then they'll demand clean water and air, etc. So, it will sort itself out. Not sure about the global warming though.

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