Let’s consider the art of coercing people.
Often when people want others to do things for them that they know the other person may or may not want to do, they’ll often make it sound as attractive as possible. They’ll make the obligation sound like an opportunity and perhaps most importantly they’ll make this opportunity sound as self-interested as possible.
How, after all, could one argue with their own self interest?
But of course, no one is really talking about your self-interest. Often people are just discussing their own interests and then projecting said interest onto you. Maybe the interest is supposedly applicable on some general scale that is sure to benefit you (even though you have no reason to think so). Maybe the interest is so obviously going to connect with you that you might just not be able to help yourself from pitching in.
The bad news for these micromanagers is that people often know their own sense of self best. They know why they feel the way they feel and what has led them to feel this way. Their own sense of their life is going to be in much better detail than yours is, by definition. They’re going to know the ins and outs in ways you most likely never will.
And so the hubris to think that you can know millions of people to such an extent that you can tell them what’s good for them and necessary for their lives is huge. And yet we all live in a society and unfortunately a world where it’s commonly accepted that people often don’t know what’s best for them. Although whether they do or don’t is often treated as inconsequential, after all, power is really the important thing here. As well as who gets to have it.
For some folks this means giving the government as much power as it needs to bring about their “perfect’ utopia. The only way to peace is forcibly bringing everyone along with the plan. This isn’t some wild-eyed anarchist caricature but an honest assessment of how most people view society. Even some anarchists are willing to use the state if that means it gets those damn Nazis to shut up (even if everyone else therefore has to as well).
The ultimate fascism needs the ultimate fascism to defeat it, so long as it’s pretty and green.
Or at least that’s the argument of Hugh Warwick at The Guardian with perhaps one of the most openly eco-fascist proclamations I’ve read since The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman in college. Granted, I don’t keep up with eco-fascists very often but then again I doubt they’re very subtle given what I’ve seen thus far.
Let’s take a look at how non-subtle Warwick is here:
A year of ‘eco-conscription’ between school and university would renew the bonds between people and the land.
That’s not even in the article itself, technically.
That’s just the headliner before the article.
School leads inexorably to further education for the majority. But in the rush to qualify, to meet the tick-box requirements of curriculum assessors, there is a loss of time to think.
I agree with this. I myself am guilty of not giving myself more time to think before I decided it was a good idea to dedicate myself to college…and then drop out a year longer. I think people taking the time for themselves (AKA voluntarily) to put some time aside and give this college thing a think, is a great idea.
Just, you know, not involving force.
After a 14-year slog young people are in need of a break to ask searching questions. What do they want to do with their lives? Do they want to saddle up a mountain of debt to take out into the “real world”?
What if there was to be a pause. A year in which you have the chance to earn your tuition fees while at the same time learning more about yourself. A time to explore a life outdoors. A time to grow food, develop community and repair a damaged environment.
A truly productive gap year.
Abstractly, this sounds great.
Sometimes folks do this because they don’t know what they want to do. Other times people do it because they love nature. Often times it’s a little bit of both. Whatever the reason, people already do this to the extent that they have whole programs and organizations dedicated to it, that come together voluntarily.
But notice that last sentence. Warwick presumes that just because you can explore the outside and connect with people around you, as well as the environment that I agree we’ve all harmed, that necessarily makes it a productive one. And it’s not even a year proper but a “gap year”. You would think, given how important Warwick thinks all of this is (as we’ll soon find out) that he’s give it a better phrasing than that.
In any case, Warwick is doing here what I talked about earlier. He presumes that everyone holds these same values that he does. He treats it as a sort of common sense that everyone wants to connect with community and doesn’t have themselves figured out or would value that sort of introspection. Or that everyone wants to see firsthand what’s happening with the environment and wants to go really hands-on in stopping the damage.
