An allegory on the banks of denial (II)

Doug Henwood recently recalled, somewhere — on his mailing list? Facebook? Twitter?  — that years ago, Alex Cockburn (peace be upon him) had said that if Social Security were to be dismantled, it would have to be an inside job — that is, a Democratic president would have to do it.

Of course Alex was right, as he usually if not always was, and I thought it was rather generous of Doug to mention the fact, considering that Doug was often quite critical of Cockburn.

The reference to old Alex brought out the usual pharisaic chorus — they laugh him to scorn; they shoot out their lips, and wag their heads, as Handel says. (Or his librettist, whoever that was.) Aiiee! Cockburn! The climate change denialist! Anathema!

I’ve had some thoughts here before about ‘denialism’ as a category, which I won’t repeat. In brief, the stigmatization of denialism seems like a kind of thought-policing to me, and I don’t like it.

In the case of climate change, however, abusing denialists seems particularly foolish. I say this as a recent victim (in a small way) of climate change.

Climate change is certainly real, as the denialists would mostly agree, though they would add — correctly, of course — that it’s happened many times in the history of the world, long before there were SUVs and coal-fired power plants. What the denialists mostly deny is that human activity has much to do with it.

Well, maybe they’re wrong — I’m inclined to think so — and maybe they’re right. But what is surely clear is that it doesn’t matter.

Anti-denialists seem to be operating on the idea that denial makes it harder to get nice enlightened policies in place that will slow, or arrest, or even reverse climate change. But this is idiocy. Denialists or no denialists, nothing is going to be done about climate change. Propaganda organs like the New York Times are already starting to speak of Sandy and her ilk as the new normal, and wondering what soon-to-be beachfront property might be worth investing in, once the existing beachfront property is washed away. Dig out those contour maps, folks.

The social order under which we live is simply unable — and uninclined — to cast its accounts based on what’s good for the world over the next three or four generations. Our rulers are looking at the next three or four quarters, in their capacity as steersmen of our institutions, and maybe a couple of decades down the road in terms of their own individual retirement.

This is not a mistake, or an oversight, or a betise. Our economy is in essence a Raubwirtschaft. Old Karl was right of course to observe that the capitalists have built amazing things and invented a lot of stuff, but they didn’t do it for posterity’s sake; they did it to steal a march on the competition, and get a bit more of the plunder.

There’s no way to steal a march on the competition by ‘doing something’ about climate change — except for advertising purposes, of course; greenwashing is thought, perhaps correctly,  to make a modest contribution to the bottom line.

Therefore, nothing will be done. Unless of course the social order were to change significantly. But we all know that’s impossible, right?


28 thoughts on “An allegory on the banks of denial (II)

    • Hey, thanks for the plug.

      I got an earful from my “baby sister” — the youngest of two younger sisters, now approaching fifty — about how I could publish a cartoon about the “fiscal cliff” Kabuki theater while the nation was in such panty-twisting anguish about the Sandy Hook school shootings.

      I gave her back an earful about how the whole uproar about how Sandy Hook, though tragic, was your typically sensationalized mass-murder story, running the typical cycle of moral outrage, Liberal angst about gun violence, rightist angst about the Second Amendment, everybody and their cat weighing in with the predictable superficial and sometimes flat-out cuckoo “solutions”, the usual smarmy Obama speech about murdered children and the usual round of tearful candlelight vigils before all the furor fades out and the “news” cycle returns to normal, with absolutely nothing substantive being done, Obama and the GOP still colluding to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, and people packing the theaters to see “Zero Dark Thirty”.

      I chose to publish that cartoon, at that moment, precisely because all the media angst about Sandy Hook was diversionary theater while the real issues remained the same. I may have been one of the few cartoonists — either mainstream or “alt” cartoonists — who published a cartoon that wasn’t about gun violence and gun control vis-a-vis Sandy Hook, and I’m rather proud of that:

      Besides, I’d already done my mass shooting cartoon back in July, about the smarmy speech Obama gave after the shootings in that movie theater in Colorado…

      …and I figured I’d already said anything I could possibly say about the whole meaningless “issue”, and Obama’s speech after Sandy Hook was pretty much from the same boilerplate he used for his Aurora speech.

