Monday, September 7, 2015

My thoughts on Naomi Klein and her speech: Capitalism and the Climate, Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2015

First, my character assessment of Naomi Klein who is (from Wikipedia) the "Canadian author, social activist, and filmmaker known for her political analyses and criticism of corporate globalization and of corporate capitalism". I think her heart is in the right place, she genuinely cares deeply for her fellow human beings and she is intelligent and articulate. She made a speech to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas several days ago which is below. I encourage you watch it, for its own sake and because it will better equip you to understand what I'm about to say.
Ms. Klein had some interesting things to say about how capitalism works its wonders in the world, particularly her description of the fate of Nauru, which is a comprehensive multifaceted human clusterfuck in microcosm, very illustrative of the ills of the System.

At the end of the speech is a question and answer session where in answer to the inevitable "But what can poor little us do, faced with such overwhelming horror etc?" she says, get in rooms full of people like you who want to do something about it. All very good, up to a point. And if we watch the Youtube clip above, we have indeed spent an hour in the company of Ms. Klein and mostly like-minded types (although the first question is from a climate change denier who seems so dumb, he must surely have been a plant in the crowd to get everyone a bit rowdier and on side), groping for understanding and solutions.

So accepting the motivations were good, the crowd was (mainly) adoring, and the exhortation to get cracking with like-minded others was fair enough, what was the problem? Well, it comes down to her vision of how the world works, as compared to how it actually works. Naomi sees the world being exploited by Capitalism, which is run according to her by nefarious characters, the cartoonish archetype being Rupert Murdoch, the Prince of Darkness, plus a supporting cast of lesser demons such as Tony Abbott, our esteemed Prime Minister, oil company executives and so on down the line. Whereas, if only us good-minded types were in charge, in a trice we could have the whole system running on renewables built by worker-controlled co-ops. Without her explicitly stating it, the answer is to get a revolution happening, have Rupert and his cohorts dangling from lamposts and then the chaps with wider necks than their heads who (in consultation, of course, with the scattered remnants of the Original Persons of each continent, with their Deep Understanding of the Spirits of the Earth etc) can get cracking with their lathes and welders knocking up wind generators and solar panels.

Her geography seems as woozy as her social modeling — she seemed to think the horror du jour, poor little 3 year-old Aylan Kurdi, was found drowned off the coast of Kurdistan. I think I'd be telling her agent not to bother booking any lectures in Turkey.

So what's wrong with this picture of the Problems of Capitalism? Well, I could launch into the analytical issues resulting from the over-simplified dualistic thinking which runs through Judeo-Christian culture and even back to Zoroastrianism. After pages and pages (with footnotes) we might get somewhere, with talk about how Weberian social analysis is a more subtle and useful tool than classic Marxism. Blah blah blah.

But suppose instead I postulate an alien ecologist, who makes a study of Earth and deduces the rules of human ecology are really no different from that of yeast. Yeast expands in its container until it uses up all the food source or is poisoned by its excretions. Then it dies off. Ditto humans — of course, we have some more complicated internal mechanisms than yeast, but the functional result is the same. Humans have leaders whose heads remain on their shoulders just as long as they can keep things organised enough to bring home the beef. Lately we've discovered this huge store of fossil fuel underground and boy, have we had a party! Now, as a result of this bonanza, there's billions of us, but boo-hoo, the energy is running out and it wont be replaced by chicken farts, extracting sunbeams from cucumbers or chopping the heads off the current captains of our destiny. There's way too many of us! As our alien scientist explains to the faculty back on Betelgeuse 9a, there may be all kinds of wonderful thoughts running through the heads of these human creatures, but they are beside the point when the model for the growth of yeast explains the whole thing!

As far as we know, yeast cells may be full of deep wisdom. Unfortunately I don't think Naomi Klein is, although I wish her well.

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