And of course, stated as Warwick does most of these things seem trivially true. Who wouldn’t want to help the environment? Who wouldn’t want to connect with other people who love nature? Who wouldn’t want to learn how to grow food so that they might be more self-sufficient in the future. And it’s not like these things aren’t important, they are.
But consider this: Are they important enough to warrant the coercion of millions of people?
Warwick thinks so, as he continues:
The number of social, health and ecological benefits that can be gained from a year of working in common purpose is astounding. Breaking down social barriers by having people working together from all over the country will remind us how much we have in common.
Working outside in nature is known to benefit us in body and mind – not just because I might be a bit of a hippy, but because peer-reviewed science shows that it does. We know that convalescence is faster, recidivism is reduced, learning is deeper and our minds are eased in nature.
I don’t doubt any of this is true. But does Warwick understand that many of those benefits that scientists were measuring likely were not being measured under situations of duress. Mostly because: 1) That would be highly unethical, 2) It would be very inefficient and 3) I sincerely doubt we’re sourcing studies from Stalin’s USSR.
The point being, these studies were likely done with the participants committing themselves to the important goals Warwick has mentioned in voluntary ways. And so to actually see if Warwick’s proposal has any scientific weight, he’d have to measure the effects of nature on people who are working there by force.
Maybe he could study the fine institution of American slavery that existed for hundreds of years? There’s a lot of material to work from on this one and I’m sure Warwick wouldn’t be at a loss for sources. Seriously though, my analogy here to slavery isn’t a casual or coy one. Forcing people to work in fields with no pay and under the direct say-so of the US government and making it illegal to do otherwise under threat of violence or imprisonment is slavery.
Conscription has always been a form of slavery, whether it involves a war in which your body does not belong to you and is for the disposal of the US government, if it sees fit. Or whether it is touted for environmental purposes.
I won’t belabor my counter-arguments to Warwick’s supposed benefits much more, but here’s one thing I want to add:
Learning where food comes from, growing it and eating it, will help tackle unhealthy patterns of consumption.
I would genuinely love to see some studies or citations on this from Warwick or anyone else. Does working with nature actually help our appreciation of it? The relation between these two things seems plausible enough but I’m curious if something like learning where food comes from (which I think most people know or at least have a rough idea of) would help something as abstract, general and just flat out vague as “unhealthy patterns of consumption”.
Then again, people getting first-hand experience with these things is different than just having rough knowledge.
So why would teenagers want to take part in this “eco-conscription”? People are naturally good, helpful, community-minded and kind. Just look at recent events to see the ease with which the good floods out in response to crisis. And as millions gathered for the Great Get Together weekend, you could see how it did not need an immediate crisis to bring out the best.
I can’t stress this enough, so here, let me bold, italicize, underline it and make the font huge:
These were all voluntary events
You can’t compare events in which people decided to voluntarily help other people in a disaster or organized a purposeful event with conscripting people to do similar things. The conscription adds another whole element to this that these examples are just not taking any sort of note from. Of course people can be naturally helpful but when you coerce them you take this “natural” helpfulness away and make it some sort of moral obligation, why is this hard to understand?
Now, conscription is a scary idea; associated with the great threats that come with war, so it is sure to antagonise. But I believe we need to start treating the multiple environmental crises as the serious threat they are. We need to consider them in the same league as the threat presented by an army massed on our borders.
Really? Do you think that maybe conscripting millions of people would antagonize some? That maybe even the thought of doing something would antagonize someone? Cause it’s sure as heck antagonizing me.
This is not (just) a green manifesto.
Eco stems from the Ancient Greek “oikos” and means home. Ecology, the study of the home; economy, its management. Eco-conscription is about working together for our collective home.
A worthwhile cause, but not one that’s worth imprisoning millions of people for a year of their life out of some misplaced notion of what our duties to the environment demand of ourselves and each other.
One of the bits further down is just baffling:
Imagine the power these young people would have, the self-awareness as well as the skills. I bet it could even increase our chances of winning international football matches …
Those ellipses are just in the original text, by the way. I’m not adding anything there.