      So I figured, screw it, this whole phony uproar will fade away soon enough and in the meantime, Obama and his cronies are still trying to insure that future generations of retirees will be spending their golden years in hovels, living on cat food — and, in spite of that, there’ll still be a million deluded, denial-ridden Liberals and Pwogs clogging my city expressing their joy over four more years of President Hope.

  1. Well, I couldn’t reply until I looked up “betise” and “Raubwirtschaft.” It’s great to have blog posts that improve my vocabulary, so thanks Michael! As to climate change and general environmental destruction, we are in a shitload of trouble, unless as MJS says there is a radical change in the social order. We noticed on our drive from Boulder, CO back to Moab, Utah last week an amazing number of gas wells, product of the fracking mania sweeping the country. All that energy isn’t being fracked out of the earth not to be used. All the greening liberals harp about is so much crap. That hypocrite, Al Gore, is now worth 100 million dollars, thanks to greening. Good for the bottom line, indeed. BTW, a developer in Boulder has built a “low carbon footprint” development, with properties selling at over $2 million each, with a few thousand sq. feet each.

    On a kinder, gentler note, enjoy the holidays, comrades! Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it.

  2. This sort of fatalism is how I’ve started to see it, too, watching the yearly climate meetings that U.S. utterly blows off, for example, but part of my despair may just be my inclination to laziness. It can’t be the right way to look at it. People should, must keep fighting to change the social order, and the climate battle is part of it. Militating against despair, actually, is the fact that so many “denialists” are paid for their views. The fact that the fossil fuel industry feels the need to organize a massive web of anti-science propaganda engines indicates that they’re worried about something. If they weren’t at least a bit scared by the change in discourse, they presumably wouldn’t bother. That’s something, at least.

    Unrelatedly, and on the off chance you didn’t know, after a search to see what the quote was about, it transpires like Psalm 22 apparently was talking about the shooting of lips before the Messiah got around to it. I can’t quite visualize the gesture myself. What does it look like?

    • Oh, and I should add that I really don’t consider myself a fatalist. I’m a great believer that some forms of human activity can do great things; but others are futile. Among the futile ones is any interest in ‘policy’ under existing circumstances. There is only one way ‘policy’ is going to go, at least on the large scale, until the fundamental determinants change.

  3. The anti-denialists think that merely holding an anti-denialist view is “doing something,” and also makes them superior to the denialists, which is of course, ultimately, the point.

    • Not as much as you think. They will clearcut the land and hunt every wild animal down to the very last one, without regards to hunting laws. They are not the saints painted to be.

  4. The standard movie image of the Amish is somewhat green, but considering that they use credit cards and batteries, buy construction materials from big box stores, and lobby for tourist season regs., they’re really not.

  5. Marx of, of all people, bought the trains-running-on-time apology for capitalism?

    In reality high-tech inventions almost certainly wouldn’t be possible without major state intervention either directly, as in most “advanced” countries–Japan, e.g.–or indirectly via defense spending in these here Several Sates. Once externalities are properly accounted for, we see Capital doesn’t just get bailed out by the state once and a while; the bulk of its finance comes from the state. In other words, the state built the technology with your money and capitalism sold the product to you. Thanking capitalism for the miracle of an iPad is like thanking the Church for the Last Supper painting–the Fat Cats may have commissioned it; but it took our money and ingenuity to create it.

    • I’ll leave it to better Marxologists than I am to comment on what Marx thought.

      The observation that railroads and internets and so on depend heavily on state investment is certainly true, but perhaps this isn’t so much a commentary on capitalism as it is on capitalism’s self-serving ideology.

      For Marx, of course, the actually existing state is not some weird alien force standing over against the capitalists — as it is, say, in the fantasy world of an Ayn Rand. For old Karl the state is a instrumentality owned and operated by the capitalists. So if it collects taxes from the hapless plebs and the uses the money to help the capitalists make more money — well, suprise, surprise, eh?

