How much can we “safely” pollute our environment? How many fossil fuels can we burn? How much of a poisonous substance does not threaten our health? That our knowledge has limitations does not mean we shouldn’t exaggerate the ecological threat. On the contrary, we should be even more careful about it, given that the situation is extremely unpredictable. The recent uncertainties about global warming signal not that things are not too serious, but that they are even more chaotic than we thought, and that natural and social factors are inextricably linked.

photo by Hendrik Speck (Flickr CC)

The above quote is by Lacanian philosopher and Slovenian Marxist superstar (if there can be such a thing) Slavoj Zizek, from his article ‘Joe Public v the volcano’, which first appeared on April 29th in the New Statesmen.

Zizek is writing about how a normal, periodic volcanic event, of the type that has taken place on Earth since the birth of the planet, can disrupt an entire continent’s economy, cause panic, etc. – all due to our dependence on advanced technologies whose purposes are to liberate us from nature. Yet, paradoxically, as Zizek points out, ‘a century ago, such an eruption would have passed almost unnoticed’.

Here is an excerpt from the film ‘Examined Life’ in which Zizek, in typical philosopher’s fashion, turns environmentalism’s trappings on their heads. Love trash, love decay – because it’s real and it’s the only thing that’s going to inspire people to be aware of the planet’s true ecological state. Pictures of beautiful healthy wildlife in natural settings only serve to reassure us that everything is OK.

Never mind that ecology and environmentalist ideologies are open to minute deconstruction by their critics, because we will always fail to live up to our ideals. Ideals by their very definition are perfect and therefore impossible to live up to, whoever you are.

I like Zizek’s points on this matter possibly because I am an environmentalist who is fascinated by technology, dystopia, history and the modern world, in all its gory detail. Idealism is always false, always an illusion – not a solution to practical problems that require science and realism to understand and confront.

We don’t need to believe in ideals, we need to face reality.