By Ronald Wright
House Of Anansi Press, Inc., (2004). Paperback, 212 pages.
If people had listened to thinking this, we’d living in a civilization ravaged by polio and small pox.
This book aches with shallow thinking, and features the same old Rousseauian pseudo-historical fantasy of the noble savage being more free, and that a better humankind would be possible if we could just stop the people (read those who disagree) who ‘mess it up’. For Rousseau, the problem lay in the social orders of the family, the church, and the local community. For Wright, the problem is found among those who advance the economic strategies or technologies he doesn’t like. Like Rousseau and the socialists of the 19th century who drank down Rousseau’s ideas, Wright looks to the state, regulations, and the use of even international power to advance his agenda. We have a name for people who believe that the state should enforce their vision of society on others with global regulations and power. We call them tyrants.
Wright envisions a world where every possible development or invention has to meet his standards of forethought (and political bias) or else presumably be shut down. His uncritical and trendy defacement of the west and our technological advances will win over some undergraduates and the leftist zealots that run the CBC, but the thinking is based on shallow assumptions that come out of the whining of the 60’s and have no basis in fact.
Western culture and progress have lifted millions and generations out of desperate poverty, need and sickness. There’s more to do. There’s risks in going forward. But there are risks in standing still. Wright pretends he has a big perspective that allows him to see “the whole game” and that he is not distracted merely by “watching the ball.” He seems to think that those who’ve advanced technology have been short sighted or unaware in a way that he has avoided. But his pretension is false. His gross generalizations have the appearance of breadth of thought, but they’re actually means of avoiding the details. History runs like a greased pig through his book. His historical trivia is conjectural at best and smacks of a post-structuralist reading of ancient civilizations. His idea that America receives notions of liberty from the North American native community, for example, is just patently false – those ideas originate in Christian thought among Anabaptists in England and on the Continent in the 16th century. And Wright’s suggestion that their communities once had greater degrees of social order sounds quite like Rousseau and other statists who romanticize the noble savage and look in their innocence for some justification of the power structures they want to bring into being.
Indeed, Wright is driven not by history, not by facts, not by evidence, but by fantasy and fear: he’s been suckered by the utopian imaginations of statists; his quivering belly about the future in fact robs him of the future. He’s not thinking deeply and honestly about ‘what will happen next,’ he’s projecting his fears of success and political bias on the future and so comes up with the only answer he can – stop it all and roll us backwards. If Eden is lost, Wright would take us back there by force of government power. What else could possibly constitute “the tools and means to share resources, clean up pollution, dispense basic health care and birth control, set economic limits in line with natural ones”? Only international government power. Wright is a fascist, and probably has such romantic fantasies he doesn’t even recognize it in himself.
All advances come with risk, and that means that those who are risk adverse, if given given the totalitarian power implied in this book, will persecute individual dissenters from their dogma (“the hard men and women of big oil and the far right”), and thereby trap human civilization where it is, or in a worsened limited state. In doing so, they will condemn millions of future human beings to poverty, suffering, and political imprisonment. I say the latter, because people who think like Wright are the despots and villains who rationalize the mistreatment of dissenters, because they won’t let the facts get in the way of their thinking. In the film based on the book, for example, David Suzuki is shown actually calling economics ‘insanity’. Of course no one in the production actually talks to articulate economists openly in order to try and understand their discipline; instead, because economic common sense disables his political agenda, he just ridicules it and pushes it aside. So also Wright. Wright is another prophet of doom that has set himself up for a lucrative university speaking tour. But he is a false prophet, and offers only ideas that will ultimately ruin the lives of millions of people, and sacrifice their freedom, all based on the fears he’s projected, and now sown.