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During a rant about the latest Tory scheme of putting a price on the world and everything in it, another Kossack, James Wells, pointed me toward works by Paul Kingsnorth and, by extension, other Dark Mountain Project participants. He and his followers believe, given runaway consumerist capitalism, burgeoning population growth, and negligence by governmental authorities, that it may futile to participate in the environmental movement as it stands. On the whole, I disagree, but can understand their frustration and, having read their manifesto and the first of their published books, will continue to read subsequent volumes. The conversations between those who believe they have an existential obligation to continue the fight despite the possibility of failure, and those who feel that it is time to prepare for the worst, are conversations worth having.

“You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years, and every single thing had gotten worse. And I thought: I can’t do this anymore. I can’t sit here saying: ‘Yes, comrades, we must act! We only need one more push, and we’ll save the world!’ I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it! So what do I do?”
Paul Kingsnorth

The quote above is from a recent New York Times article referred to by Wells in reply to a comment I made about the recent governmental push toward generating an environmental marketplace in the UK,  something I had read about both in George Monbiot’s articles in the Guardian, and more explicitly through a revolted Facebook friend who is involved in the department overseeing it. This scheme proposes to offset environmental damage done by development in one place by modifying habitat in others. Using a hypothetical example: Lord Browne’s company wants to cut down ten acres of old growth woodland in Somerset for the purpose of oil exploration, and pay the Duke of Norfolk a to offset the damage by planting ten acres of trees on his estate. Monbiot points out that commodifying nature in an “ecosystem market” has its dangers:

