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December 03, 1972 - Image 4

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1972-12-03

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a
special
feature

the

Sunday

doily

on
environmental
philosophy

Number 69 Page Four.

Sunday, December 3, 1972

Radical

ecology:

Going

back

to

the

roots

i

By WILLARD MILLER
THE INFANT science of ecology
has taught the environmental
movement one overriding lesson: par-
ticular problems cannot be treated
in isolation. All environmental prob-
lems are Interconnected. We must
carry our analysis of the situation
further to see that these problems
are intimately linked to our economic
and political structures, and the an-
alysis points to some serious econom-
ic, political, and philosophical issues.
Growing assaults on the environ-
ment can be traced to conditions that
arose largely in this century. Quite
simply, the productivity of the pri-
vate-enterprise economy surpassed
the ability of the consumer market to
absorb Its output. The problem facing
industry was to find ways of expand-
ing consumer markets in order to
keep pace with economic growth.
GIVEN THAT foreign markets and
deficit spending (on the military, for
example) were inadequate to absorb
growing productivity, means had to
be found to expand the domestic
market. Private enterprise chose the
only means compatible with its con-
tinued existence, namely, forced-
dratt consumerism. Corporate inter-
ests launched programs of mass ad-
vertising to create in consumers needs
that they had never felt before. This
advertising played on insecurities and
anxieties in ways we are all too fa-
miliar with, artfully connecting the
purchase of this or that product with
the solution to our personal and so-
cial problems.
If we weren't sufficiently anxiety-
ridden for this technique to work, in-
dustry' tried to engineer attitude
changes of a more "positive" sort. It
tried to foster contempt for the old
and make newness an end in itself.
A newness fetish, nourished by more
and more frequent styling changes,
caused many consumers to replace
perfectly servicable goods.
"Private enterprise chose

AP Photo
"PRIDE OF CRAFT in one's work has been destroyed by the shoddiness of the goods
produced. . . . The sole motive for working on such commodities is an unfulfilling
one: The constraint of economic necessity to earn a living. Perhaps the greatest loss
of all is the possibility of free and meaningful creative productivity."

present economic institutions with-
out rapidly exhausting our energy
sources and raw materials. Even if
we were to achieve zero population
growth, present economic practices
would still threaten to end our exist-
ence on earth.
The conclusion that follows from
this brief analysis is that we environ-
mentalists cannot reasonably pursue
a piecemeal reform program. We are
forced to recognize that growthand
its concomitant environmental disas-
ters are endemic to corporate capita-
lism. To ask of corporations organiz-
ed to produce profits that they vol-
untarily curtail production and avoid
growth in order to reduce environ-
the only means compatible

with its continued existence, namely, forced-draft con-
sumerism. Corporate interests launched programs of mass
advertising to create in consumers needs that they had
never felt before. This advertising played on insecurities
and anxieties in ways we are all too familiar with, artfully
connecting the purchase of this or that product with the

in the past, the principles of compe-
tition and individual profit-seeking
are now failing to promote the inter-
ests of the community as a whole. We
would be wise to consider the possi-
bility of cooperation as a basis of our
economic institutions, with the uses
of our resources and productive ca-
pacities determined by the entire
community. In fact, the chief obsta-
cle to our realization of a fully demo-
cratic society would be removed were
we to place industry in the hands of
government, thereby clearing the way
for the government to be placed
where it belongs - in the hands of
the people.
Democratc socialism
WHAT IS BEING proposed here is
a democratic political structure
combined with a socialist economy
predicated on non-growth. I don't
contend that all socialist economies
are free of environmentally unsound
practices. Most socialist economists,
in fact,-have shared with their capi-
talist counterpartsgtheunquestioned
assumption that growth is an un-
qualified good and a major indicator
of economic health. Nevertheless, so-
cialist economic planning conjoined
with democratic political institutions
at least offers the possibility of plan-
ning for a non-growth economy.
There are at least three reasons
why socialism, unlike capitalism, of-
fers this possibility. First, surplus
profits will not be created only to re-
quire growth to provide a place for
investment (which will create more
profits, which will need more growth
to provide investment opportunities,
which will create more profits, etc.,
etc.). Second, considerations of per-
sonal and corporate profit and power
for the few need not be the criteria
by which planning decisions are
made. Finally, and perhaps most im-
portantly, the control exercised over
our political institutions by corpor-
ate interests, at the expense of the
needs of the people, will cease to be

