What everyone gets wrong about the Amazon

Michael Shellenberger on the Amazon fires and the colonialism behind climate change.


The fires in the Amazon have caused an international outcry – from politicians, the media, celebrities and environmental groups. The talk is of record levels of fires and deforestation, of human wickedness destroying the pristine natural environment. Apparently, we are even destroying ourselves in the process – the Amazon rainforests are the ‘lungs of the word’, which we rely on for our supply of oxygen, it is often claimed.

Michael Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress, and listed as a ‘hero of the environment’ by Time magazine, says we have got this all wrong. spiked caught up with him to find out more.

spiked: What did everyone get wrong about the Amazon?

Michael Shellenberger: Mostly everything. The first thing people need to understand is that there has been a huge decline in deforestation since its peak in the early 2000s. Deforestation is still 75 to 80 per cent lower than at this peak. Deforestation has been going up in recent years, but that rise didn’t start under the current Brazilian government. Clearly, much of the response from the Western media is a reaction to Bolsonaro – it’s not just about what’s happening on the ground.

The other big issue is that the Amazon is not ‘the lungs of the world’. It does not produce 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen. The idea that we need it for oxygen production is a myth. It’s just basic plant science: the Amazon uses about as much oxygen as it produces, through a process called respiration, which pulls nutrients out of the soil into the plants. This process accompanies photosynthesis.

We don’t need it for oxygen, and those of us that care about the natural environment – which is basically most people – have a lot of better reasons to want to protect it. But from the 1950s and 1960s onwards, conservationists realised that they could get a lot more media attention by telling people that environmental problems weren’t just problems that people should care about because they love the environment. Instead, they started to say that these were really problems that threatened an apocalypse or the end of the world. They have been doing this with basically every environmental problem.

It’s manipulative. It’s a sad commentary on the cynicism of many environmentalists and environmental scientists, who think that they can’t get people to care about nature and that we only care about ourselves.

spiked: Why is it dangerous to exaggerate the risks of the Amazon fires?

Shellenberger: Well, the big one is happening right now. President Bolsonaro, for public-relations needs, felt the need to send the military into the Amazon. The problem with this is that it frames the Amazon’s issues as being about ‘illegal’ activity. The picture that gets presented is that these fires are being created by criminals and vandals from outside the forests.

Thirty million people live in the Amazon. But whenever the Western media and environmentalists point to the people living in the Amazon, they only ever point to the indigenous people. But the indigenous people are just one million out of 30million. There are a lot of normal Brazilians there. These tend to be descendants of slaves or mixed-race people who are trying to make a living. They are not all ‘good’ or all ‘bad’. They are people developing the area in the same way Europeans developed Europe and Americans developed the United States. And if we want to protect more of the natural environment, we’re going to have to work with those people, not vilify and demonise them.

spiked: What is motivating the alarmism in the West?

Shellenberger: It’s like an onion you have to peel – there are so many reasons why. The first is, obviously, that you get more media attention through alarmism, and media attention is important to sustain and raise money for organisations. My own organisation, Environmental Progress, would have more money if I were more alarmist.

It’s also very noticeable to me that the people that engage in environmental alarmism tend to be secular and on the left. If you’re on the political right, in much of the Western world, you tend to have a traditional religion, with your own gods and your own view of the apocalypse. You don’t need a political ideology to fulfil that. After the fall of communism and the failure of Marxism more broadly, the left needed a new apocalyptic religion and that has become environmentalism.

spiked: What is motivating those who are not environmental activists, like President Macron?

Shellenberger: There is something else going on there. There is an effort to represent European economic interests over Brazilian interests. I think one of the most interesting things I discovered during my reporting on the Amazon is that Macron’s own farmers are offering a lot of resistance to the trade deal between the EU and Brazil, as it involves importing a lot of Brazilian food. That makes sense when you think about it. So Macron seems to be doing something that might allow him to not engage in this free-trade deal with Brazil.

I’m not some rah-rah free trader. I think trade has been great for Brazil in many ways, and it’s obviously had some negative consequences, too. But – and this is what spiked is so often good at pointing out – Macron’s moralising is in service of a self-interested agenda. This is unethical. It’s a strategy to hide self interest behind altruism.

spiked: Are there other environmental causes that are used in this way?

