Blaming the Messenger
Spiked Online are at it again, jumping at the chance to blame common atrocities on the spectre of green fascists. To the likes of Frank FÃ¼redi and Brendan O'Neill a green fascist is anyone who doesn't believe in their technocratic vision of unlimited human and material growth, if indeed they believe their own propaganda. More is always better and anyone who says otherwise opposes progress.
A couple of weeks ago a school shooting in the Finnish town of Jokela captured the imagination of the European and North American media. A loner with the Internet pseudonym of NaturalSelector89 who had published a gun-toting video on YouTube, advocating the culling of much of the world's population, shot dead six fellow students and then completed his cleansing of the human race by turning on himself.
Although the importance of school shootings pales numerically in comparison with the slaughter taking place in countries ravaged by foreign occupation and civil wars, they form a regular part of a media spectacle obsessed with violence. Over the last few weeks the British popular media has entertained the gullible public with the latest on the murder of a female English student in Perugia, revelations of sex fiend responsible for the murder of Vicky Hamilton over 16 years ago, more on the Madeleine McCann story and, if that did not sate the appetite of necrophiles, the copycat accidental throat slitting during a sex game by the daughter of a wealthy businessman, now two-timing as a New Labour MP. Once you've consumed the appalling tales of shock and horror violence in the tabloid press, you can switch on the telly or game console and consume yet more, always portrayed as the acts of psychopathic individuals or justified revenge by their victims or their saviours. Indeed the two genres of media violence are often interpolated with ads for violence-themed movies alongside news stories and gory titbits of domestic news in the break between segments of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Whoever may be directly responsible for these atrocious acts, the media guides us subtly to the conclusion that we need to grant the state even more control over our lives. If Madeleine McCann had had an RFID chip implant, we might know her whereabouts by now, and if a CCTV camera had been installed in her bedroom we would have video footage of her abductor or killer. So why not go ahead and implant RFID chips in all children and CCTV cameras in all bedrooms. Honestly it will not be long before child abuse awareness raisers make such absurd calls. Without thinking some of us are letting the authorities turn this this country into a police state way beyond what George Orwell had deemed possible, all because law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from a freedom-and-democracy-loving establishment. Yet the very same establishment that purportedly wants to protect us against psychopaths and perturbed extremists, also promotes a lifestyle that breeds insanity and extreme disillusionment. Few of us can meet the high expectations set by a combination of the mass media and peer pressure. 'I must have a Wii gadget because I'll be the only person in my class without one and if you don't buy one you're a child abuser'. We can hardly claim that many Europeans lack the financial means to acquire essentials like food, water and shelter. Indeed malnutrition nearly always takes the form of eating disorders amid an abundance of readily available junk food and anorexic supermodels.
I can think of many problems that afflict today's youth, but somehow over-intellectualisation is not one of them. This should not come as a surprise to the author of 'Where have all the intellectuals gone?' and the founding father LM Mag group, Frank FÃ¼redi. Most youngsters are either too immersed in pop culture or wrapped up in their own personal issues to worry about the wider world. I don't see green fascists roaming the streets at night mugging innocent pedestrians or developing 3D simulations of a depopulation campaign to save mother nature from the curse of humanity. Instead I see disenchanted youths joining gangs in inner city ghettos and millions more alienated youths totally enraptured by virtual reenactments of fighting. One buys a 40 inch plasma screen in order to view gory scenes in their true glory, not apparently to view a documentary on climate change.
As Paul Flynn, one of the few critically thinking Labour MPs left, notes in his blog 'No British coverage I read mentioned anti-depressants, yet that have been a factor in 28 school shootings and stand-offs including the killing of 10 students in Columbine and 5 in Minnesota . The website www.ssristories.com/index.php has published the full lists.'
Now let us just briefly ponder on Brendan O'Neill's thesis. He claims that Pekka Erik Auvinen was somehow inspired by Finnish fisherman and ecofascist intellectual Pentti Linkola. The extreme pessimism and politically incorrect support for eugenics and authoritarian rule to bring the population down to more manageable numbers suits the arguments of technocratic polemicists fine. Pentti honestly believes humanity is doomed unless we urgently cull most of the world's human masses, but we should at least distinguish warnings from extreme reactions.
