Thursday, January 08, 2015

Marxism + Malthusianism = True

After my previous post, I got a lot of good feedback for which I am grateful. Several readers have objected to the suggested existence of a combination of Marxism and Malthusianism. In a strictly philosophical sense it is of course true that they make strange bedfellows. But in practice, when one deconstructs the worldview of many contemporary academics, in particular those writing in journals such as Capitalism Nature Socialism, it is not at all strange to see how fundamental Marxist beliefs such as that capitalism is only possible through exploitation (whereas I believe that capitalism works much better with greater measures of equality as more people then become capable of creating value) and Malthusian beliefs in environmental determinism can not only co-exist but actually thrive together.

One quick litmus test is to ask people if they believe that all of the world’s population can live like we do in the OECD-countries. Not only do many political ecologists instinctively answer this question in the negative, they also show remarkably little interest in promoting the kind of technologies that could make this ecologically possible. In fact, they are often committed to the exact opposite as in thwarting research on everything from next generation nuclear to genetic engineering (not to even mention space colonization).

Another thing that some seem to take disagreement with is the suggestion that this kind of Malthusian-Marxist thinking would in any way command a “stronghold” in Academia. Like neo-Gramscians, many political ideologists subscribe to a worldview in which the neoliberal hegemony is total and the world is governed by malign elites. Instead of thinking creatively about how to bring about compromise and change in a pluralist society, many political ideologists prefer a sense of personal victimhood and the belief that they, despite their fancy offices and five-digits travel budgets, are still on the “margins” of society. It is thus not surprising that they get particularly infuriated by the suggestion that they themselves exercise a hegemonic force. Not only do I have hundreds of rejection letters to support the possibility that they may in fact do that, more importantly I think they underestimate the wide resonance in terms of internalized guilt that many people (incorrectly) have come to feel.

Instead of promoting a narrative of hope and global convergence, political ecologists put up carbon calculators to measure individual "ecological debt" and tell others that their overseas trips are part of the problem (rather than, as I believe, the solution). And, instead of thinking boldly about how to provide food to 9+ billion people, they prefer to drive to the local farmers' market and Instagram “GMO-free” food that never can feed the world. The problem with this is not so much the hypocrisy (of which we are all guilty) but the consistent lack of imagination and forward-looking thinking.

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