Earth Day 2013

The most disturbing aspect of contemporary cultural discourse in the USA is not that it is highly polarized. This is only one symptom. The real problem is more simple and far more sinister: There is almost no way to criticize, alter, or reform destructive or useless aspects of contemporary culture without threatening to bring down the entire edifice of the global economy. The pipeline project from Canada is one example. To criticize it and defy the powerful interests behind it is to simultaneously call into question the entire economy supported by this suicidal project. Farmers depend on carbon fuels; school kids need buses; multinationals need profits; local politicians need a sense of purpose and triumph. The status quo can be perpetuated by the profiteers precisely because the economy is weak, like a heroin addict. The good life is defined as a big pickup or SUV, multiple vacations to “relax”, and the daily fix of TV and its subvarieties. “A plague of fantasies”, as Zizek put it, renders us incapable of understanding why the simple is preferable to the complex; why pleasure depends on good work; and how everyone bears responsibility but not the weight of the world.

Ordinary people need the political center to teach us. Caught in dreams of paradise and in nightmares of retaliation, individuals can barely find words to describe the tensions and difficulties brought by globalization of American consumer culture. As a former student wrote to me from Taiwan: “global warming is a kind of globalization.” What centrist politicians could state such a poetic/scientific truth?  We need those elected to carry the weight of the world. It is their choice, their destiny. This may be their last chance.

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