Shellenberger: In both of the two big environmental issues of our time – climate change and deforestation – you have the rich world saying to the developing world, ‘Oh, you know how we developed through deforestation and fossil-fuel consumption? You’re not going to be able to do either of those. And it just so happens that we have the science to show why you have to stay poor.’

I mean, what a scam, right? I’m fascinated by spiked because I think we’re similar as post-Marxists, which means we still retain the hermeneutics of suspicion. So when somebody is talking about how to ‘make the world a better place’, it’s worth asking yourself whether they are really advocating for a kind of control, if they are making a power move or if there is an agenda being dressed up as altruism.

The real ‘climate hoax’ is not that climate change isn’t happening. That’s ridiculous – of course, there is climate change. The real hoax is how climate change has been used to advance an agenda by rich nations to keep developing nations down, to deprive them of resources and to thwart their competitiveness internationally. It’s not a conspiracy, just a natural outcome of powerful countries acting in self-interest – but doing so in ways that you can talk about in polite company without sounding like an oppressive colonialist.

Michael Shellenberger was talking to Fraser Myers.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


nick hunt

2nd September 2019 at 5:04 pm

NASA data prove that fires in Africa 2019 are worse than those in Brazil, which in turn are less serious than in recent years. What’s new is Brazil’s anti-globalist president, hated by the EU and all ‘progressive’ politicinas, media and people. But there’s greater ‘news’ anyway: human-caused climate change is mythical. First, there is no ‘scientific consensus’ that humans are causing it
Second, the most famous evidence in its favour, Mann’s ‘hockey-stick’ graph, has just been shown up as fraudulent in court
And thirdly, it is now official (NOAA’s revised stats) that no warming has occurred in the USA since at least 2005, and probably since the 1930s
The great question now is why alarmists won’t face these facts.

William Zappa

2nd September 2019 at 11:29 am

I can’t buy the idea that the intention behind saving the Amazon or protecting wildlife in other countries, is actually about suppressing development and keeping ‘them ‘ poor. Although I do believe that the ‘developed world’ will/should have to pay poorer countries to protect environments and species if they are not to disappear.
But one thing the article misses completely is the wishes of the indigenous people of the Amazon basin. And I don’t mean the several millions who also live there in the large cities and towns, I mean the thousands of indigenous people whose ancestors have lived in the forest for millennia. Like all indigenous people across the world, their wishes are ignored, their rights constantly infringed. The forest people of the Amazon don’t want their home, their world, destroyed.

Rena Distasio

2nd September 2019 at 2:23 pm

The AU just stated he didn’t think it was a conspiracy, but a mindset. And to me, a believable one. What happens when everyone in the world suddenly achieves a first-world lifestyle? That would be a problem for both environmentalists and those with economic hegemony. And what about the subsistence farmers trying to live in the Amazon, a full 50 percent of which BTW is protected against development by federal law (which means plenty of room for “thousands” of indigenous peoples to live their lives)? If these farmers prosper, so do their communities. So which group is supposed to “sacrifice” their lives?


30th August 2019 at 11:28 pm

Why doesn’t Jeff Bezos stop burning the Amazon?

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 11:56 pm

“Where tell me where?”

Anti-enlistment song


Winston Stanley

31st August 2019 at 12:06 am

Sorry that was aimed at me, no offence intended.

But do not fear the reaper.


Winston Stanley

31st August 2019 at 1:17 am

“Woke up this morning, can’t believe what I saw.”


Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 9:14 pm


“Nothing is real and there is nothing to get hum about.”


Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 9:47 pm

“There will be an answer, let it be.”


Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 9:59 pm

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 10:15 pm

That will receive an answer.


Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 10:31 pm

Splaying with me republican army b/c we is the splaying republican army.


Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 10:55 pm

“Hoorah for southern rights, hoorah

“hoorah for the bonny blue flag that that bears a single star”


Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 11:46 pm

And for bonny Nicola I will vote the SNP


Winston Stanley

31st August 2019 at 2:02 am

And you know what? They are on their way out and we are the last generation that will have to put up with them. Sweet is the dawn.


