Saturday, February 03, 2007


From GU

"Anyone ready for a vegetable Spinoza?

In the West, the clash of civilisations is not between Islam and Christianity, but two other powerful faiths: environmentalism and materialism. Observe the reverence of worshippers at a Ferrari showroom and a farmers' market. A Testarossa or an organic carrot? Both are so eulogised by these rival flocks they could be the Second Coming. 'Greed is good' proved a slogan too powerful for that lesser faith, socialism. Now materialism faces a fresh challenge from a creed with a new motto: 'Green is good'.

Environmentalism is a faith, its converts as fervent as those flocking to Islam. The West might have shaken off God, but not the desire to revere: the planet. Don't believe me? Read Baruch Spinoza. He lived in 17th-century Amsterdam, but is rapidly becoming philosopher a la mode. He even dabbled in kabbalah: how modish is that?

He believed the world is God. So to pray is to worship every hill and valley, every raindrop and sunray, every man and animal - and every law connecting them. It was known as pantheism, but could be called environmentalism. Without Spinoza, would we ever have heard of James Lovelock and Gaia?

Since Descartes, humanity has felt itself separate from a dead, physical world that is ours to play with. Spinoza, by contrast, says we are part of the same, sacred earth. What makes us special? According to Spinoza, nowt. Which is very green. Unlike Prince Charles, Spinoza was a frugal ecologist.

What we call greed, Spinoza called 'human bondage'. He distrusted desire and progress. But he was a democrat who wanted the clergy out of politics. Many greens will also identify with his years of ostracism: aged 23, he was excommunicated by his synagogue for 'abominable heresies'. His great works were published after his death, found hidden in his desk. He is interesting as more than an historical curiosity, however.

He wrote: 'Like waves on the sea, driven by contrary winds, we toss about, not knowing our fate.' A pretty good take on life with rising sea levels. He also felt nature is determined to 'produce an effect in a certain way'. If only Bush had read that before commissioning dodgy reports suggesting climate change is mere chance.

But Spinoza would also ask tough questions of greens: is yours a faith in the planet or merely a lifestyle choice?

So will Spinoza triumph? Capitalism always adapts, hence all the products pushed as 'green'. Spinoza would choose the carrot over the Ferrari. Will we?"

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