      • The better Marxologists? Why not the better Cartesians? Maurice was on to something when he wrote:

        [Political and social history] have “so completely shifted the perspectives of proletarian revolution that there is no longer much more reason to preserve these perspectives and to force the facts into them than there is to place them in the context of Plato’s Republic

        The “rebellion” by “rugged individualists” in states like Arizona who chafe under heavy hand of the State requires a Freud high on his pipe to do justice to grotesquerie of the situation. Their state (not long ago “territory”) which was built up by Uncle Sam’s benevolent shoveling of taxes by the trainload collected from the East Coast and industrial cities of the Midwest is full of resentful Adam Lanzas who fantasize of doing to the Nanny State what their maladjusted spiritual brother did just before he grabbed the car keys. Come to think of it, the thought occurred to me that analogously that’s what settler colonials have been doing to their “mother country” for a couple of centuries. The Frankenstate on the Med, which wouldn’t be around without nursing by three consecutive Western Empires (British, French, US) would probably end up doing them all in if and when time comes for it to be canted into the dustbin of history (or institutionalized as a “lunatic state” as comrade Finkelstein refers to it):

        We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force. Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: “Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” I consider it all hopeless at this point. We shall have to try to prevent things from coming to that, if at all possible. Our armed forces, however, are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.

  6. Merry Christmas to all comrades! Comrade SK, welcome back, we missed you!

    I’m posting this from Pittsburgh where I am visiting my outlaws. This morning at the hotel’s free coffee and tea counter, I overheard the following conversation:
    – So you believe in Rapture?
    – Yes, I do.
    – Good for you!

  7. Merlin, Having spent 55 years in the gloomy confines of western Pennsylvania, fifteen of them in the Steel City itself, I think maybe some need to believe in the rapture just to get through another year. Man, I was glad to finally get out of there, and I have hated to have to go back from time to time. BTW, it’s glooomier in Pittsburgh than in Seattle. When I was very young, street lights were on in the daytime there and in many a mill town. If the gloom wasn’t bad enough, the smoke from the mills really made things miserable.

    • pittsburgh ?
      surely one needs less misery then that to believe

      hell when i read peter ward here
      i find comfort in the coming “Rapture ”

      street lights at noon

      there’s a kold war novel in that yates
      or a fritz lang movie

      it hardly requires as much misery as pittsburgh brings

      street lights at noon

    • Oh man, thanks for that. All those valveless horns! God I love that sound — the Wild Hunt. Makes me want to run out and pick a fight with somebody. And it’s Handel, of course. Up-tempo. Doesn’t get a whole lot better.

      • Yeah, I noticed that, too. All those brasses that sorta kinda looked like trombones and French horns but which had no slides or valves. That, and all those woodwind instruments made of actual wood, and which looked like a cross between recorders and clarinets (I played B-flat and alto clarinets in my junior-high concert band) but weren’t. I’m no classical music expert, but it sounded wonderful, and it was fascinating to hear Handel’s music played on instruments like those of the time in which he lived.

        Still, I’m a product of the times I grew up in, and so — while we’re on the subject of the approaching New Year and the attendant “fiscal cliff” drama, here’s a little bit of apropos prole music:

        • The wooden things were Baroque oboes and bassoons, without so much key mechanism as a modern oboe, and different scaling. There was also a wonderful contrabassoon lurking in the background, twice the size of a regular bassoon, and sounding an octave lower, but I couldn’t hear that bad boy at all — due to mic placement mostly, I think. You’d’ve heard it in the hall, no question.

  8. Every thanksgiving I give thanks for the glorious copyright violators of Youtube. The Proms videos always include some good stuff but it can disappear. Niquet’s group did three suites of Water Music before doing Royal Fireworks and may have utilized those two huge bassoons audibly then. The video of the entire performance is right there.

    I also recommend Andrew Manze’s videos of RVW’s symphonies 4, 5, and 6. He was/is a baroque music specialist who has moved into Romantic and newer composers in recent years.
    RVW #4 is here and the lark does *not* ascend in it at any moment.

  9. Comrade Boink, thanks for the Niquet’s link but these EMI bastards have blocked the RVW #4 in my country of residence. As my luck has it, when I’m in Dumbfuckistan, some of the Quebec links are blocked and when I’m here, the US links are blocked.

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