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Thursday, December 02, 2004

High Marks

From Clinton's speech at the opening of the new presidential library in Little Rock:
Mr. Clinton talked about the divisions that have split America into what are now popularly called red states (Republican) and blue states Democratic), but that he referred to as conservative and progressive.

"America has two great dominant strands of political thought," he said. "We're represented up here on this stage: conservatism, which at its very best draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which at its very best breaks down barriers that are no longer needed or should never have been erected in the first place."

Interview with John Bellamy Foster:
Aurora: Even amidst all of the political setbacks of recent years, large segments of the general population continue to express a relatively high level of concern for environmental issues. Unfortunately, most people increasingly can find few ways of enacting this concern beyond making environmentally-conscious personal lifestyle choices - to bike to work, take shorter showers, use energy-efficient light bulbs, recycle, compost, and so on. How can the environmental movement today begin to start channeling such popular expressions of ecological awareness and responsibility in a more transformative direction?

John Bellamy Foster: This will require a greater level of political organization, and a greater willingness to take the bull by the horns. The environmental movement needs to face up to the fact that its goals run directly up against a highly intransigent opposition that is rooted in the power structures of capitalist society. Ultimately, achieving environmental sustainability will require us to transform those structures of power and not simply alter their minor manifestations.

Let me give you a concrete example. People are often told that, to be environmentally responsible, they should make the personal choice not to drive cars, and should instead make the effort to walk, ride a bicycle, or use public transport. Practically speaking, however, this is not a viable option for most people. Our roads, our jobs, and our whole urban infrastructure are set up in ways that render it virtually impossible for people to get along in their daily activities by walking or cycling, and public transport is inadequate or non-existent in most places. Under these circumstances, it is not enough for us to say that people should make personal choices that are compatible with the environment. We need to organize politically to create the social structures - public transport, inter-city train systems, flexible work routines, new forms of urban planning and land development, and so on - which will enable a greater number of people to actually make those choices.

Today, advocates of privatization are extremely prejudiced against the state, tending to equate any mention of 'socialization' with Soviet-style statism and so on. They tend to overlook the fact that the state can take many different forms - indeed, that democracy itself cannot exist without a state. If everything is turned over to private interests, then the democratic public sphere disappears, and all that you're left with is a number of private actors, each selfishly pursuing their own private ends. In this celebrated era of deregulation and privatization, we sometimes tend to forget that many of the most basic goods that we all enjoy today - from tap water, to electricity, sanitation, parks, and so on - were not initially provided by business, but by public agencies responding to democratic demands. Similarly, the basic environmental protections that we have today were initiated and implemented by democratic public bodies, and only reluctantly acceded to by the capitalist class.

A professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, Foster previously penned the interestingly titled Marx's Ecology. Reading the rest of the interview, and specifically where they discuss the environmental principles described by Marx, anyone can see how easily the greens can get lumped in with extreme left-leaning circles. Whether this is happenstance or not, we may have no choice but to try out new directions that happen to wear old clothing and may appear to cross tabboo barriers.

Air America's Mike Malloy suggested in response to a listener that conservative principles dictate that any call to saving the environment would be immediately declared as not moral. The listener then relayed that the 30,000 gallon Delaware River oil spill is now up to 473,500 gallons. Strangely, this is only getting limited news coverage, mostly in local New Jersey papers. The upward revision came about apparently because they could not account for missing oil on board the tanker. Voila, with another order-of-magnitude bookkeeping error, this would be equivalent to the Exxon Valdez disaster in scale, with nary a peep from the media.

Earlier in the program, Malloy had exclaimed "It's the hypocrisy".

Actually, given Clinton's codeworded speech, a new motto for anyone trying to make sense of our current political predicament:
It's the hypocrisy, Stupid!


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