Tale of the Titanic
Consider the infamous Titanic ocean liner as a metaphor for planet Earth. The ship has a revolutionary new unbreakable hull and is heading full steam ahead for iceberg-infested water just to the south of Greenland. Like the global population the ship contains a huge economic disparity of passengers, some occupying the upper decks with luxury cabins, private bathrooms, dance halls and room service. Others occupying the lower decks packed like sardines. As nobody expected the unsinkable ship to go down, lifeboats could only save a small minority of passengers. As it happened they did not even suffice to save all the first class passengers let alone those in the lower decks.
Now, what would you have done if you had spotted the infamous iceberg in time. In hindsight most humane people would have done everything possible to alert the crew so they steer the ship clear of the iceberg and alerted as many passengers as possible so we could make the best use of available resources to save as many people as possible. So what would the position of the Spiked sect be? In a nutshell, don't panic! Place your trust in the wonders of human technology and enjoy the cruise. Those who claim the ship will sink and kill off 90% of the ship's passengers are misanthropic green fascists. Now the likes of Pentti Linkola, a rare specimen indeed, might advocate shedding excess passengers even before we hit the iceberg and might not attempt to steer the ship clear of the near-certain calamity, but most environmental realists would accept the harsh truth that we'd better act quick or we'll all die. If I advise you not to cross a busy motorway on foot because you might die, that's a warning. But if I drive my car at 70mph (112kmh) through a quiet village and run you over, that's called murder. Whichever way, Pentti Linkola's musings represent the mind of melancholic cynicism that can appeal to alienated individuals with an axe to grind. If you are bullied at school and treated as an outcast, you can hardly be expected to have a very optimistic view of humanity, a subject to which I'll return in my next piece 'Is another World Possible'. But let's be clear Pekka acted as a paranoid pushing innocent passengers off the upper decks of the Titanic long before the ship had approached icy waters. The analogy might not be perfect, but we still have time to avert disaster and the likes of Pekka and those killed by his deranged shooting fell victim to technocratic means of mind control.
You see the position of population pessimists, as we call the likes of Paul Ehrlich is quite simple to summarise. Human population took thousands of years to climb gradually with ups and downs, from a few hundred million (estimates for global population circa 0 AD average around 300 million) to 700 million at the dawn of the industrial revolution. It then took another 150 years through famines and widespread ethnic cleansing in the epoch of colonial expansion, to climb to around 1.2 billion, circa 1890. All subsequent growth in little more than century can be attributed to the petroleum revolution that significantly boosted agricultural yields and enabled regional specialisation through global distribution. So if this age is about to come to an end for hard scientific reasons, we may be in dire straits and thus need to adapt to lower aggregate consumption, an equation with two main variables per capita consumption and human population. Does that mean killing surplus people? No because if the pessimists are right, nature will take care of all human culling measures required to restabilise the ecosystem. The pessimists are merely predicting disaster. It's up to us to apply centuries of collective experience to avert this disaster or, at least, minimise the catastrophic consequences. Death and destruction is precisely what we want to avoid, but as I've pointed out in many other articles, will happen on a much greater scale if we fail to readapt to a post-petroleum age by consuming less and planning smaller, but viable and cohesive, families. So what if the population pessimists are wrong and, as the 1999 Channel 4 documentary, Against Nature, claimed the earth can genuinely support 32 billion human beings all with private motor vehicles, fridges and washing machines What if hidden somewhere below the earth's crust are trillions of cubic metres of abiotic oil and we will soon develop the technology to tame Mars's environment? Well in that unlikely scenario, we still have plenty of time to grow and fill the void. It's planning for continued growth that so drastically wrong.
