View Full Version : Post Labor Day fix .....

stan v
09-02-2003, 06:40 AM
a good dose of Mark Steyn.

September 2, 2003


This Labour Day weekend, I find myself thinking about the working class, the masses.

No, honestly, I do. Okay, Iím on the beach, but the folks around me lying on the sand have jobs they'll be getting back to on Tuesday. They work. They would be classed as workers. But they're not a homogeneous "working class," they're not conscripts in Karl Marx's "masses." The transformation of Labour Day, from a celebration of workers' solidarity to a cook-out, is the perfect precis of the history of Anglo-American capitalism.

If you want to see what "the masses" are meant to look like, buy a DVD of the film Metropolis, Fritz Lang's 1926 "expressionist masterpiece." As futuristic nightmares go, it's hilarious: The workers are slaves, living underground, chained to the levers, wheels, cranks and cogs of a vast machine, dehumanized by the crushing anonymity of their servitude, etc., etc.

Alas, nothing dates faster than a futuristic vision: Today, the nightmare that beckons is quite the opposite. Instead of a world in which the workers are forced to operate huge, clanking machines below the Earth all day long, the machines are small and silent and so computerized no manpower is required and the masses have to be sedated by shallow distractions like supersized shakes and Wal-Mart and 24-hour lesbian wrestling channels on Premium Cable.

It took the workers' tribunes a while to catch on: Even today, when your average union leader issues his annual Labour Day address, you can tell at heart he still thinks it's 1926 and Metropolis is just around the corner. But the intellectual left has been scrambling for decades to come up with explanations as to why, if everything's so bad, everything's so good: Noam Chomsky's theory of media manipulation -- "manufactured consent" -- can stand for an entire school of philosophers who believe a subtler breed of capitalist overlords than Fritz Lang ever foresaw are maintaining the workers in some sort of fools' illusion of content.

But, inevitably, this thesis was only going to be an intermediate stage, given that the shimmering mirage of the capitalist illusion seems to be holding up pretty well. The new received wisdom -- forcefully articulated by, among others, Maude Barlow's Council of Canadians at the laugh-a-minute 2002 Johannesburg "Earth Summit" -- is that the masses themselves are the problem. To the irritation of their self-appointed spokespersons, the oppressed masses refuse to stay oppressed. If they were still down in the basement chained to the great turbines, all would be well. But, instead, they insist on moving out of their tenements, getting homes with non-communal bathrooms, giving up the trolley car, putting a deposit down on a Honda Civic and driving to the mall. When it was just medieval dukes swanking about with that kind of high-end consumerist lifestyle, things were fine: That was "sustainable" prosperity. But now, everyone wants in. And, once you do that, there goes the global neighbourhood.

Thus, Simon Fairlie, in his new pamphlet The Prospect Of Cornutopia, ponders the consequence of a 3% "sustainable" growth rate and immediately spots the catch: by the year 2100 we'll be 18 times wealthier than we are today.

That's the problem? Of course! These days, for your serious media pessimist, the good news is the bad news. As Fairlie frets, "Will each home have 10 rooms and a swimming pool and, if so, where are we going to build them?"

Labrador. Next question.

But to this future of vast, unstoppable, ever-expanding wealth, the champions of the oppressed have come up with an ingenious solution: global poverty! Itís the answer to all our woes. We need a massive Poverty Expansion Program if we're to save the planet. "I don't think a lot of electricity is a good thing," says Gar Smith of San Francisco's Earth Island Institute. "I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity," he continues, globally warming to his theme and regretting that African peasants "who used to spend their days and evenings in the streets playing music on their own instruments and sewing clothing for their neighbours on foot-pedal powered sewing machines" are now slumped in front of "Dynasty" reruns all day long.

George Monbiot, celebrated doom-monger of Britain's Guardian, agrees: "It is impossible not to notice that, in some of the poorest parts of the world, most people, most of the time, appear to be happier than we are. In southern Ethiopia, for example, the poorest half of the poorest nation on Earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls."
In Ethiopia, male life expectancy is 42.88 years. George was born in 1963. That may be why the cheery peasants in the fields are cracking up with laughter. They know that even if he moves in tomorrow, they'll only have to endure his column in The Gamo Gofa Times-Herald for two years. No wonder they're doubled up and clutching their sides. It's not just the dysentery from the communal latrine.

