The process of dehumanization, whether around the world or closer to home in Postmedia’s conspiracy-pushing columns, splits our species in two
The attendees of last month’s “Big Guns” Stampede breakfast put on by Calgary’s oil and gas industry were there for the pancakes, sausages, and “frac juice” cocktails, not the speeches. And so, over the happily chattering sea of cowboy hats and plaid, I had to listen hard just to make out parts of the following:
“We have been beaten to death by the eco-alarmists…. We’ve got people, foreign-funded, taking us to task…. To the eco-alarmists: You have touched the bear. You have awoken the giant. We’re pissed and we’re not going to stand for it.”
Vague public heraldings of coming retribution against foreign-funded environmentalists are generally not part of my childhood memories of Stampede breakfasts. But, then, in those days, Albertans weren’t being told they’re the targets of a coordinated plot.
If they were recognized as fully human, we would need to undertake a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in order to protect their inviolable rights.
Across the country’s media for the past year and a half or so — particularly in outlets owned by Canada’s dominant corporate media empire, Postmedia — one can find piece after piece after piece about long-running machinations by U.S. charities and foundations to interfere with Canadian politics by fomenting tar sands opposition throughout the country.
It culminated and reified at the start of last month with Alberta premier Jason Kenney announcing a $2.5-million government inquiry into “foreign-funded special interests” opposing the tar sands. And it will likely resurface again in the Conservatives’ federal election campaign later this year.
Rather, what we ought to be concerned about is the narrative’s popularity, because what it reveals is something ugly at the heart of the climate crisis: the importance of dehumanization.
The uses of unpeople
A grisly sorting is underway. As climate change forces our political and economic systems to contend with the problem of who really matters, it is sieving us into two species: people, whose rights are inalienable and deserve full respect and consideration, and unpeople, whose burdensome rights and humanity get stripped away wherever they interfere with state-capital aims.
Those who can be degenerated into unpeople perform a crucial function for the contemporary order. If they were recognized as fully human, we would need to undertake a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in order to protect their inviolable rights. Having a humanity that can be conveniently stripped away, however, permits something clearly more important: the prolonging of the period during which the economy can stay wedded to the old energy infrastructure; the ultra rich can horde the wealth we might otherwise marshall towards a renewable energy transition; and political elites can hold power by campaigning as though we need not make a choice between continued fossil fuel dependence and a habitable climate. (Consider how just last month it was determined to be in the public interest to proceed with a tar sands mine, despite adverse effects on Indigenous communities.) MORE