Love Your Scapegoats

In his response to Bruno Latour's "Love Your Monsters," Clive Hamilton argues that the "deep greens" have become scapegoats, blamed for the "destabilization the social order, when their only crime is to alert us to it. "But sacrificing them "can only ever give the appearance of preserving the social order... To save ourselves we must learn to love our scapegoats."


Spring 2012 | Clive Hamilton,

Meanwhile, Professor Waldmann has not fled from the beast but glories in his marvellous creation and revels in the power he now has over others. The monster is sent out on a destructive rampage. More monsters are cloned and soon Waldman has at his fingertips the means to transform and control the world.

So let us not condemn too harshly the young Frankenstein for recoiling from what he helped create. Let us not dismiss his self-flagellation as weakness. After all, having recovered from his breakdown, did he not devote his life to setting things right? Does not the greater sin lie with Waldman, whose inventions sow destruction and whose lust for power proves impervious to the anguished protests of Frankenstein and the small group of fellow students he has gathered around him?

Should we not instead turn our critical gaze to those who once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Frankenstein, but then decided to stop shouting and instead whisper in Waldman's ear, appealing to his better nature, without ever understanding that the professor's heart can never be purged of the desire to dominate all? Is not the endeavour to love the monster and to smuggle a code of ethics into Professor Waldman's laboratory no more than a weary capitulation to his nefarious project?

Why excoriate those whom Bruno Latour himself describes as "a tiny portion of electoral strap-hangers"? The deep greens may be midgets up against giants, but they are midgets who understand that the threat lies not in the monster but in those it was created to serve -- the masters who soon spread out from Ingolstadt to Zurich, London, New York, and Shanghai. From their precarious vantage point, the midgets alone see that it is Waldman who must be retired so that the monster may have a more benevolent master. Despite the Arcadian fantasies of a few, environmentalism knows that the enemy is not Frankenfoods but Monsanto, not oil but Exxon.

In his thought-provoking piece, Latour is right to remind us that we must take responsibility for our creations. Yet to do so we must first admit what we have done, and then we are obliged to try to make amends where we have erred. Frankenstein did both. His only mistake was to set out to kill the monster instead of taming it and turning it to the good. The Scriptures are gentle on those who attempt to do the virtuous thing, even if they do it in a misguided way. But what of the true villain, Professor Waldman, who not only refuses to stop the carnage but will not even admit there is any harm for which he must take responsibility? The Scriptures judge most harshly those who attempt to hide their sins.

Latour divides environmentalists from post-environmentalists along a modernist axis of purification, with separatists at one end and engagers at the other. Yet there is a second axis of modernism, the axis of power, with those who glory in human mastery over Nature at one end and those who fear it at the other. If the deep greens are naïve in thinking they can solve the problem of power by escaping from it, the pale greens are blind for failing to acknowledge it. So let us recognize a third group, the radical greens (surely the largest) -- engagers who see the dangers of power, but also its possibilities, who want a system that makes only benign hybrids. But to tame the monster they must do battle with Waldman.

So in a world where Nature has been cowed and beaten, what does it mean to turn our anger on those who, however naïvely, lament the loss, call for repentance and aspire to walk with invisible footprints? The deep greens have been made our scapegoats, the outsiders whom we load up with our sins, whom we mock, ridicule and curse. We single them out as troublemakers because they point to the destructiveness of unconstrained desire. We blame them for the destabilization the social order, when their only crime is to alert us to it. So, bearing our guilt, we cast them out. Conveniently, some of our scapegoats have already wandered into the wilderness, even if the wilderness in question is one of France's rural ecosystems with post offices and subsidized cows. Yet sacrificing scapegoats can only ever give the appearance of preserving the social order. The gods of Nature have been disturbed from their slumber and rumble ominously all around. To save ourselves we must learn to love our scapegoats.

So what are we to do? Between the recklessness of too much mastery and the naïveté of not enough, lies a middle path of prudent engagement. We can reject the modernist urge to purify and embrace our entanglements, but we can also distinguish between good hybrids and bad ones. If moderns "think like vegetarians and live like carnivores", as Peter Sloterdijk has it, we need to think and live as discerning omnivores. But before we are capable of finding that path we must call for a pause. Above all, we must resist the rush to solutions, for in the current dispensation there is only one kind of solution, the technological one, the monstrous one. Monsters cannot control monsters; only their creators can. The answer is neither to flee from the laboratory nor to pin a code of ethics on its wall; the answer is to replace Professor Waldman with a more worldly-wise Dr. Frankenstein, who will know how to create monsters we can love.

Clive Hamilton is the author of Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change (Earthscan 2010) and Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Charles Sturt University, in Canberra.