Winston Stanley

31st August 2019 at 3:06 am

* Obviously meant the English and not the Scots.

Anyway, that was a humorous thread, nothing to get het up about.

Jerry Owen

31st August 2019 at 9:45 am

Why don’t you setup your own blog elsewhere ?

James Knight

30th August 2019 at 5:06 pm

It is all about a power grab from the centre. Global warming is the moral cause and pretext to justify that. And now they call it a “climate emergency” because their agenda is to prorogue democracy.

Peter Jenkins

30th August 2019 at 1:50 pm

An interesting interview but your readers should not be misled. He does not deny there’s a major climate crisis. As the Ecomodernist Manifesto states (signed by him )there are:

‘serious long-term environmental threats to human well-being, such as anthropogenic climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, and ocean acidification. While these risks are difficult to quantify, the evidence is clear today that they could cause significant risk of catastrophic impacts on societies and ecosystems’.

He rightly calls out hypocrisy and hyper-anxiety by some environmentalists but his main argument is about how to prevent further damage to the environment and thinks advanced technology is the answer and not reduced growth.

Ven Oods

30th August 2019 at 2:18 pm

Hard to be misled when he said in the article: “That’s ridiculous – of course, there is climate change.”

Peter Jenkins

30th August 2019 at 2:49 pm

Right, so the real question is: how do we respond to the ‘catastrophic impacts’ of the climate crisis, rather than faffing about hypocrites who try to get on the bandwagon for political motives or self-promotion. Should we address the crisis or just indulge in a culture war? Perhaps both but which is the most important thing to do?

Jerry Owen

31st August 2019 at 9:49 am

P Jenkins
So what are you going to do on a personal level ?

Stephen J

30th August 2019 at 10:16 am

Forget about morals, this is about misunderstandings and general ignorance.

The extra billions of human beings that have become, as a result of our activities, described as climate change, are really no more than a redistribution of the matter that defines “the planet”.

The only addition is the radiation caused by the sun (astral warming).

So what is causing the “change”? Merely redistributing the planet’s “matter” is but a small matter to the planet, that is has survived continuously throughout its history.

The answer is, we are not the messiah after all, we have cocked up bigly, and mismanaged just about everything we have ever touched. If we follow a few simple rules, we can eliminate the effects of “climate change”, which is an entirely natural, organic process that does not cause any damage to our home.

Fortunately there are people in the world that keep their minds open, Allan Savory is one such. I have commented on him regularly, since I reckon that he has solved the issue, all that is needed is some more open minds and a new approach.


Phil Ford

30th August 2019 at 9:21 am

Interesting and thoughtful article. I have time for Mr Shellenberger and his opinions. We need more voices like his in the so-called ‘climate debate’ (although it’s not a debate at all because no even vaguely critical voices are permitted air time), so good job, Spiked. Get this guy to write you a more detailed commentary/opinion piece on his views of the current ‘climate change emergency’ thing. I think we might all appreciate a more moderate, informed take on the issue.

steve moxon

30th August 2019 at 7:59 am

What’s a “post-Marxist”? Someone who still has some of the notions of the unmitigated nonsense, or who has realised this and has actually moved on?
Marxism is a fundamentally false understanding of what makes people and society tick.
Man is not homo economicus, as Marxists insist, and neither can we ever devise a society as Marxists envisage where all is co-operation and competition is prevented.
Everything we do is driven by the need to reproduce individually and collectively (increasing overall reproductive efficiency), and competition is instrumental to co-operation, not antithetical to it. This is the root of why Marxism spectacularly fails. Co-operation actually IS the underlying principle, but it’s achieved by the constructive competition between males to achieve the status that indicates genetic quality, on which basis females evaluate males and make their mate choices.

In Negative

30th August 2019 at 8:45 am

“Co-operation actually IS the underlying principle, but it’s achieved by the constructive competition between males to achieve the status that indicates genetic quality, on which basis females evaluate males and make their mate choices.”

