Living in the U.S. can give you a different perspective on things. Take the oft debated issue of global warming, which has become a punching bag for Republicans like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Co. They -and a large segment of the American public- remain convinced that global warming is just an invention of green socialists, left-wing academics and crazy urban anarchists on a mission to destroy capitalism.
Increasingly, environmental scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists, environmental engineers, etc), feel that ecology has become so politicized that the term should be dropped altogether. Conservatives have succeeded in ridiculing and stigmatizing ecology as a pseudoscience, 70% leftist ideology, 30% green mumbojumbo. Dare to suggest on a radio program that global warming is a threat to the planet and you'll be seen as a fear-monger or a hysteric. But Beck and Hannity are not alone. They get a little help from guess who?
Slavoj Žižek: I was surprised to find the following excerpt in an article by the Slovenian philosopher entitled "Ecology as the New Opium for the Masses." It turns that what worries Žižek is not the urgency of global warming, but capitalism.*
In spite of the infinite adaptability of capitalism which, in the case of an acute ecological catastrophe or crisis, can easily turn ecology into a new field of capitalist investment and competition, the very nature of the risk involved fundamentally precludes a market solution - why? Capitalism only works in precise social conditions: it implies the trust into the objectivized/"reified" mechanism of the market's "invisible hand" which, as a kind of Cunning of Reason, guarantees that the competition of individual egotisms works for the common good.Žižek's move is to show us he can really one-up capitalism's next move and denounce it. The risk of global warming is a straw-man. Ecology is an empty cipher. The physical evidence: melting ice, rising temperatures and sea levels, the expansion of subtropical deserts means nothing. It all boils down to a fear-of-catastrophe campaign mounted by Capitalism:
No wonder, then, that the by far predominant version of ecology is the ecology of fear, fear of a catastrophe -human-made or natural- that may deeply perturb, destroy even, the human civilization, fear that pushes us to plan measures that would protect our safety. This ecology of fear has all the chances of developing into the predominant form of ideology of global capitalism, a new opium for the masses replacing the declining religion: it takes over the old religion's fundamental function, that of putting on an unquestionable authority which can impose limits.The Slovenian philosopher is so preoccupied to outsmart his ideological nemesis that he misses the real problem, that is to say, global warming as real ecological disaster. Žižek gets blinded by ideology and misses the facts (surely, he would retort that "facts" are ideological constructions). His reason is that Capitalism, this absolute cunning superstructure has the ability to constantly adapt, thereby assimilating every crisis and micromanaging the planet into subtler, more perfidious mechanisms of control.
What to do then? The only thing left for humanity is to do nothing.
The coup de theatre is that Glenn Beck, the right-wing religious and political activist cannot agree more with Žižek, the communist. The difference is that Beck's boogieman is not "global capitalism" but "global government," i.e., the hidden forces of the international socialist conspiracy and its main representative, the present government of the United States. We've seen it before, radical opposites end up in the same place.
Žižek may retort with one of his favorite psychoanalytic twists: While Beck believes that ecology is an invention of left-wing scientists and a plot of Obama's socialist government to take capitalism hostage, he really doesn't understand that he is -unknowingly- posing as a puppet of the system, that is to say, trumpeting the very discourse he thinks he fights.
But then why should anyone take Žižek's eco-bashing as a more authentic form than Beck's own brand of eco-bashing?
*This is how Žižek deals with the problem. At the end of his article he drops this paragraph:
With regard to this inherent instability of nature, the most consequent was the proposal of a German ecological scientist back in 1970s: since nature is changing constantly and the conditions on Earth will render the survival of humanity impossible in a couple of centuries, the collective goal of humanity should be not to adapt itself to nature, but to intervene into the Earth ecology even more forcefully with the aim to freeze the Earth's change, so that its ecology will remain basically the same, thus enabling humanity's survival. This extreme proposal renders visible the truth of ecology.First, Žižek implodes the idea of change. True, nature is changing constantly, only that global warming is an alarming accretion of a disproportionate misuse of natural resources because of specific historical conditions of modern development. Crisis is a change, the end of humanity is a change, change is a change, only that we should prevent it if we can. Second, contemporary ecology doesn't advocate to adapt to nature (whatever that means in Žižekian). Rather the idea is that disaster can be averted only by a deliberate change of the world's status quo. Third, that survival will be impossible in two hundred years is a witless, sophomoric point: Žižek doesn't have a magic ball. Finally, the German proposal of the 1970's that he refers to, started as Holism, a dominant tendency in biology in the Germany of the 1930's, around the Marxist zoologist Julius Schaxel and his group (which included Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Hans Driesch, Jakob von Uexküll and ecologists Karl Friederichs and August Thienemann). Once Schaxel was demoted by the Nazis for his political views, the group founded Bios a journal with Nazi overtones, as such: 1- Holism redefines ecosystem as a Gestalt. 2- Reductionism of the natural sciences is responsible for the present decline. 3- The enemies are liberal individualism and technology. Actually, the difference between this version of eco-fascism and the Socialist German ecology of the 1970's is that the new reincarnation was not technophobic, though it remained anti-liberal.