a primlry determinant of our politi-
cal and economic life.
IT SHOULD ALSO be noted that a
non-growth economy will require a
redistribution of the wealth and de-
cision-making power over the whole
of the people in order to prevent war
between the socio-economic classes.
The myth of economic mobility in our
society has been sustained by eco-
nomic growth. So any attempt to
achieve non-growth without such a
redistribution would render present
inequities permanent. Thus, not only
is democratic socialism the only mod-
el on which non-growth is a real pos-
sibility, it is also the only model on
which non-growth could occur in the
context of an enduring political and
economic situation.
Ownership vs. stewardship
IF WE SERIOUSLY consider the al-
ternative suggested here, we will
be challenging some cherished and
unquestioned presuppositions of our
society. We will have to take a hard
look at such conceptions as "private
property," and ask whether this no-
tion embodies an unrestricted right
to use one's property as one sees fit.
It has been taken for granted that
ownership of a piece of property con-
fers the right to strip-mine it for its
minerals or to clear-cut it for its
timber. But the crucial question is
whether property rights necessarily
encompass the right to abuse natural
resources on which all our lives de-
pen d.
"Spaceship earth" is more than a
metaphor: the phrase points quite
literally to a crucial feature of our
predicament. We are all dependent on
the same life-support systems, and it
is clearly absurd to claim that any of
us should be allowed to sabotage
those systems for personal profit. At
most, private ownership of land
should be construed as a stewardship
where one has a responsibility to pre-
serve the quality of the land - land
which also belongs to all the unborn
generations of human beings.
PRIVATE PROPERTY is ecologic-
ally most pernicious in the sphere of
private ownership of industry. By
continuing to suppose that a few
men have the right to claim owner-
ship of the productive capabilities of
our society, we deify the concept of
private property in the face of the
obvious inequities such private own-
ership =allows. Not only is private in-
dustry the engine behind economic
growth (and environmental decline),
but it also adversely affects the peo-
ple who work for it. Widespread alien-
ation results from pointless and
numbing work on goods of dubious
(or negative) social worth for the
sake of someone else's profit. Pride
of craft in one's work has been de-
stroyed by the shoddiness of the
goods produced. (This qualitative de-
cline, as we have argued, has been
brought on in large measure by the
need to enlarge consumer markets by
designing obsolescence into pro-
ducts.) The sole motive for working
on such commodities is an unfulfill-
ing one: the constraint of economic
necessity to earn a living. Perhaps

the greatest
bility of free<
productivity.

"The question whether to reject free enterprise has been
rendered moot, however, since monopoly capitalism has
made free enterprise impossible. Those who defend free
enterprise defend a fiction. Cooperation provides the only
viable alternative to present practice. Only when it is
thoroughly subject to public control will industry employ
environmentally sound practices in producing well-made,
durable goods that satisfy real human needs instead of false
needs manufactured by mass advertisitg to create expand-
ing markets."
d r i:ty of"personaslp o t w:ould.: i , "isi .:.:r>::r.":

Private vs. personal property
ASSAULTS on the institution of pri-
vate property - nationalization
of the means of industrial produc-
tion, for example, and land-use re-
form - do not affect the ownership
or possession of personal property.
Defenders of the prerogatives of pri-
vate property all too often equate it
with personal property and warn
that if their prerogatives are chal-
lenged, peoples' homes, furniture,
and even clothing will be taken from
them. But this is simply not so. We
can deny the right to rape our re-
sources, and the right to engage in
modes of production that wantonly
produce both pollution and waste,
without jeopardizing personal prop-
arty at all. In fact, the utility and

loss of all is the possi-
and meaningful creative

4

solution to our personal and

social problems."

freedom now becomes the freedom to
purchase and own as much as one
can. Freedom means being able to
choose between 25 different models
of refrigerator, all of which will fall
apart in a few years. We look with
pity on-the people of less "developed"
countries, who have only two models
to choose between, as less free than
we are - although both of their mod-
els may last 25 years.
NONE OF THIS would have to con-
tinue if productivity were publicly
controlled. We could be producing on-
ly durable versions of things we real-
ly need. Advertising as we know it
would be superfluous. We could work
shorter hours because much less pro-
ductive and consumptive activity
would be required of us. The social
utility of our work would be apparent
and the quality of the product would
be high, allowing a rebirth of pride
in craftsmanship. We could use our
increased leisure in creative and ful-

