Trudeau, Liberalism, and Climate Change
Bill McKibben has an interesting take-down article in today’s Guardian on Canada’s Sunshine Boy (and his “Sunny Ways” politics), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (“Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet.”)
It’s worth taking note of (though perhaps for other reasons than Mr. McKibben makes note of — the self-contradictions of Mr. Trudeau’s government and the Liberal Party). The article highlights the quandary within which all of us are presently embedded and the fumbling, muddling and quite ineffective attempts to reconcile those contradictions; contradictions which, in Wolfgang Streeck’s estimation, already presage the breakdown and demise of the Megamachine ( “How Will Capitalism End?“), which corresponds, equally, to Jean Gebser’s disintegration of the mental-rational consciousness structure. Trudeau’s quandary and dilemma — which is the quandary and dilemma not just of Liberalism, but of all ideology today — is exemplary of that.
We all find ourselves in this situation of dilemma and predicament and contradiction. Mr. Trump does too, but he simply bulldozes his way through without regard for one of the horns of the dilemma, which he thinks he can ignore (or suppress if it can’t be ignored).
I’m sure Mr. Trudeau probably wishes oilsands (or oil generally) had never been discovered in The Peaceable Kingdom. But it has, and it presents Liberals particularly with a dilemma — how to reconcile their commitments to alleviate climate change with their commitments to liberal doctrine and ideology. Mr. McKibben must surely know that for Trudeau to act against the tarsands he would have to cease to identify as a Liberal.
Trudeau’s dilemma, in this case, is an example of the “compartmentalisation” or “sectoralisation” of the intellect that Jean Gebser highlights as an aspect of the ever-increasing “deficiency” of the mental-rational consciousness structure (or what we call “the Modern Mind”). The dilemmas of Liberalism are no different than those faced by Conservatism, in fact. Conservatives want to have their cake and eat it to by presuming to reconcile the contradictions of social conservatism with “free market” liberalism — a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde schizophrenia. But the same dilemma is faced by the Liberal, who, conversely, is expected to be socially liberal but economically conservative. (The Socialist seems even worse off attempting to reconcile the ideal of human freedom with the reality of the Megamachine). Thatcherism, similarly, didn’t so much attempt to reconcile the contradiction as to bluntly deny it existed while working bluntly to suppress it nonetheless: her “TINA Principle” (“There is No Alternative”) and “There is no such thing as society” were simply efforts to suppress the contradictions, and dissolve the quandary and dilemma by fiat.
Unfortunately, it won’t go away, despite all the efforts of the “Invisible Hand” to hack a way through the Gordian Knot. Mr. McKibben thinks the distinction between Trump and Trudeau is overdrawn, and he’s right to the extent that both are symptoms of the same “deficiency”, the same self-contradictions, of the mental-rational consciousness. Duplicity and hypocrisy afflict both, although for Trudeau it’s an embarrassment, while Trump has no shame.
How is Trudeau, as a Liberal, supposed to intervene so directly in the economy as to shut down the tarsands without ceasing to be a Liberal? Possibly Mr, McKibben has forgotten that, or that an American “liberal” is a somewhat different creature from a Canadian “liberal”. Canadian liberals are still beholden to the principle of “the pursuit of rational self-interest” as the defining universal feature of the Open Society and a sure guide to the good life (but then, so are most conservatives for that matter, just as enamoured of “free market” liberalism. Liberals, conservatives, socialists all have their own “identity crisis”).
It’s the Socialists, floundering as they are for the most part, that have noted there is a problem with the meanings of “rational” and “self” these days, which neither the liberal nor the conservative have really taken much note of at all. That’s not just because the Socialists have faced so many disappointments and disillusionments, but also because, of course, Socialists think in social terms, unlike liberals and conservatives who think in terms of the individual or the family respectively as the core political units of society. “Family values” (conservatism), “Individual rights” (liberalism), “social licence” (socialism), or “nature’s order” (environmentalism) pretty much define the ideological and value orientations of the present. All are necessary, yet all, in their hyper-partisan exaggeration, reveal that same “compartmentalisation” or “sectoralisation” of the consciousness structure of modern man that Gebser sees as symptomatic of its decoherence and disintegration. To a certain extent, liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism, considered as “moods” moreso than ideologies, are the contemporary forms of Blake’s “four Zoas” of the disintegrate or divided consciousness of Modern Man.
So, in those terms, the present post-modern “loss of self” or “identity crisis”, an essential disintegration, may well be a prelude towards a new wholeness, a less partisan or sectoralised consciousness structure (reified perspectivism or “point-of-view” consciousness). The self-contradictions, dilemmas, quandaries, predicaments faced by liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism are simply reflections of identity crisis of modern man and the mind’s lack of wholeness.
There is, indeed, a certain irony, — which McKibben prefers to call “hypocrisy” with some justification — in Trudeau’s “Sunny Ways” politics while advancing the interests of the fossil fuel industry and extractivism. Smog and pollution don’t exactly jibe with “Sunny Ways”. If I were the great god Zeus, I would probably be laughing my head off watching all the paths of folly that human beings walk, for it is very like the proverbial “chickens with their heads cut off”.
Trudeau, and his Liberal Party’s policy incoherence and self-contradiction is also Trump’s. They arise from the same root, albeit somewhat like the serpent’s tongue — forked from the root. McKibben sees that, of course, but it’s not clear he sees the root. While Trudeau attempts to finesse and juggle the contradiction, Trump merely tries to take a sledgehammer to it. Neither can succeed in that. It’s only two sides of the same coin. Both, I am sure, believe what they are doing is “rational” or “common sense”. To others like Bill McKibben, though, it seems completely irrational.
The individual, the familial, the societal, and the natural — each place different demands on the person, each a different response and responsibility. That is because we are fourfold beings of mind, body, soul, and spirit. Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” gives us a template for understanding that. There may be also a correspondence between the four moods of Mumford’s stages of realisation — Formulation, Incarnation, Incorporation, and Embodiment — with soul, spirit, mind and body, and also with liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism as four stages of realisation.
There is only the flow, the flux. To get stuck in one — and that alone as “identity” — is death.