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Why I Believe in Individual Action

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
Brian M., who always makes useful and wise comments here has a lengthy discussion of my previous post, which I hope you will all read. I actually agree with much of it, and appreciate it. Where we differ is in our assessment of the power of individual action, and as I was composing a reply, rather rapidly since Yom Kippur begins at sundown, it occurred to me that I have never told this story on my blog, and should.

My mother and step-mother are lesbians. They have been together since 1979, when I was 7 years old, and my sisters and I grew up in their household. By the time my sister and I knew what lesbians were and this was something unusual, we were made aware in a whole host of ways that this was a dangerous thing in society. My mother and step-mother were very cautious about public evidence of their sexual preference, from necessity. We kept an empty bedroom that was my step-mother’s “official” room, so that no one who visited would know they slept together. When my parents divorce was being finalized, both father and mother warned us seperately not, under any circumstances, to mention my mother’s sexual preference to the judge who decided custody – because despite the fact that both parents agreed with and had a mutually acceptable arrangement, the judge had the right, power and precedent to take us away from our mother because of her sexual preference.

…All this was true when I was 8. By the time I was 18, my step-mother had spoken publically at my high school on being gay, and there was a nascent gay and lesbian student’s association, sanctioned by the high school. The acts of homophobia, casual violence and threat and the muttering in church went away, as though they had never been. Responses were positive. Both mother and step-mother were out at work and everywhere else. My mother and step-mother were permitted to raise foster children, and were overwhelmingly praised for providing them with a good and healthy environment to live in. It is hard to describe the difference in the culture, and this is not merely my personal perception, or the difference between childhood and near-adulthood. I know dozens of people who confirm that their world simply, deeply, changed for gay people.

A little less than a decade after that, my mother and step-mother were married in their church, and a couple of years later, they were married in the city courthouse of their community, and their picture appeared in the newspaper. All of this in 20 years. It was not perfect. It was not pure – homophobia still exists, marriage is not legal in most places, there has been backlash and there is still violence. But the difference between today and 1979 is the difference between night and day.

Brian is certainly right, it would be every kind of hubris to imagine that I could change the world alone, or that any single individual action could be the lever that moved society. And yet, societies change, often radically and rapidly.
(21 September 2007)

Who Said Marx Wasn’t Green?

William Bowles, MRZine

“An ecological approach to the economy is about having enough, not having more.”
— John Bellamy Foster

“For the first time . . . nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subject it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production.” (emphasis mine)
— Karl Marx, Grundrisse

It appears that confusion reigns in much of what’s left of the Left, caught up as it is in its own largely petty squabblings, mostly about who said what to whom and when, thus when a book comes along like Ecology Against Capitalism [by John Bellamy Foster], I feel damn well vindicated!

For make no mistake, Foster’s take on things is rooted in Classic Marx, it’s us who have gotten it wrong for the past 150 years. Why this is so important to our current situation is made apparent all the way through this book, whether it’s his analysis of the economics of capitalism, or the fundamental importance of basic values like humility, respect, and justice not only for each other but for our home, the Earth.
(10 September 2007)
John Bellamy has been beavering away at the theme of Marx’s ecological thought for years, and has turned up many interesting things (e.g. Marx’s interest in Liebig and the depletion of soil fertility). Yet to be covered is an explanation of why Marxist movements (socialism and communism) were so anti-ecological for so many decades. Even more important would be a synthesis of ecology and left-wing thought. -BA

Global Swarming
Is it time for Americans to start cutting our baby emissions?

Daniel Engber, Slate
Oh, if we all just disappeared. According to The World Without Us, Alan Weisman’s strangely comforting vision of human annihilation, the Earth would be a lot better off. In his doomsday scenario, freshwater floods would course through the New York subway system, ailanthus roots would heave up sidewalks, and a parade of coyotes, bears, and deer would eventually trot across the George Washington Bridge and repopulate Manhattan. Nature lovers can take solace in the idea that the planet will thrive once we’ve finally destroyed ourselves with global warming. But Weisman takes the fantasy one step further: Let’s not wait for climate change, he says. Let’s start depopulating right now.

Instead of burning down our numbers with oil and gas, we might follow the advice of the founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, who tells Weisman that everyone in the world should stop having kids all at once. Weisman isn’t up for quite so drastic a measure, but he makes his own pitch, moderate in comparison: Let’s cut the birth rate to one child per couple, for a few generations at least. The population would dwindle by about 5 billion people over the next century, he says, ensuring the habitability of the Earth for the 1.6 billion who remained. At that point, they could all reap the rewards of a more spacious planet, sharing in “the growing joy of watching the world daily become more wonderful.” It seems like a notion from the fringe, but Weisman’s book has become a mainstream best seller. Could population control be the next big thing in green culture?

Nine years ago, Bill McKibben was raked over the coals for making a similar proposal in his vasectomy memoir, Maybe One. (“It’s the last remaining taboo thing to talk about,” he said after it was published.) Maybe times have changed. As social policy, population control seems like an infringement on fundamental human rights. That’s been the case in China, where mandatory birth planning has been a ghastly failure in both moral and practical terms. But these days, we tend to think of saving the environment in terms of personal choice, rather than government programs. We’re obsessed with our green lifestyles-eating local, driving hybrids, paying off our excess carbon-dioxide emissions. From that perspective, voluntary familial extinction (or at least reduction) might not be such a bad idea. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, cutting back on kids is the best choice you can possibly make.
(10 September 2007)
Thanks to Contributor Adam Whaley, who also shared a response to the article from Ann Shibler in is The New American magazine, a publication of the John Birch Society :

…The movement is labeled population-based environmentalism. Admittedly the environmentalists know that switching to wind and solar power won’t make a dent in one’s carbon footprint. So these anti-life planet-savers have theoretically equated the size of families/population with global-warming which they attribute to CO2 emissions, and they intend to do something about it.

…In practicing a sort of ungodly nature worship, these anti-life greenies have placed the health of the biosphere above the dignity and fundamental rights of human beings. They use phrases such as “voluntary familial extinction” and “baby emissions” when speaking of the most cherished gift God bestows upon us, our children. They reject the commandment and blessing of God to “increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air and all living creatures that move upon the earth.”

The John Birch Society were the ultra-conservatives that I grew up with. They continue to follow their own star: advocating an end to membership in the United Nations as they have for decades, but also opposing the Iraq War. Between the neo-cons and the John Birch Society, I think I prefer the JBS. -BA