Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Anderson Family

Sad to hear that Benedict Anderson has passed away. I always find it a little disconcerting hearing about academic deaths, in part because it always seems like recently one was skimming their books or papers. So they they always feel more present than say George Best or other athletes.

December has turned into Perry Anderson month for me. So I am trying to get through as much as I can before the term starts. On YouTube there is an interview with him and Harry Kreisler. Part of it concerns the Andersons' childhood, moving from China, California, London, then Ireland all at an early age. Consequently, he says the family always felt like outsiders and so had to turn to books from an early age. Over the summer holidays he and Benedict passed Gibbon's Decline and Fall back and forth. Plus many others. One hell of a formative experience I would imagine. Perry also says that he feels very embarrassed; whereas as he could speak 'all the European languages,' Benedict and Melanie, their sister, could do them plus could speak another 5 or 6 each. 

Quite the family.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Paris and Overlooking Capital

Robinson Meyer has a good accessible read on the Paris climate talks. The collection of figures is helpful and so demonstrates the need for reasonable caution: While the talks have put commitments and cutback cycles in place, these are not enough. A 1.5 degree warming is a near certainty. 2.5 degrees is considered practical. But 2.5 degrees turns most coastal cities into Venice. Keep in mind the upper bounds of these estimates put the change at 6 degrees by 2100. If I remember correctly, at this point oceans becomes too warm for plankton to produce oxygen.

Unlike most other journalist outlets that put their hope on technological salvation, Meyer disputes substituting technology for politics. Instead,
If climate change worries you, think about not only how you vote, but also how you spend your civic attention and how you communicate your concern to policy-makers.
This is necessary, but insufficient. And in that respect I think that Freddie deBoer has it right. He says "Climate change reveals the basic brokenness of incrementallist, technocratic, moderate liberalism." Granted I can't imagine Rawls endorsing this politics, but to the degree that what (sadly) passes for liberalism exists in the US deBoer is correct. The problem is go great that it requires revolutionary action. Jodi Dean in her criticism of Naomi Klein has written well on this point.

Comparing Dean's blog post and Meyer's summery treatment is to see what needs a more time in the spotlight. This is not to chastise Meyer--the man tries much more than others--but it reveals oversights. His article gives almost no real indication of an understanding of industrialism and modernity, nor of the role played by global Capital in creating climate change.

That is significant because there is almost no attempt to see Capital and Carbon as political; in other words to conceive that our entire social structure can and could be different. Instead the Paris talks are just treated as a continuation and extension of current regulatory regimes. So yet again real substantive discussion of Capital and carbon extraction is passed over, and in so it does not appraise the nature of the problem correctly. And so, if you don't know the scope of the problem, remedies are just going to be partial; superficial rather than systemic.

Given the severity of the crisis, it would be foolish of climate change activists--governmental and non-governmental alike--to abscond from using all of the resources at their disposal, including regulation efforts. But one must not forget about money in politics. In the wider West, and most sharply in the US, representative politics has capitulated to Capital (cf GWBush's withdrawl from Kyoto.) So don't forget that these insufficient targets are not binding.

This to not say that we should give up on representative politics per se, but SuperPACs et el make it very hard not to see the the state as an instrument of the ruling class. So if you care about climate change, logically you need to be committed to campaign finance reform as well as more stringent regulations of corporate petitioning and so on. But more than that, you need to see the extent to which the ruling class has a vested interest in using division on issues like climate and other contentious affairs to fracture opposition. So do not unwittingly play their game and create and seek out division where none is to be had.

To end off this short post, here is Meyer's conclusion:
climate is our great story. No other narrative envelopes all of humanity in quite the same way, forcing answers about the ethics of food, of oil, of technology, of economic security, of democratic republics and command capitalism, of colonialism and indigenous peoples, of who in the world is rich and who in the world is poor.
I endorse this, and to me it underscores the vital necessity of grand narratives for people to understand their predicaments and organize their political consciousness and mobilization. More on that later.