All those messy, subjective matters, the motivating forces of democracy, will be resolved in a column of figures. Governments won't need to regulate; the market will make the decisions that politicians have ducked. But trade is a fickle master, and unresponsive to anyone except those with the money. The costing and sale of nature represents another transfer of power to corporations and the very rich.
Monbiot often writes about the finer points of neoliberal capitalism and its environment. As someone who regards the natural world as something that has value in and of itself, aside from the uses to which we put it, I agree that “natural capital” is an oxymoron, and appreciate that Monbiot is advising his readers of how this will affect the countryside. However, current politics in the UK sometimes makes those of us who fight against the privatization of everything, from the postal service to disability evaluations and child protection, more than a little frustrated. Direct action against fracking has had some success here, but much of our environmental movement has devolved into arguments over what does and does not constitute sustainable development, while badgers are gassed in their dens in a mistaken attempt to halt bovine tuberculosis. Some environmental activists, such as Paul Kingsnorth have decided to take another tack. His position is that climate change is inevitable and environmental movements, such as BillMcKibben’s 350.org, give their supporters a false sense of control and blind them to the inevitable.
They’re saying, ‘If we take these actions, we will be able to achieve this goal.’ And if you can’t, and you know that, then you’re lying to people. And those people . . . they’re going to feel despair.
Recent news about the imminent collapse of the West Antarctic ice shelf, which will still come about, even if carbon emissions stopped tomorrow, seems to bear out his position. He violently disagrees with ecopragmatists such as Whole Earth Catalogue founder Stewart Brand, who advocates the use of nuclear power, GM foods, and intense urbanization to ensure the continuance of civilization. Kingsnorth even criticises large windfarms and solar arrays as being part of a “Faustian bargain” to subdue what is left of the natural world to our purposes.
So what kind of action would Kingsnorth advise? Ultimately, he believes that we should consider the root cause of our dilemma: the stories we tell ourselves about the society in which we live. We should begin to “uncivilise” ourselves by refusing to participate in the processes of Western civilization, something he sees as inherently unstable, as it was built on a myth of eternal progress. The purpose of the Dark Mountain project is to collect the work of like minded artists, poets, and essayists to generate new myths. In the Dark Mountain manifesto, he states:
Hubris has been introduced to Nemesis. Now a familiar human story is being played out. It is the story of an empire corroding from within. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myth. It is our story.
“Uncivilisation” begins with the admission that we have set ourselves apart from nature when we should think of ourselves as a part of nature. As a species we have been responsible for extinctions that possibly go as far back as the large Pleistocene mammals, and are in the process of obliterating everything from elephants to bees. By attempting to bend nature to our will through increasing applications of technology, we deny our nature as one animal among many. Kingsnorth believes that where politics and activism has failed, artists and writers must step in to provide better narratives than the one of unlimited progress,
To ‘unhumanise’ our views a little, and become confident / As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’ This is not a rejection of our humanity — it is an affirmation of the wonder of what it means to be truly human. It is to accept the world for what it is and to make our home here, rather than dreaming of relocating to the stars, or existing in a Man-forged bubble and pretending to ourselves that there is nothing outside it to which we have any connection at all.
Other activists, like Naomi Klein see a troubling abdication of moral responsibility in the Dark Mountain project. Klein says, “We have to be honest about what we can do. We have to keep the possibility of failure in our minds. But we don’t have to accept failure. There are degrees of how bad this thing can get. Literally, there are degrees.”
George Monbiot, one of Kingsnorth’s oldest friends is even more forceful. In their open correspondence, printed in the Guardian, Monbiot paints an even bleaker scenario, if possible, making the points that humans are much more resilient and, if history is the judge, civilisation’s collapse inevitably lead to mass starvation, authoritarian political systems, and violence. Whatever remains of the natural world that survives would be severely diminished and unlivable for a large proportion of humanity.
This is why, despite everything, I fight on. I am not fighting to sustain economic growth. I am fighting to prevent both initial collapse and the repeated catastrophe that follows. However faint the hopes of engineering a soft landing – an ordered and structured downsizing of the global economy – might be, we must keep this possibility alive. Perhaps we are both in denial: I, because I think the fight is still worth having; you, because you think it isn't.
The background of Monbiot and Kingsnorth are surprisingly similar. Both led privileged early lives, were educated at private schools and attended Oxford. However, both have taken their responsibility as part of the Western elite seriously. They were active in anti-globalist and environmental movements, and occasionally have put themselves in personal danger on account of it. Most of us have never been in this position, and while many of us are concerned about subjects such as carbon levels, fracking, and extinction of ever-greater proportion of our biosphere. Many of us correctly point out that unhindered Capitalism and consumerist culture is the toxic system that encourages profits over what remains of the wondrous planet we have inherited. However, we have not examined in any detail what the global ramifications of taking sides in this argument might be, or what ethical duty we might have to those for whom this is more than an intellectual exercise.

 

Originally posted to Anti-Capitalist Meetup on Sun May 18, 2014 at 03:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Global Expats and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If you missed it... (22+ / 0-)

    more background for the conversation at Don Mikulecky's diary here.

    "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

    by northsylvania on Sun May 18, 2014 at 01:54:54 PM PDT

  •  Tonight's ACM has been x-posted to: (6+ / 0-)

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun May 18, 2014 at 03:09:48 PM PDT

  •  ACM Schedule (6+ / 0-)

    May

    25th: Geminijen

    June

    1st: Mr. JayTee

    8th:

    15th:

    22nd:

    29th:  Annieli

    Hi Comrades and Fellow Travellers!

    We  are all covered for May, we end the month with Geminijen. We begin June with a piece by Mr. JayTee, but need volunteers to post from the second Sunday of June up until the 29th of June when Annieli returns.

    Please can you help by volunteering to post. It does not have to be fancy or theory ... it can be about anything from an anti-capitalist perspective ... perhaps an action that is happening that you think is important, a discussion of current events or serious debate ... whatever you feel comfortable with and what you can do!

    Please respond to this post or/and send a private message by kosmail to NY Brit Expat and/or send a message to our email group: dkanticapitalistgroup@gmail.com

    Please, the ACM needs you to write, can you volunteer to keep this great series going?!

