Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hairshirts and the failure of political imagination

A year ago, the cold unforgiving American night as I returned from NYC to Jersey, the late-open Starbucks with its unwiped tables and deserted half-eaten blueberry scones, the approaching nocturnal emptiness and my flickering ambition to be creative, to write one sweeping justification of my discontent, of why I reject the post-modern consensus, of why dark-green thinking fails to see the possibilities of our time, of why...

Amidst all the frustration: "Die letzten warmen Tage in Berlin" in my mp3-player, and unknowingly to me, the twenty-something Jon Favreau busy ghost-writing for Barack Obama, internalising his speech patterns at, yes, the local Starbucks.

Emptying my cup of shade-grown Mexican coffee, I remember going over the Wikipedia post on Fermi and his famous paradox, the grand perspective of what modernity is all about: to safely leave our planetary cradle and to build a universal civilization of humanity, to eliminate hunger, poverty, ultimately the very notion of material needs. At the same time, the tragic reality of the hairshirts who seek to bind humanity to its past, to prescribe absolute limits to growth and human ingenuity. But just as much, the cornucopian liberals who hold all consumption to be axiomatically desirable and who like Johan Norberg fail to see the historical debt incurred by colonialism and the ongoing exploitation in Third World sweatshops.

In two weeks I will be back in America where the tide has turned and idealism no longer is mocked. But as all commentators are quick to point out, the work still remains to be done, it is still uncertain if Obama will succeed in breaking with the contemporary collective failure of imagination and reignite our sense of historical purpose.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Johan Norberg said...

Hi there,

You're half right about me: I don't deny the disastrous consequences of colonialism. On the contrary, I think it was a terrible crime and that it stifled the colonialised countries socially, politically and economically for generations.

But you are right in assuming that I think the world needs more swaetshops to reduce poverty, not fewer. To get over the problems that colonialism contributed to poor countries need the transfer of technology, knowhow and incomes that so called sweatshops create.

Best,
Johan

2:40 pm  
Blogger Rasmus said...

Dear Johan,

first, thanks for your comment! Having read In Defense of Global Capitalism (which I by the way much appreciated), I am nonetheless troubled by your relativist approach. True, sweatshops may be more effective in reducing poverty than a return to, often romanticized, local practices. But are these really the only two options that we can choose from? Does not our imagination allow us to think about bolder options?

It is along those lines that I have been working on the notion of a “Global Fordian Compromise”. Though I have written a bit about here on Rawls & Me, that notion has now been explored by me in a paper published in the refereed journal Environmental Science & Policy (currently only available on line, the article will appear in print during 2009).

Though I have long wanted to give more substantial feedback on your book, time is not on my side for the moment, but rest assure, the debate will go on! Cheers!

4:46 pm  
Blogger Nils said...

The choices are:

1) Working in a sweatshop.
2) Being Johan Norberg.

9:44 am  

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