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This article was cross-posted at Running Gamak, home of the Climate Letter Project.
Christopher Hitchens, in his critique of Mother Teresa, articulated a phrase that's been running through my mind a lot recently.  The full quote runs like this:

“MT [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”

But it's that last clause that concerns me today, in our climatically-transforming world.

We are finally beginning to take planetary climate change seriously — not seriously enough, but we're at least looking in that direction, anyway.  

Notice, however, that when it comes to preparing for the shitstorm on the horizon, our collective responses have all been along the lines of, "we've got to strengthen our grid so the power won't go out," or "there needs to be more diversity in our food grid so we'll have less danger of crop failure," or "medical systems need to be more robust to cope with disasters and the migration of disease-carrying pests."  You know the drill; among reasonably forward-thinking science-aware people there is plenty of thought about the physical impacts of climate change on the physical aspects of our civilization.

climate change photo: climate change Climate-Cartoon.jpg

I must say, I sometimes wonder whether those physical aspects really represent the parts of our civilization worth saving.  We've created a technological society which has made possible the survival of far more humans than the Earth can reasonably support; why this a good thing?  

As a bleeding-heart liberal who weeps at the slightest hint of any sentient being's misery, I feel weird saying this, but it's not a bad thing that humanity's numbers are going to be drastically reduced by the consequences of climate change.  We're confronting an evolutionary bottleneck, and there's no way all seven billion of us are going to fit through that narrow opening.

I'm less concerned about the physical manifestations of our civilization than I am about the "cultural infrastructure" which we have developed over many thousands of years.

This gradually evolving and self-transforming cultural infrastructure is why we (not always, but more and more often) resort to diplomacy instead of wars.  

It's why we (not always, but more and more often) no longer regard slavery as a viable economic strategy.  

It's why we (not always, but more and more often) are more and more prepared to recognize the notion of the common good in our thinking about society.  

It's why we (not always, but more and more often) don't just think of our children as a source of free labor.  

It's why (not always, but more and more often) xenophobia is diminishing.  

It's why we (not always, but more and more often) are learning to reject simple classifications of gender and sexuality.  

And it's why we (not always, but more and more often) have accepted the notion that women are fully human beings.

International understanding, human rights, environmentalism, children's rights, gender equity, and feminism are part of the cultural infrastructure which humanity has developed over many thousands of years of pretty easy living — made possible by a stable climate, a robust agricultural system, and a rapidly developing technological society.  

What happens to all this when we face the all-but-certain evolutionary bottleneck?  

We're getting a picture of what's going to happen to our physical infrastructure as climate change gets more severe, and it's not pretty.  Just look at the Philippines right now, in the wake of the biggest storm anyone's ever seen.  Coastal cultures are going to get hammered; lots of property damage, lots of refugees, lots of death and misery.  Look at farmlands under the strain of massive drought; more hunger, more deprivation.  

But relatively little thought is given to the impact climate change is going to have on our cultural infrastructure.  

Diplomatic mechanisms can be strengthened, as I suggested in this paragraph in a letter I got published in the Pakistani paper Dawn:

   Analysts predict that as water shortages intensify and agriculture becomes less predictable and productive, climate change’s strategic impact will include bitter resource wars, a catastrophic development. While morality demands that industrialized nations take immediate steps to reduce atmospheric carbon output, it’s equally imperative that the countries currently suffering the most from this human-caused destabilization strengthen their infrastructure to prepare for times of shortage and privation, while reinforcing diplomatic and cultural systems to ensure that the likely humanitarian crises can be peacefully resolved.

What does an ongoing extinction event and the concomitant drastic winnowing of humanity's numbers have to do with feminism?


Here's the last clause of that Hitchens quote again:  "...a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”

Which is why climate change is a feminist issue.

Feminism grew in our civilization as our population increased and our infant mortality decreased, allowing women's lives to separate from the livestock model which may well have been a species-wide imperative at times when extinction threatened.

Yes, I want our species to survive.  

Yes, I want humanity to reach the stars; to sing more beautiful songs; to solve the problems of interspecies communication; to create artificial intelligences; to accomplish all that we can.

