Nov 132011

I have Tim Worstall to thank for raising my blood pressure on this fine Sunday afternoon and distracting me from some work I’m supposed to be doing. His reaming of this article by Naomi Klein in The Nation is brief, but extensive enough to hint that she might be saying some stuff that I particularly hate.

There is a run-of-the-mill Left position, that revolves around general ideas of environment, equality, and government involvement that I can sort of tolerate, even if I don’t agree with it. And then there is the crap spouted by people like Naomi Klein, who seem to view themselves as the best thing since sliced Marx, and in that tradition of philosophising about a new world order. This group also includes Madeleine Bunting.

And if there’s one thing that really gets my goat, it’s assholes holding forth about overturning the current “narrative” and bringing about a completely new social and economic “paradigm.” Especially when it’s actually a really old one.

I’ll declare my interest and say this is partly because the current narrative isn’t so bad (for me), but there’s another facet, and that is the blind outrage I feel when someone talks about junking the collective effect of the individual, diffuse, organic behaviour of billions of people. You can’t get different results without changing the inputs, and the natural way to do this—making a case, hoping it’s reasonable, and watching it become a trend if it is—isn’t good enough for the Kleins and Buntings of this world. There will be no grass-roots, bottom-up behaviour change, even though this is how it has only and ever worked. No, instead we shall have planning. Lots and lots of planning.

And in the service of what, precisely? Why, a new paradigm that overturns capitalism and delivers an earthly paradise of low-carbon equality of wealth. The infuriating thing about this is reading how they propose to do it, and losing one’s temper about the fact that it makes no sense.

Let’s start with Klein’s thesis.

The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence.

That would not be a “new civilisational paradigm” but a very old one: the one humans lived in for many thousands of years, the rhythms of their lives attuned acutely to the natural cycles of growth, rains, harvest, dormancy—or else growth, drought, famine, and death. Many people in the world still actually live this way, and not only does it suck, we in the first world acknowledge that it sucks because we call these people “poor” and try to help them not have to live attuned to the cycles of nature.

This is mainly because, while human intelligence might have its limits, inability to overcome the cycles of nature isn’t one of them.

Not that any of this really matters, because Klein doesn’t want to do this really, and nothing in her “planning” would achieve it, or is even designed to achieve it. Her six-point plan bears no resemblance to anything remotely “natural.”

It’s not even as sensible as my colleague’s ten-point plan for when he becomes dictator of India. That one starts like this:

1. Remove all restrictions on trade.
2. Legalise prostitution.
3. End all licensing laws.
4. Introduce the death penalty.
5. Put all corrupt people to death.
6. etc.

So let’s look at Klein’s plan. With the rhetorical crap stripped out, it goes like this.

1. Create a huge government deficit by building massive green infrastructure.

Yeah, okay. That’s just run-of-the-mill leftism, but we’ll come back to it.

2. Every community in the world to plan how it will stop using fossil fuels.

My favourite part of this is how collective lifestyle imposition is described as “participatory democracy.” I guess it doesn’t occur to Klein that people don’t require participatory democracy when they are free to make their own individual decisions. It’s only when some group is trying to force its shit on everyone else that the twin charade of “engagement” and “consultation” is invoked. Seriously, whenever you hear that you’re about to be consulted or engaged with, abandon all hope, because it means some decision about you has been made without you and you’re now about to be told what it is.

2a. This planning should focus on “collective priorities rather than corporate profitability.”

Somehow this is something to do with making sure those people whose current jobs are entwined with fossil fuels don’t end up left without a job.

This makes no sense. For one thing, there is nothing more capitalist than a job. A job is what you do to earn money (sometimes also known as capital), with which you buy the stuff you need to live. You can’t sweep away capitalism and keep jobs. It just doesn’t work. A job is not some kind of intrinsically good way of keeping oneself from growing bored with leisure. A job is work someone pays you to do. And jobs are not the same thing as work; this is why we don’t call hoovering and dusting “housejobs.”

Let’s also address the problem of “profitability.” You know, the one where “profit” is the positive difference between outgoings and incomings. You know, the one where that difference—that profit—is what the government takes a slice of (“tax”) to get its money to build lots of lovely infrastructure?

2b. Re-introduce labour-intensive agriculture in order to create jobs.

Labour-intensive agriculture is otherwise known as peasant farming, and peasant farming is not a job. It’s work. It’s the work one does not to have money with which to buy food, but to have food to eat. It’s back-breaking work that is harder than a job, less fun than a job, and less rewarding than a job. It is another old paradigm that we’ve actually spent some centuries now trying to get away from. We’re still trying to help third-world subsistence farmers get away from it. Returning to it is a shitty idea, and a really stupid plan for achieving a really stupid thing.

