Letter: Question the assumptions of fundamentalist capitalism
John McClaughry, in his commentary "Stamping Out Carbon Dioxide Emissions," seeks again to sow doubts about taking action on climate change. Rather than respond by refuting his usual mischaracterizations of the science and the policy initiatives that align with the science, I will instead bring more light to the belief system that McClaughry's think tank, the Ethan Allen Institute seeks to uphold and perpetuate. It seems to me that solutions to climate change call into question some of the basic philosophical principles that the Institute adheres to. Here is their mission statement: "The mission of the Institute is to influence public policy in Vermont by helping its people to better understand and put into practice the fundamentals of a free society: individual liberty, private property, competitive free enterprise, limited government, strong local communities, personal responsibility, and expanded opportunity for human endeavor."
Taken item by item, I am in favor of these values — when they are balanced by values of cooperative enterprise, shared responsibility, compassion, conservation of common-pool resources, and equality. Without that balance we find a philosophy of radical individualism, competition as the primary ecological metaphor, nature subsumed to "resources," and governance as oppression — except when it serves to maintain "free market" rules. When this belief system is elevated to an unquestioned Good, it takes on a religious significance, a fundamentalist set of Truths impervious even to physical, measurable observations of the real world (hence the refusal to accept climate science).
It is hard to let go of fundamentalisms. Solutions to climate change have radical market capitalists running scared. Their philosophy and methodologies have served them well, as evidenced by the staggering accumulation of wealth by the few at the expense of the many and the whole of the natural world. (Oxfam reports that the world's richest 26 people own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity). No, solutions to climate change will not come from such a worldview. Solutions will come from an open-eyed, open-hearted set of principles and practices with mutualism as the primary ecological metaphor, with collaboration favored over competition and sharing instead of hoarding.
The assumptions of fundamentalist capitalism are so broadly and deeply ingrained in modern life that most of us, I dare say, including myself, rarely stop to question them. Questioning takes courage, and for people like me, enculturated as much as I have been by individualism, feeling alone in that questioning can lead to inaction. Let's get together, find courage together, work together, and never-mind the obfuscations of radical "free market" fundamentalists.
Dummerston, Feb. 3
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