Trees and Economics…Also: Žižek, Philip K. Dick, and Carl Jung

The following topics probably don’t connect that well, but one made me think about the other, and I wanted to write about both, so, two birds, one blog post. I’m currently reading Joseph Heath’s book Filthy Lucre: Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism. The title is probably misleading. Heath divides the book into 6 sections (ignoring the intro and epilogue), the first three dealing with fallacies that right-wing people make about economics, and the second three dealing with fallacies that left-wing people make.

I was annoyed while reading the intro, because Heath wrote the following:

The standard reflex on the left when confronted with an economic question is to change the topic. Consider, for example, the economic argument against paper recycling. People say that recycling is a way of “saving trees,” yet, in practice, it has exactly the opposite effect. Why are there so many cows in the world? Because people eat cows. Not only that, but the number of cows in the world is a precise function of the number that are eaten. If people decided to eat less beef, there would be fewer cows. yet the same is true of trees. “Old growth” timber is not used for pulp and paper – the trees that go into making our paper are a cash crop, just like wheat and corn. So one way to increase the number of trees being planted is for s to consume more paper. Furthermore, if we dumped used paper down an old mineshaft, rather than recycling it, we would in effect be engaged in carbon sequestration: taking carbon out of the atmosphere and burying it in the ground. This is exactly what we need to be doing in order to combat global warming. So recycling paper would appear to be bad for the planet, on numerous levels. Aluminum recycling makes sense (as suggested by the fact that it is profitable). But why paper recycling?

I have several problems with this line of thinking. The main problem I have is his conclusion that if people decided to stop purchasing paper, then the trees that are used to make paper will not be planted. Sure, that would be true of private companies who make money by planting and cutting down the trees to make paper, but that doesn’t mean we, as a society, wouldn’t have reasons to invest in planting trees for the sake of planting trees. Just like in India, where their society venerates the cow, just because they don’t raise them to eat them doesn’t mean that they don’t have other reasons to have them around (although those reasons may be historical/religious (not to say that because they’re historical/religious they don’t make practical sense (see Marvin Harris’s book: Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches))). Trees are great carbon sinks (probably better than burying paper…..), fresh water sources (they soak up the water in the ground and evaporate it through their leaves), help maintain ecosystems and soil health. These are what nature reserves are: we pay taxes to maintain trees and forests and healthy land for multiple reasons, all of which benefit us or our children/grandchildren/future people (read: Eloi). I understand that recycling paper isn’t all that economical, but if it allows for more land to be used to make forests, than I think it’d be worth it. Or, if you recycle paper (better yet, reduce the use), then the trees from the ‘cash crop’ can be exported to other countries, to prevent those countries from needing to cut down their old-growth forests (Indonesia, Papa New Guinea, Brazil, etc.).

Here are some statistics:

  • Trees raised specifically for pulp production account for 16% of world pulp production, old growth forests 9% and second- and third- and more generation forests account for the balance.[4]
  • About 35% of municipal solid waste (before recycling) by weight is paper and paper products.[15]
  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency‎ (EPA) has found that recycling causes 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than making virgin paper.[16]

I don’t see how I’m changing the topic, according to Heath. In his defense, the next paragraph starts off with: “It’s possible that there is a coherent response to this argument, but I’ve never seen one.” Even if my reasons above are wrong, explain how Japan went from almost clearing all it’s land of forests, to having 67% of their land covered by forests:

It was during the Edo period that Japan developed an advanced forest management policy. Increased demand for timber resources for construction, shipbuilding and fuel had led to widespread deforestation, which resulted in forest fires, floods and soil erosion. In response the shogun, beginning around 1666, instituted a policy to reduce logging and increase the planting of trees. The policy mandated that only the shogun and daimyo could authorize the use of wood. By the 18th century, Japan had developed detailed scientific knowledge about silviculture and plantation forestry.[4]

In case you’re wondering how I knew about Shogun history, and about the importance of forests (although I guess I’d learned about that elsewhere), I just finished reading Jared Diamond’s excellent book Collapse. Never have I been more interested in Viking and Japanese history…

I probably wouldn’t have wanted to rage about the above if it weren’t for the fact that I was simultaneously (well, not exactly) reading something of interest in Quick Studies, a book that collects the best of the (now defunct) magazine Lingua Franca. The article I read is called Enjoy Your Zizek, by Robert S. Boynton (you can read the whole article here). The part that reminded me of the Heath comment is below:

For Zizek, all successful ideologies function the same way. If American-style consumer capitalism has replaced Yugoslavian Marxism as the antagonist, the battle is still the same: to create the conditions for what he calls “politics proper,” a vaguely defined, but deeply heroic and inherently universalist impulse, in which a given social order and its power interests are destabilized and overthrown. “Authentic politics is the art of the impossible,” he writes. “It changes the very parameters of what is considered ‘possible’ in the existing constellation.”

