The basic message of the video above is obvious: “The Green Dragon” (ecologism) is ‘spiritual deception’ for Christians; ‘its twisted view of the world elevates nature above the needs of people, of even the poorest and the most helpless;’ the Dragon’s ‘destructive control’ of the cultural landscape extends into the most important political spheres, is ‘seducing your children in our classrooms,’ etc.

But the sad truth of this cliché right-wing religious response to the environmental catastrophe is that liberalism’s response to the ecological crisis really does ignore the needs of the poor and the oppressed. My assertion here is that, as Zizek points out in First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (a reference to Marx), liberal-democratic capitalism may (though probably not) be able to overcome three of the four most prominent threats to humanity, which are simultaneously threats to the functioning of capitalism itself –

(1)   the destruction of external nature (ecosystems).

(2)   the destruction of internal nature (the privatization and corporatization of our own bodies, of genetic material; the robotic revolution and technological takeover of the human body; ‘post-humanism’ – on this, see Donna Haraway’s utterly ridiculous A Cyborg Manifesto).

(3)   the privatization of other areas of the public sphere, of the internet and the intellectual goods that belong to the commons (e.g., the strange notion of ‘intellectual property’).

Capitalism may be able to surpass these threats to its functioning and convince even skeptics that it really is the best we can do, really is the most just way of constructing society, etc., but it cannot solve the problem of slums, of poverty, of the dichotomy of inclusion and exclusion: this is inherent to its very nature.

And so what we should see, beyond the clichés in the “Green Dragon” video, is what it can tell us about the flaw of liberal capitalism: ‘its twisted view of the world elevates nature above the needs of people, of even the poorest and the most helpless.’ In other words, it can only focus on the problems of the environmental catastrophe, and of the other major threats mentioned above, at the cost of exposing its fundamental flaw, that of the generation of inequality based on private property and worker exploitation, a flaw which (as we see above), is easily exploitable in the hands of right-wing ideologues.

Indeed, what should make us worry about the ideological position(ing) of this video is not only the obvious adherence to religious authority and the denial of genuine, rational political efforts to curb what is surely the worst crisis in human history, but also the argument for the excluded masses, for the poor which capitalism leaves out. For however senseless this video is, there is something appealing in it — some would say — and it is precisely this call for a return to human welfare, to the satisfaction of basic needs and of a community of values.

So what should worry us is that the ideology expressed in the video actually does have a point. What the Left must do in response, then, is not simply argue against right-wing policy on the basis of the simple distinction between rationality and religiosity, on the distinction between ‘insane’ ideological positioning and ‘true’ or ‘sensical’ liberal-democratic discourse – surely this is just a straw-man argument, just a dramatic oversimplification and irresponsible glossing of the actual ideological claims? What we should rather do is to accept the challenge as genuine, as a sincere expression of populist sentiment which, if left in the hands of the right, has the destructive potential of any proto-fascist community.

In other words, the threat from the right-wing is real, but its populist sentiment is not to be dismissed as an immature or unthinking commitment to ideology – rather, we must see in this movement against ecologism (which, Green Dragon notwithstanding, does pose its own threats to human agency) a rightful claim to basic human rights, to equality, to wealth distribution, etc.: the much-maligned decline of the Left – the collapse of its political weight and the inability of its leaders to construct a coherent ideology – is a result of this narcissistic, off-hand dismissal of ‘populist’ uprising on the basis of an unthinking commitment to the Left’s own institutional norms, which themselves perpetuate a distinction of classes, a social hierarchy, a self-righteous smugness…

I think Zizek has it right when he says that we have seen the normative functioning of the political inhere in three distinct varieties throughout modernity: (1) the idiotic, conservative return to the pre-modern injunction, “Obey, don’t think!”; (2) the hyper-rational endless interpretative mode of ‘post’-modernism a la Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, et al., with the motto, “Don’t obey, think!”; and (3) Immanuel Kant’s inauguration of the Enlightenment with his original modernist prescription, the categorical imperative, which is today more important than ever — that is, “Obey, but think!”…. In other words, a committed faith/belief/obeisance is constitutive of every properly political and moral act, so rather than dismiss as mere populist irrationality those movements which enjoin their subjects to obey an ideology, one should do some difficult intellectual work and dig deeper to uncover the strategic core (and not be so smug as to assert one’s own infallibility): the thing to do today is to cultivate a society wise to the fact that any political ideal is already false, is already doomed to fail at the level of ‘reality.’

So we do not need perfectionism or obsessive analysis and an endless perusal of facts without normative judgment (values/norms are one thing, facts are another); we do not need to attempt to dis-burden ourselves of every ‘illusion’ or ‘bias’ (as though this is really possible), to relegate important political decision-making to scientific committees and ‘think-tanks’: rather, we need to confront dis-sensus with respect, to develop and debate our values through community-based, rational dialogue.

The move, then, is to obey a belief (ideology), but to do it in a thoughtful, sober, sincere, and strategic manner.

Edited July 30, 2001: Today I listened to an interview with Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute on Ecoshock radio. He made the interesting point that, whereas environmentalism has focused in the past on “saving the planet,” the focus now is just, plainly, “saving our civilization.” So maybe one way to counter the anti-green-movement propaganda above, specifically the claim that environmentalists put the needs of the planet before people, is to shift our thinking away from protecting nature and start thinking about the very real possibility that in a decade or two there could be world wars and failed governments, everyone struggling for resources once the economy collapses under its own weight. When the economy stops being able to keep up with the radical changes (failed crops, zero oil, depleted water supplies) brought on by changes in our planet’s natural forces, it will be obvious that the thing to save is humanity itself.

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