28 November 2010

There is an interview with Margaret Atwood . . .

Margaret Atwood. Photograph © Lluis Gene / AFP / Getty.

. . . here at The Guardian. In the course of the conversation Atwood nicely notes the central role of creativity and imagination in both art and science. She seems to have a clear-eyed view of political leaders, but it is perplexing to think about the opposition she seems to see between environmentalism and political protections for humans.
"It's become a race against time and we are not doing well. The trouble with politicians [at events like the Copenhagen summit of 2009] is that no one wants to go first, go skinny dipping and take the plunge. Oh, and then you have people arguing about fatuous things like the environment and human rights. Go three days without water and you don't have any human right. Why? Because you're dead. Physics and chemistry are things you just can't negotiate with. These, . . . these are the laws of the physical world."
The opposition cannot be anywhere near that stark, and Atwood herself knows it. Here is her view of the environmental problem:
"We shouldn't be saying 'Save the planet'; we should be saying: 'Save viable conditions in which people can live.' That's what we're dealing with here."
Just so. And the "viable conditions" necessary for human flourishing include matters like robust, enforceable rights and principles, claims that people can make - that they can use - in the face of feckless or predatory political leaders or of exploitative, oppressive political-economic conditions. It seems to me that the task of implementing (institutionalizing) such claims requires just the same sorts of imagination and creativity. Only this time the domain is politics. The fix that Atwood rightly calls for is not, in other words, going to be technological in the narrow sense. We don't need to save "viable conditions," we need to create and sustain them.

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