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun May 18, 2014 at 03:13:14 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for this piece Northsylvania! (8+ / 0-)

    It is an interesting debate, but do I think that this is an issue that can be solved by individual actions, it takes a movement and social responsibility. One of the biggest problems is that power and control our not in the hands of the majority, but rather in the hands of very few. Even still, if we make things very expensive for them, we can put pressure on them. That will not happen under who is in power in Britain or for that matter in the US, profits are far more important to those that are ruling us than the needs of the people and the planet that is sustaining us. The system and the ruling class are doing untold damage and the majority have little power and also low political and environmental consciousness which doesn't help to build a mass struggle.

    The primary thing I think is that there is no such thing as green capitalism, that is a lie and completely inconsistent with the laws of motion and raison d'etre of the capitalist economic system. We need to debunk that lie; capitalism is destroying the planet, uncontrolled consumerism upon which it relies for economic growth and profit realisation plays a strong role in the damage to the planet. But the largest role is caused by the destruction of the ecology of the planet to get cheaper and plentiful raw materials that are used in production, the complete refusal to shift towards sustainable energy and transport systems that are less damaging, the waste of energy and clean water, privatisation rather than socialisation of essential energy, water and transport and food production for profitability rather than  ensuring food sovereignty. The problem is complex, but if we do not fight, what will happen? The situation will continue to erode the planet (it already may be beyond repair), there is no way that consciousness will be raised among the majority and that means that future generations will be robbed of their inheritance and birthright (the planet) ...

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun May 18, 2014 at 03:38:13 PM PDT

    •  I suspect you and Naomi (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat

      are both right. Both of you, and Monbiot as well, are fighters by nature.
      I do think Kingsnorth's approach might strike a chord with people who are in too much denial to engage in traditional activism. Quite a few of my fellow art profs at TCU deserve a copy. I believe that once a problem is identified correctly, and culpability admitted to, action is much easier.

      "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

      by northsylvania on Sun May 18, 2014 at 11:21:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  thanks for this diary (7+ / 0-)

    the discourse of a green capitalism is provocative, but always problematic in that command and control of its institutions, public and private is always the key element. In terms of the modal path past capitalism, we should not capitulate to historical forces that can be changed by human action especially when the entire planet is at stake because there will be a point long after we are gone where this planet may have to be abandoned for another if humankind is to remain viable. So as an example, even as syndicalism seems somewhat difficult in a rust belt context, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue to experiment with its widespread possibility especially in unformed industries like renewable energy.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "If we appear to seek the unattainable, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable." (@eState4Column5)

    by annieli on Sun May 18, 2014 at 04:15:13 PM PDT

  •  Great piece. Makes you think about the broader (8+ / 0-)

    picture once you accept the idea as Ex Pat expressed and with which I concur - that you cannot solve the environmental problem under a capitalist ideology of constant market driven growth and that the production of commodities for profit is the bottom line.

    I also agree that individualistic solutions, like minor in system reforms are just to feel good instead of taking the kind of actions we need if we are to survive in any form. So instead of signing petitions or hiding in survivalist camps, we need to make a revolution.  But revolutions are equally out there in the stratosphere.  The only way to reach the point of a real revolution is if objective conditions  get sufficiently bad enough, and we have developed the subjective values to be willing and able to stand up and make the revolution. I think this requires a total overhaul -- not just talking about the environment but getting rid of the macho male attitude that allows a few strong males to think they have the right to dominate everything, including the environment (imperialism and racism are subsets of this attitude.)      

    •  Monbiot's point is that, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat, tardis10

      given the kind of catastrophe that would make the present system obsolete, we would be more likely to get the gulag than the revolution.
      Actually, the US has a greater percentage of their population in prison than Stalin did, so perhaps the threat is already implicit.

      "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

      by northsylvania on Sun May 18, 2014 at 11:30:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm with Victor Laszlo on this one. (7+ / 0-)
    Rick: Don't you sometimes wonder if it's worth all this? I mean what you're fighting for.

