Government or the People I: Fear of Being Governed, Composing, 04/02/2015

When I look at right-wing politics today in North America, I see two fundamental kinds. The one that I largely respect is principled libertarian politics. These are people who suspect the government because of state power to oppress, but distrust unions and collective political movements because of their fundamental support for individual liberty. The one I spit on is the conservatism that enriches the rich, marginalizes the poor, racializes ethnic and cultural minorities, and abuses the environment for sheer pig-headed hatefulness alone.

In the real world, these kinds of politics are intermingled, with people who are very principled free market advocates and defenders of strict doctrines of individual liberty, for example, playing into institutionalized racism when discussing the Ferguson riots or the Trayvon Martin shooting. 

I remember my former libertarian friends, for example, deeply principled in many contexts, claiming that Martin Luther King would have supported George Zimmerman because he believed in equality. They also said that Zimmerman couldn’t have been racist because he was Hispanic and not white, and that the liberal media was vilifying him for defending himself against a dangerous criminal who was high on Skittles and iced tea (which is apparently a South Florida equivalent of melted Sucrets that cheap kids would get high on when I was 16).*

I don't understand why neoliberals and libertarians have
no faith in government mass planning, but they do in
corporate contexts. True, a corporation doesn't have an
army, but the market corrects errors only after their most
destructive social and environmental effects.
* C and G don’t interact with me on the internet anymore, and so I could easily be accused of trash-talking them. Well, I used to respect their opinions, despite our frequent disagreements, back when they respected my rights to disagree. You shouldn’t cut someone off from your social circles because they disagree with you about politics. Maybe unfollow their Facebook posts for a while. But that's it.

But one of the issues that I cover in Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity is a conflict between the values of liberty and environmentalism, or at least one perspective on politics that brings them into conflict. The influence of Friedrich Hayek in economic and political philosophy has given conservatism an extreme fear of state planning. 

Now, that’s with good reason, because when states carry out large-scale economic planning, they usually get things very wrong, causing more damage than the problem they sought to correct. Sometimes, it’s even in the same sector where government action sought to fix a problem. It’s very difficult for institutions, especially in Hayek’s day, to learn very accurate knowledge of the ecological, dynamic relationships that different processes of an economy have to each other. 

Now, as scientific knowledge of dynamic processes has improved, a government can achieve a better institutional knowledge of the systems and processes in its domain. Reading Donald Gutstein’s sustained squeal of well-researched rage at the Harper government maintained that this made a dent in the libertarian/neoliberal notion that governments should never do anything. 

But that doesn’t touch on the most pivotal issue that motivates the modern conservative hatred for government. Hayek’s notion was that mass government mobilization of resources, the necessary tasks for a planned economy or planned government control of a given sector, would have to involve coercive processes. 

Gutstein made a solid analysis that the liberal antipathy to using government’s coercive powers is at the heart of the right wing’s opposition to environmentalist laws. The only way to identify which ecosystems are particularly pivotal to maintaining the environmental health of the country is through detailed scientific investigation. Allowing a government to have that kind of knowledge is the foundation of state planning (and therefore state mass coercion) powers.

James Lovelock, who sparked one of the most charismatic
ideas in environmental activism, the Gaia Hypothesis.
Environmental activists have a tough problem dealing with this conviction among the right wing that enforcing environmentalist legislation is inherently anti-democratic, that it will inevitably oppress individual liberties. Few of us believe that such a conflict is necessary. But every now and then, someone opens his mouth.

I first composed what became Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity in the shadow of the Copenhagen climate change summit, where nothing particularly important was decided about how to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But the moment of the summit that had the most impact for me was a statement of James Lovelock, a legendary climate scientist who first developed the idea of the Gaia Hypothesis. 

This was a scientific theory that living organisms maintained a natural equilibrium in atmospheric chemical reactions that constitute the optimal balance for the entire biosphere’s continued health. Essentially, it was a theory that the planet was self-regulating. It’s since been disconfirmed as a scientific theory (a sign that it was a solid scientific theory in the first place), but its popular reception made Lovelock a celebrity in the environmentalist movement.

After the Copenhagen summit’s failure, Lovelock said this in an interview with The Guardian. “Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

Well, shit.

To be continued . . . 


  1. You're such a down-winger!

    1. I remember reading this just after it was published. I'm incorporating some of the points from your old article into my Part Three. The nice part is that Black and Green politics aren't opposed, just divergent.