Early in the morning, while most are still sleeping, groups of elderly Chinese women spread out across city streets. They tear open trash bags, pick through the litter and sort out bottles and cans that come with a deposit. And then they bring them to the local supermarket to a machine that scans and evaluates each can, accepting and rejecting them one by one, and finally printing out a receipt.
The interaction between the elderly immigrant who speaks broken English or the homeless man who is barely holding it together... and the machine is a stark contrast between what the new smart clean green economy pretends to be and what it actually is.
The machine, like so much else that we design, is impressive, but its existence depends on someone digging through the trash with their hands for much less than minimum wage to extract a generally useless item.
The entire bottle economy, which has more than a passing resemblance to the trash sorting operations in the Third World carried out by despised and persecuted minorities, like the Zabbaleen in Egypt, is artificial. The United States is not so poor that it actually needs to recycle. It recycles not under the impulse of economic imperatives, but of government mandates.
The elderly Chinese women dig through the trash because politicians decided to impose a tax on us and an incentive for them in the form of a deposit. All those useless 1980s laws created a strange underground economy of marginalized people digging through the trash.
Every time politicians celebrate a recycling target met and show off some shiny new machine, hiding behind the curtain are the dirty weary people dragging through the streets at the crack of dawn, donning rubber gloves and tearing apart trash bags. They are the unglamorous low-tech reality of environmentalism.
These are the Green Jobs that aren't much talked about. They pay below minimum wage and have no workplace safety regulations. They are the Third World reality behind the First World ecology tripe. It's not that the people who plan and run the system don't know about them. But they don't like to talk about them because they come too close to revealing the unsavory truth about where environmentalism is really going.
Environmentalism, like every liberal notion, is sold to the masses as modern and progressive. It's the exact opposite. It's every bit as modern and progressive as those sacks of cans being hauled by hand through the streets to the machine.
Prince Charles, that avid idiot and environmentalist, visited a Mumbai slum a few years ago and said that it had some lessons to teach the West.
“When you enter what looks from the outside like an immense mound of plastic and rubbish, you immediately come upon an intricate network of streets with miniature shops, houses and workshops, each one made out of any material that comes to hand,” Prince Charles wrote in his book, Harmony.
The Prince of Wales is quite the author. In addition to Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World, he has written Shelter: Human Habitats from Around the World, The Prince's Speech: On the Future of Food and The Illustrated Guide to Chickens: How to Choose Them, How to Keep Them.
One might be forgiven for assuming that the royal brain twitching behind those watery eyes is preparing for some sort of apocalypse. And it is. The apocalypse is environmentalism. Or from the point of view of the environmentalists, who spare some time from their public appearances and their mansions to pen tomes on the future of food and how to choose chickens, the apocalypse is prosperity.
People of that sort think that instead of getting the slum dwellers of Mumbai into apartments, we ought to be figuring out how to build shelters out of random garbage. Think of it as the recycling can solution as applied to your entire life.
“The people of Dharavi manage to separate all their waste at home and it gets recycled without any official collection facilities at all," a marveling Charles, who probably never took out the trash once in his life, wrote. It's easy to get people to recycle without any mandates or collection facilities at all. All it takes is grinding poverty so miserable that you either make the most of every last thing you can get your hands on or you die.
That is the sort of lifestyle that environmentalists think of as sustainable. Or as Hobbes put it, "In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth... no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society." That is the natural state to which environmentalists would return us to.
More recently another deep thinker, Peter Buffett, Warren Buffett's son, took to the editorial pages of the New York Times to denounce Third World philanthropy.
"Microlending and financial literacy — what is this really about?" Buffett asks. "People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?"
To the slum dwellers, the beast isn't capitalism, it's that gnawing feeling in your stomach when you haven't eaten for a day. But Peter Buffett, who lives a life almost as privileged as Prince Charles, bemoans the idea of getting people to the point where they aren't worried about where their next meal is coming from because it just turns them into capitalists and consumers. And before you know it, they're buying big screen televisions and writing op-eds in the New York Times on the futility of philanthropy.
