By Noni Mausa
We Need To Be Kind To Be Cruel
Aug 15 2015
In press conferences and TV panels, we keep hearing important people discuss budgets, entitlements, deficits, and the big knobs and levers of the economy. Those spokesmen or dignitaries who have positioned themselves as deciders, judging what everyone else deserves, never tire of telling us all about it.
They imply they can control economic and political ups and downs, in order to take credit for the ups and assign blame for the downs, and sometimes they are even correct. But what they seldom do is look at how we we’re hollowing out the living world, burning here, poisoning there, concreting everywhere and trampling the rest with our billions. They like control, but they never claim they any control over core social problems like overpopulation. That would be social engineering!. That would be unnatural and cruel!.
The truth is, we’re heading for a literal world of hurt, and to reverse course, however cruelly and unnaturally, we first need really solid, reliable, almost lavish social supports.
It sounds nuts, eh?. Another of those lefties, laying out a buffet on somebody else’s dime? But believe me, the alternative is catastrophic. A Royal Fork for the world is a picnic by comparison to the fork we have ahead of us.
We’re on the brink of disaster. There are too many of us. We use too much stuff, we make too much mess, we’ve outgrown our resources. We need social deflation– fewer people, less stuff, less waste, less war, more sharing. We need to downsize.
So, who will agree to constrain themselves for the sake of a future they may not live to see?. Who goes first?
To date, nobody has. Oh, a handful of earnest greens per 100,000 may have eschewed the car, grown their own food, converted their toilet to a waterless system, and so on. I know some, I admire them. They’re great people. And they’re sadly lacking in a) money and b) influence. They went first, and they went alone.
Well, not quite alone. Who else has gone first?. The very poorest, and they didn’t jump, they were pushed.
I am talking about the most marginal human beings in the world, living on practically nothing. For these people, paying their life savings to ride across the Mediterranean Sea in the fume-polluted hold of a barely floating junker with their children, or to send those children alone to walk across a desert to arrive in a country not quite hostile enough to shoot them on sight, is safer and more hopeful than staying home. For many, having lots of children, even if they had a choice, is the only wealth they can accrue, and the closest thing to a pension plan they may ever see.
Call it Extreme Minimalism if you’re feeling sardonic. It’s way beyond what any millennial westerner would attempt. And with these horrific examples of downsizing, who wouldn’t try their best to stay as upsized as they can possibly manage?. Scramble for more money by burning off rain forest or poaching elephants. Raise more kids. Run the sea through a colander for one more shipment of fish. Kill the tribe downriver and take their land. It’s self defence. It’s for the kids. I had to defend myself. No one else will.
Without reliable social supports spread across a whole population, how can we expect anyone to go first?. And for this reason a just, reliable government, egalitarian laws and reliable child and elder supports are not frills, but essential to the next stage of the Anthropocene era. We have to be kind, to stand any chance of being “cruel.”
And that’s just individuals. What nation will go first in downsizing population, military, commodities, energy use, industry, and so on?. If everyone does it, okay. If it’s only you doing it, how will you defend yourself from those who don’t give a damn about the future?
So, the only nation that can afford to go first is the nation that has the most. By almost every metric, that’s got to be the US. Their military might is unique, their location easily defensible, their institutions not yet wholly degraded, their people not yet wholly disillusioned. And they have a head start on the population thing, with the numbers of native born children already below replacement, and a whole whack of Boomers heading for the exits any decade now.
But persuading individual Americans to gracefully contract their lives and their impact on the natural world can’t be done without their trust. Not that citizens are too powerful, with all their guns, to fall to government attack. Civilians never are. But, the raw cruelty of nations that neglect or outright kill their excess population has proven ineffective in reducing their impact on the world – rather, this has just led those people to bear more children and ravage the land for anything that might keep them alive another year or day. Look at the Black Death, WWII, or the 1918 influenza epidemic. The loss of life was unimaginable, but we bounced back with barely a wobble. We’re good at that. No, downsizing has to be either destructive beyond anything seen for 1000 years, or else voluntary.
A just, reliable, boring government, egalitarian laws and reliable child and elder supports are not frills, but essential to the next stage of the anthropocene era.
If the US regained her sanity and stability, while still possessing the bulk of her world power, she would be in a position to influence (and learn from!) other countries, defend weaker ones against their more ruthless neighbours, and be, in short, the kind of heroes they have long styled themselves.
Of course, there IS an alternative to voluntary contraction of our demands on our world. We’re seeing it beginning. But, who would actively choose the path we’re currently on?