|George Monbiot and Naomi Klein (right).|
George Monbiot & Matt Ridley
On the subject of progress (which 'progressives', almost by definition, deny), writer and journalist Russell Lewis writes:
“The human race, as a whole, is healthier, better fed and housed, longer-lived and more prosperous than at any time in history. Children no longer die like flies. There is for most people far more security, leisure,. Culture and entertainment than ever before, and, contrary to the pessimists, who are always with us, the environment is vastly improved, especially in terms of clean air and water and surroundings in country and town. If there is anything about our civilisation, as Gore insists, it is that we are so blind to its benefits.” (39)
“... even if you break down the world into bits, it is hard to find any region that was worse off in 2005 than it was in 1955. Over the half-century, real income per head ended a little lower in only six countries (Afghanistan, Haiti, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia), life expectancy in three (Russia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe), and infant survival in none.”
More to the point:
“The rich have got richer, but the poor have done even better. The poor in the developing world grew their consumption twice as fast as the world as a whole between 1980 and 2000.... Even Nigerians are twice as rich, 25 per cent less fecund and nine years longer lived than they were in 1955. Despite the doubling of the world population, even the raw number of people living in absolute poverty (defined as less than a 1985 dollar a day) has fallen since the 1950s. The percentage living in such absolute poverty has dropped by more than half – to less than 18 per cent.... The United Nations estimates that poverty was reduced more in the last fifty years than in the previous 500.” (15)
So despite all that, Ridley also notes the following:
“In an airport bookshop recently, I paused at the Current Affairs section and looked down the shelves. There were books by Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Al Franken, Al Gore, John Gray, Naomi Klein, George Monbiot and Michael Moore, which all argued to a greater or lesser degree that (a) the world is a terrible place; (b) it's getting worse; (c) it's mostly the fault of commerce; and (d) a turning point has been reached. I did not see a single optimistic book.” (291)
As you can see, Matt Ridley refers to Britain's best-known left-wing environmentalist, George Monbiot, in the passage above. Mr Monbiot is also an ultra-posh public-schoolboy and Oxbridge snob who was brought up in Henley-on-Thames. The victims of his snobbery range from every right-wing person on the planet, supermarkets, Disney cartoon characters, City workers, people who fly on planes, heterosexuals, people who laugh and, last but not least, every member of the working class save, of course, the 'progressive' ones.
Like many other British public-schoolboys, Monbiot no doubt believes that it's his destiny to have a profound political impact. (His daddy was an MP.) Now it's also true enough that George is somewhat politically hip and wears t-shirts. The question is: why the hell should that stop him from being a elitist snob - just like a Fabian socialist of the early 20th century - who wants to impose his own political vision on the world? (Who says that writers and activists have less of an impact than politicians? Oh, yes, that's right, Noam Chomsky does.) Is Monbiot really excused from all that simply because he's not a Tory or employed in high finance? Really? Stalin, Chairman Mao and Hitler weren't conservatives or capitalists either.
Anyway, you'll be surprised to hear that George Monbiot had some very unbiased and objective things to say Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist (from which the passages quoted come).
Where should I start? Well, here's a selection: Ridley's “intellectual dishonesty runs deeper than I imagined”; he's “telling people – especially rich, powerful people – what they want to hear”; he “will continue to deceive”; he “made a series of shocking errors and distortions”; he “misrepresented economic history”; he indulges in “blatant cherry-picking”; and, last but not least, “[c]rucifixion would have been too good for him”.
And no, as I said, I still don't care if Sir Monbiot wears underpants made out of bark, makes love to dolphins and never fails to use fair-trade condoms.
Now let's take the godsend that is anthropogenic global warming. It has supplied revolutionary Leftists with yet another reason to try and destroy capitalism (along with democracy).
However, many Greens and environmentalists have been very careful not to come out too explicitly against capitalism lest they're mistaken for old-school communists who, like watermelons, are “green on the outside and red in the inside”. Despite that, this isn't the case with Naomi Klein.
Commentators have said that Klein only “turned to environmentalism” in 2009. In fact she was very quiet on global warming until her most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, which was published in 2014.
Anyway, Naomi Klein makes an explicit link between global warming and capitalism. Indeed she makes an explicit link between global warming and the pressing need to destroy capitalism. She writes:
"Forget everything you think you know about global warming. It's not about carbon - it's about capitalism.”
To add to that, we also have this Biblical extravagance:
"Climate change is a civilizational wake-up call, a powerful message delivered in the language of fires, floods, storms, and droughts. Confronting it is no longer about changing the light bulbs. It's about changing the world - before the world changes so drastically that no one is safe.”
So what's the good news prophetess? This:
“The good news is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed economic system and build something radically better.”
It's not surprising that Naomi Klein wants to bring about the death of capitalism when you consider the fact that she was born into the Church of Revolutionary Socialism. Her paternal grandparents were communists, her grandfather was a “social activist” and her parents (according to Klein herself) were “hippies”. In other words, Klein would have received about as much intense Leftist brainwashing as Noam Chomsky (who had a very similar background) received.
Nonetheless, Naomi Klein hasn't been the only Leftist to jump on the global-warming bandwagon as a means to destroy capitalism (or at least to have a massive dig at the evil West). Take all those fellows who deliriously argued (in the 1960s and 70s) that capitalism-induced global cooling was going to destroy the world and then - seamlessly - went on to argue that capitalism-induced global warming was going to do exactly the same thing!
