Who/what/where/why is the Left circa 2013? Unwisely, the Bemolution is going to have a go at answering that. But before we start banging on about fairly insular aspects of present-day left-wing politics, it’s worth meditating on the big issue underlying all of what will follow – namely the environmental bottom line. Are you sitting uncomfortably? Then we’ll begin.
The world we live in is often crushingly, self-parodyingly bleak. It’s ridden with preventable misery and wobbles on the brink of ecological catastrophe. The minority most capable of doing anything about it – the section of affluent Western societies who aren’t forced to spend all their time and energy just trying to scrape by – has sunk itself in a mire of ignorance, short-sightedness, and unquestioning, mindless excess. And, as a result, addressing either the misery or the catastrophe couldn’t be further from the mainstream political agenda. Hurriedly nut-shelled, that’s the problem we’re faced with. Like a newly-qualified boy-racer who crashes the family Ford Escort on his first run out of town, humanity has squandered its planetary inheritance, doing more damage to the ecosystem in a few hundred years than trillions of previous careful owner-organisms had done in over a billion.
We’ve taken our flabbergasting good fortune and, in a cosmic blink of an eye, made a catastrophic, ecology-shattering, misery-perpetuating pig’s ear out of it. With Spock-like detachment, we might conclude that our behaviour is profoundly irrational and dismayingly short-sighted. But the level of suffering that goes on behind the frilly curtains of Western narcissism arguably warrants a more red-blooded critique, namely that our mindless throwaway lifestyles border on the insane.
Already we’re experiencing devastating floods, freak heat-waves, droughts, acidifying oceans, the rapid destruction of the planet’s CO2-cleansing rainforest regions, and 25 billion tons-worth of topsoil-erosion every year. The West continues to frenziedly consume and pollute, while China and India, the world’s two most populous nations, work their way through coal-guzzling industrialisations.
The environmental impacts we’ve seen so far are only the beginning of the calamities we can expect without probably the most radical civilisational about-turn in human history. Crudely put, if our current way of life is allowed to continue, the eco-system will more than likely fall apart, and so will we. Primitivists, misanthropes and apocalyptically-minded greens might not see humanity’s end as a bad thing. But, alas, if we all vanished tomorrow, the environment wouldn’t just shrug off ten thousand years of human interaction and get on with being wish-fulfillingly green and pleasant. Since the invention of agriculture, much of the planet’s flora and fauna has been forced to adapt to regular human intervention, often to the extent of becoming dependent on it. The death of humanity wouldn’t be some definitive solution to ecological chaos. If anything, it could make it much worse – our disappearance would throw an ecosystem reliant on our presence into even deeper turmoil. The eco-doom we’ve mindlessly wrought for centuries, then, can be said to endanger the future of life itself without too much flustered over-exaggeration
All of which begs one throbbingly obvious question: why aren’t we doing anything about it?
Our best chances of survival lie with a radical overhaul of the way societies operate, and we live our individual lives. But, obviously, as anyone even loosely engaged with modern-day political realities knows painfully well, even small-scale change to the prevailing economic settlement has been thoroughly scrubbed from the global agenda. Predictably, the reasons behind this political paralysis are mind-bogglingly complicated. Over a string of posts banging on about its trademark cod-philosophical outlook, ‘Left Wing Least-Worstism’, the Bemolution will try and talk about these in a way that’s remotely comprehensible. But, spoilers ahoy, among that Scout’s nightmare of knotted causation, there’s one strand that goes a long way to explaining a) why our political elites do nothing in the face of globe-rattling crisis and b) why populations the world over aren’t howling for action on a scale that’s impossible to ignore. And that’s because any lasting solution to the crisis we face would require us to ditch consumerism, capitalism, at least as we know it, and much of our current way of life.
Next time: neoliberalism nutshelled