Book Review: The New Ecological Order

Environmental science is at war with the metaphysics of the anthropocene. There can be no reconciliation between the two and any semblance of one is the product of either willing obscurantism or foolish self-deception- either wickedness or incompetence. The present author is a fierce partisan of science and of materialism, while Luc Ferry (in The New Ecological Order)^1 takes a decidedly opposite view and does so in an utterly dishonest fashion. Ferry is a product of both the Ken Ham school of discontinuity and the Stalin school of falsification^2. This kind of obscurantism cannot be allowed to stand and it is necessary to refute Ferry on three major points: Firstly, Ferry’s anti-scientific denial basic continuity of all forms of life on Earth (something educated people have accepted since Darwin’s time) must be dealt with. Secondly, the absurd idea of individual human agency promoted by Ferry, and others like him, must be demolished and tossed aside. Finally, the political and social transformations necessary to addresses environmental crises must be addressed. At every step the dishonest maneuverings of Ferry must be exposed and shown to be a willful cover for a lack of serious arguments or even a shred of evidence for his position. The scientific incoherence of Ferry’s arguments and the horrific social and environmental implications of it make The New Ecological Order into one of the most shameful works of the modern age.

Ferry’s dishonesty leaps out from the very first pages of the preface to his work, where he presents the spectacle of dark age animal trials and tries to make them ridiculous in the face of a supposedly enlightened modern legal system. He does this in an attempt to conflate modern animal rights thinking and the extension of legal status to non-human life with the religious superstations of a time long past; yet, in doing so, Ferry cheerfully ignores corporate personhood, civil forfeiture, and a plethora of legal devices used to accord legal rights and protections to non-living objects. The simple fact is that the modern legal system recognizes all sorts of things other than humans as having a legal existence – which completely undermines Ferry’s point- is glossed over by him without so much as a single word. This is pure dishonesty and the mark of someone who doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Oh well, most people skip the preface anyway and the first chapter is traditionally more interesting.

Creationism or intelligent design, as some its apologists prefer it be called, is discontinuity made into an art form. Any fact can be denied, any scientist defamed, and accidental glimmer of rationality double-thought away. Ferry leaps headfirst into this wonderland of anti-Darwinism in the first chapter of his book and never leaves it even for the briefest moment. From the simplest single-cellular, if it could even be said to have a cell, organism that first replicated itself almost four billion year ago to the most complex multi-cellular organisms of the present day there is an unbroken chain of reproduction, a perfect chain of continuity with no, absolutely no, gaps, ‘missing links’, or other leaps. There is no gap between any earth-native organism that is currently alive, ever has lived, or ever will live and any other. To pretend otherwise is an expression of either ignorance or dishonesty and yet that is precisely what Ferry does with his concept of the anti-natural man (What about women and non-binary people?), which denies that there is any continuity between humanity and the (rest of) the animal kingdom. Ferry even goes so far as to specifically repudiate the idea that there is link between humanity and the great apes.^3 Luc, it seems, is unfamiliar with Lucy^4 and his book, while it may have been designed, was written rather unintelligently from a scientific point of view. The idea that humans are discontinuous from other forms of life, a centerpiece of Ferry’s argument, is simply incorrect. It isn’t that kind of thing that can be dressed up or clarified with additional nuance and there isn’t room for multiple opinions on it. One position, Ferry’s, is just wrong and that’s all there is to it.

Having dispensed with biology, Ferry moves onto physics and sociology. Humans are not only discontinuous, in this alternative reality crafted by Ferry, but are also granted individual freedom, agency, and an undefined grab bag of rights. Ferry, of course, is hardly the only thinker to hold such a position and some of those that agree with him actually exhibit some concern for the environment and basic scientific principles, and so charity demands that one of those, Tom Regan, be given the floor.^5 Regan adopts the same individualistic standpoint as Ferry, but adds that the non-human animals also have some kind of inherent value and rights.^6 This vitalistic, as one might call it, standpoint is totally incompatible with materialism in every respect. To begin with rights- and it is rights Regan focuses on- the first question that might be accessed is where individual rights come from and Regan answers that they come from the inherent value that all experiencing subjects have.^7 One is immediately driven to ask where this inherent value comes from and receives no answer from either Regan or Ferry. All talk of inherent moral value, individual rights, and the like minds itself at this same impasse; it is based on nothing and simply asserted rather than justified. Rights, despite Regan’s disavowal of this method,^8 come from gods or immortal souls more often than not and have never be shown to have any real validity. They exist as a pure idea, hidden away in the twentieth dimension somewhere, that shines down upon humanity from above. That is not science nor is it materialism. It is unsubstantiated nonsense devoid of any validity outside of the fantasy world of its creators.

Moving on from rights, it is time to address the elephant in the room from a materialist perspective, namely the claim that some sort of agency or individual freedom exists. This claim is so embarrassing, that Ferry attempts to water it down by acknowledging that one cannot be completely detached from the culture and historical circumstances that one find’s oneself in.^9 Nevertheless, Ferry becomes the prophet of human vitalism, of individual agency, and personal freedom. According to Ferry, humans are free agents making individual choices about what to and are most certainly not determined by any outside factor. What utter rubbish. Humans are machines, not simple machines determined purely by genetics,^10 but machines nonetheless. Brains are direly analogous to computers, being programmed constantly by everything they encounter.^11 No choice is random and the things encountered are not random either, but are determined by both other brains and and ‘simple’ physics. Given sufficient information about the universe at any point in time, thirteen billion years ago for instance, and perfect knowledge of the laws of physics it would be possible to predict everything happening at any future point. To deny this, which one needs to do to make room any kind of agency and individual freedom, is to abandon any concern for physics and the social sciences. It is to resort to ideas, residing somewhere in the Platonic otherworld, that individuals may, in the solitude of their own minds and uninfluenced by the world around them, stumble into as the main actors in society and forever surrender any claim to materialism as opposed to metaphysics.

