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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has spent the last ten years living in Shanghai and Beijing, China. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at


Response to the Climate Plan of the Institute for Cultural Evolution (ICE)

Joe Corbett

This plan is misguided in several respects, but I will only mention the most glaring and contradictory one here.

In a nutshell, the Institute for Cultural Evolution seeks to shift public opinion and hence the political will of America toward supporting social policies of climate amelioration by persuading those pesky mean-green-meme postmodernists that modernism isn't such a bad thing afterall. This is a necessary strategy, says the 'Campaign Plan for Climate Change Amelioration' statement, in order to get the postmodernists to stop alienating the modernists so that an effective alliance can be created to shift the center of gravity toward (modernist approved) environmentally sustainable policy.

This plan is misguided in several respects, but I will only mention the most glaring and contradictory one here. In the 'Campaign Plan', the authors state:

"It is important to note our conclusion that the main barrier to effective political action on climate change is not simply the rise of conservative think tanks that seek to discredit environmental science or otherwise promote exclusively market-based solutions. Nor is it the neo-conservative anti-environmental movement or the well-funded corporate lobbyists who seek to protect vested interests. Although formidable, these forces of opposition will be swept aside once the political will of the American people is effectively mobilized to take meaningful action..."

Apparently, the idea here is that public opinion and political will can be shaped and mobilized in a developmental direction independently of or regardless of the admittedly 'formidable forces of opposition' in conservative think tanks, the neo-conservative anti-environmental movement, the well-funded corporate lobbyists, and I might add, the mainstream media. In other words, 'swept aside' will be the entire ideological and institutional apparatus of the corporate-military-police-state once the postmodernists make friends with the modernists, and then we can all just get along with the business of fulfilling the will of the American people for an integral solution to the climate problem. One wonders if the group at ICE has any clue as to how public opinion and political will is shaped in the first place by the systematic underdevelopment of the public sphere by those very forces that will presumably be 'swept aside'.

The premise of ICE that it is the underlying cultural value structures of the people that shapes opinion and political will is upside down and backwards, uninformed by a sociological perspective, such as found in Marx and Habermas, which says cultural value systems are the ideological expressions of real-world material forces, namely, the political and economic relations that define the distribution of power and wealth in society. In other words, cultural value systems are first and foremost the expressions of those who, over time, have written and enforced the laws of a society, those who give material support to those who write and enforce the laws, and those who own and control the means of both material and ideological production. Thus, public opinion and political will cannot simply sweep aside the conditions of its own making without at the same time sweeping aside the social relations of power and money.

When the 'Campaign Plan' states simply that "cultural structures consist of large scale systemic value agreements", it completely disregards how those 'agreements' are in fact imposed upon populations by ruling classes. As Karl Polyani showed in The Great Transformation, the transition to a modern industrial work regimen and its goals of material achievement was not an organically grown cultural development of the people, but was resisted and imposed upon the workers by an oppressive state-capital apparatus. The idea of changing cultural values with the force of persuasion ignores the historical evidence of how cultural values are shaped instead by the persuasion of material force.

ICE is once again historically uninformed, and in any case is lacking in imagination to think that modernist values are the only way to achieve relative prosperity, an educated democratic populace, individual initiative and achievement, and fails to see that there might be other means than status and material goods as drivers of economic development, when they say,

"...the historical success of modernism in producing a relatively prosperous and educated democratic society that afforded upward mobility and a vibrant middleclass was achieved through its core values of individual initiative and achievement. Similarly, modernism's strong values for the acquisition of status and material goods drive economic development..."

Here, we (postmodernists) are to be persuaded that the pursuit of status and material goods are a good thing and should be incorporated into the future society, for 'how else are the values of individual initiative and achievement to be preserved'. If this is the modernism we are supposed to make friends with, you can see the reluctance we might have.

Finally, in a statement one can only describe as one of arrogance and corporate hubris, the environmental 'Campaign Plan' of ICE says,

"the environmental movement has become a refuge for frustrated Marxists and anarchists, many of whom seek to use concern for environmental degradation and global warming as a tool to achieve their larger goal of vanquishing the spread of the globalized modernist, capitalist economy. An important evolutionary goal for postmodernism should thus involve actively diminishing the power of the failed ideologies of Marxism and anarchism within its accepted cultural discourse, because these elements are ultimately working against the urgent and laudable goal of achieving an environmentally sustainable global civilization."

Clearly, the 'frustrated Marxists and anarchists' of the world need to grow-up and unite behind the need for multinational capitalism and the billionaire 1-percenters who philanthropically fund institutes such as ICE to spread their wings. Better yet if they be entirely vanquished from the glorified spread of global capitalism for the benefit of the 1-percenter philanthropists (preferably those who live in the mountains of Colorado) who seek the advance of a globalized social Darwinism. Only in this way can we finally transcend the progressive forces of the new age by including the forces of evolution that promote the struggle for the survival of the fittest.

With friends like this, the postmodernists don't need any more enemies.

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