Joe Bast said a couple of things at the closing of the last Heartland ICCC anti-conference that leave an encouraging impression that he is discouraged and floundering, and that there are “no plans” for another such meeting. This, as anyone of good will will agree (possibly even going as far as Michael Fumento!) is probably a good thing.
As Watching the Deniers points out, there are valuable lessons to be learned from this success, of which he notes:
* The faux sceptic movement withers under the harsh light of truth. The more light we shine on Heartland, its methods and sources of funding the more it likely it will implode or reduced to utter irrelevance
* Focus fire tactics (i.e. putting one target under the microscope) works
* “We” can be tenacious and shouldn’t apologise for using the tactics of civil disobedience.
Clearly, defeating or at least diminishing Heartland is a positive step, but it is a long way from victory. We have not yet, though, cashed the check that Peter Gleick wrote for us. What we see so far is just an advance.
What is important is to look at the whole structure of right wing philathropies and how they warp public discourse. After all, what does “Donors Trust will never allow any funds to drift to organizations on the left” mean? What could it possibly mean? I think it means “all funds will be used to defend the privileges of the rich and not a penny will go to anyone or anything that actually needs it”.
But what of those “organizations of the left”? In “The Philanthropic Complex“ a remarkable and compelling essay at the alarmingly named Jacobin magazine, by Curtis White, an argument is made that leftish (really, Democrat-leaning) charities in the US are also instruments of oligarchy, perhaps more important than those on the right.
The periodic Wall Street meltdown aside, the most dramatic problem facing capitalism for the last thirty years has been its tendency to destroy the very world in which it acts: the environmental crisis in all its manifestations. The response to this crisis has been the growth of the mainstream environmental movement, especially the Environmental Protection Agency and what we call Big Green (the Sierra Club, et. al.). But, it should go without saying, Big Green was not the pure consequence of an up-swelling of popular passion; it was also the creation of philanthropic, federal, and corporate “gift giving”.
… These large environmental organizations are more dependent on federal and foundation support, and accordingly tend to take a “soft” line on economic and industrial reform. As Mark Dowie reports, “They are safe havens for foundation philanthropy, for their directors are sensitive to the economic orthodoxies that lead to the formation of foundations and careful not to do anything that might diminish the benefactor’s endowment.”
As with the Environmental Protection Agency, Big Green is not so much an enemy as a self-regulator within the capitalist state itself. The Sierra Club is not run by visionary rebels, it is upper management. It really does have effects that are beneficial to the environment (many!), but in no way are those benefits part of an emerging new world that is hostile to the industries that are the most immediate origin of environmental destruction.
One can look at this as enforcing the Overton window. If “even” the Sierra Club is pro-growth, why then, advocacy of a steady state economy can’t possibly be considered as a reasonable point of view. If “even” the IPCC says sea level rise will be under a meter in this century, clearly Jim Hansen is can no longer be considered as having a reputable opinion. As long as influence is limited to large organizations, discussion proceeds between extremism tuned to the interests of the rich and centrism tuned to the interests of the rich. (The traditional vectors of “left” and “right” hardly map on to these constituencies at all.)
Our problems are serious and may be fundamental. People who are doing especially well may be of good will, but their understanding of the world is (like everyone else’s) skewed by their experiences and their opinions (like everyone else’s) are skewed by their self-interest. The trouble is that they have advantages in a mass society that others cannot easily match.
Many charitable non-profits end up as guns for hire under present circumstances. Curtis White leaves me wondering whether Joe Bast is especially unusual. Ideally, I would venture that charities should do good works, and politics should be left to the population. Clearly, America is far from that ideal. Are similar things happening elsewhere?