3. Rein in corporations’ ability to supply and burn fossil fuels.

That’s all well and good, but there’s nothing here about what happens to all of the other corporations where there’s no fuel. I work in a web software company. The other day, some builders over the road accidentally cut the power cable, and for two hours, the entire neighbourhood went dark. Our whole company was paralysed—no routers so no internet, no phones. Within ten minutes, the place was like something out of Boccaccio, with employees sitting in dark rooms telling stories about other power cuts they’d endured. Imagine that all over the world, and it’s only a matter of time before hundreds of millions of people start contemplating peasant farming as the only alternative to eating each other.

4. End non-local trade.

Wow, again, we’re back to the fucking Middle Ages. Thank you very much for coming to dinner, Ms Klein. Have a turnip. No, really, that’s all we’ve got. A turnip. We have to source our food locally, you see. Perhaps you would like a bit of the salted rat I’ve been saving up for our meat during the winter? What do you mean, that’s a protected species?

5. End “growth” in the first world.

Hey! You there! Yes, you with a good idea for streamlining this process! Stop it right now.

Either these people do not understand what growth is, or they don’t understand what humans are. Humans are problem-solving creatures. “Growth” is not using more resources to make more profit. “Growth” is solving problems. Often, it is solving the problem of “how do we do this thing with fewer resources?”

Klein obviously doesn’t understand this. To her, use of resources is to be minimised, except when the resource is human labour—use of that is to be maximised.

I mean, am I going crazy in the rare sunshine, or does anyone else see that we’re going backward here? The whole reason we use “stuff” is so that we don’t have to use people, because back when we had no “stuff,” we had things like 30-year lifespans from toiling in the fields, and slaves.

It’s like she’s saying we should use less stuff so that we can use more people, because it’s good for people to be used, because it means that they have work, and it’s good for people to have work, because it means that they’re not being underused.

It’s so recursive that she’s in danger of suggesting that jobs need humans in order to live.

6. Tax people and corporations.

We’re back to the whole “profitability” thing again. Now that we’ve spent some time using participatory democracy to make sure nobody cares about profit, and some more time ensuring that we stop using resources to make things, and still more time ensuring that no one makes money from using or supplying fossil fuels—where is the money, precisely, that the government’s going to take in tax? When everywhere is a co-op or a peasant farm, producing only what people need locally, where is the excess capacity that the government can take in tax?

This is the whole problem with this stupid obsession with the evils of profit. Profit is what the government taxes. Therefore, no profit, no tax. No tax, no government infrastructure projects or green subsidies or anything else the government is supposed to pay for because the private sector won’t do it because there’s no profit in it.


Klein sums up:

There is no joy in being right about something so terrifying. But for progressives, there is responsibility in it, because it means that our ideas—informed by indigenous teachings as well as by the failures of industrial state socialism—are more important than ever. It means that a green-left worldview, which rejects mere reformism and challenges the centrality of profit in our economy, offers humanity’s best hope of overcoming these overlapping crises.

Yeah, okay. There’s nothing in your “plan” that didn’t come straight out of the playbook of 1381, only in 1381, the peasants were revolting because it was such a shitty fucking plan and they didn’t like living under it.

More to the point, it makes no sense. The whole point of this “new paradigm” is to stop climate change and, as an added bonus, improve equality and “participatory democracy.”

But go back to the first premise—climate change should be stopped—and take a moment to ask again why that is so. Climate change is bad because it will destroy our way of life. It will kill a bunch of people outright in floods and storms. It will reduce the land area we have to live on, and reduce how much food we can grow on it. It will make many of the natural resources we depend on unavailable. It will make miserable, cramped subsistence farmers of us all.

And the way we’re supposed to avert this disaster is… to do it to ourselves first? What a pile of complete nonsense.

As Klein herself admits, the dangers of climate change are being used as a pretext to re-order the entirety of human life according to the “progressive” plan of using up excess wealth in order to maximise human work.

That is the most backward, fucked-up, and human-hating plan ever dreamed up. Anyone who backs it has a perception of life on earth so diseased and warped that they’re barely recognisable as human beings themselves.

