As to climate change, this essay gets to the heart of the problem. Facts and information, by themselves, do not change people’s minds nor the practices of corporations or governments. If it were a simple matter of education or knowing the facts, we wouldn’t even be in this mess. Education, the facts, information, and the knowledge has been there and is certainly there now. We know there is climate change, we know why (to a large degree if not exhaustively) there is climate change, and we know the damage it is now causing and will eventually cause. We know this. More “knowing” is not going to help. Something has to happen morally. And, therein lies the problem for western secular liberal democracies.
While I might quibble with some of the writer’s and the author he cites points and conclusions, I agree wholeheartedly we need something more than information to change people’s minds and actions. Whether it was “Keynesian social democracy” or “neoliberalism” neither leaves room for an objective morality rooted in something beyond an imagined neutral reason, the state, law, or patriotism. The only way western liberal democracy has been able to maintain its power is because it arose out of a Judeo-Christian narrative and moral vision. But since it needed to privatize that vision and not allow it any public legitimacy, because it must appear to be neutral, Liberal democracy, the secular space, cannot sustain an objective moral vision over time, other than the one that keeps it in power and reduces to power. And a morality that reduces to power is not a morality—it is simply a pretense to do what one wants regardless of, and in spite of, a morality. So, at the least, this is not lost on the writer or Klein.
“At this point Klein asks an interesting question. Are there any examples in history where a social movement has succeeded in forcing elites to forgo substantial economic self-interest? Klein acknowledges that the great emancipatory movements of our era – concerning race and gender – have been primarily legal and cultural, rather than economic. However, she finds a precedent in the nineteenth-century anti-slavery movement for what must now occur. According to one estimate, the southern plantation owners in the United States lost an asset worth the equivalent of $10 trillion when required to free their slaves.”
Two points. First, neither neoliberalism nor liberal democracy now has the moral resources for such a revolution. At one time liberal democracy had such resources simply because the Judeo-Christian narrative was still just under the surface of any supposed or imagined neutrality. It was still close enough to the surface to act as a north star of sorts even if in an unofficial and informal way. After 2000 years, it was the air we breathed. But that is mostly gone now. It has been buried too deep at this point. All neoliberalism and liberal democracy can do now is exhort everyone to be good consumers, be patriotic (support the troops), and promise to protect everyone’s individual right to do whatever the hell they want. Second, as an aside, here is another example of asking- what is the narrative I inhabit capable of changing culturally? And to what end? Even the writer and leftist Klein recognize the anti-slavery revolution and the moral vision that sustain it. Well, that moral vision was produced by a certain narrative and not just any narrative. We cannot assume that just any narrative would have done the same. These sorts of questions, as I’ve noted many times, are the better questions to ask when trying to ascertain the “truthfulness” of a narrative including, of course, one’s own. If one does not inhabit a narrative they think can sustain the type of moral revolution talked about here, whether the anti-slavery revolution or the one that will be needed for climate change, then such is a great time to re-evaluate what they really believe to be true. After all, if truth (being true) doesn’t mean being capable of such, then who, frankly, cares about any other “truth” it may contain. If that’s the case, if one’s “truth” is incapable of changing one’s self or the culture for better (where “better” actually means something objectively and is not just code for “what I want”), then one can have his “truth” and is welcome to it. In fact, please keep it.
Finally: Think about that—think about $10 Trillion. If anyone out there is naive enough to think that people are going to just give up $10 Trillion or the equivalent, based upon receiving more information (even though the present information is enough) and without a moral (non-violent) revolution, well God bless them—aren’t they just cute. Oh, and I have bridge I’d like to sell them too.