You bet? Based on what, exactly? I know I’m using a lot of italics in this article but dammit if this article I’m responding doesn’t deserve every single one of the words that is italicized. I’m just incredulous on this one. Where is the research that says connecting with nature increases your chances of sick flips and sweet tricks on the football field?
Let’s be glad Warwick is honest, at least:
This may seem far-fetched but I would never have predicted the progress that was made with smoking and plastic bags, for example. Yes, this is state coercion. But does that make it any worse than the corporate coercion that has helped create such an insular, unfit and unhappy society; that has helped create an ecological desert in the countryside?
YES YES IT IS WORSE. THREATENING PEOPLE WITH VIOLENCE OR PRISON BECAUSE THEY DO NOT WANT TO WORK ON YOUR SHITTY FIELDS OF NATURE IS QUALITATIVELY WORSE THAN CORPORATIONS WHO HAVE NO SUCH POWER TO THROW PEOPLE INTO PRISONS OR BEAT THEM WITH NIGHTSTICKS.
Like, I can praise Warwick for biting the bullet, but he bites it in perhaps the worst way imaginable. “Yes, this is [bad] but is it any worse than [bad things that already exist].” I’m not disagreeing that corporate coercion exists or that it’s objectionable and worth criticizing and opposing…but how are we doing that by introducing more coercion, exactly?
If coercion is bad to begin with then why would adding more to society be a good thing? This makes absolutely no sense and as you can see from my ALL CAPS, I’m a little frustrated.
How will we pay for it? Well when the country is on a war footing, money can be found.
“Money can be found” just means “money can be printed out of thin air and I’m going to ignore that war is often a heavily costly endeavor that can almost never be justified.”
Trident is going to cost £205bn and over £1tn was set aside for the banks. It is just a case of making choices; prioritising. And while I balk at the idea of using a natural capital argument, the benefits to society just in terms of physical and psychological wellbeing will undoubtedly be worth the investment.
I don’t say this about many people: But something about this just strikes me as evil.
As someone who reads Nietzsche in her spare time, I know that’s a word to not be thrown around casually. But I can’t help but think to myself, “This person has weighed various pros and cons, admits what they’re doing is bad and is still going to do it because they think it’s right. If that’s not evil, I’m not sure what is. To know that what you’re doing is wrong, weigh various things against it (poorly in this case but it still counts) and decide it’s for the best of others.”
Like all good ideas, this is not entirely new. It builds on the back of the alternative offered to conscription for the German army, it even harks back to the Civilian Conservation Corps that was set up in the 1930s as part of President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal.
You know what else isn’t a new idea? Nazism. You know what’s still being paraded in the streets? Goddamn Nazism.
None of this makes Nazis right or that they have good ideas.
Get better arguments.
Of course there will be those who believe that this is wrong, that there should not be a compulsion to take part in eco-conscription. And it would be wrong of me to insist that everyone take part. So there will be an opportunity for opponents to state their case and to become, in effect, “conscientious objectors”. They could be given the alternative job of joining the army.
So to sum up, if people don’t want to join your slave plantations they can kill people for an unjust empire instead?
Speaking of Nietzsche, I think it’s worth pointing out that Warwick’s ideas are not new because there is a long history of people becoming preachers of death. Not necessarily literally but making life in such a way that it may as well be enacted as a sort of death in slow fall.
Take us home, Nietzsche:
And you, too, for whom life is furious work and unrest—are you not very weary of life? Are you not very ripe for the preaching of death? All of you to whom furious work is dear, and whatever is fast, new, and strange—you find it hard to bear yourselves; your industry is escape and the will to forget yourselves. If you believed more in life you would fling yourselves less to the moment. But you do not have contents enough in yourselves for waiting—and not even for idleness.
-Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Part One (p. 158, The Portable Nietzsche)
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