Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose
Photo: Journey Worker Productions, CC SA 3.0 (C)

Sunday, 4 October 2015

transition movement doc / Flower in the garden

This has suddenly bloomed, after the plant had grown in the garden for a few months. 
Any idea what it is? Looks like a sort of poppy, but a far lighter shade of red.

I was reading this doc, an explanation and critique of the Transition movement.

I am quite fond of the transition movement´s goals in micro, even if its concern with peak oil is a bit dated/naive (it is now obvious that the globe will mine and burn tar sand resources down to the last tank of petrol for driving up to the supermarket and buying frivolities rather than bothering to change).

Here´s a sketch of the transition assumptions from the doc (pg. 3) which animate its programme -

(1] That life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it’s better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise;
(2] That our settlements and communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the sever energy [and economic] shocks that will accompany peak oil [and climate change];
(3] That we have to act collectively, and we have to act now;
(4] That by unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching, and that recognise the biological limits of our planet.

I think we at CSA would agree with all of these except 4; 3 probably needs a modifier to ´collectively and individually´ but OK;

(4) would be nice, except the power progressive metaphors are a bit questionable - unleash suggests its there ready to go and only artificially restrained; the concept of collective genius also needs an individual to do it, but if we eased it back to ´communal talents´ it would be OK and not grandiose or Bolshie/Averroist;
the claims to be more connected and more enriched is pretty dubious on any level higher than reintroducing a concept of wonderment at nature: if transition leads to planetary secularisation and ¨scandinavianisation¨ of low energy bike paths, organic food, etc, but no religion or a universe worth caring about, then Im not sure how that works: I can see people clinging together and valuing a society in an indifferent or pointless universe, but that doesnt strike me as enriched, but rather, quite pointless. And doing a community focus rather than a cosmic focus is a bit misguided.

But for all those reservations, and thinking of (4) as something like ´enriching human societies to achieve their respective genuine common goods, and accordingly, the common good´, it strikes me as quite OK.

Two paragraphs leapt out at me for thinking about a Catholic environmental ethic that has some of the same goals as transition. The first from p. 8 on the social group that gets involved:

The suggestion is that caring for the environment is a privilege that generally only arises once the struggle for basic necessities has been won. Whether that is a valid characterisation of the broader Environmental movement is a question we leave to one side (Martinez-Alier, 1995], but we do wish to explore the question of whether the Transition movement is just another ‘pleasurable, leisure based community movement’ (James, 2009a: 19] and an expression of ‘bourgeois community resilience’ (James, 2009b: 15], as some of its critics, often from the political left, assert (see Trapese Collective, 2008]. We contend that the reality of what Mason and Whitehead (2012: 511] call ‘inclusive localism’ is more complex than that, although the danger is real that the Transition movement may end up as little more than an exclusive middle- class club for nice, comfortable people who already have the resources and options to adapt. 

Yep. A Catholic version of this gets around this problem because everyone is already there. And it resolves the terror of the left - ie the need for a mix of top down along with bottom up, in the same way its top down and bottom up structures mediate parallel issues elsewhere - by being unembarrassed about the concepts of hierarchy and governance and some top down direction built into the system. (This means that it really cant be a leftist movement any more).

The other quote:

To what extent can the Transition movement avoid the pain, hardship, and conflict historically associated with significant social movements (e.g. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, etc.]? After all, vested interests in the status quo are almost certainly going to try to maintain the status quo, suggesting that the ambitious goals of the Transition movement (including decarbonisation, relocalisation and building a new economy] are probably going to confront, or are confronting, hard political opposition from enormously powerful political and economic forces. For this reason, we would argue that pain and conflict cannot be sidestepped on the path of ‘transition’, while at the same time acknowledging that activists and participants in the movement may well find the struggle meaningful and worthwhile, no matter how difficult the path may turn out to be. To paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche: they who have a why to live, can bear almost any how.

A CSA response to this is that a catholic version has sacrifice right at its centre, and has the resources to avoid this entirely. The cross and centuries of monasticism mean this isnt an issue; what we see in the quote is the paradox of leftists who are idealistic hedonists and utilitarians struggling against making the sacrifices required to bring in the reign of utility/enrichment that they are looking for. Indeed, one could make a sort of Bellocian response to these people that the task of fixing things has been made far worse by the modern state´s appropriations of church lands in the modern period running from 1534 to the Cuban revolution´s landgrabs. We took all the land and control away from the church to make a more hedonistic, efficient world, and it turns out that we´ve overdone it, and the very virtues that we require to turn things around are parallel to the very ones contained in the programme that the church and in particular the monastics were set up to implement.

More later, but I´d recommend the doc as a good introduction to the transition movement, and also a good introduction to thinking through the ethics of how to do environmental change: use it as an ¨if not, why not?¨ guiding process. My suspicion is that the utilitarian/immanentist side of the left will blunt anything it tries to do in terms of implementing social ideals on a sustainable (!) basis; I suppose this is my Ratzingerian pessimism that we can never have a social architecture or rules to fix broken societies, if character and virtue is absent; and that the Church is required to get the virtue story right on a tenable basis.


Appended note

My attitude is nicely summarized by Dorothy Day writing about Fidel Castro´s Cuba:

I am most of all interested in the religious life of the people and so must not be on the side of a regime that favors the extirpation of religion. On the other hand, when that regime is bending all its efforts to make a good life for the people, . . . one cannot help but be in favor of the measures taken.

No comments:

Post a Comment