    Victor: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.

    In this case, "the world will die" is as close to literal as it can get.

    I'm all for new narratives, but the ones I'm looking for inspire people to imagine that we can save the earth and its people by moving forward together. Meanwhile, I'm giving up on nothing.

    Many thanks for this interesting diary, northsylvania.

  •  Thank you for this important post. (5+ / 0-)

    Minor historical note: the "mitigation bank" concept has been been responsible for destroying wetlands and other natural areas in the U.S. for decades. Sad the UK is following a failed U.S. model but not surprising.

    Now to the broader point. The green pacifist version of "Atlas Shrugged," where a few of us will retreat and feel good about ourselves by creating new "myths" while the planet burns is a self-fulfilling abdication of the duty to fight for what's generationally right. We may not win, the planet may die. Who doesn't realize that on the left? But we have to fight. Creating new myths is valuable, but it can't be divorced from the war.

    I'm with NY brit expat that the risk is always of posing the problem too narrowly. Much of the green movement has tended to do this. Capitalism is the driver of the destruction.

    No way am I retreating to some goddamned purist mountain with my banjo. I want to have a clean conscience that I've done my best. Most importantly, however, the problems will absolutely not be made better if we cede the war to the capitalists.

    We do need to seek international solidarity now more than ever because we know from the science indubitably that this is a global war. Nation state legislative battles are incredibly frustrating, but they are an important front too. Judicial battles, the same. If we focus part of our energy on building a more cooperative and sustainable where we live, that's critical too. But more than anything we have to constantly frame this as an international solidarity issue. As humankind we must unite. Without global socialism it's destined to fail--but we need all fronts to build global socialism and to abdicate any of them is immoral and irresponsible.

    garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

    by Galtisalie on Sun May 18, 2014 at 05:22:21 PM PDT

  •  I'm glad this was picked up by Community (6+ / 0-)

    Spotlight. This discussion greatly affects this whole community in terms of strategy choices.

    garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

    by Galtisalie on Sun May 18, 2014 at 05:36:14 PM PDT

    •  yes, that is excellent! (3+ / 0-)

      didn't notice, congrats to Northsylvania on raising an important discussion which hopefully will be read by many more! :)

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun May 18, 2014 at 05:59:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I was so beat last night (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Galtisalie, NY brit expat

        and this morning that I came straight here with a large cup of coffee to reply to recc and reply to comments.
        Thank you Rescue Rangers, and thank you NYBrit for jumping in first.

        "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

        by northsylvania on Sun May 18, 2014 at 11:35:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  To comment on one's own comment is tacky (3+ / 0-)

    I know, but I'm doing it anyway. Moreover, I'm going to shamelessly plug my previous weird diary for Anti-Capitalist Meetup on "Humane Cat Herding" and our "four fronts": http://www.dailykos.com/...

    Humane cat herding is difficult and miserable, but continuously necessary in the struggle. If we get exhausted, we should take a break, get out in nature or a workers' garden and rejuvenate. Smoke a big fat joint if you have to. But don't quit the struggle. Billy Bragg had a nice album on "Workers Playground" relevant to this. Mythologizing can support conscious united species-beings on all four fronts I discuss in that diary. Divorced from one or more of these fronts, mythologizing can simply be a distracting opiate.

    garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

    by Galtisalie on Sun May 18, 2014 at 06:44:43 PM PDT

  •  What will things be like in 100,000 years? (4+ / 0-)

    Our planet has survived many crises in the past , look at the Permian-Triassic extinction event  250 million years ago: it’s not really possible to get my mind around 250 million years - hell, in 300 years no one will know or remember I ever existed – but in those 300 years these problems with capitalism and climate change will have played themselves out. Not solved, mind you, but played out.

