Here & Elsewhere

Now up on our homepage is a review by Frank Pasquale of Peter Frase's Four Futures: Life After Capitalism. Pasquale recommends the book, but he has a few important reservations.

Frase’s overarching theme is a progressivism that sees nature as a servant of human needs, to be tweaked in directions that reduce suffering. But one hopes this socialism of the Anthropocene is eventually leavened with a sober awareness of the hidden costs of technological “advance.” The RoboBee may be a great pollinator—but do its programmers also intend it to mimic all the other roles bees play in ecosystems? Do we even know the full extent of these roles? Here a faith in technological progress needs to be coupled with the precautionary principle.

Nor should aesthetic and spiritual attachments to nature be dismissed as softheaded romanticism. On a personal level, I would experience a garden buzzing with RoboBees as a tragedy, a site of loss. Admittedly, a child born in a bee-less world would never know what he had missed. But that potential ignorance of the past—or indifference to parts of it now fading—is not a reason to consign our present to radical change without first exploring all possible avenues for respecting the earth by controlling the kind of development that is now trashing our lands, waters, and skies.

At TomsDispatch, Commonweal contributor Andrew Bacevich offers a blistering critique of David Brooks and what Bacevich calls "the Church of America the Redeemer."

Back in April 2003, confident that the fall of Baghdad had ended the Iraq War, Brooks predicted that “no day will come when the enemies of this endeavor turn around and say, ‘We were wrong. Bush was right.’” Rather than admitting error, he continued, the war’s opponents “will just extend their forebodings into a more distant future.”

Yet it is the war’s proponents who, in the intervening years, have choked on admitting that they were wrong. Or when making such an admission, as did both John Kerry and Hillary Clinton while running for president, they write it off as an aberration, a momentary lapse in judgment of no particular significance, like having guessed wrong on a TV quiz show. 

Rather than requiring acts of contrition, the Church of America the Redeemer has long promulgated a doctrine of self-forgiveness, freely available to all adherents all the time.

Finally, the English writer James Rebanks, who farms sheep in Cumbria, recently visited the United States for the first time on a book tour. He was alarmed by what he found in the small towns and old farmland of Kentucky, one week before the November election. In the New York Times he writes:

I saw shabby wood-frame houses rotting by the roadside, and picket fences blown over by the wind. I passed boarded-up shops in the hearts of small towns, and tumbledown barns and abandoned farmland. The church notice boards were full of offers of help to people with drug or alcohol addictions. And yes, suddenly I was passing cars with Trump stickers on their bumpers, and passing houses with Trump flags on their lawns.

The economic distress and the Trump support are not unconnected, of course. Significant areas of rural America are broken, in terminal economic decline, as food production heads off to someplace else where it can be done supposedly more efficiently. In many areas, nothing has replaced the old industries. This is a cycle of degeneration that puts millions of people on the wrong side of economic history. [...]

The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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