Environmentalism in the world where ideas, not things, are for sale

    30 Aug 2021

    One of the most complete descriptions of the ideas of moderate environmentalism, combined with a critique of countercultural ideas, is the work of American sociologists Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter “The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed” (2004).

    The authors believe that it is impossible to deny the whole system of capitalism and reject the modern social system (referring to the fact that it is repressive and unfair). Their critique is based on the idea that there is “healthy competition” and the distribution of so-called positional goods in any society. They’re always in short supply: expensive, “cool” things, fashionable things, and ideas. According to the authors, capitalism and the market system are indestructible. It is only necessary to eliminate its shortcomings through legislative reforms.

    On the other hand, in Heath and Potter’s view, the countercultural movement that emerged in Western countries in the 1950s and 1960s and which environmentalists have organically joined is unproductive. It generates new positional benefits, albeit different from the “traditional.”

    Heath and Potter’s attitude to the radical environmental movement is very skeptical: they consider unproductive the positions of the Earth Liberation Front and “Earth first!”, organizations that consider humanity an arrogant and tyrannical formation on the planet’s body. Instead, the recipes proposed by the authors are to regulate emissions by introducing pollution quotas and forcing energy-saving technologies not by appealing to the moral values ​​of consumers but by increasing electricity bills.

    Theories of “post-industrialism” and “the ideas for sale”

    The problem of environmental protection is interpreted peculiarly in the theories of “post-industrialism,” which are outside the division into “left” and “right” ideological spectra and have an impact rather on the “moderate” part of environmentalists.

    Environmental protection in the theories of “post-industrialism” is considered in line with the general problems that await solutions and will be solved by humankind in the next hundred years. This trend in political science and sociology is futurological and always contains an element of forecast in the works of its followers.

    The primary sources of understanding of the emergence of “post-industrial” social relations are the works of American futurists Alvin Tofler, Daniel Bell, and their followers. The basic principle of their constructions is that information is not transmitted at a loss for one of the parties. Both interacting parties benefit from data transfer, as any data can be copied and freely distributed.

    As modern technologies make it possible to accelerate the exchange of information many times over compared to previous generations, the opportunities for social activism and coordination of socio-political movements are growing accordingly.

    The problem of human interaction with the environment in the works of theorists of the “information society” and post-industrialism is considered this way: the society of the XXI century will be focused on “intangible” production. The attitude to the world will be appropriate – as a set of virtual units and objects used for entertainment rather than for real transformation into public goods. Such an interpretation is stated, for example, in the work of the Scandinavian futurist, creative director of “Dream Company” (Copenhagen, Denmark) Rolf Jensen ” The Dream Society: How the Coming Shift from Information” (1999). It most clearly reflects not so much “consumer” as “entertaining” (the book describes the consumption of intangible pleasure, not some material good) attitude to nature by people in “post-industrial” (by some authors referred to as “postmaterial”) society.

    “Companies will need to understand that their products are less important than their stories. And storytellers – specialists in the art of conveying human emotions – will need to have a voice in the design process. Designers and engineers may abandon even the most ingenious technical enhancements if those enhancements can’t be integrated into a product’s story.

    Storytelling will even affect the way companies hire and retain employees. Companies will recruit people based on how they express their spirit. Marx may have been right: In an ideal society, employees will own the means of production – in their heads and their hearts.”

    Jensen, who popularized the ideas of post-industrialism, formulates his attitude to environmentalism as follows: “We must understand that we have only borrowed the planet from our children. It is our duty to restore it in good condition and preserve its many treasures. “Green” approach is only part of the dream society, one of many stories that will determine the future, but it is not the whole theory. When whales cease to be food and turn into beautiful animals, and to take pictures of them, people go out to sea, a new story begins.»

    Nature is considered by Jensen as a set of goods, certain qualities that can be consumed by human – values. But these values ​​are no longer considered as utilitarian as they were in the twentieth century. According to the scientist, nature has ceased to be considered an “inexhaustible storehouse” – due to the efforts of a large-scale movement of “greens” and environmental scientists. And this also impressed theorists like Jensen, who specializes in the economic side of the circulation of “intangibles,” essentially just symbols. They also take the environment and its protection into account. However, they see nature mainly as a source of aesthetic pleasure, entertainment for the citizens of the post-industrial Western countries. On the example of the “Dream Society,” we see significant progress in the understanding by the “post-industrialists” of the importance of, at least minimal, environmental conservation. Forests, for example, can no longer be destroyed in a barbarian way – precisely because of their aesthetic (not yet environmental) significance.

    In general, post-industrialism is a set of theories that justify the current level of material well-being in developed countries and consider the current division of the world as a natural consequence of social development.

    Parties and political organizations in such a world must pay more and more attention to the external, symbolic manifestations of their activities, creating an “information space” in which their ideas circulate. Among them, we can find the concept of ​​environmental protection, however, modified and adapted to the level of perception by the mass consciousness.

    Not surprisingly, environmental slogans are now on the agenda of most European parties – the idea of ​​a “green” movement to use political levers to protect the environment has become part of the “cycle of ideas in politics.”

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