Get yr coat Steve. I reckon you’ve probably pulled, you suave old devil you.

steve moxon

30th August 2019 at 3:52 pm

IN Negative: you are absolutely clueless about what makes people and society tick, as was Marx.
Try reading up before talking nonsense. It’s essential to have a bottom-up grasp from biology, otherwise any pontification is a non-starter — just ideology in mirrors.
Not only is there is nothing salvageable from Marx’s hopeless political philosophy, but all ‘post-Marxism’ is backlash against the masses for not buying Marxism dressed up as supposed egalitarianism. It’s hate-mongering, trying to make out that ordinary people are especially bigoted. They aren’t. Those who make the accusations are.

Jerry Owen

30th August 2019 at 9:18 am

Steve Moxon
A good question I often ask myself. BON suggests he is a sort of Marxist.. before marxism got ‘corrupted’ (I paraphrase ) for the rest of us the corruption of Marxism is actually the true end game of Marxism.
It’s rather like someone realizing that the socialist ideology of Nazism din’t work to well and so decide to call themselves ‘post Hitlerites ‘ !
As with all socialist ideology it’s a case of ‘it”ll work out right next time’.
The body counts around the globe suggests otherwise.

steve moxon

30th August 2019 at 10:55 am

Indeed. Claire Fox is just the same. I’ve challenged her one-to-one, face-to-face on this. She claims she hasn’t changed but the whole of the rest of the world has: that she’s still a Marxist just as before. So at root she’s one of those ‘if only Marxism wasn’t bastardised, it’d be all right’ brigade. Delusional, or what? In reality she has changed, of course. It’s just that she can’t admit to herself that her lifelong adherence to an ideology has been profoundly misguided. Politics today is all about the Left trying to salve its ‘cognitive dissonance’ over the demonstrable failure of Marxism as a political philosophy. It seems that Claire Fox and, it seems, seniors at Spiked! are trying even to avoid confronting that salving their ‘cognitive dissonance’ is what they’re about and what they have to do, so determined are they not to concede that the Left has to own the appalling evil its caused.

In Negative

30th August 2019 at 11:43 am

If you are sincere and in good faith in your desire to understand what ‘post Marxism’ might mean, I’d say it was about taking what was good in the Marxist analysis and rethinking it under modern conditions. If your response to that is “There was nothing good in Marxism,” then I’d reckon you’ve never read him and if you had, then it wasn’t done in good faith.

That patterns of social organisation come and go seems obvious. Throughout the time of Marx’s influence, there were many good reasons to think that the inherent contradictions of capitalist economic organisation would destroy capitalism. Those contradictions were playing out through ‘class struggle’ at the time and this was evident in the rise of both Communism and Fascism as well as trade union movements and class consciousness. These illusions existed as realities at the time – they were part of the cultural make-up and they produced very real revolutions. That Marx created a system of thought that would account for this circumstance and theorise about a potential end to it shouldn’t come as a supprise. Marx did not cause the historical moment – he was just an expression of it.

As it happens, capitalism appears to have resolved many of its own conflicts through socially democratic institutions like the EU and the overall atomisation and co-option of the working class into capitalism itself. Class consciousness today has been mostly replaced by consumer and individualist consciousness.

So I would suggest that a post-Marxist analysis would look at what went on at the time Marx was writing. It would put Marx into his historical context and it would ask: “What has changed? Where are the new struggles and conflicts? What is the actual relationship between social structure and cultural ‘reality’?”

Folks like Steve think that their own interpretation of the world has an absolute quality – that reality is essentially evolutionary and can be described in neurological and evolutionary terms. Natural selection, competition and all that boring shite. He baulks at the idea that his thinking may well be structural, based in itself on the material circumstances of his existence – that he only thinks the way he does because he exists in a particular configuration of the material world and that his whole world-view may disappear overnight as easily as Zeus or Odin. That human beings might say (and have said), with the same level of conviction as him, that the world is radically otherwise, terrifies him.

