Thursday, January 14, 2010

God Turns Green ...

It is a fact, often noted, that environmentalism has become a quasi-religion, that is, a cult. For a recent analysis see Stephen Asma's article on "Green Guilt." Link here.

Surely, this is not good news for God. Fewer and fewer God-fearing folk possess the passion and commitment of environmentalists. Or better, are possessed by that same passion.

Does this mean that God is turning green... with envy? Probably not. God is a metaphysical entity, much in the same way that ideas are. As a scholar once explained, no one has ever seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled an idea. Thus, if ideas exist, they do not exist as physical objects, but as metaphysical entities.

At least this will provide some consolation for those who believe that there is something more than the natural world.

Many people are horrified at this reference to entities metaphysical. They fear that if they start getting too close to the world of gods and minds the experience will cut them off from their grounding, sap their vitality, compromise their instinctual power, and rob them of their exuberance. Thus they turn to pagan idols, like the Mother Earth, and direct their spiritual energies toward Her.

While it is true, as Asma notes, that most environmentalists are devout atheists, they are also, unbeknown to themselves, idolaters.

Just as psychoanalysis provides a religious experience for unbelievers, so does environmentalism establish a set of religious practices for those who pretend to be atheists.

According to Asma the environmental cult has produced a whole new category of sin. Environmentally-friendly practices, prescribed by cultural law, may or may not stop global warming, but they do force people to participate in the mini-rituals of the new cult.

More relevantly, they deprive people of their capacity to make a free choice. You are going to be forced to recycle, whether you like it or not. And you are going to be forced to turn off the lights, whether you like it or not.

If you do not, you will be punished by the group. Not in the sense of being made a pariah, but in suffering the indignity of having your school aged children run around the house turning down the heat. Such was Asma's experience with his six year-old son.

You might even feel that it would be better to be an outcast free to do what you please than to have your every domestic gesture policed by your children.

It may or not reassure you, but small children are perfectly capable of understanding environmentalism and are apt, when properly indoctrinated, to turn against their parents.

And to do so in the name of a higher authority, Mother Nature. What could be more charming than a small child reproving his father with this line: "Don't you love the earth?"

Asma does not seem overly impressed by the notion that environmentalism is pagan idolatry. In fact, he does not really consider it. Instead, he declares that this is all about guilt. Which is much the same thing. Because idolatry is about nothing other than guilt.

I disagree with the assertion that guilt is the hallmark of a civilized culture. In fact, and despite what far too many continue to believe, guilt is the dominant sanction in pagan cultures. When it comes to civilized cultures, the dominant sanction is shame.

Two of the most civilized cultures on the planet, Japan and Great Britain, are the most notable versions of shame culture. They value decorum and respect, good manners and propriety. When they punish, their preferred method is social exclusion, not bodily pain.

British shame culture invented the concepts and practices of political and economic freedom. A culture based on respect must tolerate differences of opinion.

In truth, the guilt-cultural practices of environmentalism are a reactionary effort to supplant civilized shame cultures. And to help us all to get in touch with our pagan roots.

Once you become convinced that the fate of the planet is at stake, that it is a matter of life or death, that the earth is about to be incinerated in an apocalyptic conflagration, then you cannot excuse inaction by saying that the matter needs discussion and deliberation.

Better yet, you cannot excuse your failure to call out your environmentally-incorrect neighbors by saying that you want to be tactful and considerate of their feelings. Given the stakes you have the right, no, the obligation, to be as rude as you want.

But why are these environmentalists joining a cult that is ridden with guilt and resentment? Asma, following Nietzsche, believes that they are suffering the vestiges of the Judeo-Christian tradition that, in their view, invented guilt culture?

I would counter that they are embracing the values of pagan guilt cultures and repudiating the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its separation of church and state, its metaphysical God, and its tradition of reciprocal respect.

In an environmentally aware world you cannot love your neighbor as yourself if he does not recycle.

When environmentalists consider that global warming and the attendant physical pain is punishment bestowed on us miserable sinners for our industrial sins, to say nothing of our liberal economic policies, they are promoting guilt culture. They are not promoting civility.

The Western division between shame and guilt cultures lies in the split between the Anglosphere and continental Europe. The propriety and decorum we associate with the British gentleman and with Victorian morality were consistently denounced by continental thinkers as inimical to human vitality and instinctual fulfillment.

Dare I add that in the time of Nietzsche and Freud the guilt-ridden intelligentsia of continental Europe was brimming with resentment over the success of Great Britain and America. The same resentment manifests itself today in segments of the Muslim world, especially in regard to Israel.

Presumably, the more primitive the culture, the more it is in touch with nature, the less it is destroying the planet, and the more it is putting you in touch with your repressed instinctual nature.

If the path to instinctual fulfillment must involve respect for others, then clearly these neo-primitive and neo-pagan cultures are alienating you from yourself and your pleasure.

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