In my humble opinion neither the extreme pessimists, those who claim the earth can support only a few hundred million, nor the the extreme optimists, those who claim we can happily embrace billions more human beings into our mass-consumerist lifestyle, are right. Personally I'd rather see a significantly lower consumption in the opulent world than significantly higher mortality through disease and starvation in the poor world. I kind of think on a purely pragmatic level we need to set priorities. We are already so interdependent that a prolonged power outage in a large city like London could kill thousands within days. Hospitals would shut and soon run out of supplies for emergency generators, refrigerated goods would rot, supermarkets would shut as would most places of work and education. Water pumps would fail and all supplies of bottled water would run out within hours. The whole place would grind to a halt and millions unable to flee. Indeed a tragedy could only be averted if other large state and corporate organised intervened promptly with a huge expenditure of resources. Just consider the fate of New Orleans in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina in times of plenty. The first victims are always the urban poor. If the United States can spend upwards of 400 billion bucks on invading and occupying Iraq, surely it could have devoted a small fraction of the quantity to saving its own citizens in its own territory? Apparently not, US multinationals need more oil to continue their addiction to economic growth at all costs. They don't really need 10,000 poor Louisianans as there are plenty more potential consumers and workers elsewhere. Their disappearance can be written off as unfortunate collateral damage of natural events beyond our control and possibly bad planning. You see as the human population becomes less sustainable, individual citizens become more expendable. Conversely the more sustainable the economy is in the long term, the more valuable its citizens. This is why the blind optimism of perpetual growthers relies so much on upside-down thinking. If, like me, you loathe the prospect of mass famines, internecine warfare, an encroaching police state and widening rich-poor gap, you'd favour powering down, consuming less per capita and stabilising population by lowering the birth rate. If, however, you don't care, are too concerned about your private high consumption lifestyle, taking cheap flights and one car per adult for granted, and would rather buy into the notion that a finite planet can support unlimited growth, then expect the worst. But high-profile pseudo-intellectuals like Brendan O'Neill should know better. They know green activists abhor violence and the multibillion pound mass entertainment business is controlled by a tiny elite wielding enormous power over consumers. While Brendan O'Neill probably reads the Guardian and Independent and pretends to see elements of fascism in the likes of George Monbiot (in reality a very conformist moderate), the masses consume a diet of the Sun, Sky TV, Ryanair and online gambling with plenty of boozing and video-gaming opportunities. Indeed the very unintellectual masses are deluged daily with Shop-Until-You-Drop propaganda, so much so that UK consumer debt has reach 1.3 million million pounds ('1.3 trillion). Are we seriously to pretend that Rupert Murdoch, a key supporter of Thatcher, Blair, GW Bush and Howard as well as the tyrannical Chinese regime, has the best interests of ordinary working people at heart. Yet it is in his media outlets that we hear the most outspoken Growth at any Price propaganda. Has Spiked Online offered Jeremy Clarkson a column yet? Your average gas guzzling motorist doesn't want to personally kill innocent Iraqis, Iranians or Venezuelans, but is perfectly prepared to believe a warped version of reality, in which they are victims of evil dictators whom our benevolent leaders have always opposed. Europeans driving across the wilds of Tanzania in their 4x4 Landrovers may wish car-less African villagers all the best, but are seldom prepared to admit that their lifestyle relies on resources that others are denied. Africa in the early 21st century has become a battle ground between Chinese, European and Anglo-American energy and commodity corporations.
Remember when you could smoke on the London Underground?
The first time I travelled on the London underground, sometime in the mid 70s, passengers smoked nonchalantly. Indeed this was just before separate smoking and non-smoking cars had been introduced. This would be unthinkable today for two reasons. First because the non-smoking majority no longer tolerates tobacco pollution, but more to the point, because attempting to light up on most tube lines anytime between 7:30 and 9:00am could very easily ignite other passengers as the mean gap between standing persons is seldom more than an inch (or 2.54 cm to be exact). Banning smoking on public transport led to a temporary improvement in air quality, soon offset by a higher density of passengers. You see if I don't have to share the same room with you, personally I don't care whether you smoke. Indeed if we share a large hall, I might tolerate your smoking fairly well, but if we have to share a metaphorical phone box, I might object to your smoking. Spiked Online's panacea would have even more people happily choosing whether to smoke. We'd need to quadruple the London Underground network. First we'd have to double it to cope with the current volume of passengers and then double it again to have separate networks for smokers and non-smokers. More people means subjugating ourselves to greater control over each others' lives. If you live in a small close-knit community you don't need extensive databases of sexual predators and potential terrorists, because everyone knows other members of the community and has time to vet occasional newcomers, but when people move house at the drop of a hat and few residents have any roots in the neighbourhood, we have to rely on the police, social services, CCTV cameras and RFID chips to defend us against dangerous individuals in our midst. Whether you like or not overcrowding not only reduces individual freedom and rights, but also tends to impact negatively on community relations.
Ironically the Spiked ' Sect tells would have us believe we can have our cake and eat it, i.e. we can continue to increase our burden on the ecosystem by relying even more on remote impenetrable technology and still enjoy personal lifestyle freedoms. Yet as sure as night follows day, technocratic elites take away our freedoms and put in their place a totally controlled fun culture.
