We Have a Choice – Between Differing Forms of Tragedy

My passions rise at the sound of the middle class – a million or so of them – marching to protect lucrative ways of life – their property price collateral, and rents for status, money, land and intellectual properties. Those ways of life have become rich by the poverty of others. Such opulent, extractive living is also a central cause of cascading ecologies and climate change. The European project is for a regulated “professional” class, which collects rent from a “beneficial” dependency of the rest. But that European way of life is also causing catastrophic climate change and so is set on self-destruction. If we do not wish to self-destruct, then we must change our ways of life. Reason says that if we are to build an economy which lives within its ecologic means, then we must leave the European Economic Union. We’ve seen by the example of Greece how an attempt at a real, egalitarian, economic revival was crushed by the EU. Similar egalitarian and Green attempts will be similarly attacked. All attempts to slow spending and so resource-use will be attacked. But, such a slowing (and dramatically so) is essential if human cultures are to survive more, or less intact. That slowing means the end of both debt-created and oil-created growth, which in turn, means the collapse of today’s casino of traded stocks, bonds and shares. Money must begin to flow at the rate of energy flow – of the powers of what people can do. Without oil, our powers will diminish by least ten-fold. That is an egalitarian opportunity to at last put our own shoulders to the wheel – acceleration due to people and not acceleration due to many millions of years of once-sequestered photo-synthesis.
Yet how can I not admire the richness and diversity of European cultures – and that admiration is re-doubled by the hateful bigotry and open scape-goat racism and English (it is English) nationalism of the Brexit campaign leaders – also of course, their entitled right to lie and inveigle – to float above both statutory law and moral commons. European culture and the EU are far from the same things. A Green, egalitarian Brexit and the current Brexiteers are also far from the same things.
I see these things rising – inequality, consumerist dependency, corporate right, disempowerment, hopelessness, usury, wealth of the professional middle class and poverty of the so-called working class – all of which have been the effects of the European project and will also be of the aims of right-wing, Leave campaigners. Both sides of the conflict – of this civil war – have their separate dreams of the same thing – the continuing prosperity of existing infrastructures. As well as causing increasing social divisions, those infrastructures are trashing the ecologies on which all infrastructures must depend and are causing the end of the stable climatic era, which has enabled civilisation to emerge in the first place.
Brexiteers and Remainers are trashing our green and pleasant land in identical ways.
The EU project is a negotiated exchange of a guaranteed quality of corporate supply (mildly greening & so on) for similarly guaranteed consumer rights to receive those qualities (fair trade, regulated pesticides…). Thus, consumerism and democracy have become confused as the same. It is no accident that the same advertising agencies will market political parties alongside airlines, car manufacturers, restaurant chains, super markets, a new potato crisp flavour, or a new energy drink. The result is a desolation of retail parks, boarded-up town centres and derelict work-shops and manufactories – and with that depopulation – the evaporation of convivial meeting places, such as market squares, theatres, concert halls, pubs, cafes, libraries, allotments, public gardens, playing fields, village greens, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues…
I must sort out my Brexit emotions – my instincts and involuntary reactions have become quite different from my reasoned unpicking of the complex threads. Of course, my reasoned unpicking is limited to a small experience and then is fallible, as all reason is, even inside that experience. That should go without saying, but sadly today it does not.
Now, whatever happens will be towards two differing forms of tragedy. I hope we may choose the best tragedy – the one most diluted by hope. I fear we will choose the worst.
The best tragedy is rapid and deliberate de-growth and so the collapse of the casino – of banks and stock trading. That is a tragedy, because as trading systems collapse, so companies fold, unemployment soars, tax revenues wither and so essential social and infrastructure spending withers with it. You can imagine the horror of that. I’ve no need to expand. Yet, I say we must be bold enough to choose that course, because it is the only course by which, working together as a community, we can cobble a new economy and a new social system that will function without oil – and can emerge alive from beneath the wreckage. Consider this – what will have changed? We will have stepped towards a bearable level of greenhouse effects and, if we are wise, regeneration of the natural world – but also these things will remain unchanged – agricultural acreage, housing stocks, old infrastructures of roads, bridges, harbours, towns and villages – these can all be re-occupied in new and exciting ways, using the skill and ingenuity of all. Power will shrink from oil to Man. It will shrink from single monopolies, to shatter and fragment into the open palms of all of us. We can devise new currencies and new trusts. That’s a wild impossible dream? No. It’s a wild unlikely dream. It’s possible. It’s also beautiful. Our current European ways of life are impossible. They are also ugly. I must be realistic? No. Our European ways of life are a fantasy. I am realistic and they must end.
The other tragedy is much simpler and in which we continue to bolster the casino. We spend the Earth. Human culture – its economies, cultures, hopes and dreams, all collapse utterly with none to inscribe the headstone. That will happen quite soon – money supply (by debt) has far outstripped its energy supply and as that supply diminishes further, banks will collapse. The sooner that happens the better – if it happens later, it may well be too late to slow utterly catastrophic climate change.
Both an unpleasant, right-wing, nationalist Brexit and a planned, hopeful Brexit with an egalitarian road to de-growth will end with de-growth of sorts and both may trigger a casino collapse and so also, both a crash in spending and a pause in the causes of climate change. Remaining within the EU will prolong the casino and so lead us to catastrophic species loss and inevitable climate change. Caroline Lucas and the Green Party, take note.
It follows that Brexit in any form is better for our children than remaining within the EU. Remaining is only better for a temporary liquidity and – an untouched for a while – but still utterly ephemeral shopping basket, which personally contributes to that two or three percent of expanding and suicidal GDP.