To measure the distance we've travelled, consider the words of Peter J. McGuire, General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, proposing 120 years ago the first Labour Day. It would be an occasion, he said, to honour those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

What a crazy! Nature's rude and all the grandeur comes from man? What fossil fuel is he inhaling? He should listen to the great Canadian sage David Suzuki, who in a recent column headlined "We're All Animals Here" wrote:

"The sign in the shopping mall said, 'No animals allowed.' As I read it, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It reflected a failure to admit or unwillingness to acknowledge our biological nature. We are animals and have a taxonomic classification: Kingdom -- Animalia, Phylum -- Chordata, Class -- Mammilia, Order -- Primates, Family -- Hominidae, Genus -- Homo, Species -- sapiens.

"Our reluctance to acknowledge our animal nature is indicated in our attitude to other animals. If we call someone a worm, snake, pig, chicken, mule or ape, it is an insult. Indeed, to accuse someone of being a "wild animal" at a party is a terrible insult."

But evidently not at a Suzuki get-together. Party on, dude! Everyone knows what the sign in the mall means. Suzuki may regret it, but the world we live in is defined not by what we have in common with the cats and dogs and Holsteins and black rhinos but by what separates us. As the Eighth Psalm says:

"What is man that thou art mindful of him ... ? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea."

You can say that's a lot of Judeo-Christian hooey. But that's not the point. The Psalmist, regardless of whether he got it from God, has characterized the reality of our lives better than Suzuki's alleged scientific classification does. The Eighth Psalm describes the central fact of our modern existence. It was a lot less plausible when it was written, when man's domain stretched barely to the horizon, when ravenous beasts lurked in the undergrowth, when the oceans were uncharted and the maps dribbled away with the words "Here be monsters ..." Back in those days, if PBS jetsetting finger-wagger Bill Moyers was sitting under some tree in the South African bush bemoaning man as a "cancer on the planet," nobody in Connecticut would be able to hear a word he was yakking on about, oh happy day.

But, over the millennia, the Eighth Psalm has held up, which is more than you can say for Fritz Lang or those 1970s eco-apocalyptics. By contrast, Suzuki's "We're All Animals Here" is a pitiful reductio, an expression not so much of evolutionary theory as devolutionary theory: We've evolved from the beasts, and, with a bit of a nudge from Moyers and Suzuki and PETA and all the other self-loathers, we can evolve back. And if that means those fieldhands in southern Ethiopia have to eke out their four decades in the rustic version of Metropolis, so be it.

There's no such thing as "sustainable" development. Human progress and individual liberty have advanced on the backs of one unsustainable development after another: When we needed trees for heating and transportation, we chopped 'em down. Then we discovered oil, and the trees grew back. When the oil runs out, we won't notice because our SUVs will be powered by something else. Bet on human ingenuity every time. We're not animals, and it's a cult as deranged as the screwiest fringe religion to insist we are. Earth's most valuable resource is us.

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09-02-2003, 08:54 AM

Kind of sums it up ...

Good mornin' Stan.

Keith Wilson
09-02-2003, 10:12 AM
Actually, Stan, most of this article is quite a bit better than most of the stuff you post. A few points, though:

There's no such thing as "sustainable" development. Human progress and individual liberty have advanced on the backs of one unsustainable development after another: The second sentence is true. The first is silly.

The difference between then and now, is that we could get away with a lot more when the human population was relatively small. We are, like it or not, animals in that we all need food, clean water, and clean air, just like any other mammal. For most of human history, no matter how careless we were, the damage was localized, and we could move on if things got too bad. This was at least as true of pre-industrial cultures; (read contemporary descriptions of the smell of Plains Indiansí camps) nomads donít need to worry about the mess they leave. OTOH, there are an awful lot of us now, the planet isnít that big, going elsewhere isnít an option for the foreseeable future, and our margin for error is smaller. Some restraint now will give us more time to come up with the next good idea. If weíre in a race between our cleverness and our tendency to make messes (and we are), a little moderation sure does improve the odds.

[ 09-02-2003, 12:31 PM: Message edited by: Keith Wilson ]

09-02-2003, 11:27 AM
One must be in a corner to define oneself by what one is not. "I'm not those people who are criticizing!". golly, guess not.

09-02-2003, 01:49 PM
stan's clarity of vision.