  14 Responses to “Meet the new plan: same as the old plan”

  1. Hello, Bella Gerens.
    First of all, I think it would help if you stopped sitting on the fence and came down on one side or the other.
    Heidi, sorry, NAOMI Klein has put into an article just the sort of political thinking that does the rounds of those cafés that specialise in worthy brown food that would be hugely improved with a slice of meat.
    The proponents of this philosophy, for surely this is a philosophy as it has been so carefully thought through, are quite certain that as originators of the idea, and because they are so highly educated, that they will all be leaders of the revolution and not part of the return to the land. The only part of the theory Ms Klein failed to mention is that all agricultural land will be divided up and parcelled out to the now free workers to till and sell their produce at the local street market. Of course she has forgotten that, since everyone will be producing the same crops, no one will want to buy them from anyone else. She has also failed to explain how the toiler who lives at the top of a tower block in Brentford and whose parcel of land is on Oxfordshire gets to and fro.
    I hope the foregoing has helped you to make up your mind. Kind regards, Nick Luke

  2. The most obvious reason for hooting at this nagging, self-regarding and supremely smug woman is not just her use of the word ‘paradigm’ – ooh, what a big brain I have, she thinks to herself, that I can use such a clever word! – but her deployment of the non-existent word ‘civilizational’ to qualify her supposed ‘paradigm’.

    What is dismaying is not just that she is obviously unaware of her ignorance but that it precisely mirrors a culture, prevalent across all levels of government, to take just one obvious example, that positively revels in this abuse of language in its assault on common freedoms.

    It’s a depressing thought.

    In the improbable event that anyone is interesting in the actual meaning of paradigm, it is: ‘the set of all the inflected forms of a word or a systematic arrangement displaying these forms’. Is that what Ms. Klein had in mind?

  3. “..whenever you hear that you’re about to be consulted or engaged with, abandon all hope, because it means some decision about you has been made without you and you’re now about to be told what it is.”

    The absolute truth.

  4. Hmmm, collectivism and ‘labour intensive agriculture’? Rings a vague bell. Hello 1970s Cambodia, didn’t expect to see you here.

  5. […] Delingpole and Bella Gerens have both been taking shots at Naomi Klein’s recent article in The Nation, Capitalism vs. the […]

  6. Ya don’t get it do you? It is only by society examining itself and realising that we are all doomed if this massive exploitation of our environment doesn’t stop, that we will be saved.

    Look at the human race, we consume to extinction, we killed the woolly mammoth, the dodo and the moa, we breed till we destroy our surroundings. We must go back to basics. We must become troglodytes once more.

    It is only by being realistic about things, and realise that we need to start thinking about sustainable development at a steady pace that we can save ourselves, and we need the government to put in place the policies required to achieve this. Otherwise, we’re done for.

    And as for your colleague… nuts.

  7. These ludicrous ideas are based on a falsehood – mankind is not destroying the environment or causing any significantly detrimental climate change. But Australia, under the mad Gillard and despite all the evidence now available, have just voted through a bill likely to cause economic contraction there, with zero effect on the CO2 emissions it’s supposed to reduce. It’ll be interesting to see how long they adhere to it, also providing a rather salutary lesson for Klein and her batty nonsense.

  8. The ugly truth behind most (not all) revolutionary movements is that they seem to advocate for a move backwards to some idealized past, even when they don’t realize it.

    We can thank the Reformation for this.

    I personally wouldn’t mind using the playbook of 1381 if it meant doing away with progressivism.

  9. Thank you, Bella, for making me laugh out loud at this unearthly hour of the night when I should, like most right-living people, be tucked up in bed after a mug of cocoa and an evening of mindless TV-watching. I’ve only popped over to this blog by chance today via DP’s weekly round-up, hence the some-days-late comment, but I’ll definitely be visiting again!

    “Thank you very much for coming to dinner, Ms Klein. Have a turnip. No, really, that’s all we’ve got. A turnip” Priceless.

    And thank you, too, commenter Nick for this one: “ … worthy brown food that would be hugely improved with a slice of meat.”

    Oh, I shall definitely be popping by again!

  10. Meh!
    Ms.Klein is just another example of the upper-middle class self-hating Jew who went to the best schools for her progressive/liberal education after her parents decamped to Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft.

    I mean, her grandparents were card-carrying Commies FFS! What better example of her neo-Gramscian, ivory tower leftist family credentials do you want?

  11. I wonder how many of the slime that spout this shit actually practice what they preach…

    You can bet that when they talk about toiling in the fields they certainly don’t mean that they’ll be the ones doing any sort of back-breaking labour just to make ends meet.

  12. “You can’t sweep away capitalism and keep jobs.”

    Certainly you can, as delightful video shows.

  13. I try to wrap my head round the sort of idiocy embodied in Klein’s article and my mind recoils from it. The scale of what she is proposing is so vast as to induce vertigo. It is so counter to anything even approaching sanity as to conjure surrealist images. Here is a picture of reality on Naomi Klein’s planet:

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