Who cares about “the argument” anyway?

Friday, 23rd April 2010 at 16:38 UTC Leave a comment

One of the worst trends I’m seeing in politics right now is a complete disconnect between any sort of debate and the actual, practical outcome. Take for instance Climate Change; major companies are admitting they should be doing something, but doing worse than nothing. Or the Robin Hood Tax campaign, where party leaders are sure its the right thing to do, but cannot bring themselves to place it in their manifestos. Have we reached a point where debate is meaningless?

Climate change is certainly one of the top areas where this has become reality, but its not the first. How much more has been said about the need to cancel third world debt than has actually been done? Suddenly a sort of denial comes into play. “Yes, we agreed to do that ages ago, what are you talking about?” – its starting to drive me up the wall.

It used to be that people who wanted some kind of lefty economic or social policy were told they didn’t know what they’re talking about, couldn’t win an argument, etc. As soon as we started winning arguments its back to ignoring the results. And that’s particularly bad when it comes to acting on the climate science. Suddenly the cuts in CO2 emissions required by the science are ignored because they’re too scary to comprehend for people who have big cars, bigger houses, and even the privilege required to be in the top 1% of polluters world wide.

I’m not entirely sure why this has happened. It wouldn’t have happened without the internet, the continuous torrent of responses that often disseminates information faster than money can stop it. Perhaps its also because people have persistently used all that technology to expose a previous failure of political argument. Its really difficult to tell when this disconnect happened, as well. Perhaps it was around the Iraq war, when essentially a war continued to be fought despite the rapid emergence into daylight of the immense mistake the initial invasion had been.

But it presents a immense challenge to anyone and everyone who dares to believe that “the right idea” should be backed up with action. A lot of it is to do with society’s inertia; as we have ingested the lie that things will improve from one generation to the next, we have become resistant, not to change per se, but to change that doesn’t create a greater sense of affluence, that doesn’t sit well with our sense of entitlement to consume ever more.

Essentially, a lot of it comes up against consumers and corporations, sometimes one (Oil companies in Iraq), sometimes both (aviation expansion). And it is this exponential element that makes this so tragic; we are not just consuming more than we can afford to, we are increasing our deficit to nature by more every single year.

The real challenge, therefore, is either to convince enough people that consuming is bad, or the government that the threat is so imminent it needs tackling, or to simply prevent the economy from functioning. The problem here being, we can’t stop the economy from functioning without the government from reacting. Its a bit of a conundrum. Of course, as much as anything, it should not be taken as an excuse for inaction: there is plenty that can and should be done. But it highlights the need for public education that connects the human impacts of our actions. It presents part of the frame in which we have to act.

Of course, this can be applied in plenty of other situations. University investment in the arms trade (of course it would be right to only invest in peaceful industries, but we must invest profitably) or any of a number of other arguments. Perhaps you can think of other examples where the moral argument seems to both won and completely ignored? Or even solutions for beating the impasse?


Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, democracy, Ethics, Politics.

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