Rebecca Solnit wrote in Salon.com that “The Age of Capitalism is over”. Oh my, where to start?
At the beginning seems a good place as any. Solnit was thrilled to hold a land auction notice from post-Jacobin France—Thermidorian France for the historically-minded. Thermidorian France was no more compassionate to live (mostly, to die) in than the Jacobin version which oversaw the execution of tens of thousand civilians, and the wanton destruction of anything associated with Christianity. This short period in France’s mottled past, from 1795 to 1799, abolished everything other than the whims of its leaders. And this sent goosebumps down Solnit’s leg.
The fact that this excites Solnit makes her the most dangerous soul alive.
But the extraordinary date signaled that it was created when the French Revolution was still the overarching reality of everyday life and such fundamentals as the distribution of power and the nature of government had been reborn in astonishing ways. The new calendar that renamed 1792 as Year One had, after all, been created to start society all over again.
It sent her off musing about revolutions, mulling over Ursula K. Le Guin’s revolutionary rantings, and, in the process, getting every possible thing she can about America, wrong. Like this one:
Americans are skilled at that combination of complacency and despair that assumes things cannot change and that we, the people, do not have the power to change them.
I think the America she’s referring to is really greater Russia, rife with fatalist resignation, identifying with the bus stop crowd waiting for Godot. A more wrong statement about America is difficult to conceive (although Naomi Wolf came close with her 10 steps to fascism). Then Solnit tears off into her real topic: global warming, frosted with a healthy dose of anti-corporatism.
She focuses on one community, Richmond, California, where the Richmond Progressive Alliance took over in 2008, and proceeded to do everything possible to shut down the city’s largest corporate tenant: Chevron. They taxed Chevron an additional $117 million, set impossible standards for a planned plant upgrade, and imported people from all over the country after a fire on August 6 allowed toxic fumes into the air. This has to be a new class of vacation: toxic tourism. The only reason they came was to file injury claims (23,700 of them) against Chevron. There’s what I call “responsible government”—encouraging people to visit your city when a real emergency is going on, while interfering with those who are working to fix the problem.
Not only did Richmond’s modern Thermidorians seek to shut down refineries, they became anti-business moral busybodies, implementing a “soda-free summer” in 2010, and proposing a 1 cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. In case you’re not good at math, that’s a 26% tax on a 20 ounce Coke from the soft drink machine. These are the people Solnit reveres as modern revolutionaries.
Focusing on the money Chevron spent to defeat RPA’s slate, Solnit uses this example to scale up globally:
If a small coalition like that can win locally against a corporation that had revenues of $228.9 billion in 2013, imagine what a large global coalition could do against the fossil-fuel giants. It wasn’t easy in Richmond and it won’t be easy on the largest scale either, but it’s not impossible.
With all seriousness, this statement is so shockingly bereft of any logic or grounding to reality that it could have been written by a nine-year-old who just finished watching “Free Willy”. But what Richmond represents to Solnit and her progressive ilk is attractive like a shiny object to a gaze of raccoons.
It’s hard to see how we’ll get there from here, but easy to see that activists and citizens will have to push their nations hard. We need to end the age of fossil fuels the way the French ended the age of absolute monarchy.
The French ended the age of absolute monarchy with rivers of blood, and replaced the absolute monarchy with an absolute dictatorship, which was then replaced by another absolute dictatorship, and another, culminating in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Is Solnit really proposing violent overthrow of the world’s governments, to end the reign of fossil fuel? She’d deny it, but secretly, progressives toy with the idea of absolute dictatorships all the time. They fantasize about it, have hushed discussions of “if I were king of the world…” and how it would be a better place (after all the filthy capitalist pigs were killed).
Finally, Solnit lands in a soft beanbag of Pollyannaish mush.
How will we get to where we need to be? No one knows, but we do know that we must keep moving in the direction of reduced carbon emissions, a transformed energy economy, an escape from the tyranny of fossil fuel, and a vision of a world in which everything is connected. The story of this coming year is ours to write and it could be a story of Year One in the climate revolution, of the watershed when popular resistance changed the fundamentals as much as the people of France changed their world (and ours) more than 200 ago.
No one knows. We do know this: the world that Solnit and her climate revolutionaries seek to save isn’t one worth saving. It’s a world nobody I know would want to live in. A world with so little freedom, so little liberty, and so little hope that even the calendar and the colors of the rainbow will be regulated into nothingness.
We only need to look at the tremendous contribution revolutionary France had to the industrial revolution—oh, nothing—to see how Solnit’s distorted lens sees everything wrong. That and we need to keep people who are aroused by documents dated the 21st day of Thermidor in the Year Six (of the French Republic) away from anything remotely resembling real power, because those who seek to undo all of history to support their view of society are the most dangerous souls alive.