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Living as if it Mattered
By Robert Mann
L R B Mann
OUR GLOBAL PREDICAMENT
Similarly, the grave and unrebutted warnings from a pioneer of computer science, Joseph Weizenbaum (1976), failed to slow detectably the deployment of computer technology. The Stockholm Conference turned out to stimulate only minor, sluggish, and in most cases cosmetic responses by governments. The NZ Minister for the Environment acquired that title not long before going to Stockholm wearing it, but had not even a typist let alone a Ministry.
Curbing even the most outrageous technological excesses - for example, excluding nuclear fission reactors (power stations and fission-propelled warships) from NZ - has unfairly cost volunteers enormous effort. Even more perversely, exclusion of nuclear weapons has cost, in the non-mandated central policy of the "Labour" cabinets since 1984, the transfer of our main natural resources to private (and, at least potentially, foreign) control. 1972 was also notable for 'A Blueprint for Survival', written mainly by The Ecologist founder and editor Edward Goldsmith. This remarkably far-sighted best-seller did not flinch, as almost all writings had done and still do, from pointing out the need for de-industrialisation and, even more importantly, regeneration of human community. This central need would be encouraged especially by rural resettlement.
A bigger flurry that year in the mass media publicised 'The Limits to Growth', predictions by allegedly objective computer modelling of future environmental problems, especially depletion of non-renewable resources, in a few decades. This book has rightly faded in status, partly because readers have realised that it offers few solutions. I regard it moreover as essentially escapist - "value-free" scientists shunning the label 'conservationist' and refraining from pointing out current depredations of excessive industrialism, instead drawing attention away to possible scenarios which could not be checked by many if any (being on a large 'MIT computer', in a program not immediately available for peer review).
I argue that the Greenhouse Bandwagon which has lumbered into action these past two years is mostly ridden (and, some of them hope, milked) by similar escapists. Their science is often inadequate (Bray 1990, Bryant 1987, Idso 1989, Watt 1987-9). That their predictions may well be right is a different point, and no derogation from this argument. My point is that they are mainly, at best, neophytes in ecopolitics (being mostly geographers who have until only the last couple of years shunned their social responsibility to interpret science in terms of public policy). They are nearly all interested in adaption to, not prevention of, greenhouse effects, whereas at least one major bureaucracy - the South Australia Dept of Environment & Planning - begins with the fact that we must curb consumption and pollution. Some bureaucrats are ahead of many academics!
Seventeen years on, we must now admit that the Stockholm conference prompted very little slowing of the rates of the major degradations in our biosphere. In most important trends of damage, we have not even seen slowing of the rate of increase! Local victories cannot disguise the overall global acceleration of overpopulation, deforestation, pollution, endangering by hazardous industries such as fission, genetic engineering, etc. etc.
Goldsmith has lately been emphasising that we have an environmental crisis because we have a social crisis. The breakdown of traditional cultures almost everywhere by mining companies, agribusiness, 'development aid', TV, etc. opens up new resources of wage-slaves and new markets for prdkts increasingly transported internationally. Northern Europeans and Japanese removed from traditional ways of life by centuries of industrialism appear perhaps the most culturally deranged and destructive.
The satirical approach of Swift was revived by Douglas Adams in 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' and 'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe'; but even the notion of the plutonium rock group Disaster Area, banned from many parts of the galaxy because their P.A. system with its bass detonators violated local strategic arms limitation treaties, failed to arrest megatechnics' quasi-autonomous burgeoning.
However, much of the best in '70s thinking has lost currency, partly because of certain more recent fads. False solutions lately abound, and I wish to attack some of them.
Of course, a society severely atomised and separated from Nature (e.g. Hong Kong, Taipeh) may produce offspring of very little ecological experience and awareness generally (let alone specifically for respecting NZ or Australian ecosystems). Encouraging the more efficiently monetarist of them to migrate to NZ (the Mike Moore immigration policy) is ecologically foolish. This type of consideration is not to be confused with white supremacy.
There's no serious dispute that feminism has gained political influence (though there is discussion about how much), especially during the period since 'The Female Eunuch'. The correlation over this period of declining restraint of technology, declining quality of life for billions, and declining physical and mental security even for the privileged within the overdeveloped world, is in my opinion partly due to the decline in co-operation between the two kinds of human.
I repeat here four paragraphs stated two years ago but hitherto obstructed from publication. The war between the sexes is doing far more damage than international debt or any other commonly-mentioned economic process - but it flares most inconveniently at a time when alienation is already being increased by loss of awareness that we must 'live more simply in order that others may simply live'. The increased resource consumptions entailed in separate houses, separate cars, etc. are only the start of objections, from an ecological viewpoint, to what has become mainstream feminism.
Perhaps the modern wave of feminism (the past two decades) was provoked mainly by the bringing-up of boys almost oblivious to the feelings of women. I myself was a typical result. But far worse alienation is, in effect, promoted by those versions of feminism which urge women to withdraw co-operation from men (let alone those which foment hatred of men). It is overdue to call these versions of feminism what they are: anti-social.
The great tragic irony of feminism is its adoption of careerist individualism. Women ashamed of the most important work have thus become a new wave of grist to the jobs-money mill, the industrial way of life which was already too unhealthy and unhappy. The nuclear family of the 1950s was bad enough; today's children grope fearfully in a family far more often anti-nuclear, but all too often solo-parent. Greer has questioned most of her 1970-model ideas in her 1983 reappraisal.
