Saturday, December 30, 2017

The New Puritans: A Comment From Istanbul

By Uygar Aktan

Much has been written about the phenomenon of the watermelon. No not the fruit. I'm referring to the eco-socialist intelligentsia who resemble the colors of that fruit (green on the outside but red on the inside). Although many dismiss watermelons as just a bunch of old hippies and young hipsters, we musn't underestimate their influence in framing political discourse. Indeed, eco-socialist collectivism seems to have completed it's "long march through the institutions" to finally become the de facto ruling ideology of sorts. So it might be useful to deconstruct the deeper motivations and mild pyschosis of the watermelons.

 At first glance, watermelons may appear to be libertines. Certainly secular. Even atheistic. But don't let that fool you.
They are driven by a religious kind of zeal that is every bit as puritanical as that of their 16'th century predecessors. They are, in fact, the new puritans. The only difference is that rather than waging a crusade in the name of God the Father they believe they are serving the will of their Mother Gaia. Some call it New Age. But there's really nothing new about it. All they've done is unwittingly adopt the oldest and most primitive religion of humanity and dress it up in fashionably post-modern garb. That religion is animism (aka nature worship).

It would hardly be controversial to claim that all progress in human civilization has been achieved to the extent that we have managed to claw our way out of a state of nature (an existence accurately described by Thomas Hobbes as "poor, nasty, brutish and short"). But for the new puritans on the left, "progress", in a farcical twist, translates to a voluntary reversal of our evolutionary success. A return to the womb of Mother Earth. A communion with the primordial state of nature. Just not the one that the clear-eyed Hobbes saw but the one the new puritans have intellectually defanged and re-imagined as the Garden of Eden.

Don't get me wrong. I dabbled in veganism. And the French got nothing on me when it comes to making existential angst look cool. But if I had to choose between them I'd take the religion of the original Puritans over the new ones any day. At least the frugality they preached was not about depriving us of resources that are already scarce to begin with but about allocating them in the most efficient manner possible. Not to simply consume less but to produce more. Not to redistribute the profits but to reinvest them. That, in a nutshell, is how compounded economic growth was achieved, which, in turn, gave us the unprecedented rise in living standards we now take for granted. It is how famines and plagues and serfdom have been eradicated. It's what has given us the luxury to redefine grinding poverty as having to settle for one used car in your driveway instead of two new ones. And by the way, the technology to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will also ultimately come out of the R&D labs and capital investments of the private sector. Not government decrees or hand-wringing busybodies. 

Progress, in short, is synonymous with the continued triumph of capitalism. And this is where we come to the crux of the matter. Because except for a few wannabe bonobos, most of the new puritans would shriek in horror and quickly retreat to the concrete comforts of the city if they ever got near some jungle they wished to save. So when they rail against so-called "consumer society" what they're really doing is launching a sneak attack against capitalism, and by extension, civilization itself. The problem is they've already lost that ideological battle in the last century. Their collectivist "solutions" to alleviate poverty only made things worse so now they heap scorn on individuals who have escaped poverty by seizing the opportunities of the free market and try to guilt trip them out of enjoying their wealth (as well as anyone else who might be seduced into striving to do the same). Instead of rehashing discredited Marxist dogmas they try to scare us all into becoming green monks as the only way to avoid the wrath of Gaia. Their apocalyptic fantasies of destroying capitalism in a revolutionary rapture never came to pass so now they are predicting (or secretly wishing for)  its demise through environmental collapse. Incidentally, the striking parallels between the new puritan sounding the alarm that rising sea levels will envelop coastal areas due to anthropogenic climate change and the warning of the old puritans that Biblical floods will sweep away societies who have sinned is so unmistakable that the fusion of the two seems to have spawned a whole new genre of its own in Hollywood.

 As H.L. Mencken once said, puritanism is "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."  And that fear is all the more haunting for the new puritans on the left because the kind of 'happiness' they wish to shame us all out of is precisely the same happiness that is enjoyed thanks to the productivity of capitalism. So it's time to stop ceding the moral high ground to these new puritans and reassert our right "to the pursuit of happiness". And if they ever decide to finally serve civilization instead of trying to dismantle it piece by piece, I'd suggest they abandon their gurus like Antonio Gramsci and Naomi Klein and start drinking in the wisdom of such real sages as Thomas Sowell, Charlie Munger and Lee Kuan Yew. Then they would finally realize that the way to peace and prosperity is to compound capital, not dissipate it. To produce, not posture. And if they really wanted to make themselves useful they could follow the advice that we can imagine Mrs. Marx gave her husband Karl: Stop writing about the imaginary evils of Capital and go out and create some.

Uygar Aktan writes from Istanbul and is a former member of the Turkish parliament.

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