The other thing about these catastrophists or revolutionaries in that up until the 1950s they rebelled against poverty and carried out their “war on want”. But then the affluent 1950s came along and... guess what, they rebelled against that too! (Much as George Monbiot is doing today.)
Matt Ridley (again) comments on this phenomenon, specifically on the position of Herbert Marcuse. He writes:
“Even the good news is presented as bad news.... Herbert Marcuse, who turned Marx's notion of the 'immiseration of the proletariat' by steadily declining living standards on its head and argued that capitalism forced excessive consumption on the working class instead.” (291)
Yes, capitalism is bad when it brings poverty, inequality and ill-heath. And capitalism is still bad when it does the opposite of these things.
Finally, in a quoted passage above, Matt Ridley delivers this ultimate crunch line:
“The rich have got richer, but the poor have done even better.”
Yes, millions of Leftists worldwide take it as being an iron law of (Marxist) logic than if the rich get richer, the poor must necessarily get poorer. After all, isn't that precisely what Marx himself stated some 160 years ago?
As many people know, this prize piece of scriptural bullshit has been proved wrong countless times and in countless respects. (Yes, even in Marx's own day.) Yet still the believers believe. Still they keep the faith.Notes
1) I received a certain amount of criticism for this piece – not from socialists or progressives; but from people on the Right. Specifically, one person said that I shouldn't use the word 'capitalism' because that word is a term of abuse invented by Marx (no less). This simply isn't true. It was first used in 1792 (in France) and even William Makepeace Thackeray used in in 1854. (I personally couldn't find the word in the Communist Manifesto of 1850.) Marx first used it in 1867. (This parallels the meme that Trotsky 'invented' the word 'racist'. He didn't. The word 'racialist' (if not 'racist') was used many times by many people in the 19th century – as early as 1871 (if not earlier). And the word 'racism' appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1902. I suspect that the meme that Trotsky invented the word 'racist' has more to do with his being a Jewish communist than anything else.)
The article, in any case, isn't really about economics or even strictly speaking about the nature of capitalism. It's about the (New) New Left's position (as exemplified by Naomi Klein and George Monbiot) on capitalism.
Others said that the US doesn't have pure capitalism. It has, amongst other things, “crony capitalism”. Thus such purists of capitalism echo what those on the Left say. The Left advances the hypocritical position that (real) capitalism doesn't really exist. What we have is “crony capitalism”. Does that mean that Leftists would like a purer capitalism? A capitalism that is completely free of the state? Of course it doesn't! They're also against “free-market fundamentalism” too. Indeed wasn't the term 'neoliberalism' recently resurrected to capture “capitalism with its gloves off” (to use Chomsky's words)?
Leftists are against capitalism when its backed up by the state and they're against it when it's totally free of state. That parallels Leftists being against capitalism when it brings poverty and they're against it when it it brings affluence (as mentioned in the piece). In other words, Leftists are against capitalism no matter what shape or form it takes.
Thus collectivist/socialist purists match the purity of the ideological free- marketeers in wanting their system pure. The former want pure communism/socialism and collectivism untouched by the free market. The latter what pure capitalism untouched by the state.
One should suspect those who want any system to be pure – economically or otherwise.
2) Of course want and poverty has never been entirely eradicated in the West. So in one breath the revolutionaries can moan about consumerism and the sins of affluence; and in the next breath talk about poverty and want. It doesn't matter, as long as the moans lead to their much-desired obliteration of capitalism – which is the real subject of their hatred.
3) Then there's the journalist Lowell Ponte.
He wrote a book called The Cooling. Humans were blamed for the cooling. In that book he wrote:
“The cooling has already killed hundreds of thousands of people in the poor nations... If it continues, and no strong measures are taken to deal with it, the cooling will cause world famine, world chaos, and probably world war, and this will all come by the year 2000.” (38)
Umm! Except that by the year 2000, Lowell Ponte had already embraced global warming instead of global cooling. However, that didn't stop him from saying pretty similar things about that!
Stephen Schneider is another example.
In 1976 Schneider wrote The Genesis Strategy bestseller which put forward the coming ice age thesis. That too was the responsibility on human beings. However, by the late 1980s Schneider claimed that a mere doubling of CO2 (something he had downplayed previously) would raise temperature by 1.5 to 4 degrees. That would lead to a global-warming catastrophe.
It wasn't just global cooling that the catastrophists believed in.
Take the case of the well-known American professor Paul Ehrlich.
Roundabout 1968, Ehrlich was saying that the the world's population was rising so fast billions would die. To use his own words, Ehrlich wrote:
“The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate...” (28)
Thus, predictably, anthropocentric global warming was right up Ehrlich's street.
He even wrote a book called Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environment Rhetoric Threatens Our Future in 1998 (co-authored with his wife Anne). Again, his particular take on this was again very political and very extreme: serious steps had to be taken – including legal action against the 'deniers' and monumental taxes!
4) Most revolutionaries and other catastrophists aren't really blind to the triumphs of capitalism and the West at all. It's capitalism they're against – not the fact that more people are dying of hunger, etc. today than ever before – they aren't!