gulfstream, silly ethics--and dialectics?

LouPaulsen LouPaulsen at
Sat Dec 7 05:08:57 MST 2002

----- Original Message -----
From: "Gilles d'Aymery" <aymery at>
To: <marxism at>

> [Gilles]
> Everything is possible. Absolutely everything!  The power to dream and to
> invent will throw the genocidal planners (in the name of whatever
> and other dialectical premises) down the dustbins of history.

Gilles, I hope the term 'genocidal planner' here is not meant to refer to
Mark Jones.  I don't think that would be fair.  Let me take this occasion to
say that Mark and I have swapped a couple e-mails off list, and he has
convinced me that my 'Kodos the Executioner' post was not correctly aimed,
and I apologize for it.

I also believe that "everything is possible" - in the long run.  But I don't
think that everything is possible under capitalist rule.  And I also don't
believe that everything is guaranteed to be possible in the short run.
Mark's unpleasant visions have a large material component.  Basically, the
biosphere is like a bus which the capitalists are driving down the side of a
mountain; there have already been some serious bumps and crashes, and we are
heading toward the edge of a cliff.  We are passengers who are plotting to
take control of the bus from the insane driver.  In the long run I believe
that after we do this we can fix up the bus and have a pleasant journey
thereafter, but in the short run, it makes a big difference exactly WHERE
the bus is, and how fast it is going and in what direction, when we get
control of it.  If the bus is very near the edge of the cliff, or actually
has gone over the cliff and is falling through the air, our choices in the
short run may be limited and unpleasant.  Mark's assessments of the present
location of the cliff and of the bus and of the bus's velocity are rather
alarming.  If we want to argue with him about it, we have to do it with data
or with 'expert testimony' from ecologists, climatologists, engineers, and
so on.  We had probably better recruit some more of them.

In general I readily accept the chief policy implication of Mark's argument,
which is that socialist revolution is a very serious priority and we had
better make it as fast as possible.

Anyway, after some discussion, I believe that some confusion (in my own mind
anyway) has been related to Mark's choice of words.  Situations that I would
refer to as "limited and unpleasant choices in the short run", like in his
hypothetical example about whether we save the Gulf Stream or not, and have
to decide between famine in Europe and total biosphere collapse, he refers
to as 'sacrifice of populations'.  I would phrase it differently.  I would
say that capitalism is imposing disasters upon us, and if we are delayed too
long we may have to choose between one disaster and another.  I wouldn't
call this 'sacrifice of populations', but Mark would.  Mark is actuated by a
belief that communists have to be completely honest and honorable and have
to practice 'full disclosure' with the people, like a doctor who describes
to you all the horrible things that can happen to you during surgery.  He
goes farther in this regard than I would, but I appreciate his concerns.

(By the way, this 'choice of disasters' situation is already upon us, I hope
we all realize.  We are all busy organizing against the Iraq war, and I
think it is right that we are doing that, but it is simultaneously the case
that millions of people in Africa are HIV-positive at the present time, and
they are not getting the 'cocktail', and the word 'catastrophe' is rather an
inadequate term for what is in store.  This raises the whole issue of
'reparations' for the effects of the wars of abduction and the imperialists'
crimes against the people of that continent, as was put forward at the
Durban conference in 1991.  We are not giving the attention to it that we
need to, or for that matter to many other life-and-death struggles, and our
only excuse is that our revolutionary organizations simply do not have the
people or resources to address everything that urgently needs to be
addressed.  In that sense we are 'making the hard choices' right at this
moment. )

However, and I mean this very seriously, it is really possible to drive
yourself nuts if you think about this stuff too much, and it is very
important that we not drive ourselves nuts.  I have seen people do this.
Back in the 1970's we had a couple people in WWP who formed a faction which
argued that we weren't taking the "Socialism or Barbarism" issue (posed by
Trotsky in an article in 1939 or so) seriously enough: we don't have global
socialism yet, and it might not happen after all, so time is running out and
we had better start warning of the 'barbarism' to come.  They got very hyper
about this and were convinced that we just weren't serious enough
revolutionaries and had an idealistic world-view.  But after they left, they
didn't build a more effective party than ours.  I don't know what happened
to them, really, I think they just burned out.  It's important that we not
burn ourselves out and not go nuts, and if that means we have to use 'coping
mechanisms', fine!  (In fact, if I had a mind to, I could start identifying
'denial', 'anger', 'bargaining' and so on in the various environmental posts
here of the last week.)  Sam Marcy always said that we have the right and
the duty to be 'revolutionary optimists'.  Certainly when we talk to the
workers we can't come off as being psychotics or obsessed people.  Somehow
we have to on the one hand bear in mind how serious things are, and at the
same time be able to engage people in their own subjective reality.  (Is
this what the movie "The Matrix" is really about? :-)  )

A few days ago, in the middle of this discussion, David Walters wrote
something about solar houses in California.  My first reaction was: "Mark
Jones is really going to blast him for this.  I can practically write Mark's
post for him: 'We are talking about environmental disaster and the deaths of
millions, and you want to put photocells on a few nice houses in the suburbs
of California and you think you are addressing the issue!!'"  However, my
own working model of Mark Jones turned out to be entirely wrong.  I had
completely misjudged his reaction.  Mark praised him for dealing with the
issue in practical everyday terms.    I hadn't given Mark enough credit, and
I'll try not to make that mistake again.

Lou Paulsen

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