We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
The Message in Cartoons
The views of this retired professor of biology represents a growing trend that is having a marked influence on people who are knowledgeable about the precarious conditions humans are facing in relation to climate destabilization. The cartoons he has selected for this article well illustrate his take on the dim prospects for human survival that he has articulated intellectually in a number of writings, interviews, presentations, etc. (See this, and this for starters.) However, except for the first cartoon, the others point to "civilization" as the cause for our probable demise.
I agree with his dire assessment regarding the prospects for human survival, but I absolutely disagree with his views about how we should cope with this reality.
A major mistake he makes is one which no scientist should make. He ascribes causality to correlation. The rise of civilization has enabled the development of technology, the application of which is now under the control of capitalists, is threatening human species with likely near term extinction. Hence civilization is the cause. (Wrong!) Ergo, there is nothing to be done but loving others, doing what we love doing, or looking within ourselves for some sort of spiritual salvation. I regard this solution as some sort of ultimate "selfie", a retreat into self-absorption and narcissism.
This position neatly eliminates the role of a particular social-economic system created by a class of people to provide themselves with the wealth and power to rule over societies in the latest era of class-structured societies. The system has a name: capitalism. His take on the present crisis conveniently absolves capitalists of all responsibility--the culprit is the abstract concept of civilization.
I agree with McPherson that it is likely too late to save ourselves as a species, but I thoroughly disagree that our response should be a retreat into some sort of spiritual or emotional narcissism.
Because our demise is not absolutely certain, I think the best action is to attack the cause--capitalism. Even if we knew that that the odds of our demise were 100%, I would still argue that in the interests of justice that we should attack capitalism. Personally I have devoted the rest of my life to attacking the cause--that is what I love doing.
Perhaps McPherson has also been thoroughly indoctrinated by capitalist agencies so that his attention has been diverted away from seeing the real source of our dilemma. Or maybe he is even being encouraged to spread his message among those who are well informed of the destruction of human habitat and are acting in opposition to capitalist activities.