As I said over at The Consumer Trap, in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there is an uncontrolled gusher of conventional “everybody’s to blame” dogma parading around passing itself off as serious social criticism.
This kind of lazy, mooshy, sophomoric, and thoroughly safe analysis is merely the flip-side of the long-standing capitalist dogma that demand for products arises exclusively from spontaneous popular wishes and unsullied technological innovations only, no corporate manipulation involved. It’s an excuse and a denial, in other words.
What we need now is realistic descriptions of and remedies for the institutionalized, class-based decisions that continue to impose petro-intensive living on human societies. In our corporate capitalist market-totalitarian society, swallowing the familiar trope that the main problem resides in your looking glass is a step away from, not toward, such realism.
Meanwhile, this new DbC page is dedicated to collecting examples of the mental virus that denies the existence of an overclass and blames “us” all instead. Please feel free to send in cases you encounter.
DbC Hall of Mirrors Inductees:
Chris Clugston: With zero evidence to back his assertions, Clugston claims “Americans ‘just don’t get it’ regarding the unsustainable nature of our American way of life,” and that anger at BP is a “self-righteous” distraction from the deeper fact that we have met the enemy and it is us.
Peter Fowler: “If BP Is Evil Then So Are We All,…because we demand the oil they are forced to take these sorts of risks to get.” So, in Fowler’s telling, coerced acceptance equals policy origination.
Joanna Weiss: Weiss frets, “I couldn’t help but wonder how much I should hate myself.” She talks of “our oil-drenched lifestyles” as if we all asked for them and would refuse to consider alternatives, if given a choice. Joanna thinks cars-first transportation comes from a “culture of expansion,” not corporate capitalist dictatorship. Evidence for any of these claims? None, and none needed. They are merely true by statement, since they replicate conventional business-society tropes.
Rob Dietz: “The question now is how much longer humanity will choose to sit on the double yellow line as the consequences of runaway growth scream down the road at us doing a zillion miles per hour. Or to paraphrase, are people smarter than chipmunks?” In Dietz’ world, we’re all there, social and economic equals, choosing freely. No mention of capitalism or inequality or institutional power.
The Personage who still, at this very late date, manages to pass himself off as “The Prince of Wales.” Nominated by DbC reader James Lamont, Charlie Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg speaks, while touring in private luxury trains watching Jim Carrey movies, exclusively of “we” and “us” and how ecologically insensitive “we” and “us” all are, while heaping praise on businesses who, he adds, find themselves making more “money on top of [the princely gestures], surprise, surprise.”
Professor Tim Jackson, who, despite his scholarly credentials, uses the “consumer” vocabulary without the slightest hint of being aware of its historical origins or its inherent biases, writes: “The restless desire of the consumer is the perfect complement for the restless innovation of the entrepreneur. Taken together, these two self-reinforcing processes are exactly what is needed to drive growth forwards.” Ah, yes, all of us asked for all of this as co-equal partners, we “consumers” and the “entrepreneurs” who are merely “innovating,” rather than engaging in the planned, lavishly funded scientifically-managed manipulation of off-the-job behavior! And, of course, for such counterfactual drivel, Jackson is called a “rock star” and feted at phony, self-flattering genius institutes, where he is always careful to assure his audience of deluded über-hipsters that “It’s not about overthrowing capitalism.”
Craig K. Comstock, who asks “a system of implanting cravings by sellers who hope to profit by them, of exacerbating desire, would be crazy. The question is, why would you do that?” Comstock neither answers the question nor deigns to say the word “capitalism,” of course. And, as always in the Hall of Mirrors, he prefers “consumerism” and the generalized “we” as the source of the problem: “Is there an alternative to consumerism? If the future will be less affluent than the past,…will we cling to a system that is failing, or will we have adopted new basic premises? If the latter, what are values that don’t depend on having a growing amount of stuff?” Like his Hall of Mirrors cohorts, Comstock appears never to have entertained either the thought that the vast majority of us already have “values that don’t depend on having a growing amount of stuff,” or the fact that it is only the capitalists among us to whom growth is mandatory.
William Rees, Canadian urban planning professor and leading “post carbon” thinker, who argues that “collective denial” rooted in generalized human stupidity is the main engine of current ecocidal trends, in “scholarly” articles that do not include the word “capitalism.”
Erik Lindberg, of Transition Milwaukee, who quotes Marx and says of himself that “the gratification I get from being more radical than the radicals also can’t be denied.” What makes Lindberg first among radicals? Yep, the usual stuff it takes to land in the DbC Hall of Mirrors — incantation of utterly conventional, thoughtless boilerplate about “our” collective greed: We have a “consumer culture” defined by “consumerism,” Lindberg asserts. Its core? “Our entitled view.” This view? Generally and equally shared, Lindberg says: “Cutting across political lines is the master-belief that if we have the right to anything we can afford. Whether liberal or conservative, progressive or reactionary, nearly all inhabitants of North Atlantic democracies lavish themselves with as much of the looted splendor of the age of cheap energy as they can seize.” No, wait. On second pass, it seems that the left is even more to blame than the others: “Progressives have in fact been the advanced guard in this campaign for general and indiscriminant [sic] opulence.” Our efforts to shorten the work week and equalize wealth and income, in Lindberg’s eyes, make us even more culpable than those who insist on oil wars, cars-first transportation, and unpaid overtime!
Dave Gardner, maker of self-canceling, scold-and-flatter movies “about our society’s growth addiction.” “Might As Well Face It, We’re Addicted to Growth,” writes Gardner, clearly thinking he’s both clever and radical. Meanwhile, he shovels out the standard fare: tons of talk about “us” and “we,” and “core problems” like “population, consumption, and urban growth,” plus canned, unexamined, ultra-abstract pronouncements about how “cultural barriers” are the enemy. Of course, as always with these HoM types, Gardner is meticulously careful to utter not a breath about capitalism and socio-economic power.
John Michael Greer, Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, is a wonderful source of insight into ecology and personal planning for a greatly diminished energy future. As a critic of American society? Not so much. Greer thinks saying there is an overclass and a power structure is like believing in space lizards. His view of how and why the USA continues to ignore its ecological and energy supply crisis? Pure, unprocessed HoM boilerplate: “An entire nation made a disastrous wrong turn at that time; millions of people, each in his or her own way, contributed to that wrong turn, and very, very few opposed it. At this stage in the game, trying to affix blame to any narrower subset of the nation may be popular but it’s also useless, as it simply feeds the nihilism this series of posts is anatomizing. Clinging to the fashionable belief in the omnipotence of evil elites is the extreme form of that blame game, and even more useless than most of the others. The hard but necessary task before us, instead, is to come to terms with the fact that our nation made a catastrophic mistake thirty years ago, and that most of us who were alive at that time either backed that mistake or acquiesced in it.”
Ted Trainer, Australian “author and environmentalist,” is about about direct as it gets with his version of the ruling excuse: Yes it’s true that most people are locked into consumer society due to faulty systems and structures that, for example, force people to drive to work. But I do insist that the demand for affluence is a key driver of today’s major global problems. As such, the main target, the main problem group is not the corporations or the capitalist class. They have their power because people in general grant it to them. The problem group, the key to transition, is people in general.
With friends like these, who needs enemies?