Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More on Breakthrough, Part 2

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn't to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security and high status. It is this that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous and progressive politics is not to tell them that they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong (187)
Listening to Barack Obama's inaugural address today, I can't help thinking that Breakthrough must have been on his reading list. Passages like this sound as though they were written with Obama in mind--with at least one eye on forging on a new liberal-environmental coalition. I like the politics of gratitude and possibility as good coalitional cement. If Obama and N&S can give environmentalism an upbeat green makeover--can make the green economy work--that would really be something.

It's not naysaying to note that this has to be a utopian vision--a rhetorical goal--rather than an agenda for action. (It's interesting to note that N&S take issue both with eco-spiritualism (Thomas Berry) and scientific biophilia (E.O. Wilson) as essentially undemocratic, invoking an authority (The Earth, Science) outside ourselves to ratify a position.) The financial crisis has already put a damper on transitional plans, and there will--inevitably--be tradeoffs, bargaining and compromise. With climate change in their sights, N&S seem willing to countenance nuclear energy as part of the package--with all the implications for centralized energy generation that that implies.

What's interesting, though, is that Breakthrough is essentially a political, not an environmental, tract. It does not put "saving the earth" first and measure progress against that messianic task. It does not address "the public" at large--the isolated reader--but is basically an in-house argument with environmental leaders. So it assumes a basic agreement on goals, and focuses its energy on tactics and strategy. Shrewd.

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