We're not going to do that if we're struggling to pass on our genes in the face of howling climatic disorder and an ecological system gone mad.  We're just going to keep hunting for food while making babies and watching most of them die.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to go back there.  

We progressives have a variety of important social issues to organize around — but underpinning the notion of social progress is the critical role of an environment which does not actively threaten our survival as a species.  Change the planetary ecosystem to one in which our struggle to perpetuate our DNA dominates our collective thinking, and many positive social developments could well be sacrificed in response to the short-term exigencies of existence.  A stable climate has formed the stage upon which we've acted out our self-improvement.

What will we do when the old theater no longer stands?  How can we keep the good we have created in ourselves?

I welcome your thoughts.

This article was cross-posted at Running Gamak, home of the Climate Letter Project.
UPDATED to include the following colloquy from the comments at my own blog.  My friend Arthur had this to say:
Love your explanation about toxic mimics of dealing with problems (strengthening the grid, etc.). I agree entirely. This culture is one which stares itself blind on trying to adapt the world to maintaining civilisation, where we might at best try to work with the planet as well as we can within economical, political and social constraints (in that order), rather than adapting the culture to what is sustainable for the planet. The former is a dead end, the latter offers the chance of life.

But I'm more negative about some things than you are.

"This gradually evolving and self-transforming cultural infrastructure is why we (not always, but more and more often) resort to diplomacy instead of wars."

Unfortunately the statistics counter this. There is more money spent on wars than ever; there are more deaths caused by war than ever; more and more nations find themselves at war (mostly with the US and allies).

"It’s why we (not always, but more and more often) no longer regard slavery as a viable economic strategy."

Slavery is still around in the way we usually talk about, with chains, whips, and where they are property of other people, but in another way most people in civilised culture have become slaves. They aren't property per sé, and are not housed and fed by their owners, but they receive a wage too high to starve on and too low to live on. Having to stay in a job pacifies the people, and being in debt enforces that even more. And entertainment of the lowest possible standard turns the people's mind to mush when they do not have to work.

"It’s why we (not always, but more and more often) are more and more prepared to recognize the notion of the common good in our thinking about society."

The common good is squandered more and more with each new day. Corporatism, although it is in collapse, is turning into a super nova, taking out as much as it can before its demise. The ultimate example: Fukushima possibly threatening to kill 3 billion within a month if the removal of spent fuel rods goes wrong (although some think most of those rods have already gone up in flames during the initial explosion), and the rest of the world when the lack of workers for the remaining 400+ nuclear plants means that their cores will all melt down uncontrolled.

"It’s why we (not always, but more and more often) don’t just think of our children as a source of free labor."

In the 'wealthy' nations (ignoring their gigantic debts) children indeed have turned from sources of support/income for the family into financial burdens. That burden is only taken off the shoulders of the parents once they have been formed successfully into complient cogs in the machine, further adding to the demise of the planet.

"It’s why (not always, but more and more often) xenophobia is diminishing."

The fear of everything that is different -most notably the natural world and our wild brothers and sisters of all species, but also other cultures (the gaping chasm between muslim and christians for example is growing wider and wider), is growing in many ways. The result is an ever intensifying war against nature and between different sub-cultures (all part of the conglomerate of industrial civilised cultures).

"And it’s why we (not always, but more and more often) have accepted the notion that women are fully human beings."

I feel the feminist movement has been hijacked so that women should now strive to become financial and social predators just like men have always been pushed to be in civilised culture. This is not freedom; it's making abusers out of the abused.

Movements are forming which do see things the right way, but they are generally more than countered by opposing developments. One day that balance may shift, but I have very little hope that it will happen in time. We need total revolution now. And if you ask me, to be sustainable it will have to be one where artificial intelligence has absolutely no place, because it depends on whole hordes of inherently unsustainable (socially and, more importantly, ecologically) practices.

Thanks Warren. I'm curious what you think.


I responded:
Well, Arthur, I won’t argue with you that we have turned much of the world to shit.

I think your analysis is correct in the shorter term. But I have been working for many years in training myself to think in longer spans of time, and by comparison with the degree of violence in ordinary life a thousand years ago, we have made huge progress. Same with the degree of economic exploitation of others.

