Battlepanda: The political is personal


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The political is personal

"The Personal is Political" was the rallying cry of the feminists in the 60's. It was a powerful slogan designed to break through the barrier between sexual equality as a theoretical artifact and ordinary women's everyday lives. Now if I may be permitted to steal the phrase and turn it around, I'd like to point out that the vice versa is also true -- When it comes to ethical behavior, the political can be deeply personal. It is not enough to restrict ourselves to the limited sphere of our own lives when we work to affect the issues we care deeply about. America is a country of individualists, and we are a sucker for arguments that are couched in the language of choice. However, at some point we have to realize that to steer this handbasket away from the hell-wards direction, we're going to have to work together.

Brad Plumer has a knock-out post up about how the excess garbage problem, caused by excessive packaging, resulted in a wave of public discontent after the Second World War. This discontent pushed lawmakers to start passing laws against excessive packaging. Had we gone in that direction, undoubtedly we would not be living in an America where 1/3 of our considerable garbage output comes from packaging. Instead, what we got was the anti-litter movement, which effectively atomized and dispersed the support for laws curtailing excess packaging by removing the most visible aspect of the garbage problem and putting the responsibility on the individual/consumers rather than the businesses/sellers.

Now, where does this attitude seem familiar from...oh yeah.

[Dick Cheney:] Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.

This is the Republican-business complex M.O. when it comes to dealing with environmental issues -- trivialization through isolation.
Brad gets some excellent assist from John of Dymaxion World:
Conservatives love to rail on about "personal responsibility", but in the modern era that has next to no meaning. Exactly how, pray, am I - a conscientious ecologically-minded person - supposed to dramatically cut my CO2 emissions? I can't, for the very simple reason that all of my available options are carbon-intense. I can choose between the lesser of two evils (say, mass transit over a car) but seriously reducing my personal footprint requires - you guessed it - collective responsibility.

This applies to issues beyond the environment. If I might be allowed to quote myself from an earlier post calle "The Moral Maze of Meat":
When people talk about the ethics of meat eating/factory farming, they are almost always talking about personal consumer choice. But I think real concrete improvement in conditions is far more likely to come from the political direction. We
won't abolish factory farming, but if we unite the voting power of everyone
who agrees that animals needs to get treated better in this country, we can get
regulation passed that guarentee a certain square footage for each chicken
in a factory farm -- or maximum distance for livestock transport -- or
humane procedures for minimizing stress during the slaughtering process.

My libertarian friends are probably mewling murderously about statist interventions and such. Well, have they got any better ideas? And don't tell me that if we really cared about a clean planet and no-destruction-from-global-warming enough, the free-market fairy will make it available on aisle 7 of your local megalomart.