Thank God for these “dark Satanic Mills”

How great the merits of “bringing people out of poverty”? Hundreds of millions of Chinese brought above that $1.90/day line. This, Dave Smith posits is a good thing, all these folks raised out of “brutal, oppressive” conditions. Smith brings this up to counter those critical of capitalism’s (perceived?) faults with climate change being the chief one.

Goddam, this is an interesting way of looking at things. I feel, at least in my experience, that the category “bringing people out of poverty” is an uncommon category, an uncommon standard brought to bear on measuring where we are as a global culture, as one global race. On a basic moral level (and utilizing a positive view of humanity which this pessimist doesn’t always do) isn’t this advancement of our Chinese brothers and sisters a good thing? Actually, to remove my pessimism from the parenthetical, and regardless of the Panglossian overtones, you might say this is the best it gets for our race: a sad goal to celebrate.

In the past Smith has referred to a similar event: the Industrial Revolution. The conditions in the “dark satanic mills” were shitty as is popularly recollected but these conditions can be contrasted with abject poverty that existed at the same time among the rural poor. Kids worked long hours in terrible conditions which, nevertheless, birthed our modern world.

I recall an Exxon-Mobil ad from 5–10 years ago that lauded the company for assisting in the development of the impoverished Chinese hinterland — how tone dear, I thought at the time. How can Exxon refer so glowingly to development in another country when the US has so many problems at home? Growth is a zero-sum game, right?

A new way of looking at this is that — yes — growth is a zero-sum game yet it occurs on such a high level, an increasing level, that all boats are lifted on its tides. Plusses, minuses, some regions grow, some regions decline — how important it is to know which side of history you are on. Opportunity is something to be chased, people voting with their feet.

For me, climate change is one of the largest metrics in measuring the impact of this growth, growth, growth. Climate change also remains an intangible factor. The IPCC stats make sense to me but so too does the concomitant fact that people in the west cannot or will not change our behaviors: we are a consumerist, car-driving, War Party-voting culture and growth is tied to these facts. How, exactly, are we to uncouple growth from environmental impact? Who gets to decide what an acceptable level of impact is?

I honestly feel that concern over the climate is a luxury only afforded to those who are creating the problem, a manifestation of a bad conscience, a worry over something no one really has control over. Either that or stopping climate change is a form of warfare that would target those “satanic mills” like the ones that have benefited so many millions of our brothers and sisters.

To conclude with a statement I came across by one commenter about the Industrial Revolution:

So it was good on the whole, but it came with unfortunate and many times, fatal consequences. And this is our history. All of our advances, all of our technological innovations, all of our leaps forward have come with a price. Whether it’s been the wars we have fought or astronauts perishing in an effort to advance space exploration, no new knowledge or innovation has come without a price.