There’s a great article on titled “The Ecology of Work” by Curtis White.
My argument is simply that the threats to humans and the threats to the environment are not even two parts of the same problem. They are the same problem. For environmentalism, confronting corporations and creating indignant scientific reports about pollution is the easy stuff. But these activities are inadequate to the real problems, as any honest observer of the last thirty years of environmental activism would have to concede. The “last great places” cannot be preserved. We can no more preserve them than we can keep the glaciers from melting away. Responding to environmental destruction requires not only the overcoming of corporate evildoers but “self-overcoming,” a transformation in the way we live. A more adequate response to our true problems requires that we cease to be a society that believes that wealth is the accumulation of money (no matter how much of it we’re planning on “giving back” to nature), and begin to be a society that understands that “there is no wealth but life,” as John Ruskin put it. That is the full dimension and the full difficulty of our problem.
Unfortunately, on these shores the suggestion that there is something fundamentally destructive in work, money, and capitalism leads quickly to emotional denials.
… Capitalism as a system of ever-accelerating production and consumption is, as we environmentalists continually insist, not sustainable. That is, it is a system intent on its own death. Yet the capitalist will stoically look destruction in the face before he will stop what he’s doing, especially if he believes that it is somebody else whose destruction is in question. Unlike most of the people living under him, the capitalist is a great risk-taker largely because he believes that his wealth insulates him from the consequences of risks gone bad. Ever the optimistic gambler with other people’s money, the capitalist is willing to wager that, while there may be costs to pay, he won’t have to pay them. Animals, plants, impoverished people near and far may have to pay, but he bets that he won’t. If called upon to defend his actions, he will of course argue that he has a constitutionally protected right to property and the pursuit of his own happiness. This is his “freedom.” At that point, we have the unfortunate habit of shutting up when we ought to reply, “Yes, but yours is a freedom without conscience.”
There is a lot more, I hope you read it, and it’s companion article (Part 1), The Idols of Environmentalism.
A fair and honest examination of our society, even our cherished Constitution, would reveal that our desire to live in peace and harmony with each other and on the planet wherein we reside, is based on the idea of ownership. I’ve presented this argument before. The perceived need to “possess” things is because of fear. The “Getting me and mine” mantra permeates the very fabric our civilization. This is the exploitation principle at work.
Unlike White, who holds the view that humans are not violent, I disagree. Humans are just animals, competitive and vicious. Our social structures enhance this tendency. The difference between us and the animal kingdom is we are the only real species capable of self-inflicted harm. An example of this is found in this statement:
For instance, as a matter of conscience we should be willing to say that the so-called greening of corporate America is not as much about the desire to protect nature as it is about the desire to protect capitalism itself.
We well know that corporate America is killing the planet, but our competitive and vicious nature prevents us from acknowledging that. Fear drives us to ownership, and ownership provides the illusion of safety. But that “safety net” that we so carefully crafted by dismantling the world and reorganizing it into our image is now falling apart. And this is all happening because of our deep seated fear that drove us to extinguish the planet.
I don’t see White’s conclusions of the “benevolence of mankind” as being evident in history. Civilizations have long been warlike and highly destructive to each other and their environment. White claims:
If all this is so, it is only possible to conclude from our behavior for the last two hundred years that ours is not a human society; that it is a society outside of the human in some terrible sense.
Human society as long as mankind has had one has been earmarked by war, violence and competition. Capitalism may indeed excaberate that tendency, but it’s always been there anyway.
White’s conclusion in Part III is confusing, to say the least. The future holds a huge promise of the very violent nature of humans to come forth. And the survivors of that conflict (if any), which will last several generations, will very likely repeat the entire process all over again. The Party of Life that he envisions is likely the fiction of his imagination. A nice fiction, but not one based in the reality of human nature or human history.