You and I are citizens of an economic superpower and have access to the perquisites of immense privilege. And yet we are part of a sizable group within our society that actively and loudly deplores our culture’s malfeasances and strives to rectify them. Such a group would never have existed among the privileged classes even a few centuries ago; our default conception of the world would have dehumanized those whom we exploited long before they even came to our attention in the first place.

Of course slavery still exists in multiple forms around the world. Of course the virus of consumerism and the tumors of corporatism are destroying us.

But…seen from the perspective of millennia, we have made great progress towards understanding one another, towards behaving better, towards resolving our conflicts peacefully (read Pinker’s book on violence; it’s a real eye-opener). This is the meaning of “cultural infrastructure.” Just as our physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, aquaducts, reservoirs, parklands, public spaces) makes our lives easier, our cultural infrastructure has made it less likely that we will die from violence or starvation, and more likely that we will have the mental balance and perspective necessary for compassionate action.

This cultural infrastructure is threatened by climate change…and it is imperative that we reinforce it to prepare for the coming storms. Our most effective tools are kindness, compassion, intelligence, and imagination; we must make all of these qualities stronger in ourselves and others.


PS: The gaping chasm between Muslims and Christians is another example of internecine quarrels between people who are in every other sense ideologically aligned. That’s not xenophobia; it’s sectarian squabbling between fellow Abrahamists about whether to wear beanies or berets.

Originally posted to WarrenS' Blog on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 03:31 PM PST.

Also republished by Kitchen Table Kibitzing and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Thank you, Warren! (6+ / 0-)

      Excellent points and well articulated. I'll pass them around.

      If you act out of anger, the best part of your brain fails to function. - the Dalai Lama

      by beverlywoods on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 03:43:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks, Beverly... (7+ / 0-)

        ...there are so many crucial issues we face today, but if we lose on climate, none of them will matter worth a damn.

        Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

        by WarrenS on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 03:48:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  We have already lost on climate (5+ / 0-)

          Maybe in a few millenia a survivor species from the great extinction event we are presently entering will develop a better approach.

          Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

          by rktect on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 04:24:54 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The Climate Bomb (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            WarrenS, RunawayRose

            "In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate ..."

            Erhlich, Stanford scientist of note wrote the spectacularly incorrect statement above.

            I'll write something radical in this context:

            The end is not near!

            Of course I realize that AGW, population growth, water scarcity, etc. are serious problems. It's just that excessively pessimistic thinking helps nothing and has the effect of undermining the wolf-crier's credibility when nothing at all happens at the projected early date of doom.

            Not to pick on Warren's friend, Arthur, but these are real whoppers:
            "Fukushima possibly threatening to kill 3 billion within a month" Yah. Not.
            "there are more deaths caused by war than ever; more and more nations find themselves at war (mostly with the US and allies)." Nope. Utterly wrong.

            •  In the '60s it was already clear to anyone (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              WarrenS, RunawayRose

              who could understand the exponential function that humanity was going to encounter limits to growth. What was not clear until a couple of decades later was that the specific limit to growth we would encounter first would be the limited ability of the climate system to buffer greenhouse gases.

              The expected starvation of the 1970s was averted by the Green Revolution, which intensified fossil-fuel based agriculture in the tropics. This contributed to the CO2 rises that are producing the climatic effects we are seeing now.

              •  I'm a climate science buff... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                So I'm well aware of what climate scientists say about the future. I differ from you and some others here in that I think that people are terrible at making specific predictions about the future.

                E.g.; You have no idea whether or not "the specific limit to growth we would encounter first would be the limited ability of the climate system to buffer greenhouse gases."

                One could just as easily make an argument that the first encountered limit to growth (i.e.; a couple of billion people dying of food shortages/starvation) will be declining production of crude oil...i.e.; a sudden, poorly-planned-for transition away from heavy reliance on fossil fuels in agriculture.

                I don't know. You don't know. Things that you never expected are certain to happen over a period of decades.


