Thursday, December 08, 2005

Some Yabbering on Review of 'Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture'

I have real problems with the terms left-wing and right-wing. In most circumstances, they're far too vague. Mostly, they're just sloppy collections of political beliefs or attitues that we tend to associate with left-wing or right-wing people.

The worst thing is that, in so much of our culture, 'left-wing/right-wing' is as granular as things get. You're either left-wing or right-wing, and we're going to eagerly throw you into one of those categories as quickly as we can.

I'm not sure how to describe my own views, but there's certainly a lot views from both sides that I disagree with, and some views on each side that I do agree with.

Having said that, I just read a review of Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter. Sounds somewhat interesting, I wouldn't mind reading it sometime. I'm not necessarily saying I agree with they say.

In the following bit rocounted from the book in the review, there is some stuff I would agree with:

The real problem [with the transformative Left] is that it rejects attainable reforms that would deliver tangible benefits, in favor of either inconsequential countercultural gestures or vast, sweeping projects no one can possibly enact, or even explain. Protecting the environment, for example, is not easy but Heath and Potter argue that it is simple. Pollution is a negative externality, a cost created by factory owners and car drivers but borne by air breathers. The solution is that "all externalities should be internalized" through taxes and tradeable pollution permits. Earth-friendly self-restraint will be promoted far more effectively by taxes that "compensate the farmer whose groundwater gets contaminated thanks to run-off from your garbage in the local dump" than it will by a hundred lectures about the lofty virtues of conservation and recycling.

Environmentalists' reactions to this effective solution, however, range from grudging acquiescence to strident opposition:
[Pollution] permits don't force CEOs to reevaluate their attitude toward nature, or to abandon their single-minded pursuit of profit. They represent, in the eyes of many environmentalists, 'the commodification of nature....'[People] should conserve energy out of virtue [these environmentalists think], rather than because of the size of their electricity bill.
This position, Heath and Potter write, is "just warmed-over countercultural mythology—the critique of mass society in ecological disguise." Thus
the preferred solution to environmental problems is pretty much the same as the countercultural proposals to correct consumerism: individual responsibility through moral education, and individual action through enlightened lifestyle choices. Plant a tree, ride a bike, compost your kitchen waste and save the earth.
Sensible and attainable solutions are dismissed—they can be carried out by people who aren't cool, devaluing the psychic premium now enjoyed by the practitioners of conspicuously correct consumption.

1 comment: