Monday, July 18, 2016

The Soul of Man under Socialism

As popularized by Slavoj Žižek in the RSA animation clip “First as tragedy, then as farce”, Oscar Wilde begins his essay The Soul of Man under Socialism by arguing that while charity “degrades and demoralizes”, the proper aim should be to “try to reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible”.

This summer at the Breakthrough Dialogue, I was reminded of this quote. In the same way as charity is an insufficient response to poverty, contemporary lifestyle environmentalism with all its carbon calculators and guilt projection is obviously unhelpful with regards to actually solving the global environmental crisis. Instead of criticizing individual consumer choices or, worse, suggesting that poor people need to somehow be spared from the “ills of modernity”, the proper aim of ecomodernism should be to reorganize the basic global metabolism of society in a way that makes ecological harm impossible. Thought through, this is of course a very ambitious political vision and clearly one that the capitalist market economy alone will not be capable of bringing about. Yet, over the coming centuries, it appears as if our hopes of securing both human and natural flourishing increasingly depend on that we isolate the economy and the ecology of this planet from each other.

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