My last post has generated quite a bit of interesting discussing. In comments, Joe has been raising some especially interesting points. In his most recent comment he writes:

I also understanding the “pushing things to the ledge” rationale (and I’ve heard it before), but I’ll try to make my point again, hopefully a bit more clearly. When I initially said that this sounds like it suffers from a market-oriented outlook, I had in mind the specific assumption that once we exhaust fossil fuels that we will be ABLE to orient production toward and carry out creating new, more sustainable extractive technologies. If there are “no” fossil fuels (if we run supplies into the ground in some sense), which are integral to modern industrial production AND society, how are we going to fuel the change in “our relation to resources and energy”? When I say fuel, I don’t just mean directly fueling production, but supporting people and social organization. I work in an anti-hunger nonprofit and one of our chief concerns is child-hood hunger and what that does to their development, susceptibility to disease and other risks. I don’t want to make a direct analogy, because I know it’s not /the same/, but it’s the kind of dilemma I think you and others are over-looking when advocating that we “starve the beast” by eating up energy.

The concern with getting “business and corporations to respond when it is not in their economic interests to do so” sounds like a fool’s errand too. It’s not that those organizations aren’t relevant, but that I simply don’t believe they WILL or conceivably CAN act “when it’s not in their economic interests to do so”, where economic interests includes a long-term strategic hope at “coming back” after some kind of grand energy revolution. That is, not under the current regime of attraction (capitalism). This though might be the more relevant context in which to think of how “the catastrophe has already happened”, where economic sustainability is the fantasy that must be traversed.

I think we’re actually quite close to one another here. Like Joe, I’m of the position that industry can’t respond because of the massive redundancy and negative feedback loops regulating world economy and businesses. For most businesses, to change in the ways requires mean that they lose their ability to compete which means that they fall out of existence. The situation they find themselves in is not so much one of a personal business decision, as a business decision arising from a network of relations among businesses (again, this is part of the importance of recognize that ecology exists at all levels).

read on!

Regarding the issues Joe brings up concerning hunger and the sustainability of societies, I think we’re going to end up face massive societal suffering one way or another precisely because our lives and society are so intertwined with this economic system. This is one reason I think that it’s impossible to think environmental and economic politics apart from one another. They are one and the same issue and are thoroughly intertwined. With that said, Joe seems to be suggesting that within my framework the two alternatives are mutually exclusive, i.e., that one either adopts the accelerationist strategy of pushing things to the point of collapse or pursues the formation of other types of society, energy, etc. I don’t think these two options are mutually exclusive.

However, I do think that it’s important to recognize the economic realities facing working and middle class people. Working and middle class people are dependent on this system to live. In many respects it’s not so much that people are ideologically duped or in the grips of a fantasy (though these things too), but that they continue to live in these ways, because the economic regime of attraction in which they live more or less forces them into this way of living. Environmentalism, currently, is expensive. Leaving many without an alternative. They must support themselves and their families and this requires that they work and make due with the goods available to them.

In other words, one of the things I’m trying to point out with my broader conception of ecology is that we have to attend to the ecology of human lives in the relational concreteness of their economic dependence, consumption dependence, social dependence, etc. These issues have to be addressed in order for viable alternatives to become possible. Moreover, humans, being the creatures that they are (selfish, myopic, with little long-term foresight), I think there’s little hope to be found in the moralistic, ascetic proposals put forward by many environmental activists. I am not saying that these proposals aren’t right. I am saying that they are not realistic and therefore are not real solutions to these problems.

For example, from a game theoretical point of view, why should my neighbor get solar panels, fuel efficient lights, go vegetarian, etc., knowing full well that others around him will refuse to do these things? This game theoretical problem exists at all levels of the socio-natural world. It exists at the level of how individuals engage in their decision making processes with respect to one another. It exists at the level of how businesses make decisions with respect to one another. It exists at the level of how nations make decisions with respect to one another. So the question here is “given this game theoretical clusterfuck where it makes little rational sense for individuals, businesses, and nations to make sacrifices that others won’t, how do we navigate a path out of this clusterfuck to a workable alternative?” My inability to see the way out of this game theoretical clusterfuck is part of the reason I’m led to these unhappy accelarationist conclusions. It’s hard for me to see how anything can realistically been done until these entities are forced to do something.