Here is a very weird debate. Paul Kingsnorth says: industrial civilization cannot infinitely grow nor indefinitely be maintained, and whether we like it or not, external circumstances--political, economic, and environmental--are going to force its gradual collapse. He suggests that if we acknowledge this fact we may at least begin to prepare ourselves for what follows. George Monbiot then accuses him in barely veiled terms of desiring the disease-and-starvation deaths of billions of people as the precursor to a macho-millennarian fantasy of some kind of agraro-utopian society rising from the ashes: in essence, thus, accuses Kingsnorth of the Khemer Rouge heresy. This is quite plainly nuts, a callous, intentional, unethical, and thoroughly dishonest misstatement of an opponent's position in order to paint him as a monster. Well, never let it be said that the forensics dorks weren't capable of their own brand of bullying. Additionally, as if accusing Kingsnorth of hoping for the holocaust of the majority of humanity were an insufficient calumny, Monbiot becomes quite hysterical:
Here are three observations:It is at this juncture of course impossible to say if our species is "tough and resilient" or merely one of nature's more ungainly, passing fancies. Compared to the geological life of the planet we are not yet an eyblink; compared to our fellow chordates we are a quick-drawn breath; compared even to many of our late-arriving, brother and sister mammals, we're barely newborn. The coelacanth and crocodile are laughing at you, George Monbiot. Bacteria are not impressed. The idea that our own apparent death-wish, even were it to melt all the ice in the Antarctic, will assert and reassert itself until at last naught but us remains, and after that, zipp-o, nil, rien, niente, forevermore, hallelujah, amen is a measure beyond mere vanity.
1. Our species (unlike most of its members) is tough and resilient.
2. When civilisations collapse, psychopaths take over.
3. We seldom learn from other people’s mistakes.
From the first observation, this follows: even if you have somehow hardened yourself to the fate of human beings, you can surely see that our species will not become extinct without causing the extinction of almost all others. However hard we fall, we will recover sufficiently to land another hammer blow on the biosphere. We will continue to do so until there is so little left that even Homo sapienscan no longer survive. This is the ecological destiny of a species possessed of outstanding intelligence, opposable thumbs and an ability to interpret and exploit almost every possible resource - in the absence of political restraint.
Monbiot is in any case hard to take seriously, as he simultaneoulsy proposes that while we are, as a species, fundamentally incapable of learning lessons even from such a catastrophe as the total collapse of all our civilizations, it may nonetheless be possible, albeit unlikely, to "[engineer] a soft landing - an ordered and structured downsizing of the global economy." It doesn't require much in the way of rhetorical training to spot the glaring contradiction there. No, we cannot learn through disaster of unimaginable magnitude, but yes we can learn from . . . what? Seminars? Subtle political pressures? Blogs!? Like I said, nuts. He warns that if we do not . . . call our congressman? . . . then we face a future world without, ye gods, "political accontability," in which power monopolies maintained through force and coercion control the distribution of resources. How, how, how will we survive in that brave and novel world?
Well. As Kingsnorth tries to point out to his crabby dance partner, it is possible to believe that civilizational decline is inevitable without cheering the misery it will likely bring, just as it is possible to believe that during and after such a period of decline the fortunes of many of the world's poor and downtrodden might actually rise, even if only in a relative sense. Of course, Kingsnorth does not claim this outcome as an inevitability; I suspect he believes that of humanity, as of all things, the only surety is that this too shall pass. In the meantime, he wins the debate simply by grace of not saying anything idiotic.