Utne Blogs > Literature

Sustainability as Code for the Status Quo

 by Julie Hanus

Tags: Great writing, essay writing, environment, environmental movement, sustainability, violence, virtue, Curtis White, Tin House,

Tin House “For environmental, business, and political organizations alike, the term that has come to stand for the hope of the natural world is ‘sustainable,’ ” Curtis White writes in Tin House. “But you would be mistaken if you assumed that the point of sustainability was to change our ways.” In the essay that follows, an excerpt from his latest book The Barbaric Heart, White offers a vivid critique of the mainstream response to the environmental crisis.

At the core of our problems, White argues, is something he calls the Barbaric Heart—visible in the ways that our culture considers violence a virtue—and its fundamental discord with the professed values of sustainability. He writes:

The artful (if ruthless) use of violence is obviously something that we admire in those sectors of the culture that we most associate with success: athletics, the military, entertainment (especially that arena of the armchair warrior, Grand Theft Auto), the frightening world of financial markets (where, as the Economist put it, there are “barbarians at the vaults”), and the rapacious world we blandly call real estate development. . . .

The idea that we can “move mountains” is an expression of admiration. When it is done with mammoth machines provided by the Caterpillar Company of Peoria, Illinois, it is also a form of violence (as the sheered mountain tops of West Virginia confirm).

To any complaints about the disheartening destruction and injustice that comes with such power, the Barbaric Heart need only reply: the strong have always dominated the weak and then instructed them. That is how great civilizations have always been made, from the ancient Egyptians to the British in India to Karl Rove and George Bush.

It’s a whirling, complicated critique—but wholly worth reading. Tin House also followed up with White in a delightful e-mail interview.

Source: Tin House