durability of personal property would
be improved.
Free enterprise
IT HAS BEEN an article of faith
since Adam Smith that if every
member of a community seeks his
own interests through free competi-
tive enterprise, what emerges is in
the best interests of the community
as a whole. If one supposes free en-
terprise ever tohave existed, no more
obvious refutation of Smith's claim
can be found than the destruction
of our environment. The question
whether to reject free enterprise has
been rendered moot, however, since
monopoly capitalism has made free
enterprise impossible. Those who de-
fend free enterprise defend a fiction.
Cooperation provides the only via-
ble alternative to present practice.
Only when it is thoroughly subject to
public control will industry employ
environmentally sound practices in
producing well-made, durable goods
that satisfy real human needs instead
of false needs manufactured by mass
advertising to create expanding mar-
kets. Once these false needs are felt
as one's own, they make one less free.
Beyond the creation of markets, the
most insidious function of false
needs is to bind people to lucrative
but otherwise unsatisfying careers.
Once the consumer is victimized by
such needs, the word "freedom" un-
dergoes a perverse transformation:

y.4y &.SAaeew. ~ .fl~ 0 AV .u :lf.....w.....trA"'-

............ .....:... "sS4 ..

Still, there were many for whom
newness was not a strong enough mo-
tive to discard and replace - many
who did not see waste as a virtue.
Planned functional obsolescence was
instituted for the benefit of this ob-
stinate type. Now everyone was
forced to replace his car and appli-
ances periodically, not merely be-
cause they had become antiquated
but because they had ceased to work.
Buy now, pay later
FINALLY, BECAUSE there was lit-
tle change in his real income -
his purchasing power - the consum-
er was introduced to installment
buying and other forms of credit. He
was pressed to buy far beyond his
actual wealth. And incidentally, there
was money to be made not only on
the commodities themselves, but also
on the loans secured to pay for them.
All these innovations had a substan-
tial effect on the consumer market.
People bought more and more.
Overproduction is no accident of
American efficiency; it is endemic to
corporate capitalism, which must
provide outlets for investment funds
- profits looking for a place to earn
more profits. These investments spur
the growth of productivity, and to be
profitable, this increased productivity
must be accompanied by increased
consumer buying. As long as our
economy continues to be a profit sys-
tem, as presently constituted, it will
need to grow.

mental impact is to ask the impossi-
ble.
IF WE ATTEMPT to enact strong
federal legislation to control indus-
trial degradation of the environment,
we are immediately confronted by
severe difficulties. For an essential
element of such legislation would be
curtailment of economic growth. But
if growth is endemic to it, then en-
forced nongrowth would be fatal to
our economic system. What legisla-
tive body is prepared to legislate the
death of corporate capitalism? How
many of our legislators, many of
whom receive a large portion of their
campaign funds from corporations,
are willing to bite the .hands that
feed them?
Corporate vs. public needs
THE HISTORY of legislation in our
time is rife with examples of cor-
porate interests being served at the
expense of public needs; the oil de-
pletion allowance, for instance, or
Congressional permission for mining
to continue in Wilderness Areas until
1984. Such actions cannot be justified
by our energy and resource needs. As
we have shown, these needs are made,
excessively great only in order to sup-
port such wasteful (but profitable)
practices as annual model changes,
planned obolescence, and the satis-
faction of fabricated wants.
In light of this analysis and the re-
sistance of corporations to environ-
mental reforms, it is clear that our

filling ways, spending much less of
our "free time" maintaining our
stock of possessions. By producing
less with greater care, we could hold
the line against further environmen-
tal degradation .and begin the diffi-
cult task of reclaiming what we can
of what has already been despoiled.
International immorality
INTERNATIONALLY, we could con-
sume considerably less than our
present 50 percent of the world's an-
nual production of nonrenewable na-
tural resources. The immorality of our
nation's current practice, wherein 6
percent of the world's people consume
half its resources, is all too clear. With.
a non-growth economy, we could use
considerably less more wisely. We
could allow other nations to develop
to meet the real needs of their, peo-
ples. And the vast economic empire
we maintain around the world to pro-
vide us with the excessive amounts of
raw materials and markets demanded
by our overproductivity c o u 1 d be
eliminated under the cooperative and
democratic governance of our econo-
my.
An ecologically viable society
ALL THE ISSUES are related to the
environmental crisis, and the last-
ing solution of any of them requires
the resolution of them all. This is the
fundamental lesson taught by ecol-
ogy. Thus, an ecological consciousness
issues in a radical consciousness. Rad-
icals must come to see the importance
of environmental issues to their po-
litical analyses and programs. And
environmentalists m u s t recognize
that a genuine commitment to a de-
cent environment for ourselves and
for future generations requires noth-
ing less than radical solutions.
IF, FOLLOWING Marcuse, we de-
fine economic and political freedom
as freedom from domination by eco-
nomic and political s y s t e m s over
which we have no control, then it
should be clear that we live in an un-
free society. Earlier pleas for a fully
democratic society with an equitable
distribution of wealth were based
primarily on the moral imperative
for social justice. Unhappily, there
have been and still are many for
whom the concept of social justice is

a.

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