LAKE WARAMAUG, CONN., APRIL 18—I recently finished a pair of pieces for The Nation concerning the modestly ambitious topic of the liberal order, as the global system within which we live is known. They were not marked as a two-part series, but they comprised one. Between the two of them they could not possibly touch upon all that needs to be said about the crisis we witness daily in too many manifestations to count. It is all around us. But some obvious themes could be usefully raised, I considered.
Some readers responded, either in the comment thread at the foot of each the pieces for via the mail address provided on this site. A few proved the point I just made: They had things to say that I hadn’t. One of these readers is named Victor Sciamarelli. His remarks were time-stamped 5:00am on April 11. That is a week ago today, and I have meant to post these, just as they arrived, ever since. I don’t normally do this, but Victor, who must live a vigorous existence if he is writing as well as this as early in the day as he did, deserves an exception. Here is what he wrote, without an edit of any kind:
This is a terrific article and I’d like to add something which I think needs to be said about climate change since, as Lawrence wrote, “Are those who sustain the prevalent order serious about the climate emergency? The whole world wonders.” And later, “Like the worsening climate, the velocity of deterioration seems fated to increase.”
Unlike forms of resistance, addressing climate change requires a profound change in the current relations of power and wealth, and unlike progressives, the elites are completely aware what is a stake. For this reason they have consciously chosen “climate change denial” or “market solutions” as a tactic to thwart science and political change.
Consider for example, that most of the pollution in our cities comes not from cars, but buildings. Homes and offices are heated and millions of people cook meals with fossil fuels, and cooling with a/c in the summer depends on electricity often produced by fossil fuels.
lllllRenovating each and every building away from fossil fuels, making them more efficient, and capable of using more electricity, plus producing more electricity without fossil fuels will be a project that will take half a century. And as new technologies become available they will need to be introduced into the system.
In order to accomplish this, and other changes, it will be necessary to accept a massive amount of organization, planning, and cooperation that can only be done by the government. Moreover, it will require a prominent role, at the highest levels, for science and related professions as we reorganize transportation, homes, work, our lives and how we live, or grow our food. It means that government organization and planning will impose standards on the behavior and decisions of corporations.
Many corporations find even trivial EPA rules intolerable. The current wealthy elites, who have spent decades serving their interests with deregulation, global finance, and trade deals, know full well that the so-called “free market” will not solve the problem, but relinquishing power to government is anathema to them even though we are on a path to certain catastrophe.
It might take nothing less than democratically achieving political power and implementing the necessary changes.
I WAS IMMEDIATELY impressed. The writer, first of all, cast the climate crisis in the context of the overarching question of power. Too few of us do this, however well-meant our efforts, and this was one of the points I was eager to stress in the columns. Climate change, civil rights, the rights of one or another constituency, the corrupted political process, war and the Pentagon’s budget: To take these in isolation—“This is my issue”—is a legacy of the 1970s, when the Democratic Party started to cave, and it amounts to nothing more than a weak-minded dodge. No question now facing us, from climate change on over, can be resolved until it is understood in the context of the prevalent power structure. There is no flinching from this.
I also admired the way Victor Sciamarelli picked up the climate crisis and set about connecting it to politics and government. By doing so, he gained access to the motivations of climate deniers that I thought exceptionally useful, primarily because I hadn’t made these connections myself. Light was shed.
I ended the second of the two columns noted above—and it was the second that precipitated Sciamarelli’s note—asserting that thinking anew is the imperative of our time. It is the burden our moment in history places upon us. The liberal order is failing: A lot of us, easy to detect in the course of one’s daily exchanges with others, find this thought too large. There is much flinching and gnashing of teeth, for it is hard; the enormity of the implications is too great.
The enormity of the implications is indeed great, which is why flinching of any kind, in any form (and it takes many), is the last thing needed. “We had better get on with the task” is the better thought. I thought Victor Sciamarelli’s observations was a very fine example of what is to be done—calmly put but unhesitant, imaginative in its grasp of the whole. I thank Victor by sharing his remarks.
THE TWO COLUMNS noted are posted here in the archives.
THE ANCIENTS had a gift for piercingly insightful myths humanity seems long ago to have lost. I often marvel at how deeply they were able to see into the human condition and the arc of life. As we have a gift for science and technology—material pursuits—they had one for going straight to the bottom of the truths of existence.
For many years I have found the Resurrection myth especially compelling. (It is necessary to take it as myth, of course, to understand it.) To die to a self and be born to another: What conditions enabled whom to understand this privilege, enjoyed by but a few, so long ago? Two millennia later, Nietzsche exhorted us, “Become who you are.” Sartre later wrote about existence as an incessant act of becoming. “… had I been so unfortunate as to live and die only once, Henry Miller wrote in Black Spring, “and thus to be forever alone.”
I mean to suggest what Easter means to me and how I celebrate it. To those who mark the feast, I hope yours was a happy one.