I read Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist some time ago and its harmonics resonated, echoes of my on thoughts on the pernicious effects of utilitarian self-interest.
We live in a time when our politicians and senior bureaucrats move seamlessly between their positions in the corporate elite and their positions as our political elite. They live in echo chambers where all they hear is their own self-interest or that of the class they represent.
Utilitarian self-interest is used and accepted as a justification for almost anything.
Witness the Liberals who have spent the Province to the verge of bankruptcy trying to buy favour and remain in power to protect their self-interest and that of their corporate and ENGO benefactors. Now they are desperate to sell off the Province’s natural resources to corporate interests in order to prolong their time at the public trough – hence Bill 55 which seeks to circumvent decades of inconvenient environmental protection laws, open our Parks to industrial exploitation and sell of our Crown Forests to private interests.
Witness the NDP who are prepared to sacrifice Ontario’s natural heritage, its endangered species, untouched wilderness, Provincial Parks, Crown Forests in exchange for an ideological, face saving, insignificant increase in the taxation rate on the 1% of the population which falls into that tax bracket. In exchange for the temporary security of not having to face an election, for a perceived, theoretical political advantage, they are willing to sacrifice all this and condemn a significant percentage of the population to energy poverty and unemployment as electricity bills double or triple and companies flee to jurisdictions with cheaper energy costs.
All in the name of utilitarian self-interest.
“…It was, perhaps, inevitable that a utilitarian society would generate a utilitarian environmentalism, and inevitable too that the greens would not be able to last for long outside the established political bunkers. But for me—well, this is no longer mine, that’s all. I can’t make my peace with people who cannibalize the land in the name of saving it. I can’t speak the language of science without a corresponding poetry. I can’t speak with a straight face about saving the planet when what I really mean is saving myself from what is coming.
Like all of us, I am a foot soldier of empire. It is the empire of Homo sapiens sapiens and it stretches from Tasmania to Baffin Island. Like all empires, it is built on expropriation and exploitation, and like all empires it dresses these things up in the language of morality and duty. When we turn wilderness over to agriculture, we speak of our duty to feed the poor. When we industrialize the wild places, we speak of our duty to stop the climate from changing. When we spear whales, we speak of our duty to science. When we raze forests, we speak of our duty to develop. We alter the atmospheric makeup of the entire world: half of us pretend it’s not happening, the other half immediately start looking for new machines that will reverse it. This is how empires work, particularly when they have started to decay. Denial, displacement, anger, fear.
The environment is the victim of this empire. But the “environment”—that distancing word, that empty concept—does not exist. It is the air, the waters, the creatures we make homeless or lifeless in flocks and legions, and it is us too. We are it; we are in it and of it, we make it and live it, we are fruit and soil and tree, and the things done to the roots and the leaves come back to us. We make ourselves slaves to make ourselves free, and when the shackles start to rub we confidently predict the emergence of new, more comfortable designs.
I don’t have any answers, if by answers we mean political systems, better machines, means of engineering some grand shift in consciousness. All I have is a personal conviction built on those feelings, those responses, that goes back to the moors of northern England and the rivers of southern Borneo—that something big is being missed. That we are both hollow men and stuffed men, and that we will keep stuffing ourselves until the food runs out, and if outside the dining room door we have made a wasteland and called it necessity, then at least we will know we were not to blame, because we are never to blame, because we are the humans.
What am I to do with feelings like these? Useless feelings in a world in which everything must be made useful. Sensibilities in a world of utility. Feelings like this provide no “solutions.” They build no new eco-homes, remove no carbon from the atmosphere. This is head-in-the-clouds stuff, as relevant to our busy, modern lives as the new moon or the date of the harvest. Easy to ignore, easy to dismiss, like the places that inspire the feelings, like the world outside the bubble, like the people who have seen it, if only in brief flashes beyond the ridge of some dark line of hills.”
Read the full text of Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist BY PAUL KINGSNORTH, Published in the January/February 2012 issue of Orion magazine