            •  In the 1970's millions of people did starve (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              WarrenS, atana

              Maybe because they lived in Africa and Asia, South and Latin America, Oceanasia and even some parts of Russia, Europe and the US we don't pay much attention to they escaped our notice.

              I don't know if some of the deaths got chalked up to resource wars, opportunistic diseases, or causes other than starvation and malnutrition but the record is pretty clear that a lot of people died of what amounts to climate change while we were focused on other things.

              The end is here already. Just take one example of climate change, rising sea levels and an exponential growth in the number of cities destroyed by storms.

              As an architect I know that the Federal abandonment of the problem to the states has resulted in some truly scary reports. More than 100  East and Gulf Coast cities with populations over 100,000  can't be expected to survive to the end of the century.

              Around the world every major nation is having to face the same conclusions. The consequences of that alone are dire, but the synergy of all the other problems, the tipping points, the opportunistic diseases, the loss of the fossil water that makes agriculture possible, the extinction of species, and the death of the oceans and rainforests, let alone the energy crisis and the population bomb have doomed us long since.

              Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

              by rktect on Tue Nov 12, 2013 at 02:49:40 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Now? (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I didn't notice.

                I agree with Erhlich (were both Entomologists, BTW) in principle but it turns out that he was very wrong on the specifics. Death from starvation has dropped by over 50% since 1970:
                Death from starvation since 1970

                Ehrlich wrote:
                "At this late date, nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…"
                Here's what is observed:
                ■1965-1970 was 13.2 per 1,000 population; and for
                ■2005-2010 was 8.5 per 1,000 population.
                ( Global Mortality )
                So again, what I disagree with are histrionic, hyperbolic predictions of "doom". Your's isn't a prediction cuz you say it's NOW which is even more obviously, utterly wrong. This is a very complex question with many, many moving parts so it is reasonable to expect that people will continue to make bad predictions about the timing of "the end".

                •  How to lie with statistics (0+ / 0-)

                  If world population today is in the range of seven billion people and the average rate of death per 1000 is in the range of 8.5 as per the map on your link to the CIA factbook and the numbers you cite above, fifty nine million five hundred thousand people a year are dying now whereas back in the sixties with a global population of three billion and a rate of 13.5/1000 there were thirty nine million six hundred thousand so the total number of deaths due to starvation is half again what it was then.

                  Now if you get into the numbers a bit, Africa and Siberia are rather heavily represented so much like looking at global warming as an average and ignoring the places where its really intense like the arctic where it is taking out the sea ice affecting the albedo and magnifying the consequences, 39 million people dying of starvation in Africa while starvation in places like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain is almost nil tells you something.

                  Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

                  by rktect on Wed Nov 13, 2013 at 10:54:49 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

        •  The PRIMARY reason I'm an anti-capitalist... (5+ / 0-)

          is this.

          NOTHING matters, women's rights, LGBTQIA rights, POC rights, even CLASS rights, are all completely and utterly meaningless if we continue to "poop in the sandbox" so-to-speak.

          Wonderful article, well written, and the cartoon is priceless. I hadn't seen that one before, but it's the precise thing I always say to my "adults in the room" friends who pat the poor little commie on the head and tell him how, yes, yes, but PROFIT trumps all. Yeah, right.

          Thank you for writing this!

      •  Finally said what I've been thinking for years... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        which is, all this wonderful progress we've made as a species is completely out the window if we (literally or figuratively) nuke each other and get flung back to the dark ages. Forget sexual assault in the military.....we'll be back to the old Genghis Khan days where mass rape and enslavement of the vanquished is standard accepted practice.

        "See? I'm not a racist! I have a black friend!"

        by TheHalfrican on Tue Nov 12, 2013 at 06:51:57 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          ...but note that we can try to strengthen our cultural infrastructure before the shit really hits the fan.

          That is, more focus on feminism.  More focus on resolving power and economic inequalities.  More focus on transparency, on diplomacy, on understanding one another better.  

          The biggest resources we have available to combat the effects of climate change on our lives are kindness and intelligence.  We have to work even harder on making these part of all our lives.

          If we survive as a species it won't be because we took advantage of climate chaos to advance hyperlibertarian ideas, but because we learned better how to dissolve our differences and work together.

          Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

          by WarrenS on Tue Nov 12, 2013 at 07:45:00 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  The freedom not to have children ... (8+ / 0-)

    is not only a basic rights issue, but it also can't be separated from issues of population, climate, and resource depletion.

    Thanks for the diary,

  •  Yes, I think it's about so much more (16+ / 0-)

    than physical infrastructure. Incidentally, just today US Army private Roy Scranton posted a very thought-provoking piece in the NY Times, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene, posing the question of how to deal with our own demise as a pivotal prerequisite for navigating for the coming times.

    Here's the conclusion...

    The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.

    The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.

    If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.

    Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

    by citisven on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 03:44:43 PM PST

    •  I'm going to read that... (6+ / 0-)

      ....article, but I can't say I'm really looking forward to it; I'm already depressed enough as it is.

      At this point my personal sadness is steady and chronic; I continue to fight for action on climate and social issues not because I have any particular hope for a positive outcome, but because action keeps me moving forward, because I have people who rely on me for inspiration and the only way I can get inspired even for a moment is to give some to other people.  I fight the bastards who've perpetuated climatic and humanitarian crimes not because I think we're gonna win, but because Fuck 'em.  

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 03:56:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Looks Like We Picked the Wrong Half Century (7+ / 0-)

    to spend surrendering civilization to our owners.

    The answer to the question of how we are to deal with any situation is that we have to find a way to establish a democratic form of government first.

    Otherwise things will go as the owners dictate.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 03:56:16 PM PST

    •  If I thought ownership... (6+ / 0-)

      ...wasn't composed of apocalypse-fetishizing sociopaths, I'd be happy to cede control to them for the next couple of millennia.  A few thousand years is nothing compared to what we could be if we got our shit together.

      But our current ownership is batshit insane.  I wouldn't trust them not to fuck up a cinder block.

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 04:02:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And you nail it. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WarrenS, Ramoth

        It amazes and disgusts me that many of the wealthiest, most powerful people are so criminally short-sighted. They have more than they can use, or spend, in a dozen lifetimes, and they defend their right to pollute for profit by suborning the political process and propagandizing ceaselessly.

        If they were, instead, actually interested in the future of the civilization that has made them wealthy, they could be engines for great change, but NO!!!!!!!

      •  These guys are the ultimate patriarchs (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WarrenS, RunawayRose

        Look at the Kochs, the Waltons, the insane Johnsons. They in the same moral category as the Caesars, and would immediately produce rulers who would make Caligula blush.

  •  Interesting diary, thanks. (5+ / 0-)

    I share your belief that "intractable" world problems, generally, need to be linked more explicitly with the status of women.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 04:18:12 PM PST

  •  if we really get 4-6-8 degree C warming (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    John Crapper, WarrenS

    the health of feminism will be a minor consideration, not that feminism doesn't matter, but are other issues will be immense.

    I can list 20 things that we will struggle with a whole lot more than the survival of feminism.

    Biologists predict all kinds of chaos as parasites and microbes will evolve much more quickly to their new circumstances than humans or livestock.

    I doubt that this essay will do much to change the doubter's minds.  

    •  Well, this essay... (5+ / 0-)

      ...ain't aimed at the "doubters," but at other progressives who are focused on other social issues and think of climate as being "just another concern" when it's not like that at all.

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 05:21:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ok, I agree, but climate is the big one. (0+ / 0-)

        But social issues are just going to "another concern" when we are facing massive economic upheaval and perhaps even survival concerns.  

        I have never seen any feminist rallies in end the world sci-fi movies.  I have seen lots of fights, searching for food and water, and police states.  You get the idea.

        A lot more than feminist traditions are going to fall if we see an 8 degrees centigrade rise.  

  •  Adapt. That's what nature always does. And as (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WarrenS, John Crapper

    usual, what you or I want is the least of her considerations.

    What will we do when the old theater no longer stands?  How can we keep the good we have created in ourselves?
  •  Oh yes - the dilemma of controlling our numbers. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WarrenS, LinSea, HedwigKos, The grouch

    Nature will take care of that.  We must strive to adjust our thinking to be humble rather than full of hubris and ego.  