This is a noble vision, but when Zizek turns to history, he finds only fleeting examples of genuine politics in action: in ancient Athens; in the proclamations of the Third Estate during the French Revolution; in the Polish Solidarity movement; and in the last, heady days of the East German Republic before the Wall came down and the crowds stopped chanting “Wir sind das Volk” (“We are the people!”) and began chanting “Wir sind ein Volk” (“We are a/one people!”). The shift from definite to indefinite article, writes Zizek, marked “the closure of the momentary authentic political opening, the reappropriation of the democratic impetus by the thrust towards reunification of Germany, which meant rejoining Western Germany’s liberal-capitalist police/political order.”

In articulating his political credo, Zizek attempts to synthesize three unlikely–perhaps incompatible–sources: Lacan’s notion of the subject as a “pure void” that is “radically out of joint” with the world, Marx’s political economy, and St. Paul’s conviction that universal truth is the only force capable of recognizing the needs of the particular. Zizek is fond of calling himself a “Pauline materialist,” and he admires St. Paul’s muscular vision. He believes that the post-political deadlock can be broken only by a gesture that undermines “capitalist globalization from the standpoint of universal truth in the same way that Pauline Christianity did to the Roman global empire.” He adds: “My dream is to combine an extremely dark, pessimistic belief that life is basically horrible and contingent, with a revolutionary social attitude.”

Trees and economics aren’t mentioned, but he does mention a consumer capitalism and compares his form of revolution with St. Paul’s form of Christianity that converted the Roman global empire. In the beginning of Filthy Lucre, Heath mentions the movie Blade Runner, which was based on a story by Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). How many of you realize the Philip K. Dick was probably going ape shit bonkers before he died? He wrote a 3,000 page book about a theory he had that the Roman empire never ended, that instead, using technology from aliens, the Roman’s were creating a holographic vision of the world, deceiving and convincing everyone that the Roman empire had crumbled and led to consumer capitalism. Read:

On February 20, 1974, while recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth, Dick went to the door to receive an extra delivery analgesic and encountered a Christian woman with his Darvon delivery who was calling door-to-door, and when the burly, bearded man opened the door, he was struck by the beauty of the dark-haired girl. He was especially drawn to her golden necklace, and he asked her about its curious fish-shaped design. “This is a sign used by the early Christians,” she said, and then departed.

Dick recounted that as the sun glinted off the gold pendant, the reflection caused the generation of a “pink beam” that mesmerized him. Dick came to believe the beam imparted wisdom and clairvoyance; he also believed it to be intelligent:

“In that instant, as I stared at the gleaming fish sign and heard her words, I suddenly experienced what I later learned is called anamnesis—a Greek word meaning, literally, “loss of forgetfulness.” I remembered who I was and where I was. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, it all came back to me. And not only could I remember it but I could see it. The girl was a secret Christian and so was I. We lived in fear of detection by the Romans. We had to communicate with cryptic signs. She had just told me all this, and it was true.

For a short time, as hard as this is to believe or explain, I saw fading into view the black, prisonlike contours of hateful Rome. But, of much more importance, I remembered Jesus, who had just recently been with us, and had gone temporarily away, and would very soon return. My emotion was one of joy. We were secretly preparing to welcome Him back. It would not be long. And the Romans did not know. They thought He was dead, forever dead. That was our great secret, our joyous knowledge. Despite all appearances, Christ was going to return, and our delight and anticipation were boundless.[1]

After the woman’s departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions. Although initially attributing them to his medication, after weeks of visions he considered this explanation implausible. “I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane,” Dick told Charles Platt.

Throughout February and March 1974, Dick experienced a series of visions, which he referred to as “2-3-74”, shorthand for February–March 1974. Aside from the “pink beam”, Dick described the initial visions as geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and ancient Rome. As the visions increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live a double life, one as himself, “Philip K. Dick”, and one as “Thomas”, a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century AD. He referred to the “transcendentally rational mind” as “Zebra”, “God” and “VALIS”.

This further reminds me of Carl Jung and his Red Book. But I don’t much feel like talking about that…so if you’re interested, look it up.
Shit man, I can go on to connect the Collapse book with Philip K. Dick’s visions of aliens and the roman empire with that awful History channel show: Ancient Aliens. But again, I don’t want to get into it…

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About dontdontoperate

28 year old originally from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. H.B.Sc. from UofT with a major in chemistry and a double minor in philosophy and math. M.Sc. from UofT in physiology and neuroscience. Finished my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at McMaster in the fall of 2013.
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