    And a new playing field will have emerged – one, I am certain will contain far, far fewer humans in it along, sadly, with far, far fewer other large mammals and numerous non-mammalian species.  Those who have fought against all those bad things – psychopathic profit-seeking planetary destruction – will be remembered, if they are remembered at all as being on the side of the planet, as the good guys in this short-term drama being played on this badly tilted playing field. And, as Krishna said to Arjuna,

    It is better to strive in one's own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity.
    So if you are a fighter – then fight; if you’re a stoner then stone away; if you’re a banjo playing homesteader homestead away. Thankfully there are still many whose dharma is fighting.

    The big question, I guess, is about the dharma of the human race (can we even talk about dharma on a species level?). Is it to consume and reproduce mindlessly until the end, or is there some higher purpose to humanity?

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Sun May 18, 2014 at 07:27:53 PM PDT

    •  Population overshoot (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Galtisalie

      is the one problem that is almost insolvable. The right to reproduce is a biological right, in a category with breathing. Suggesting to people in another country, another demographic, or even in your own family, that they are having too many children is considered the worst form of arrogance. Unfortunately, when the population of humans is as high as it is, nature has to be bent further to accommodate us.

      "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

      by northsylvania on Sun May 18, 2014 at 11:45:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  the right to reproduce is a man-made right (0+ / 0-)

        Reproduction is a biological imperative: something that most people will do if given the opportunity.  But for most of human history, just as people were A-OK with taking someone else's land, the women and children on it were either enslaved (implicitly transformed into one's own tribe, especially when the conquerors, in their position of power, were free to indulge their biological imperative) or were deliberately massacred alongside their men to make room for the conquerors' own women and children.

        We are truly living in exceptional times when even most members of the big, powerful tribes are against old-fashioned imperialism and genocide.

        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

        by Visceral on Mon May 19, 2014 at 11:40:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  My mother's family (0+ / 0-)

          came to that conclusion four generations back and had only children from then on. That being said, I have a friend, bright and talented otherwise, who had five girls (two sets of twins) while trying for a boy. It boggles the mind.

          "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

          by northsylvania on Thu May 22, 2014 at 01:25:02 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Is there some higher purpose to humanity? (3+ / 0-)
      Is it to consume and reproduce mindlessly until the end, or is there some higher purpose to humanity?
      No. But we can create a purpose. It is all up to us.
  •  "The myth of eternal progress" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania

    unfortunately seems to be one that most people have fully bought into.

    "Onward through the fog!" - Oat Willie

    by rocksout on Mon May 19, 2014 at 08:52:18 AM PDT

  •  I think "telling new stories" is indeed crucial- (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania

    we are stuffed to the gills with outdated myths about eternal ever-expanding progress, Westward Ho! etc.

    Those need to be countered with a flood of realistic, individualized stories of struggle to maintain the environment and our humanity in the face of economic and social collapse. Remember all the times that people have picked themselves up and kept going in the face of repeated defeat. Look into the future, become one of those people but in the future, and tell your story.

    The hardest thing for me is just thinking about my kids, anyone's kids, here or in the 3rd world. Maybe that's where we should be focused- imagining and then bringing into being a world where they can be.

  •  death of the body vs. death of the soul (0+ / 0-)

    On it's present course, humanity is basically doomed: it's just a question of which of the Four Horsemen will reach us first - hunger, disease, war, or literally dying of heat.

    But the alternative is to become Hobbits.  That means the end of the Faustian drive towards greater knowledge and power that in many ways is the core motivation behind Western civilization.

    I'm not sure which is scarier: dying or might as well die.

    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

    by Visceral on Mon May 19, 2014 at 11:32:53 AM PDT

  •  This is a profoundly interesting post, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania

    Northsylvania. It reminds me of a short story by Somerset Maugham that I once read.  I'll look for that story again because it's about one of the points you've made.

    Thanks for this diary, it has given me much food for thought.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Mon May 19, 2014 at 02:48:51 PM PDT

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