Encouraging the good

I’m going to be thinking about George Monbiot’s article[1] for a while.

On the one hand, there’s little new to me. Traditionalist conservatives advocate that power should be localized, at the level of the squire (a landlord imbued with low-ranking nobility) and the parson (a priest).[2] And I have thought that the only way to transition to an anarchist society would be through local power arrangements, which are also, inherently, more representative than anything at the state or national level.

On the other hand, national power in the U.S. has been important in civil rights, a social safety net, and environmental protection as the federal government has implemented policies that many states are loathe to do. Donald Trump, however, is undoing a lot of this: His bigotry grabs attention but his longer-lasting achievements may be in deregulation, an attack on Obamacare especially, and his judicial appointments. The phrase “easy come, easy go” comes to mind.

Monbiot complains about institutionalized fake news (of the Fox News variety) and the success of demagogues in seizing power. He thinks that localized power might combat this.[3] I suspect that those who recall Jim Crow and slavery will have their doubts; Tammany Hall comes to mind as I remember that local governments can be as corrupt and evil as national ones.

It all forces me back to the conclusion I started with: Power over others is evil, whether exercised through physical, legal, or social force. I was an anarchist before I became vegan and I saw going vegan as an extension of my anarchism, thinking that non-human animals should be due the same protections as human animals; hence I embraced vegetarian ecofeminism.[4]

Still, as I have previously noted, we have lived in an authoritarian society since the neolithic. Humans may indeed have a wide range of possibilities, but that range has likely been distorted by that experience.[5] Anarchism relies on people being good to each other. My own cruel experience is that we show little sign of that, let alone of compassion for the nonhuman animals we don’t adopt as companions.

Monbiot points to a long list of authoritarians and demagogues, opening his essay by writing,

You can blame Jeremy Corbyn for Boris Johnson, and Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump. You can blame the Indian challengers for Narendra Modi, the Brazilian opposition for Jair Bolsonaro, and left and centre parties in Australia, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland and Turkey for similar electoral disasters.[6]

But the trouble here isn’t really the scale of government or the level at which power resides. It’s that we, all of us, not just the elite, are at least as capable of evil as we are of good. And the real question, the question really of justice is, how do we encourage good rather than evil?

I can point to a far longer list of failures, government, courts, and religion, than I can successes. As a species, we need to be thinking about that.

  1. [1]George Monbiot, “Rewilding Politics,” Guardian, December 23, 2019, https://www.monbiot.com/2019/12/23/rewilding-politics/
  2. [2]Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, 7th ed. (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2001).
  3. [3]George Monbiot, “Rewilding Politics,” Guardian, December 23, 2019, https://www.monbiot.com/2019/12/23/rewilding-politics/
  4. [4]Greta Gaard, “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay,” Frontiers 23, no. 3 (2002): 117-146.
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Why we won’t respond to climate change,” Not Housebroken, October 16, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/10/16/why-we-wont-respond-to-climate-change/
  6. [6]George Monbiot, “Rewilding Politics,” Guardian, December 23, 2019, https://www.monbiot.com/2019/12/23/rewilding-politics/

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