Like many you may feel shame when you put paper in the plastic bin but why is this? Its because you’ve had an individualist form of environmentalism thrown at you every where you turn. The ruling classes have managed to cement their ideology so firmly in your psyche that you feel guilt for environmental failings which are currently outwith your control. They’ve done it so successfully we think that our personal failings are some how leading to environmental failures across the world.
Your actions are of course well intentioned and stem from a progressive instinct to preserve our planet. However whilst big corporation and their stooges in national governments do what they need to do for the sake of profit, these individual changes are like minnows swimming against a tidal wave.
The problem is not that you put clear glass and green glass in the same bin at the dump. The problem is that the dominant economic system, capitalism, is a destructive all encompassing brute. So your feeling of guilt when you put plastic in the paper bin is really symptomatic of the problem. Its symptomatic as it shows us the deep rooted nature of the ruling ideology.
Karl Marx famously comments in The German Ideology: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.”
This deeply embedded environmental individualism Is therefore a form of what Marx would call the ideology of the ruling classes. Although this is a micro example of how well engraved the ruling ideology can be, it nonetheless highlights the validity of Marxism today. This deeply seated ideology does not just span the things we recycle but also to products we buy.
We feel we can ‘ethically’ consume. Ideas like ‘fair trade’ and other corporate ‘green washing.’ (By corporate green washing I mean sponsoring which makes a company seem ‘green’). We can be gregarious consumers and can feel a bit better for the poor plantation owner because we’ve paid an extra fifty pence and bought a specific product. If we can’t afford this we feel that bit worse. We’re filled with individual guilt and a feeling that we need to ethically consume when the problems are systematic not moralistic or individualist.
We are certainly not telling you to stop recycling, gardening or buying fair trade fruit. Like many you will be disgusted by the barbaric practices of capitalism and will do what you can to remove yourself from it even slightly. However, we must recognize these flaws are symptoms of our socio-economic system and also recognise that environmental safety and preservance ultimately cannot exist under capitalism. These are achievements which only socialism can deliver. Acknowledging this is relatively small but significant step towards true emancipation.
As Slavoj Zizek points out we live in a society were we are in constant search of “beer without alcohol” and “coffee without caffeine” but the reality is capitalism will never be ethical. You may cite social democracy but essentially this is just diluted capitalism and cannot solve the looming environmental catastrophe.
After the Paris Climate Talks it is clear we need a change . Not just an individual change but a systematic change, to put the needs of profit before people. We may believe we can some how stop the ice caps melting. We can but not as individuals. Imagine a world the toiling masses of the world take the wealth they create into their own hands and controlled democratically.
At the very least, the fact that acts such as recycling and fair trade are carried out by masses of people show their is a powerful force thriving for such change. Under socialism our natural environmental instincts can be harnessed and our plant truly saved.
As the old adage goes, “We need system change! Not Climate Change!”