We should not neglect to use anthropology to test and improve feminism. The book (Goldberg 1979) which summarises the findings in the 1400 societies that have been studied on the subject of male dominance tells us that in all, men occupy the positions of apparent power. (The Amazons turn out to be a forgery.) This very book holds the 'Guinness book' record for most publishers to reject a book that did finally get published: 69 - interesting for a culture said to be very biased against feminism!
Keesing's (1976) textbook on cultural anthropology, in its section "womens' worlds", says:- As 16 women social anthropologists compellingly argue inWoman,Culture, and Society (Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974), there is no evidence that matriarchal societies have ever existed. The apparent universality of male dominance - at least in public and political realms - must be a starting point for an anthropology of women.
The second edition of this book enlarges in very helpful ways, emphasising the need for both empathy and some measure of detached judgement regarding inferences of exploitation. Lisa Tuttle's 'Encyclopedia of Feminism' (1987) records the universality of patriarchy but says "alternatives to patriarchy may at least be imagined". I however contend we cannot imagine regenerating community on the basis of the erroneous notion that closely similar ways of life should, or even can, be led by women and men. The real question is, what are the appropriate divisions of labour. We cannot deal with this question if we pretend there shouldn't be any significant division.
6. Noo Eege
Notwithstanding the inchoate nature of Noo Eegeism it has to a surprising extent hijacked, and undermined the credibility of, the Gaia idea. The Gaia model of our planet is, I think, not mere hypothesis; it's the only idea on offer for explaining Earth's extremely anomalous properties when compared with the planets on either side of us. The highly anomalous value of the surface temperature, and its relative stability, and the exceedingly odd chemical composition of the atmosphere, are not explained by any other idea than that the organisms co-operatively stabilise their own environment very far from physical and chemical equilibrium. I therefore view Gaia as not hypothesis but fact - admittedly very complex and somewhat vague, but nevertheless fact. Those who say it is only an hypothesis may consider the compromise of calling it an axiom; seen that way, it's at least a reasonable choice.
The question in any case is of course what to do about it. One temptation, to which its innovator Lovelock (1988) succumbed until only last year, is to credit Gaia with such powerful self-stabilising mechanisms that e.g. the ozone shield cannot be seriously perturbed by a few tons of freons. Another temptation is to go religious toward Gaia; but this is not essential to the concept.
THE WAY FORWARD
"Back to candles & caves", we are misrepresented as saying by the technocrats and their PR frontmen (e.g. cabinet ministers) in idiotic or dishonest response to any such constructive proposals. But in truth the simpler, comprehensible technologies we need for a sustainable world would make various use - restrained use - of many modern materials and machines. We need to identify appropriate technologies and deploy them (and suppress bad ones such as nuclear bombs and reactors). The 'Gossamer Condor' may be one good image to nudge technologists toward minimalism. Far simpler machines such as village-scale biogas generators similarly should be deployed, at least in imagination and teaching. But there is no substitute for practice. I suggest that the term appropriate technology can hardly acquire any ecologically suitable meaning except in a society of hobbyists. Only a society with sufficient citizens involved in adjusting, lubricating, and to some extent making, various machines can form a reasonable assessment of new technology.
Child-rearing will also have to rediscover old principles. Over the past half-decade I've been increasingly annoyed at overindulgent child-rearing by parents around my age. Most children I come across have evidently been denied the guidance they need and deserve regarding what are the limits of behaviour to keep a society even minimally coherent. Here again, as in feminism, we see the overswing of the pendulum: most of us who were brought up with what we thought excessive unreasoning control have now gone too far toward the other extreme. Dr Benjamin Spock has apologised for his early denial that babies can be spoilt, but many parents have yet to catch up with his maturity. Also, I suggest that growing up gardening is a good start in ecologically-appropriate living. Blueprint(s) ?
I am personally against issuing blueprints. Better to give out pieces of jigsaw puzzle - e.g. appropriate technologies and ideas for social forms. One creates a vision for a better future within a stated time-frame, and with some agreed frame of reference, viewed with the perspective of applied ecology. Others will form their visions by filling-in a gestalt stimulated by the jigsaw-puzzle bits we've pointed out (the straight-edged bits defining the frame of reference are especially important). We can only hope that those who fill in their larger vision will make use of our bits and will proceed to co-operate for regeneration of community. But, of course, if they avoid discussion of their ideas, co-operative planning cannot occur.
Having been tribal for over 99% of our existence, Homo is surely a sap to discard this way of life. The nation-state having turned out to be such a comprehensive flop, we must defend the Fourth World - such tribes as still persist. Those few people who are trying to found new tribes deserve considerable tolerance.
Groups of humans are powerful ecosystem managers. This is inevitable, and I regret that some 'deep' ecologists may have been encouraging guilt &/or denial regarding this fact. Living in accordance with the realisation that Gaia matters does not entail contempt for our own species. Images such as the Garden of Eden deserve revival.
The popular essay attributed to Chief Seattle points up the contrast of living v. survival. Having argued that we should not think our species irretrievably earthpest, I also argue that survival, for individual humans or even Homo the Sap altogether, has been over-mentioned during the modern era of environmental awareness. More important is meaning as expounded by the ex-Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Frankl (1962).
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