    As the catastrophes pile up our higher level rights and concerns will diminish into the basics of survival.  That does not bode well for ideals of freedom, equal rights and  feminism.  

    We may need to think in terms of a modern day Noah's Ark to preserve our pinnacles of thought for post cataclysmic life to use after the shit hits the fan.  

    What keeps me optimistic is the thought that climate change, no matter how dire its impacts, is probably not an extinction event.  


    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

    by John Crapper on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 05:19:27 PM PST

  •  Your desire to not go back there is in direct (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WarrenS, Calamity Jean, RunawayRose

    opposition to most of the doomsday cults that would like to speed things up in that general direction.

    It's not just a bottleneck, this will be the heart of the culture war.

    People who like living in medieval feudalism and people who want sustainable egalitarianism.

    Without controlling our population, it will only be a matte of time before we suffer like any large herd that has grown too big. Starvation and disease will do after the fact, what we could have prevented with a little forward thinking and mindfulness.

    Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

    by GreenMother on Tue Nov 12, 2013 at 08:00:33 AM PST

  •  cultural infrastructure will be the first to fall (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    atana, WarrenS, Ramoth

    I'm one of those cynics who believes that our creature comforts are the primary reason we're not a bunch of slaving, mass-murdering monsters.  Instead, we're fat, happy, feel safe, and have lots of silly little fun things to do.  People like that don't go to war or commit genocide.  The popular kids don't shoot up their school.  We don't have slaves because we have machines; I find instrumental-economic arguments like that easier to believe that some "Age of Aquarius" revolution in consciousness.  I'm tempted to agree with the conservatives that it wasn't the bra-burners who liberated women; it was the pill and labor-saving appliances.  Absent those things, women will find themselves back in the bad old days before they know it: a baby every year and a long day full of cooking, laundry, fetching water, etc., no matter how hard-working and sympathetic the menfolk are.

    As the climate destabilizes, natural resources are exhausted, the economy spirals down the toilet (which would be happening even if climate change weren't an issue), and standards of living decline, people are going to find it harder and harder to justify burdening themselves with other people's problems: "Why do I need to sacrifice for them?!  I'm already living on the edge!"  Most people faced with a choice are going to choose themselves and theirs every time, because at the end of the day most people want to live and to live as well as they are able; the principled ones will quickly become charity cases or martyrs, and even dismissed as self-indulgent, preaching that everyone should put their lives on hold for their vision.

    The white working class is already there; they don't care about people in the next lifeboat over because they're other people ... "and we've got the same problems they do, so why do they get all the money and excuses?!  Because they're black!"

    People are not made noble by suffering; quite the opposite.  They get mean, they get jealous, they get smart (and not in a good way), they get stingy, they get lazy (why beat yourself up when you can't do any better than you are already?), they get craven, they get religion ... or they just give up.  Hell didn't teach Lucifer a lesson; why would it teach us anything?

    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

    by Visceral on Tue Nov 12, 2013 at 08:25:27 AM PST

  •  Several points (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WarrenS, Ramoth, RunawayRose

    We are not "going back" to a hunter-gatherer existence, nor even to a subsistence agricultural existence. We can't go back; we have already burnt those bridges. We are going forward to a biologically depauperate world, a desert world, with a climate that is not benign for agriculture. Life will not be as easy as it was for our Paleolithic or Neolithic ancestors.

    It's not at all clear that the cultural improvements of recent centuries and decades could have happened without our technology, nor that they will be preserved without our technology. Slavery (except sex slavery) has largely become uneconomical due to mechanization. Nobody wants a team of slaves to dig ditches for days when you can burn some gasoline to get it done in a few hours. The reduction of state-on-state warfare is due to economic globalization, which is driven by fossil-fuel dependent global transportation of goods and materials.

    Similarly, women are not livestock in the developed world in part because infant mortality rates have fallen due to improvements in sanitation, medicine and nutrition -- all dependent on the technology we have developed since the Industrial Revolution. So unless we can preserve a similar level of technology with far fewer people, and using energy sources other than fossil fuels, the cultural advantages may be lost.

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