"The Enemies of Progress: The Dangers of Sustainability"

"The Enemies of Progress: The Dangers of Sustainability"
Book published by Societas. Orders: http://www.imprint.co.uk/books/williams_enemies.html

In answer to Adrian Hornsby


Let me address these point by point:

(I stand accused of) ’Tenpin bowling…a host of daft comments…from influential people who should know better.’
The idea that these comments were loose canon quotes from erstwhile sober commentators is wrong, many of the ‘silly’ comments include Jonathon Porritt’s delight at implementing a one-child policy in this country and Monbiot advocating that we should all stay in bed to save carbon. Pointing out their stupidity was not intended to suggest that they should be more careful in future… it was to point out that this is what they believe. Using their own words to parody their position, I think, is justifiable (and I’m sure that I will be on the receiving end soon enough)

‘Improved efficiency, be it greenwashed or not, is progressive’.
Firstly, I don’t care about ‘greenwash’. Secondly, I agree that improved efficiency has the tendency to be progressive; but, for example, the idea that economic efficiency can be achieved by sacking loads of workers, is not inherently progressive and I am against it. The point I make is that under environmentalism, there is an over concentration on ‘resource efficiency’ as opposed to ‘labour efficiency’: the second one is progressive, the former may well not be (say, the efficiency of the chain gang, where materials can be used really efficiently at the expense of laborious human labour time).

(There is ) significant and exciting new innovation is coming out of the sustainability labelled camp.
Maybe. I’m in favour of thin-film PV, etc, like anyone. It’s not the ‘innovation’ (as such) but the unidirectional motor for innovation that I am critical of.
Secondly, innovation can mean all sorts of things these days. How about the Welsh Parliament’s innovative transport plan? Just in case you think that they’d bought into the truly innovative Ultra transit system? [1] or were distributing jet-packs, it simply ‘aims to provide young job seekers and young people in higher education with a personalised travel plan with information on how to get from their homes to their place of work or study using public transport.’[2] (In case you think I a selectively quoting from people who should know better… this sort of excuse for real investment in real technological innovation is pretty much everywhere).

(The author suggests that) politically motivated technological developments are somehow less valid… (see) JFK's moon statement, which was undeniably highly politicised
Well everything and anything can be politically motivated. I accept the contention… but the point is that I have a politically disagreement with certain political positions. The fact that I like Wordsworth’s poetry doesn’t mean I can’t argue against the culture of the Romantics - I am against environmental politics for a range of reasons. However… before you retort, let me say that I am not a supporter of JFK, I am simply alluding to a socio-historical shift between 60s dynamism (with all of its many faults) and 00s risk-aversion.

The author… revealed (as) oddly traditionalist… the phrase, 'and it was ever thus' - hinting at a belief that there are all sorts of things which aren't subject to progress at all.
Even Trotsky wrote about the eternal nature of ideas and emotions, asking why 2500 year old Greek tragedies still makes us cry. The quote refers to the sentence ‘liberation of free movement is clearly an advance and ever has it been thus’ alluding to the cry for freedom by slaves and the exploited since time immemorial. I also am making an illusion – as I do in the opening sentence to the chapter on America – to the Communist manifesto that ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.’

(The book is) curiously nostalgic... exuberance for the railway into Tibet… absolved the project of its true motivations… to suffocate the independence movement.
It is, is it not, a fantastic feat of engineering? I am not endorsing (as a matter of fact, I am probably more critical than many Western based contemporary books on) China. Criticism is more than legitimate – I argue that it is essential. But I hate to break it to you that the construction of the Indian railways was not primarily for the benefit of the Indians … but it still doesn’t preclude people being impressed by the results. If you think that every article praising technological advances should be appended with a condemnatory footnote about its true objectives, then everything evaporates in a relativistic puff of smoke. Let me tell you that the British Welfare state was not some utopian idyll, but had its origins in eugenics and the rebuilding of the ‘national stock’

(I have a ) nostalgic admiration for Victorian Britain… seemingly to justify the truly appalling current levels of pollution and urban squalor in rapidly developing countries
I don’t justify them at all. What I am describing is a historical parallel… not a blueprint. History – ie the making of history – is in the hands of individuals and societies: it is not fated. However, the social and material ambition and drive that lifted people out of their squalid conditions 100+ years ago, is not so much in evidence today. The ambition is the thing I’m pointing out, not the squalor. I want people to fight to rise above their meagre economic relations. As a matter of fact I make great play of the fact that there is more to life than simply consumer culture

(I suggest that) material benefits and improvements in social equity follow one another… (in) high growth economies… new middle classes are not pursuing democracy at all.
I agree. However, there is something to be said for improving material benefits regardless of social equity.
But your point is taken that to challenge the political deficit – be it authoritarianism in China or political vacuousness in Britain – we need a political response and an intellectual and ‘physical’ intervention. The whole point of the book is to point out that unless we challenge the environmental logic of human self-loathing, then there will be no human-centred, intellectually-clear, politically-polarised fightback.

[1] http://www.atsltd.co.uk/

[2] Press release, ‘Innovative travel scheme for young people in North East Wales launched’, Welsh Assembly Government, 27 October 2004