Don’t get me wrong – there are no utopian equalities and perfectly equal societies around the corner if only we can get the social structure right. That does appear to me to be bollocks and we need our suffering. But I don’t believe that ‘reality’ is finite. I don’t even believe Marx when he talks about ‘materialism’ and the material conditions of society. ‘Material’ as an external thing is not a given and appears to me to be an aspect of the same symbolic order that produced the thoughts of Darwin. I’m liking guys like Spinoza or Leibniz or Berkley more at the moment, mainly because they made Spirit and mind the origin of reality, not external matter. If all is consciousness and nothing is matter, or if matter and consciousness are shown to be so bound up in each other as to be inseperable, Darwin diesappears in the blink of an eye.

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 2:07 pm

For the record, Marx much admired Darwin and he was heavily influenced by him. Both Darwinism and dialectical materialism are based on an evolutionary, materialist view of the world. One might say that Darwinism is the dialectical materialist understanding of natural history and of the origin of species. That is certainly how Marx and Engels saw it. And one might say that Marxism is the Darwinian understanding of economic history and of the origin of economic mode of productions, which again is how Marx and Engels saw it. Obviously Darwinism is universally accepted now, it is not a controversial theory.

These last four weeks, I have read all sorts of things. Among others, Darwin’s book on natural selection. Although it is developed in the crude English style, this is the book which contains the basis on natural history for our view.
— Karl Marx, 19 December 1860

Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle.
— Karl Marx, 16 January 1861

Marx sent Darwin a copy of Capital with the note:

Mr. Charles Darwin
On the part of his sincere admirer
Karl Marx
— London, 16 June 1873

Darwin wrote back:

I believe that we both earnestly desire the extension of knowledge.

[Marx is] simply striving to establish the same gradual process of transformation demonstrated by Darwin in natural history as a law in the social field. – Engels, review of Das Kapital

Ven Oods

30th August 2019 at 2:29 pm

“socially democratic institutions like the EU ”

That one gave me a chuckle.

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 2:59 pm

Marxism has not been disproved. It maintains that productive property relations change, and what “works” changes, as the economic base develops. The revolutions in Russia and China turned out to be capitalist revolutions, away from feudalism, which is exactly what they should have been according Marxist theory. All this tells us is that the economic base has not yet fully developed under capitalism and it is has not yet met its limit within capitalism, such as make possible and necessary a transition to socialism. Socialism is a possible future not a failed past.

Jim Lawrie

30th August 2019 at 3:37 pm

Steve Moxon. She showed exactly the same entrenchment when she refused, in a phone call with the father of 12 year old murder victim Tim Parry, to in any way rescind or refute her support for the right of The IRA to murder English children. “The Irish People” being her euphemism for The IRA.
Ask the same questions of any of the Spіked cadre and the answers will not vary.

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 5:20 pm

Jim, all that you are doing is putting yourself firmly and comfortably within the sectarian, “loyal” “British” tribe. That is your posture and your prerogative but it adds to the discussion. If that is all that spiked is on your reading then what are you doing hanging about on their website?

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 8:06 pm

> He baulks at the idea that his thinking may well be structural, based in itself on the material circumstances of his existence – that he only thinks the way he does because he exists in a particular configuration of the material world and that his whole world-view may disappear overnight as easily as Zeus or Odin. That human beings might say (and have said), with the same level of conviction as him, that the world is radically otherwise, terrifies him. <

Totally agree with that part.

"That does appear to me to be bollocks and we need our suffering."

I am deeply ambivalent about that part. Sure, history takes time to develop and for freedom and material wellbeing to emerge but I entirely refuse to worship the "crucified god" as if that suffering and crucifixion is an end in itself. There is nothing "holy" about being on the wrong end of social relations, it is weakness and as such unpleasant. Sure, patience is a virtue that we brace to display but we do so in order to take and to enact a reckoning. And I am sorry but "the state" is not just a relationship, it is institutions and even persons with whom we intend to take a reckoning. Sorry but I have got no intention of playing "the saint" anymore than anyone else. That is just how it is. You will just have to wait and see how this is going to work out. "We can work it out?"

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 8:38 pm

“There is nothing “holy” about being on the wrong end of social relations”

I know, the lies that they have the front to tell us. I have no intention of living my life on my knees before a bit of bread, let alone before the British state. “Look at how holy I is. – f that.”

