Archive for February, 2013

Pragmatism

February 15, 2013

“At the level at which the present development of the productive forces has reached, capitalism can only function as inverted capitalism. […] The thought that the dominant production system has already lost its fundamentals and now buys itself a last resort through transforming itself into a system of chain letters – this thought is unbearable for most people which have been socialised into commodity subjects.”
 – Robert Kurz (my translation)

The pragmatic. What is the pragmatic? Well, say you want to accomplish something. But, someone else is in the way. You cannot get through what you want directly, so you make a deal. You might not get everything you want, but at least it’s better than nothing. As time passes, however, you become far more dependent on this someone – you see this someone as the natural way to achieve your goals, even though this someone was opposed to it in the first place. When this someone finally becomes ill, you find that you have become so dependent that you cannot imagine yourself without it. You do your best to keep this someone alive, and finally you die together.

Last year, there were a couple of articles in Sweden were the argument was that low wages were good from an environmental perspective because it meant a lower ecologic footprint. This was widely criticized among left. When looking at who wrote those articles – rich people – it was of course clear for what purpose such arguments were used for. There was only one niggling thought in me, though. Namely, they were actually right. I found myself disliking a lot of the counter-arguments. “It successfully turns a left-wing perspective into a right-wing perspective”, was one Twitter comment. What sort of left is that, then?

They are the pragmatists. They have fully incorporated capitalism into their political thought. They are disgruntled with the way the bourgeois have handled the crisis, but their critique seems to be that they can do capitalism, save capitalism, far better with Keynesianism than austerity. The environmental crisis can wait until better economic times. “The jobs go before everything”, as it was recently proclaimed in the Swedish social democratic party’s manifest.

“With only 20% of the world’s population, they consume two-thirds of all metals and three-fourths of the energy produced worldwide. They have poisoned the seas and the rivers. They have polluted the air. They have weakened and perforated the ozone layer. They have saturated the atmosphere with gases, altering climatic conditions with the catastrophic effects we are already beginning to suffer.” So said Cuba’s Fidel Castro in 1992. The pragmatic of course wants that to stop, but can’t imagine that their own lifestyle should be affected much for that. This becomes very clear in the current Swedish debate (or well, as current debates can be today) on something as banal as meat. That the left can actually be so sick as to defend a meat tax on the basis that it hurts the poor most is just breath-taking. Of course it would. Without an enormous amount of subsidies, and indeed a incredibly willful blind eye towards the tremendous environmental consequences meat has compared to other sources of food. The usual line how nobody can survive without massive amount of protein was parroted, and only one half-hearted alternative, transporting legumes from the other side of the globe, was ever discussed. Don’t touch our meat, and that’s that.

The new geographic period Holocene has been discussed a lot the last couple of years. Civilization is having an even greater impact on nature, it is said. This distinction – civilization vs. nature – has never been true, though. Unlearn your inner mental images of pristine wilderness and frolicking deer. Nature is the energy and mass that makes up you and the rest of the planet, and the intricate network that ties it all together. We are reaching the limits – or, rather, they have already been reached. The amount of resources that industrial society is dependent of that are going to peak for the next half century are numerous indeed. That climate change is going to be bad is already a foregone conclusion, the only question is how bad it is. Still, see the priorities of the pragmatic. It is unfortunate that the current dominant economic system, capitalism, requires a perpetual amount of growth just to function. People will not only be unable to get to work due to a lack of gasoline (“it’s all OPEC’s fault!”), they will not have anywhere to go to work either (“it’s all the bankster’s fault!”). That will not only be the fate of the 80% the 20% are fairly apathetic towards, not only the children of the 20%, which, again, they’re fairly apathetic towards. It will happen to the 20% alive today. And that is when the tragedy of the pragmatic turns into farce.

The gargantuan task of the 21st century, then, is to desperately try to find a way to get a comfortable life after the end. If the current leaders and societal climate is still in charge, then what we will get is fascism. “Workfare” for the vast majority, a slightly comfortable life for the 1%, and concentration camps for the scapegoats. We must try to fall with grace and dignity instead. Just like with the alcoholic – which is indeed a good metaphor for the present metaphor – that starts with admitting that there is a problem. The “optimistic” response, to hope that everything will turn out alright anyway, is too depressing for words.