Having criticized individualism one is subject to the usual whine about freedom and it’s tempting to respond mockingly to such moralistic objections, but there is still a way in which freedom can exist in a meaningful way and one that embraces determinism. This is achieved by scientific knowledge, which grants the ability to understand and shape the world, and by communistic social organization, which allows that shaping to be democratically planned. Only when the blind forces of the market have been conquered and replaced by conscious democratic control of the economy, only when private property has given away to common ownership of the means of production, only when class has been abolished and the state has withered away, and only when scientific understanding has finally triumphed over ignorance and metaphysical superstition, will it be reasonable to speak of freedom. This freedom will be the freedom of a computer writing its own code, of humanity collectively determining itself and understanding how it is being determined. Ferry’s silly talk about a nonexistent individual freedom is just that, silly, beside the possibility for real human freedom, the realization of which Ferry, in fact, opposes.

Discontinous humanism, liberalism, and individualism are enemies of freedom and this is highlighted not only in what Ferry says, but in what he fails to say. Ferry spends much of his book trying to defame his environmentalist opponents by associating them with sexists, racists, and even Nazis only to completely gloss over the appalling record of bourgeois liberalism. From colonizing Africa to dropping atomic bombs on civilian populations, liberalism is dripping with blood from every poor. It is the ideology of capitalism and imperialism, of exploitation and oppression, and it is what Ferry wants to preserve, unchanged, as the so called bastion of freedom. Strange that such enemies of humanity would call themselves humanists, but all the easier to understand their rejection of both the physical and social sciences- the liberal champions of terror have little interest being called to account. Slander others and ignore the history of one’s own ideas; that is the method of Ferry in dealing with the political implications of various ideas.

Ferry’s near obsession with fascism and with manufacturing connections between environmentalists and Nazis is so pervasive as to warrant a brief digression into just what fascism is and what Ferry has to say about it.^12 Fascism is the extreme rightward swing of the frightened petit bourgeois and their ascendancy to state power on the basis of support from the industrial bourgeois. It is the total corporatization of the bourgeois state apparatus and its historical role is the liquidation of all the gains of the proletariat and all independent proletarian organizations developed over the last period. To talk about a fascism or a Nazism that isn’t busy suppressing proletarian political parties, cracking down on unions, and tearing to pieces all the concessions the proletariat has wrung from the bourgeois is to talk nonsense. It is simply ludicrous to reduce Nazism to some expression of romanticism and love for one’s native land as Ferry tries to do for the purpose of establishing guilt by similar phraseology.^13 This cheap attempt at defaming environmentalism, supported only by a failure to discuss what fascism really means, is typical the dishonest method Ferry employs in the course of his argument.

The social role played by Ferry in producing this shameful hack job against environmentalism is painfully clear. Like all liberals, he is an apologist for capitalism and bourgeois social order it creates. Referring to self-management as a dream and sustainability as a myth^14, Ferry refuses to engage with any idea that might challenge the capitalist ideal and lead one to question whether present society is really the best of all possible worlds and ought to remain in place forever. Ferry wishes to preserve the jungle^15 and is terrified that some dangerous revolutionaries will come to tear it down in the name of saving the environment, and he should be. Capitalism simply cannot address environmental issues in a coherent way. It excludes the creation of a long-term environmental plan and guarantees that short-term profit will always be placed ahead of environmental sustainability and human need. A new ecological order is exactly what the ongoing environmental meltdown demands and it can only be established by the socialist revolution, concluding in the building of communism. The great proletarian climate revolution is coming and Ferry is trying, futilely, to hold it back. Let Ferry tremble at the communistic revolution. The proletariat has nothing to lose but its chains. It has the world to win. “Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!”

^1 Luc Ferry, The New Ecological Order (1995), The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

^2 Should I slip the titles of Marxist classics into things? No. Do I? Yes.

^3 Ferry pg. 13

^4 I refer, of course, to the most famous fossil of Australopithecus afarensis and not 2014 film, which was, curiously enough, written and directed by another Luc.

^5 Tom Regan, “The Case for Animal Rights” in In Defence of Animals (1985)

^6 Regan pg. 342

^7 Regan pg. 343

^8 Regan pg. 342

^9 Ferry, pg. 9

^10 I recommend google searching an image of an adult reed warbler feeding a cuckoo chick. It is an excellent antidote for any failure to recognize the determining power of genes can have in the right circumstances and a compelling image.

^11 There is a tendency in evolution, most notably expressed in humans, to shift from genes directly controlling organisms via automatic pre-programmed actions to brains controlling organisms and be programmed by the world they find themselves in, with genetic conditioning aiding this in the form of pleasure, pain, and other factors. This is easy to understand in terms of programming a computer to play chess: it is nonsensical to program every possible set-up of a chess board and the appropriate response into a computer an.d much more efficient to simply program it with the rules of chess and allow the computer to expand on that through a learning mechanism. The same principle applies for the much more complex world of living organisms.

^12 Chapter 5, for instance, is entirely devoted to the uninteresting fact that the Nazis talked about preserving Germany’s natural beauty and passed a law against animal cruelty. One might also note that Hitler was a great lover of dogs, whereas Rosa Luxemburg was a cat person, and thereby settle the debate over which type of mammal makes for a superior companion.

^13 On page 92 Ferry tries to deny the claim that he is trying to use the “Hitler said it” argument to establish guilt by association, but that is a transparent falsehood; no-one devotes that much time and space to such side-points unless the reader is meant to make the association on an emotional level at the very least.

^14 Ferry, pg. 89

^15 The one on my bookshelf, that is. Upton Sinclair was a wonderfully insightful author.

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