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 5:43 pm

“Everything we do is driven by the need to reproduce individually and collectively (increasing overall reproductive efficiency)”

And capitalism is really working out for you on that count? What was that birth rate again?

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 5:45 pm

“Marxism is a fundamentally false understanding of what makes people and society tick.”

I did not realise that you were a massive fan of how society is “ticking”?

OK, that is alright then.

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 2:19 am

all life is will to power, all morality is will to power

life itself is instinctive and not rational

the “higher” (reason, morality) originates and has its meaning in the “lower” (the life instinct)

reason, the rational faculty (brain) is itself an evolved strategy to serve the instinct to survive, prosper and procreate

“morality” is a psychological strategy to advance own interests

altrusim conceals self-interest (again, the “higher” is rooted in the “lower”)

concern for other species conceals concern for self (self-interest disguised as total altruism)

concern for nature conceals concern for own economic interests (the “pure” lower as a mask for the “base” higher)

simplicity as a mask for guile, the other for self

moral poses are the standard modus operandi to advance own interests

most people are susceptible to those strategies, which is why they work

“moral” gullibility has been bred into the gene pool, likely under the long social influence of religion

we have become a deceitful and yet gullible species, which is why the deceit works

self-deceit, the habitual blindness to our own role in that game, also required for deceit-gullibility species strategy to function

blindness to self and to others and to the standard modus operandi (usually incurable, resilience to the breakdown of deceit-gullibility species strategy)

moral poses are instinctive rather than “rational” though they can also be designed with conscious consideration, circumspection

ironically considered a “sin” if it is conscious, though it is standard strategy and the “good” so long as it is unconscious

(the human species is completely insane, the sanity of clarity is exceptional)

other religious instincts also continue to surface, eg, apocalypticism

tension beyween economic globalism, which has been so progressive for all, and economic nationalism (insecurity in the strength of others)

the world remains competitive though the world order appears lawful, “moral”, collaborative

… all life is will to power, all morality…

In Negative

30th August 2019 at 8:50 am

“all life is will to power, all morality is will to power”

Get yr coat Winston. I reckon you’ve almost certainly pulled, you suave old devil you.

Winston Stanley

30th August 2019 at 2:34 pm

You are not giving me much to work with there.

I have given a materialist interpretation of human “moral” behaviour, that it is a competitive strategy that has naturally and socially evolved as a way that humans try to maintain and to advance their existence. It is just common sense and entirely in line with the post-Christian orientation of the humanities for the past few centuries.

What I wrote is entirely compatible with Marxism and I fancy that Marx and Engels would have loved it. Morality for them too is reflective of the economic base and it historically develops precisely to further the interests of humans. It is not a “good” or “truth” that exists independently of humans, rather we create it to advance our own interests within historically developing society. It changes as society changes and we change our ideas with it.

I have suggested that altruism and egoism are two sides of the same coin, aspects of the same attempt to orientate within the social world. Yes, morality is ultimately an illusion, even a deception, but by the same token, that does not make it “wrong” or “evil”. It is a strategy. My point would be that we should not take any particular morality as writ, rather we should evaluate moral claims according to what is beneficial to people and to society. What is beneficial is liable to change as society and circumstances changes and ideas with them. We are entirely free, we are not bound by pre-existent laws and we should never forget that. Morality exists to serve us and not vice versa.

In Negative

30th August 2019 at 8:06 pm

“You are not giving me much to work with there.”

Yes, sorry about that. I’d just made exactly the same comment to Steve before writing it to you. It amused me in that both the quotes I responded to had a similar timbre.

Insofar as you express the view you presented as a post-Christian materialist view with an economic foundation, as opposed to actual reality, we might have something to agree about. I don’t know about morality being a strategy though. It is something to be discovered and created (in the Nietzschean sense), but I don’t think it’s a pure strategy. There seems to me to be at first ‘a personal nature’ or ‘taste’. It’s in how we elaborate that taste that we create that morality. “Man must be surpassed” and all that – he cannot be leapt over. “Self interest” may be invisible to a certain taste; ditto “Will to Power”.

