The cavalier dismissal of the environmental movement by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus in your February issue [“The Death of Environmentalism”] pissed me off. They criticize Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn for being negative. Telling the truth about our history weakens democracy? Give me a break. But despite the authors’ hubris, their report is a wake-up call worthy of our attention.
“We can no longer afford to address the world’s problems separately,” Shellenberger and Nordhaus write. There is some truth to this. As an environmentalist, I sort through a flood of contribution requests daily. If all of our donations went to support a limited number of basic goals, perhaps we could make more progress in protecting our environment. A good place to start would be overriding the Supreme Court decision that a corporation is a legal person. We need to end the corporate oligarchy that, along with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, protects its interests by suppressing freedom and democracy around the world.
No significant political reform can be accomplished until the airwaves, a vital part of our physical and cultural environment, are returned to the people. All credible candidates in an election should have equal access to radio and television time. The privatization of the very atmosphere — with no public service in return — is a cancer on democracy.
“Visioning” a better future will not help. We need action to counter the forces of scientific illiteracy, biblical lunacy, and corporate corruption.
Michael Shellenberger’s stance regarding Haiti took me by surprise [“Can the Left Get it Right?”, interview by Marc Polonsky, February 2005]. He categorized the U.S. military intervention as a “just war,” his only complaint being that “it wasn’t clear sometimes whose side we were on.” When the U.S. ousted democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and installed Gerard Latortue as prime minister, I think it was very clear whose side we were on.
Since that coup, Guy Philippe, Louis-Jodel Chamblain, and Jean Tatun have returned to Haiti to terrorize, torture, and murder Aristide’s supporters. (They had been convicted in absentia of murder in previous massacres.) Even Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, for whom Shellenberger has great respect, refused to recognize the illegitimate new government of Haiti.
Michael Shellenberger responds:
Richard Johnston suggests that progressive Americans don’t need to offer up a new vision; we just need “action to counter the forces of scientific illiteracy, biblical lunacy, and corporate corruption.” In other words, we need more of the same.
I disagree. I believe that the success of the Right is due to the failure of the Left to offer an inspiring vision for the future. We need to craft this vision — as we have started to do with the New Apollo Project — and fight for it politically.
The dominant liberal assumption today is that the way to win over the American people is to present them with a laundry list of facts (the Truth!) about corporations, science, and religion. Liberal leaders of single-issue movements (environmental, labor, choice, peace) have spent thirty-five years giving “I have a nightmare” speeches. It hasn’t worked. No quantity of books, articles, or rants about how Bush is a liar will advance progressive power or grow progressive values in the culture.
I fear that Sarita Sidhu misunderstands what I meant. I was referring to Bill Clinton’s 1994 reinstallation of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide — not the Bush administration’s 2004 overthrow of him. I think President Clinton did the right thing by removing from power the coup leaders, who were torturing and killing Haitian resistance leaders. The fact that American military operations on the ground were, in many cases, poorly executed doesn’t change my support for the overall mission.
Jamie Berger’s “Peep Show” [February 2005] could have been written just for me. My curiosity about peep shows goes back many, many years, to an impotent boyfriend who admitted to being a peep-show addict. He didn’t tell me what went on, though. I never dreamed that perhaps he got to touch the women and to ejaculate. I thought the men just looked!
That boyfriend and I used to watch porno movies in my bedroom, but he still couldn’t perform. I wish that I could have talked with him then about his addiction and asked if he was able to ejaculate at the peep show. When I see him now, the question is on my lips, but then I wonder what difference it would make: he’s sixty-nine, and I’m seventy.
In his emotionally honest and thoughtful essay “Peep Show,” Jamie Berger talks about wanting eye contact from strippers: in a sense, needing forgiveness and intimacy from them at the same time that he is engaging in this objectifying and shameful (to him) behavior. If I were a sex worker, I might think he’s asking for a lot more than he’s paying for. And is the forgiveness Berger seeks real if he’s paying for it? I think he knows it isn’t, which is why he needed to be understood by the radical-dyke audience at his reading.
I’ve been a member of the sex-positive dyke community for more than a decade, and I love the liberation of it. The most important question for me is: What about all the women who, like Berger, were instilled by their parents with shame about their sexuality? He is one of a tiny number of men who’ve been hurt by the feminist movement. Meanwhile, girls everywhere grow up repressed and vulnerable to sexual abuse. Where’s their sex-positive haven? Where’s the forgiving eye contact for them? Not in a peep show, that’s for sure.
Although I appreciate the honesty with which Jamie Berger told his tale, I was offended by the implicit messages: that moms who teach their children feminist values run the risk of raising sex addicts; that abject objectification of women is OK; and that you can avoid responsibility for your problems by blaming your parents. I hope someone will suggest a good twelve-step group for Berger, who is so obviously powerless over certain urges. And I hope The Sun’s editors will reconsider the next time they are tempted to publish something this cheap and incendiary in hopes of boosting circulation.
Jamie Berger responds:
Suzy Subways brings up a point that I wish I had addressed more fully in the essay: I was indeed looking for much more than I was paying for, and the dancers had no reason whatsoever to give it to me. I would like to add that, as much as I was “hurt by the feminist movement,” I was also helped and educated by it in innumerable ways.
Regarding Miles’s assertions: It seems that when a writer doesn’t take sides on a polarized issue, readers will often insist on forcing the writer into one camp or the other. The assumption that I find “the abject objectification of women” OK does not logically follow from what I wrote, even if one presumes to read between the lines. The messages that Miles felt were “implicit” — especially regarding feminist moms creating “sex addicts” — are contrary to the aim of “Peep Show.” I give my parents much more credit than blame for who I have become as an adult. I’m disappointed if the piece read otherwise to Miles. Happily, my parents didn’t read it that way.
In your January 2005 issue, there is a photograph, taken by Rita Bernstein, of a prepubescent girl lying back on a window seat, her bare legs propped up on the windowsill. She is shirtless, and a sheer curtain covers her face and upper body.
I don’t understand why The Sun would print a photograph that eroticizes young girls this way. And please don’t argue that this is about the “beauty of youth.” Youthful beauty need not be shirtless.
I’ve lost respect for The Sun and will hesitate to recommend it to anyone ever again.
Rita Bernstein responds:
In fact, the young woman (not pre-pubescent girl) in the picture is wearing a tank top. The shirt is pale pink, which may appear very close to a flesh tone when reproduced in black and white.
Sy Safransky’s stop-the-presses reaction to the South Asia tsunami in his March 2005 Notebook basically catapults the loss of life there to a higher plane than, say, the genocide of Sudanese farmers in Darfur: roughly one hundred thousand have died and 2 million been displaced during the crisis in Sudan, though it has taken place over two years, instead of two hours.
So I ask: Why is what happened in Asia so much more worthy of our collective attention and guilt? Is it because it was an arbitrary act of nature? Because it was so sudden, so breathtaking? Or is it because we were kindly reminded of it again and again by our media?
Of the two tragedies, the one more worthy of our guilt and shame is the one in Darfur: Because it is a grievance perpetrated by humanity upon humanity. Because it involves genocidal activities barely five hundred miles from the last genocide we failed to prevent. Because the international community is about to renege on much of the aid it has pledged to Sudan. Because we don’t pay it any mind in our daily, weekly, or even monthly lives.