Thursday, June 15, 2017

Capitalism and Environmentalism

Two thinkers who have had a vast effect on me were Ayn Rand and Ward Churchill. Ayn Rand championed logic, reason and capitalism and saw nature as there only as resources for human consumption. Ward Churchill, a Native American professor at University of Colorado, instead saw the Western civilization as psychopathic and championed the beliefs of Native Americans, who favored co-existence with nature and respectful treatment of the environment.

Neither one would have tolerated the other. Ayn Rand would have called Ward Churchill a savage, and Ward Churchill would have called Ayn Rand a psychopath. Both are part-right and part-wrong.

To Ward Churchill, I would say that if not for the Western civilization he would not be a professor at University of Colorado. And to Ayn Rand, I would say that she has not created nature and cannot re-create nature, and it is morally wrong to plunder what you cannot re-create.

But both also have a legitimate point. Both environment and the civilization should be treated with respect. In case of nature, whether it is a creation of God or a product of billions of years of evolution, it is something that people have not created, that possesses greater richness and complexity than anything that people have ever created, and that as such is a greater masterpiece than anything that people have ever been able to produce. And in case of the civilization, it has created all sorts of impressive achievements and conveniences and that, as such, likewise deserves to be treated with respect.

Both nature and civilization are great achievements; and both should be valued.

On this there are four different possible scenarios. The worst scenario is when people blindly plunder nature without contributing much to the civilization, such as when Berbers deforested Northern Africa or when Brazilian farmers burn down rainforest to make ranches that turn into wasteland. There are two medium scenarios – purely naturalistic lifestyle such as that of the Native Americans and the purely technological lifestyle such as what we see in many cities and suburbs of America.

The best scenario is when nature and civilization exist together, and where people fulfil their material needs and wants in a way that is not ruinous to nature.

I have seen this done to some extent in a number of places in contemporary world. These include San Francisco, Melbourne, Seattle, and some smaller places such as Boulder and the Magnetic Island. In these places, the people take care of the environment while also building advanced technological lifestyle where people live prosperously and comfortably. These people are often derided as hypocrites. No, they aren't. They have created livable situations in which people have the benefits of the civilization while taking care to tread lighter on treasures that they did not create.

Among the previous civilizations, the ones who did this best were the Incas. They had advanced architecture and engineering and agriculture more efficient than contemporary techniques. They also took the care to be minimally obtrusive to nature. They terraced the mountains in such a way as to prevent erosion. They also considered the environment in their design. While most suburban houses look completely out of synch with their environment, the Incan houses looked like extensions of the mountains on which they were built. Both the beauty of nature and intelligence of man found ways to exist symbiotically. They respected nature, and they also built a magnificent civilization.

I see no reason at all why the wisdom of the Incas should not be informative today.

The solution in such situations is to maximize the constructive potentials while minimizing the destructive potentials. It is to produce technologies that are more brain-intensive and less resource-intensive. It is to make the most of man as the creator, and make the most of nature as something that man has not created and cannot re-create. It is to tap into human intelligence. It is to do the most to advance the benefits of the civilization, that man has created, and do the least to destroy things that man had not.

Now there are many situations in which the people involved in capitalism and environmentalists clash. In fact, each represents exactly one-half the equation. The first represents the civilization and the second represents nature. Both are aspects of life – the first as created by human beings and the second as not created by human beings. There should be ways to advance both. There are.

The solution is neither to do away with civilization nor to blindly destroy nature. The solution is to use human intelligence to create better technologies that fulfil people's needs and wants in a less ruinous manner. Hydrogen energy, water-based engines, and similar technologies will do the task. This will serve life in man-made aspect without destroying life in non-man-made aspect. And that will make the most of both worlds.

Environmentalists and capitalists should be able to work together. Ultimately the goal of both is to advance life. In the first case the life that gets advanced is nature; in the second case the life that gets advanced is human civilization. The two in no way contradict one another. They can work together; they should work together; and it is the task of human intelligence to make that possible.


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