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4 Responses to We Have a Choice – Between Differing Forms of Tragedy

  1. Joshua Msika says:

    “Consider this – what will have changed? We will have stepped towards a bearable level of greenhouse effects and, if we are wise, regeneration of the natural world – but also these things will remain unchanged – agricultural acreage, housing stocks, old infrastructures of roads, bridges, harbours, towns and villages – these can all be re-occupied in new and exciting ways, using the skill and ingenuity of all.”

    Amen 🙂 And not only that, but huge piles of obsolete stuff, making sense only within a globalised economy, will be freed up for us to re-make into useful artefacts…

    I was discussing with a colleague the possibility of actively hastening financial collapse as a strategy to avoid ecological disaster, much in the way you describe here and several others have advocated on Resilience.org. He was highly sceptical, suggesting that a collapse would likely lead to a redoubled effort on the part of desperate governments and people alike to degrade their local environments, burn local fossil fuels (e.g. coal) and would generally hasten ecological collapse. He argued that global agreements and policy are necessary to address the global problem of climate change.

    I find it quite an interesting point of view because it’s so different from what I read here and elsewhere in my little echo chamber of the blogosphere.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bryncocyn says:

    Yes. Your colleague is right to worry about the negative effects of desperation. But those effects will probably be worse in an unplanned collapse (his collapse) than in a planned one. His collapse, happening later, will land in still worse straits. With regards to CO2, we have no more time to mess about. I understand his concerns – I’m sure that he’s a nice man, but he has too much faith in our current institutions.

    However, I reckon he’s (to be blunt) off his trolley about politics and global agreements. We already have them. We’ve had them for nearly thirty years (Rio Earth Summit). For each of those years, noble sentiments have been agreed and emission-reduction agreements and targets have been struck. Yet for all those years (weakening slightly in recession) CO2 emissions have increased at about the same rate that Gros World Product has increased. Shockingly, UK government announced this month that it is meeting its targets and is “leading the field” in emissions reduction. Well, that is no different in its utter nonsense, (naked propaganda) to edicts from apparently more enlightened governments, such as those of Norway and so on. The same UK government boasts a two percent rise in GDP.

    Perhaps, your friend thinks we can avoid tragedy somehow, because tragedy is tragic. I say, tragedy is a part of what used to be called, the human condition. We made Nemesis and our aim should be to make the very best of what is after all, a just punishment. Our arts can make tragedy beautiful and true. Nemesis belongs to us – she was our consumer-choice.

    I know what you mean about echo chambers, but because what we say has so little effect, at least we can find some solace there in the quietude of echoes and mirrors. As to what we do – still the same – attempt to build relationships, in good work, friendship, trade, sharing and pleasures that can emerge interwoven and strong enough after the crash.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joshua Msika says:

      Yes. I recently read an article that pointed out that we have known about anthropogenic climate change – and what to do about it – since the late 60s. Looking at it again, the article starts its narrative in 1979, but the point still stands: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/01/magazine/climate-change-losing-earth.html There have been international meetings ever since, trying to tackle it and continuously falling short of what would have been required (what is required is increasing every year).

      Why then, the widespread faith in international agreements, even to the dismissal of any other possibility? I think that it stems from a naive misunderstanding of the nature of transnational institutions. We are accustomed, in the wealthy countries, to thinking that our states (government, parliament, justice system) attempt to govern in the interests of the majority of their people. We have lost sight of the fact that there is no natural law dictating that states must govern for the majority and that in most times and places around the world, states have governed in order to protect the privileges of a minority. The perception is that dictatorship, oligarchy, corruption, imperialism, kleptocracy, etc is abnormal and that “we” are the normal ones – the reality is the opposite.

      The roots for this misapprehension lie, for me, in the successful externalisation of the costs of development onto people outwith the population of the wealthy countries: i) people in other places, through colonialism, imperialism and globalisation, ii) people as yet unborn, through industrialisation and the use of fossil fuels which causes pollution and climate collapse that will only be felt in the future. This allowed the wealthy states to develop a social contract in which they could argue that they were governing for the majority and in the “Trente Glorieuses” after WW2, this actually materialised and convinced their populations that this was just the way things work.

      Arguably, this social contract was mainly set up in order to preserve the privileges of a small minority. It was unusual in that it allowed the 1% to become ever wealthier, while simultaneously assuring a rising standard of living to the population as a whole.

      Back to the main thread: We thus mistakenly assume that transnational institutions (UN and related bodies, WTO, IMF, G7, G20, OECD) are simply an extension of the unusually benevolent form of governance we live in (used to live in?) in the wealthy countries. The evidence suggests otherwise – with those institutions’ failure to tackle climate change as one of the largest failures amongst many to put the interests of the majority of the world’s population first.

      But what of the EU? I think that it attempts to govern in the tradition of wealthy countries, but that because of its size, it is struggling to externalise everything beyond its borders (Greek sovereign debt crisis is a case in point). It’s not only size, it’s also the fact that externalisation has become increasingly difficult as the negative consequences of globalisation and climate change have bitten closer and closer to home. The social contract is being renegotiated!

      Anyway, must stop there but may pick up the thread again later.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. bryncocyn says:

    Yes – externalised costs by both empire and class systems (space) and future supplies and needs (time) are both maintained, perhaps by similar doctrines – the selling, or imposition of “advanced” and “beneficial” technologies (space) and faith in still more advanced, remedial technologies (time). The closed frame of that doctrine of benefit and advancement allows no physical effects to intrude, because (the doctrine says) the causes are self-evidently good. Thus, moral questions are treated as heresy!

    Looking forward to you picking up the thread…


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