I am posting this response to McKibben’s lecture on both my 541 and 506 blogs, so if some of the references don’t ring a bell it’s not your fault.
I think that McKibben’s central point was that environmental and social ethics are inextricably intertwined. It comes as no surprise that we are failing at both. What I found most compelling is his suggestion for change. If I could ask McKibben one question (in hindsight) it would be this: Given the recommendation to build sustainable communities in order to confront social, economic, and environmental issues, do you think that the “flattening” of the world, with the technologies that facilitate that flattening, is creating the kind of community you envision? I’m sure you can all guess where I come out on this thing. I question whether or not digital communities are sustainable. I see them in terms of what Hakim Bey calls “temporary autonomous zones,” spaces where identities are negotiated in order to create a kind of guerrilla culture that emerges, thrives, and vanishes. I think here of what McKibben said about community and commercial activity: a credit card, laptop, and internet connection can get you pretty much anything you need without leaving your door. He didn’t mean it complementary. I think, and any of you who were there can correct me if I’m wrong, McKibben would suggest that community isn’t encountered on a screen, but through interactions between human beings (the living, breathing variety). Localizing action (against the globalizing trend- a la Friedman) to form more sustainable communities shouldn’t sound as radical as it does. But we live in a world where rampant commercial culture is emerging a controlling discourse of attention, not focusing on the kinds of social and global ills we ought to be thinking about. I imagine it is this kind of consumerism that McKibben is critiquing when he notes that general happiness recedes in reverse relation to our increasing wealth. I’m afraid that I don’t find in McKibben’s vision of social and environmental activism anything that makes me more inclined to accept the globalizing economy on its own terms. Globalization, which I understood to be an opposing force to community or local action, may be the inevitable trend Friedman and others suggests it to be, but I do not see a socially competent, ethical response in accepting it. Our project, if it is to be of any worth outside of the purely economic (that is, the training of future workers in the globalized economy), must be founded on social consciousness. Whether or not we take heed of McKibben’s thinking about community, I would agree that simply maintaining our trajectory is not an acceptable response. J. Degan