What is wrong, and why we can’t seem to fix it

Throughout most of my life I have been living under conservative governments, and the nicest way I can find to describe political conservatism is to say that it embodies the popular phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. However, as we all know there are many things wrong at present, and they need fixing. No amount of ignoring them will make them go away. This blog is about those awkward facts of world that won’t go away and which political conservatism won’t make go away either.

What I’m going to aim to do is post a blog once a week, on a Friday, so you can digest it over the weekend. The next week’s blog will either be the next in my series, or a discussion of issues that have arisen from the comments.

I’m going to have a very strict comments policy, comment will only be accepted if they are intelligent and polite contributions to discussion around the topic of the post. Everything else will be moderated.

If you find a blog here sympathetic, you might consider reading the blogs from the beginning, as they are supposed to be a more or less continuous argument.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Grumble 11: the difficulty our society has in making necessary changes

This grumble follows on from last week, where I asked why we can’t make a fairly simple change, legalising voluntary euthanasia for terminal or seriously ill people. This, I said, was a symptom of a wider problem, that we can’t seem to make necessary changes in our society very easily. This is very important because in the next few decades we’re going to need to change faster than any other society has ever done in order to escape the consequences of self-inflicted environmental changes.

The basic problem is that our whole society is geared to serving the people who got us into this mess in the first place: businessmen, bankers, advertising people &c &c. Instead of concentrating on the whole of society and what is best for the people as a whole, successive governments in all English-speaking countries and most other countries have, since at least the 1970s, simply been following policies to make the rich richer. And the problem with this is that when the rich (‘the 1%’) become richer, they simply want to get still richer and maintain their power, which is only maintained by continued ecocidal policies.

Continuing this way of running society is about as sensible as asking the iceberg for advice on how to steer the Titanic.

So, my argument would be that we need to dissociate ourselves from our ‘stakeholder society’ and embrace the good of the people as our goal. However, of course, the 1% have made sure that this is a very thankless task for any political organisation. The enemies of the people and the planet have made sure that almost the whole of media has become an echo-chamber for their propaganda, so that a majority of conservatively-inclined citizens (and a great many non-conservative ones) have become rabidly attached to any number of positions which stand in the way of necessary changes. The difficulty that the current Australian Labor government has had in enacting its so-called Carbon Tax is a case in point, and one made even more pointed when you realise that the centre of it is not a straightforward carbon tax, which might reduce emissions, but a ‘a market mechanism’ that will almost certainly become yet another scheme that the international banking canaille can rort and get rich off, and which will fail in its stated aims.

The long-continued campaign which the 1% have waged to continue their control over global society has had as its central plank convincing people that their prosperity depends on the continuation of the existing order when in fact the opposite is the case. Any acquaintance with the world will prove this thesis, but one example can suffice: in Australia at present housing is more expensive relative to average wages than it has been since the Second World War at least, and yet, in this situation, where even a modest new house can cost $600,000-$700,000, it is difficult to find one that has even basic adaptations to the Australian environment, such as correct orientation, double glazing &c. In other words the price of the house is pure inflation, and does not include actual improvements in quality.

(Of course, in a society which had a declining population, housing would be much cheaper).

As well a compliant media, another platform for the rule of the 1% is advertising. The extent to which advertising shapes our perception of the world cannot be underestimated. In the C18 there was an occupation of ‘barker’, a person paid to wander around the streets of a town shouting out advertising for businesses. Doubtless this person was as irritating as the leaflet profferrers in today’s malls, and as effective. The basic problem for merchants in the C18 was that almost everyone manufactured their own essentials, they merely required the raw materials, fabric for clothing which was made in the home and so forth. Even as late as the mid C19 most households in the English-speaking world still manufactured their own soap. It took an enormous and concerted effort of many generations on the part of manufacturers and advertisers to turn the population into modern consumers of finished products.

The main weapon of advertisers then, as now, was dishonesty. For example in the 1930s a Scottish poet, Norman Cameron, worked in an advertising agency in London. He was charged to sell a brand of cocoa and did so with an advertising campaign which told people that they were at risk of ‘night starvation’ if they didn’t have a cup of cocoa before going to bed. Night starvation, the campaign implied, it had all sorts of deleterious consequences, however, there is no such condition and it was an invention of Cameron’s. Cameron, despite, or perhaps because of, his Calvinist upbringing, thought this was hilarious. But we can view it as merely symptomatic.

The worst consequence of the dominance of advertising, and the creation of a false consumerism across society*, is that it encourages the idea that ‘market mechanisms’ are a way out of our present situation. Have said before here that no opportunity to make products more energy efficient and less resource intensive should be neglected, but this in itself is clearly not going to reduce total global consumption back to sustainable limits without a decline in population as well. We can’t have our cake and eat it, we have moved from a global society whose consumption was so little it made no long-term difference to the global environment, and now we have passed 7 billion people, so either we can all have the same standard of living as the average for people in somewhere like Chad**, or we can have a high standard of living for a lower number of people; energy efficiency and resource intensiveness of products aren’t going to make that much of a difference.

The power of the 1% can be gauged by the fact that the population argument is not widely argued, then dismissed, instead, it is hardly articulated at all.


* Of course people need to consume things in order to live, they just don’t need to consume everything they currently do.
** And if the population is to grow any more we would need the average consumption per capita of people living in Haiti.

Next week: lack of leadership

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