[OPE-L] a problem for socialism (was "Peak Oil")

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Wed Mar 16 2005 - 08:12:14 EST

Paul Z,

Thanks for picking-up on the Caffetzis article (aside: if others had
problems using the url,  try using the url from my message on 3/9
where I mentioned his article in _Mute_).

> Peak Oil is far more serious that such a conclusion captures.  It is a
> huge ecological crisis, caused by capitalism.  It is far more than just
> a 'distribution of income'/'rate of surplus value' question.  It is a rape
> of  the Earth question with huge 'blowback', which could be
> ameliorated with worldwide genuine socialism but even so we would
> have to face the stark consequences of the preceding capitalist mode
> of production. [...]
> It would not even be avoided by socialism since socialism would
> inherit the hydrocarbon-based transportation, fertilization, manufacturing
> system all of us are using constantly, and the resulting ecological
> disasters. [...]

I agree.  I will go further, though, and suggest that -- looking towards the
future -- it is more than a question of the material conditions that will be
inherited under socialism.

The presumption of most socialists seems to be:  yes, there will be
challenges,  but we'll cross that road when we get to it.

I don't think, though, that most socialists have considered adequately
the nature (no pun intended) of some of these challenges.

*For example*, consider the issue of the destruction of habitat for
other species and the annihilation (genocide in many cases) of many
species.  OK, it's easy enough to say that this is a problem
that is largely a consequence of capitalism and the genuine protection
of  non-human species will only be possible under socialism.

I would suggest, though,  that the survival of other species (and,
ultimately, our own since we all inhabit the same planet  and the
future of humankind is inexorably bound to the future of other living
beings) will require a change in human *ethics*  and *culture*.

The construction of socialism must involve the transformation of
human consciousness and, with it, a change in perspective
regarding all species _including _our own.

This need to transform human ethics and culture has long been
recognized by some socialists.  For example, Janos Kornai
(back in the 1980's) emphasized the importance of "socialist
ethics" and how that, in practice, was violated by "Departmentalism"
and (willy-nilly) by internalities.  Another way of expressing this
problem is as a conflict between the "general" and the "particular"
interest.  But, what is the "general" interest?  _Whose_ interest?

Kornai didn't really deal with the issue I am getting at (although he
was certainly aware of the consequences of internalities on the
environment, which came into focus especially because of the
ecological disaster caused at Chernobyl).

Looking towards the future, there is no question that the wants
and needs of  a socialist society will have environmental
consequences in terms of land use,  resource extraction,
and increased production of material goods.  As those decisions
are being made,  how will we consider the needs of other
species in relation to our own wants and needs?

Socialists have long been opposed to chauvinism in all of its
forms -- _except one_.

*Human chauvinism*: the arrogant belief by humans that we constitute
a "superior" species to all others.  On what scientific and ethical basis
can we claim that "our" needs as humans are more important than the
needs of other species?

This chauvinism, of course, has a long history.  It is an ideology
that is fostered by states, educational institutions, (most) religious
institutions and even to a significant degree by the 'scientific'
community.   But, it is also a cultural and ethical belief which was
brought into being historically and was alien to many pre-capitalist
social formations.

An 'environmentally friendly' (and therefore feasible in the long-term)
socialism will have to confront this form of chauvinism -- just as
we have to (and should now) confront other forms of chauvinism.

In solidarity, Jerry

PS:  I have thought a lot about these issues recently.  The stimulus
for this introspection was someone I had the honor and privilege
of meeting and interacting with on several occasions last summer
while I was sailing in Maine.  He was a  juvenile Beluga whale who
was named (by others) 'Poco' and he became one of my best --
and most intelligent and caring! -- friends.  It is only our own arrogance,
narrow-mindedness,  ignorance and inability to communicate with
beings who are non-humans that allow us to continue with the
self-assured pretense of believing that we are the "highest" life form.
I know better, not only intellectually, but personally.  For that, I have
Poco to  thank.  Some day, I hope to write more about this this
experience, but not now.  It is still too painful -- since he died
(because of an infectious disease, according to the necropsy
performed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) in November.

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