Thursday, July 12, 2007

The New Piety

From Slate:

Why are Prius sales surging when other hybrids are slumping, the Times asked? Because buyers "want everyone to know they are driving a hybrid." According to a marketing survey (which the Times ran in a graphic I couldn't hide from), more buyers bought the Prius this year because it "makes a statement about me" (57 percent) than because of its better gas mileage (36 percent) or lower carbon dioxide emissions (25 percent) or new technology (7 percent).

It makes a statement about me. That's really what conservation or "reducing a carbon footprint" is all about. More than anything, it's a search for moral approval from the group.

In a perverse way "going green" has become a status symbol on the left. But instead of trophies that declare wealth or success in life, environmentalist trophies declare one's willingness to sacrifice for "the planet."

Relatively trivial matters assume huge symbolic importance. Like the case of this woman I blogged about last November:

There’s another arena in which Pearson upholds green values, and it can create a bit of an etiquette problem. “I won’t date a guy who doesn’t recycle,” she says. “He doesn’t have to wear nonleather shoes, but he has to get it.” And woe betide the guy who doesn’t.

For a while she was happily dating a film producer from Los Angeles who, she thought, was definitely on her eco-wavelength. But one morning they went out for breakfast, and Mr. Right ordered an all-meat meal and doused his coffee with several packets of Equal. “I was dumbstruck,” says Pearson. “I think I ate my entire meal in silence. Pork plus NutraSweet? That was definitely our last date.”

NutraSweet is of no importance at all to the environment, but to this woman it is a symbol that a man does not "get it." A man who would use this product does not conform to the morality of the group.

Environmentalism is creating a conformist morality for their tribe, full of taboos based not on science or economics, but on their superstitious belief that humans must sacrifice for "the planet." We're seeing the development of something that could be called a New Age pseudo-religion, with its own standards of piety and moral behavior.


david said...

You are absolutely right. "Green" is a new "religion" in the same vein as communism. It demands that people sacrifice for the "earth" in the same manner that they had to sacrifice for the "state."

Sometimes, it really does scare me - to think that eco-religion will continue to grow and gain strength.

We must be strong to defend against this.

EdMcGon said...

I don't know if I would go so far as to call it a religion. It strikes me more as a fashion accessory. At least religion has the promise of an afterlife going for it. The green movement doesn't even have that.

Jim May said...

ED: while that distinction is true, it's not one I see as being all that important in the current political/cultural context.

Diana Hsieh made a similar point some time ago on Noodlefood in specifically gainsaying the idea of environmentalism as a religion. My disagreement with this lies in the fact that while it is true that environmentalism is nihilistic and could not form the basis of a self-sustaining culture, that's only important in a context where it actively tries to do that. Outside of a complete collapse of the West, when is that ever going to happen? When and where will they *need* that metaphysic?

Against the backdrop of a still-functioning West for them to hate, however, the core enviros fulfill all the *other* trappings of religion, most notably the epistemological ones.

Besides, the Christians are already set to plug their metaphysic right into that hole anyway. If environmentalism isn't a full religion at this point, it can be one (or be absorbed into one) in just a few short steps.