A Note On the Spiked Sect
- For those unfamiliar with Spiked Online, I'd better explain where it comes from. Posing as trendy progressives on the cutting edge of intellectual debate, the sect started life as breakaway faction from the old International Socialists, now Socialist Workers' Party, back in the mid 70s. They formed a far-left clique called the Revolutionary Communist Party, which took, shall we say without fear of contradiction, extreme stands on burning issues of the day, chiefly the civil war in the North of Ireland, steadfastly supporting the IRA and Sinn Fein even through some of the most indefensible atrocities against civilians. You name the issue and they tried to trump the rest of the radical left by assuming a more absolutist stance or dismissing more mainstream struggles as pointless syndicalism (like industrial action) or misguided counterrevolutionary revisionism. By the mid 80s they had honed their identity as the ultimate defenders of Marxist progress, seen purely in the simplistic terms that socialism represents not so much an alternative to the current world order but the next logical step in humanity's relentless progress from nomadism, through feudalism to capitalism and onwards to the dictatorship of the proletariat, guided by a vanguard party. Their vision of the future clearly reflected the prejudices of cosmopolitan Anglo-American elites. Rather than challenge rampant consumerism and large multinationals taking control of each and every aspect of people's lives, they embraced globalism as the ultimate humankind's destiny. Their focus moved away from the working class cause altogether as they attracted mainly upwardly mobile ambitious media studies students. However, they persevered with their role as the left's Devil's Advocate, especially when the left swallowed emotive humanitarian rhetoric on complex international crises such as the 1994 Rwandan democide, providing a semblance of radical anti-imperialism that appealed to small but influential clique of students.
- By the late 1990s they had shed any pretence of competing on the far left, still dominated by the small neo-Trotskyite SWP. Their magazine, Living Marxism, became LM Mag and they began to campaign on largely lifestyle issues.
- Just consider a selection of the Frank FÃ¼redi's clique's stances:
- The human potential is boundless and thus any attempts to cut consumption, oppose technological solutions or plan for gradual population reduction should be opposed as reactionary opposition to progress itself. In any debate with RCPers on the environment sooner or later you'll be accused at best as a misguided opponent of progress and at worst of green fascism bordering on genocidal neo-Nazism.
- Humanitarian disasters are often a figment of Western propaganda. The RCP campaigned vociferously to challenge media bias against Serbs in the Balkan Wars and against Hutus in the 1994 Rwandan tragedy.
- We live a culture of fear, reluctant to embrace the technological solutions that could enable billions more human beings to enjoy the wonders of post-WW2 Western consumerism.
- The adverse effects of modern consumer products, whether drugs, food or electronic devices, are hugely overstated and, with rare exceptions, greatly outweighed by their benefits. Here the latter-day RCP can appeal to many disillusioned with establishment control freakery over issues like smoking bans.
- All regulation is bad. No nuanced position here as to whether we should call on the state to regulate us as private citizens or them as large corporate and state organisations. This stances places them in good company on the left on issues such as deregulation of cannabis or free speech, at one with the likes of Noam Chomsky. So they defend the right of racial supremacists to voice their scientific interpretations, but also dismiss the influence of mass entertainment on the minds of ordinary working people with little time to access to alternative media. So they say no to a ban on smacking, but also no limitations of the widespread prescription of psychoactive drugs. Ironically this stands in contrast with LM Mag's efforts to challenge media bias over Northern Ireland, Rwanda and Yugoslavia as your average Guardian reader would be depressingly unaware of the countercurrent perspectives that the RCP once championed. It would certainly appear that the new corporate-friendly Spiked Online brigade seem much concerned about defending the right of bug business to intoxicate and brainwash the masses through junk food and moronic electronic entertainment than they do about the freedom of genuine dissidents whose ideas are being silenced. Increasingly in the US and UK we see censorship of dissidents through an overload of mainstream disinformation and, where dissident ideas gain some currency, media belittling and bullying of all those who fail to sing from the right hymn sheet.
- We have the universe to conquer. I recall this rallying cry from an RCP event I attended in 1986. Should appeal to Star Trek fans.
- Multinationals are good and pave the way for a new borderless internationalism.
- The Chinese and Indian economies are booming and poised to overtake Western European per capita consumption in the near future. Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your life's savings.