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A new line of critique for Nader's anti-system coalition

By Mark Wegierski
web posted August 16, 2004

Ralph NaderIt could be argued that U.S. presidential candidate Ralph Nader would be able to attract a great deal of traditionalist-conservative support by embracing an immigration control and reduction agenda -- which can be argued for on solidly environmentalist grounds -- as well as by accentuating the social-conservative aspects of his critique of consumerism and big growth. He would then be the only prominent presidential candidate willing to seriously examine the impact of immigration, the consumer society, and outsourcing on the future of the American social and natural environment. Not only would the quality of public political debate in America be greatly raised, but at least some of Bush's support in the "Red heartland" [1] would go to Nader.

Indeed, the locus of resistance to some of the most negative current-day trends is likely to be found in ecology. The understanding of the current American managerial welfare-state, as consumer of the planet, is meant to challenge the current American bipartisan consensus favoring big growth, the consumer/consumption society, big government, high immigration, and the global imperial engagement of the United States. There is some hope for a new coalition favoring a greater appreciation of the qualitative aspects of human existence, strong conservation efforts, smaller and more local government, some degree of substantive immigration restriction, and opposition to U.S. imperialism. This new coalition is a summit where "vegan computer programmers" supporting Dean or Nader meet "right-wing Greens" concerned about immigration and population-growth, as well as antiwar, localist, paleolibertarians and paleoconservatives. The new coalition is based on the major fissures in both of the major parties.

The Democratic Party's self-aggrandizing constituencies have almost nothing in common with idealistic environmentalists. And the Republican Party's imperial bureaucrats have no use for their heartland base, except as cannon fodder and cheering section for their foreign military campaigns. The evocation of ecology and anti-consumerism/anti-consumptionism is also meant to highlight what is (to a large extent) the most broadly appealing and inherently sensible part of what is considered "the Left" today. It could be argued that, apart from what is effectively the salutary defense of Nature -- a realization of the inherently finite nature of material resources, and the celebration of the preciousness of ecology -- most of the "Left" program would indeed hold comparatively little, genuine, truly idealistic, appeal.

It can be posited that there exists today, in most Western societies, something which could be called the commodity-consumption/welfare-state. Despite the attempts of some boosters of the welfare-state to distinguish between the "bad" materialism of corporate consumerism, and the presumably "good" materialism of redistributive welfare-policies, the differences between what could both be seen as materialistic outlooks are minimal. Welfare-state proponents often claim to eschew a concern with economic values, in favor of "social" issues, but in many cases, their programs and policies amount to little more than (to put it bluntly) getting themselves and their various client-groups "a bigger share of the loot" - which also usually means spending government (i.e., other people's) money. (One supposes that a welfare-state slogan could be - "there's no such thing as other people's money".) A genuine sacrifice in the welfare-state administrators' and propagandists' consumption-lifestyle, on behalf of something like the ecological future of the planet, is comparatively rare. Many of their ostensibly pro-ecological policies are also calculated in such a fashion as to shift the maximum of costs onto other people, and exponentially increase the permissible level of government intrusion. One of the most obvious inducements to conservation of such resources as electricity is to charge market prices for them, yet this is usually considered as leading to impermissible inequity.

Also, since boosters of the welfare-state typically absolve people of responsibility for their individual actions, it thereby lessens the appeal they can make on behalf of individual conservation efforts. For example, why should anyone limit their water-consumption, if they are receiving it for free (or almost free), and know that even if they limit themselves, irresponsible others will use as much as they wish?

It could also be pointed out that the rather abstract allegiances of many sincere ecologists to "the planet" do not make the most effective behavioral inducement. People tend to typically care most for their own nation, local community, and family. So the ecological appeal should be framed in terms of preserving the ecology of *this* country and *this* countryside. Of course, with mass immigration into one's country, reinforced by massive population growth outside one's country, the argument for ecological conservation becomes markedly more difficult to make. Why should one make sacrifices in one's own consumption if one's national resources will invariably be drawn upon by numerous "free riders"?

It could be argued that today's commodity-consumption/welfare-state rapidly consumes the long-accumulated, once-carefully-shepherded wealth of a given state/society/nation like a ravenous, raging fire, in the end leaving only a burnt-out husk. The GNP is expected to rise at a rate of at least 3 per cent a year, and it seems that it is never enough. Extrapolating the possible ecological consequences of a compounding GNP increase (which is largely coterminous with ever-increasing consumption and resource-use patterns) over a period of few hundred years is frightening. The maintenance of what are (by any world-historical measure) the comparatively very high living standards of a Western consumptionist welfare-state can probably only occur with the intensifying despoliation of the natural environment; or with net negative population growth.

Ironically, the hypertrophy of immense wealth also actually results in the tendency towards the atrophy of authentic social standards and much of authentic social existence. Even as ever-greater wealth is generated, society loses many of its earlier good habits that would allow it to utilize the wealth towards ensuring a "commodious" existence, or to carefully conserve that wealth for future generations.

It could be argued, furthermore, that the relatively high general living standards of Western welfare-societies can only be maintained at fever-pitch height for little more than a generation. It now increasingly appears that the Baby Boomers may indeed be the first and last hyper-affluent generation. Though these trends are only beginning, increasing economic and budget stringency appears to be the trend of the future. However, these stringencies tend to be imposed on the broad middle and working classes, rather than on managerial elites and their various client groups.

It is clear that Western welfare-societies are the very opposite of premodern "stable-state" (or "steady-state") societies. Had the resources offered by the Western consumptionist welfare-states over the last thirty years been carefully husbanded or shepherded, they could have possibly lasted for millennia -- relative to previously available material standards of living for most of human history and humankind. The Western-derived, socially-liberal, multiculturalist, consumptionist welfare-state might well be only a very brief episode in human history, before some kind of massive dissolution into chaos, or, possibly some sort of new re-integration, takes place. Some would argue that the Far East could be seen as a region where there is a particularly good chance for societies to emerge (such as Japan and Singapore) that would be comparatively socially and ecologically stable, and technologically advanced at the same time.

Footnotes:

[1] In the 2000 Presidential Election, the major American television network programs' electoral maps depicted the states voting for the Republican candidate George W. Bush in the red color, and those voting for Democratic candidate Albert Gore in the blue color (the color-reversal was probably some kind of weird emanation of political-correctness). Most of the states supporting Gore were urban or coastal regions. Hence the term "Red heartland" entered the U.S. political vocabulary.

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

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