Monday, December 26, 2011

How far are we from the ideal of "living in truth"? Just listen to right-wingers on the environment


Plus Václav Havel on capitalism and socialism

"With everything else that has been going on in U.S. politics recently, the G.O.P.'s radical anti-environmental turn hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. But something remarkable has happened on this front. Only a few years ago, it seemed possible to be both a Republican in good standing and a serious environmentalist; during the 2008 campaign John McCain warned of the dangers of global warming and proposed a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Today, however, the party line is that we must not only avoid any new environmental regulations but roll back the protection we already have."
-- Paul Krugman, in his NYT column today, "Springtime for Toxics"

by Ken

The other day Howie wrote at length ("Mercury Poisoning -- A Thing Of The (Republican) Past?") about the surprising but welcome new mercury-pollution and related regulatory standards proposed by what I think we may safely call the beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose kindest fate the next time we have Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House appears to be mere elimination. As Howie pointed out, it was only to be expected that the pro-pollution screamers of the Right would quickly be on the warpath. I don't think any points can be awarded for that safe a prediction.

As Paul Krugman points out in his column today, after sketching the hard-to-deny health peril of the kind of mercury levels we're seeing in our air, ground, and water:
The new rules would also have the effect of reducing fine particle pollution, which is a known source of many health problems, from asthma to heart attacks. In fact, the benefits of reduced fine particle pollution account for most of the quantifiable gains from the new rules. The key word here is "quantifiable": E.P.A.'s cost-benefit analysis only considers one benefit of mercury regulation, the reduced loss in future wages for children whose I.Q.'s are damaged by eating fish caught by freshwater anglers. There are without doubt many other benefits to cutting mercury emissions, but at this point the agency doesn't know how to put a dollar figure on those benefits.

Even so, the payoff to the new rules is huge: up to $90 billion a year in benefits compared with around $10 billion a year of costs in the form of slightly higher electricity prices. This is, as David Roberts of Grist says, a very big deal.

And it's a deal Republicans very much want to kill.

Krugman notes that even the supposedly "different" Jon Huntsman, who "did indeed once say: 'Conservation is conservative. I'm not ashamed to be a conservationist,' "
has been assimilated by the anti-environmental Borg, denouncing the E.P.A.'s "regulatory reign of terror," and predicting that the new rules will cause blackouts by next summer, which would be a neat trick considering that the rules won't even have taken effect yet.

In this case, Krugman points out, the corporate-tool lying liars of the Right trot out all their favoriteslies about government regulation, for example that it's "job-killing." There are only two ways a lie like this can be uttered: by people who are too ignorant to know that it's a lie and don't care about their ignorance, or by people who know it's a lie and have no compunctions about lying. Here's Krugman again:
[W]henever you hear dire predictions about the effects of pollution regulation, you should know that special interests always make such predictions, and are always wrong. For example, power companies claimed that rules on acid rain would disrupt electricity supply and lead to soaring rates; none of that happened, and the acid rain program has become a shining example of how environmentalism and economic growth can go hand in hand.

But again, never mind: mindless opposition to "job killing" regulations is now part of what it means to be a Republican. And I have to admit that this puts something of a damper on my mood: the E.P.A. has just done a very good thing, but if a Republican -- any Republican -- wins next year's election, he or she will surely try to undo this good work.

It's hard to express just how many layers of lies every pol is now buried under. It's been ages since we were talking about the occasional counter-to-truth position. As I keep pointing out, it's necessary to assume that every word out of the mouth of every right-winger is a lie, but in fact as Krugman is suggesting here, it's gone way beyond that. As a society we're officially divorced from reality, totally off the truth standard.

Which brings me back to the inspiration of Václav Havel, with particular reference to that phrase "living in truth" we heard so much about the other day ("The ennobling spiritual and moral as well as political legacy of Václav Havel -- to the West as well as the East") from Columbia economics professor Jeffrey D. Sachs in his tribute to Havel, "The Power of Living in Truth." "Let us pause," he wrote, "to express gratitude to Václav Havel, who died this month, for enabling a generation to gain the chance to live in truth."

Given the trenchancy of Havel's critique of the systems of power and social organization developed under what was passed off in the Soviet bloc as socialism, I think there's a tendency among smug Westerners to think that we're off the hook. Not hardly. Here's what he had to say in 1986, before the Velvet Revolution by which Czechoslovakia was liberated, in Disturbing the Peace, after outlining the problems of the Soviet-bred systems (page 14):
All this is notoriously familiar. At the same time, I don't believe that we can wave a magic wand and dispose of these problems by a change of ownership, or that all we need to do to remedy the situation is bring back capitalism. The point is that capitalism, albeit on another level and not in such trivial forms, is struggling with the same problems (alienation, after all, was first described under capitalism): it is well known, for instance, that enormous private multinational corporations are curiously like socialist states: with industrialization, centralization, specialization, monopolization, and finally with automation and computerization, the elements of depersonalization and the loss of meaning in work become more and more profound everywhere.

Along with that goes the general manipulation of people's lives by the system (no matter how inconspicuous such manipulation may be, compared with that of the totalitarian state). IBM certainly works better than the Škoda plant, but that doesn't alter the fact that both companies have long since lost their human dimension and have turned man into a little cog in their machinery, utterly separated from what, and for whom, that machinery is working, and what the impact of its product is on the world.

I would even say that, from a certain point of view, IBM is worse than Škoda. Whereas Škoda merely grinds out the occasional obsolete nuclear reactor to meet the needs of backward COMECON members, IBM is flooding the world with ever more advanced computers, while its employees have no influence over what their product does to the human soul and to human society. They have no say in whether it enslaves or liberates mankind, whether it will save us from the apocalypse or simply bring the apocalypse closer.

Such "megamachinery" is not constructed to the measure of man, and the fact that IBM is capitalist, profit-oriented, and efficient, while Škoda is socialist, money-losing, and inefficient, seems secondary to me.

"Living in truth" is an almost unimaginably different standard from living under the illusions, or more often delusions, fostered by limitlessly greedy economic and political predators who believe they're entitled to any piled-on rewards, economic or personal, it's within their power to grab hold of, by whatever means they can muster.

Labels: , , , ,


At 5:49 PM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

The universe operates only on the truth and we cannot survive as a piece of the universe if we don't start telling the truth immediately if not sooner.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

I hear you, Robert. I just wish I could see how we get from here to there. I guess, though, that it has to start with some recognition of the beating truth has taken in our time.


At 1:01 PM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

Life is awareness. If Fox news can get people to believe lies then we can get them to believe the truth. It must be presented over and over and explained better and better and since it is the truth it will eventually make sense.

Most people are afraid and don't want to wake up. Those that are aware must work hard at putting it out there in the hopes we can save humanity from extinction. By communicating and sharing the truth we can get there. thankfully, we have the inter net our most important tool.

Down with Tyranny is one of the places it is happening. And, as a part of truth telling we get a beautiful music interlude on Sundays which makes us super aware of how wonderful life can be.


Post a Comment

<< Home