There seems to be a persistent if unstated resistance on the part of the left to the precepts of ecology. Environmental causes haven’t captured the attention of our subtlest thinkers and writers, but remain cordoned off to be pursued by nature lovers and nonprofiteers. In fact, global warming represents the third great crisis of technological civilization. The first two have not been resolved—they stay with us, in the form of third-world sweatshops and slums (the brutal conditions and wealth discrepancy that first spurred Marx and Engels) and stockpiled hydrogen bombs (the application of each new technology to the art of killing humans). The third promises to overwhelm them both, even while it exacerbates them.(This reminds me that Murray Bookchin does address ecology and that I need to read his book The Ecology of Freedom.)
The most powerful and cogent critique that can currently be leveled against our mode of capitalism is that markets fail to account for ecological costs. In a crowded world of finite size, our political economy values only acceleration and expansion. Scarce natural resources like clean air and water, not to mention more complex systems like rainforests or coral reefs, are either held at nothing or seriously undervalued. Corporations could clear-cut all our forests, reduce croplands to swirling dust, turn rivers to conveyors of toxic sludge, deplete supplies of minerals and metals, double and redouble carbon emissions—and all our economic indicators would show nothing but robust growth until the very moment the pyramid scheme collapsed. Indeed, most of these things are happening, with only scattered opposition.
The essays in the Politics section were all thoughtful, too. Andrew Ellner's "First, Do No Harm" on healthcare is especially valuable. I also liked Mark Greif's "Gut-Level Legislation, or, Redistribution"--he makes a number of questionable assumptions and I'd go much further than he does, but I like that he just says fuck it and calls for massive redistribution.
I've also read the book reviews in the back. Marco Roth reviews together Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island. I haven't read the Houellebecq, but Roth's take on Ishiguro's book is quite good. And J.D. Daniels has William T. Vollmann more or less pegged, I think, in his review of the abridged Rising Up and Rising Down. (Which reminds me, in a weak moment I bought the complete edition, but now, for a variety of reasons, some identified by Daniels, I see little chance that I'm going to give it my time. Anyone interested in it?)
That leaves about 200 (!) pages still to read in the middle of the magazine, including the symposium on "American Writing Today" (which means that I haven't yet read the Benjamin Kunkel piece that prompted Scott's post today; I don't know that I agree with what Scott argues, but I may have more to say once I've read it). But without even getting to the meat of this issue, I can say that I think I'm going to subscribe to it.