"There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff)," Peter Buffett wrote, probably unaware that he was sniffing down the same trail that a thousand communes had gone. But the experimental farm is old hat. The new model is the Third World.
Instead of helping the Third World live like us, the perverse children of the rich dream of making us live like the Third World.
Those working hard to make our society function like Charlie's favorite slum aren't moving to their own collective farms. Instead they are transforming our society into the collective farm while pretending that their calculated destruction of our prosperity is smart and modern.
The Soviet Union pretended that its plans for the country were a modern step forward. In reality, the Commissars took the farmers back to feudalism and then turned much of the country into peasants, coping with harvest labor problems by forcing urban populations to come and pick the crops. And those were the good times. In the bad times, highways and other large projects were built through mass slave labor no different than the way that ancient Egypt built the pyramids.
Communist modernism was a Potemkin village, a cheap tacky curtain and behind it, the sweating slave and the stench of Babylon. The modernism of the progressive is the same facade covered in sociology textbooks, New York Times op-eds and teleprompter speeches. Behind it lie the ruins of Detroit, tribal violence in the slums of every major city and an economy in which there is no more room for the middle class except as clerks in the government bureaucracy. And it doesn't end there.
The elderly Chinese woman picking through the trash in search of empty beer bottles isn't the past. She's the future.
Recycling is big business because the government and its affiliated liberal elites decided it should be. It's just one example of an artificial economy and it's small stuff compared to the coming carbon crackdown in which every human activity will be monetized and taxed somewhere down the road according to its carbon footprint.
The ultimate dream of the sort of people who can't sleep at night because they worry that children in India might be able to grow up making more than two dollars a day, is to take away our prosperity for our own good through the total regulation of every area of our lives under the pretext of an imminent environmental crisis.
The Global Warming hysteria is about absolute power over every man, woman and child on earth.
"I strongly believe that the West has much to learn from societies and places which, while sometimes poorer in material terms are infinitely richer in the ways in which they live and organize themselves as communities," Prince Charles said.
It goes without saying that the Prince of Wales is not about to take personal advantage of these infinite spiritual riches of living in a house made of garbage, drinking contaminated water and dying before thirty. What he is saying is that while he personally is a little too attached to his lifestyle, he thinks that we as a society would be better off giving up on the materialism of living on more than two dollars a day and embracing the infinite social and spiritual riches that rich people imagine are accessible only to impoverished Third Worlders.
Environmentalism is wealth redistribution on a global scale. The goal isn't even to lift all boats, but to stop the tide of materialism from making too many people too comfortable.
The liberal billionaire who clamors about sustainability likes progress. What he dislikes is the middle class with its mass produced cars and homes, cheap restaurants full of fatty foods and television sets and daily deliveries of cardboard boxes full of stuff and shopping malls. He thinks, in all sincerity, that they would be happier and more spiritually fulfilled as peasants.
It's not an original idea.
The Industrial Revolution had hardly begun revolving when the 'Back to Nature' crowd began insisting that it was time to learn a more harmonious way of life by going back to the farm. Centuries later the only new idea that they have come up with is threatening an environmental apocalypse if the middle class doesn't change its mass producing ways. Even its adoration of the Noble Savage is older than the American Revolution.
The modern environmentalism jettisons the idea of moving to a dilapidated farmhouse to spend time being bored while trying to make artisanal rocking chairs to sell to someone, It's done its time searching for the noble savage within through drugs and degradation decades ago. Now it's our turn to tap into the infinity of spiritual riches that comes from just barely getting by.
The sustainable logic of the slum that makes us better people by making us more miserable.
The Soviet idea of progress was feudalism dressed up in Socialist red. Environmentalism dresses up feudalism in Green. It seeks to reverse all the progress that we have made in the name of progress. Environmentalism is as sophisticated as a Soviet collective farm, as modern as the homeless people dragging bags of cans along on sticks to feed the machine and as smart as a slum made of trash.
Beneath all the empty chatter about social riches and sustainability is
that need to impose progressive misery.
Beneath the glossy surface of
environmentalism is a vision of the American middle class learning to
dig through bags of garbage, the detritus of their consumerism for which
they must be punished, to become better people.