Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Feel Good Capitalism"

It's everywhere these days. Purchase a cup of coffee, a magazine, an automobile and be assured that a portion of the profits thereof are put toward a market based world of salads and sun. As a way to assuage the guilt of consumerism these gestures provide point of purchase forgiveness for exploitation, obscene profits, environmental degradation and a host of neoliberal terrors. Given the psychological reach of such efforts, it's a wonder that a medium cup of dark roast has room for cream!

In a heightened extension of market perversity, the United Nations has bought into and is promoting the idea of carbon offsets and markets as a means to preserve forests worldwide. The process works like this: Corporation X can "offset" their polluting by purchasing a forest elsewhere thereby preserving, or so say the promoters of this scheme, the ecological integrity and biodiversity of the environment, and offer economic incentives to indigenous people who happen to inhabit the purchased forest.

The head of the World Bank supports this plan (of course, he also promoted The New American Century which lead us to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars), The president of Ecuador supports this plan asserting against all evidence to the contrary that the "owner entities" of the world's forests "can be controlled," and more disturbing except as evidence of the desperation of caring people the world over, Jane Goodall supports this scheme.

Many indigenous peoples the world over are less enthusiastic. They wonder by what authority their lands are being sold out from beneath them? Unable to produce a recognizable deed--thousands of years of stories, traditions, and stewardship don't count to those whose imagination has been shaped by an affirmation of individuality via purchases in the market--these folks face the prospect of becoming squatters on their own land.

Any hint at regulations designed to limit market intrusion/greed are met with dire warnings of the failures of centralized economies or diminished as mere wishful thinking. The market is how the world works these days. You might wish it otherwise, but we have to be reality focused. This argument passes muster the world over and so accustomed are we to this bludgeoning that we are reduced to shouting, "Thank you sir! May I have another?"

Eclipsed in this abusive dynamic, what Naomi Klein has aptly called disaster capitalism in her book The Shock Doctrine, are any ideas of meaningful change. The market may be how the world works, but carbon offsets and markets never ask the question, For whom does this world work? Issues are framed to preserve current power structures; wealth continues to get transferred upward, Shell Oil continues to buy governments (see here), corporations continue to pollute, and people of the land, stewards of the Earth, become displaced, illegal, and unwanted.

All this is, the enthusiastic cheering to the contrary, nothing new. What is being preserved is the ability of transnational business to out maneuver governments the world over, to shape markets exclusively toward "bottom line" considerations, and to lull us into a guilt ridden sleep. I just might need that cup of coffee!


anno said...

Interesting post, and well-written, too.

The abstractions we use to represent our effort, time, & talents often trouble me, not to mention our methods for accounting for them.

And when we can use our abstractions -- for what is money, but one of our most fundamental, though most heavily manipulated abstractions -- to extend our effort and "invest" in companies in which we have no level of involvement or interest at all, except the hope of an increasing stock price, sure seems that nothing good can happen.

Not sure how big government helps. Big government + big money only seems to make the individual more anonymous, more likely to get crushed in ever more heavy-handed ways ... witness the current run of foreclosure hearings, where the judiciary and the banks seem to be working hand-in-hand.

To me, it has always made some sense that people own what they have done with their hands and hearts and minds, and that the only basis for any exchange between people is mutual consent. Would be interested in hearing your own point of view on what people can own, and the extent to which others can make a claim on what they do or own.

I don't mean to be confrontational here -- blog comments are an awkward and inelastic way of talking about issues that could more easily be discussed over a cup of coffee -- but I am curious. Thanks.

Acedog said...

Anno, Thanks for your thoughtful response. I doubt I have answers for your questions anymore than I have answers to the problems of an economic system that has largely eclipsed any governmental "container." It is as if we have largely forgotten that economies are political, not neutral or somehow apart from politics.

The difficulty for me is that language has been stripped of the power of dissent or critique. One has to be a Henry Giroux or a Slavoj Zizek (or other luminary) to be able to "negate the negation" that has become the currency of discourse these days.

I see "consent" as something that has become another commodity assigned only a bottom line value. The context in which consent is given or rarely withheld is ignored as irrelevant to a notion of individualism that keeps us apart, atomized, and unable to present a meaningful united alternative.

Anyway, such are my thoughts today.