The Viridian Manifesto

What will it take to save the earth? A wilder shade of green

| November/December 1999

The central issue as the new millennium dawns is technocultural. There are, of course, more traditional issues also at hand: Cranky fundamentalism festers here and there; the left is out of ideas while the right is delusional; income disparities have become absurdly huge. However, the human race has repeatedly proven that it can continue to prosper despite ludicrous, corrupt, demeaning forms of religion, politics, and commerce.

By stark contrast, no civilization can survive the physical destruction of its resource base. Our material infrastructure is not sustainable. Therefore, new, radical approaches are in order. They should be marshaled into an across-the-board cultural program and publicly announced--on January 3. (On January 1, everyone will be too hungover to read manifestos; on January 2, nobody's computers will work.) Any group that offers a coherent, thoughtful, novel, cultural manifesto on January 3, 2000, has a profound opportunity to affect the zeitgeist.

Civil society does not respond well to moralistic scolding. Small minority groups (deep greens, the Amish, people practicing voluntary simplicity, Gandhian ashrams, etc.) are perfectly aware that it is immoral to harm the lives of coming generations by massive consumption. These public-spirited voluntarists are not the problem. But they're not the solution, either, because most human beings won't volunteer to live like they do. Nor can people be forced to live that way through legal prescription, because those in command of society's energy resources will immediately neutralize any legal regulation system. Still, contemporary civil society can be led anywhere that looks attractive and glamorous.

The task at hand is therefore an act of social engineering. Society must become green, a variety of green that people will eagerly consume. Not natural or spiritual green, or primitivist or blood-and-soil romantic green, but viridian green, with its electrical, unnatural tinge.

The best chance for progress is to convince the people of the 21st century that the 20th century's industrial base was crass, gauche, and filthy. This approach will work because it is based in truth. The 20th century was much like the 18th century before the advent of germ theory, stricken by septic cankers whose origins were shrouded in superstition and miasma. So why is this an aesthetic issue? Because it's a severe breach of taste to bake and sweat half to death in your own trash, that's why. To boil and roast the entire physical world, just so you can pursue your cheap addiction to carbon dioxide. What a cramp of our style.

Unlike modernist movements, a Viridian movement cannot be concerned with challenging aesthetic preconceptions. We do not have the 19th-century luxury of shocking the bourgeoisie. That time-honored activity will not get the poison out of our air. We must cause the wealthy to willingly live in a new way.

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