So when Steve tells me I should learn biology before speaking my twaddle – right there there are a pair of insoluble moral destinies. Biology? Eugh…

Winston Stanley

1st September 2019 at 1:46 am

IN, thank you for your reply.

You mentioned Berkeley above. I would go with Hume. The existence of an external world beyond our sense perception is simply unverifiable and unknowable. Anything beyond that scepticism is baseless dogmatism. So I would assert nothing absolutely about materialism strictly taken. Although if one assumed idealism one could still say that the mind is a product of matter taken as ideal but that becomes harder to think about – it would make more sense to speak of the mind functioning _as if_ it is based on matter, which it clearly does, as proved by brain injuries and MRI scans. In that sense, the mind is a product of matter (or at least it is as if it is) regardless of the material/ ideal debate. It is just a fact of experience, however we might philosophically frame that fact.

I would also go with Hume on “moral truth”. Statements are “true” if they accord with something in the world but moral statements qua moral accord with nothing in the world. They are the “ought” that is added to the “is”, and precisely what “is not”. And as Hume argues, “ought” statement cannot be deduced from “is” statements, syllogisms can only conclude what is contained in the premises. Also I would take recourse to the “five modes” of the ancient Sceptics as recorded by Sextus Empiricus in particular and to the critique of the “criterion” of truth – discrepancy of opinion, relativity of opinion, assumption, circularity and argumentum ad infinitum. I could explain that further if you like or you could get a copy of SE, which I would recommend. There is no moral truth – at least that may be known.

So, I suppose with materialism, I would go back to the brain analogy. The world, including the mind and morality are _as if_ materialism is true. If materialism is true than the mind is a product of matter and humans have no more moral significance than any other clumps of matter – which is how the situation appears to be regardless of whether materialism is actually proved against idealism. And we have no reason to think otherwise. So, ultimately I use “materialism” as a metaphor for how the world appears to be according to a sceptical critique of philosophy – it is consistent in its appearance with what one would conclude from materialism regardless of whether one dogmatically asserts materialism or sceptically suspends doubt on that question.

Darwinism seems to be true, regardless of whether matter is ideal or not. Likewise it is empirically verifiable that morality reflects the development of the economic base. The glaring example is how the British ruling class has moved from the promotion of a racist view of humans, when it suited their colonialism and imperialism, to an anti-racist view once they had lost their colonies and they relied on mass immigration to expand their workforce and domestic market and to maintain and to expand the capitalist system. One could also point to how slavery was generally accepted at first in USA but came to be rejected once it had played its role in the initial accumulation of capitalism and the development of international markets and it become materially outdated with the development of largescale industry. In broader strokes one could talk about how the ideational superstructure supported feudalism back in the day, “the lord god made them high and low and ordered their estate”, etc. I suspect from what you wrote above that you probably accept that moral ideas reflect the economic base, at least on an epochal level.

So, when I talk about reality, I have in mind what can ultimately be known, and especially what appears to be true regardless of whether we opt for a literal materialism or idealism, or whether we go with Hume and the ancient sceptics as I do. I use “materialism” as a metaphor – the world appears, in so far as it may be known, to be consistent with materialism and its implications.

Finally, you seem to allude to sentiment as a basis of morality, or “‘a personal nature’ or ‘taste’.” I would say that sentiment is itself a species strategy. Every animal favours itself or its species, or it would have died out long ago. Humans express that partly through “morality”. But we are adaptable animals, not _just_ instinct (even if it is all ultimately traceable back to instinct) and there is a flexibility with morality, which I would argue is still strategy in principle and in the particular form that it takes. Sometimes people just adopt outdated moral dogma as truth, eg. religions, so custom also plays a role and morality can hinder strategy if it is based on custom. It needs to be flexible. Myself I do not really go in for morality, I am more interested in radical scepticism, nihilism, materialism and I suppose pragmatism too as Chris seems to allude. I also lean toward Marxism but I see the economic base as primary rather than subjective agitation. Capitalism will last for as long as it is economic progressive and sustainable or until some better alternative proves itself. As you alluded above, there is no reason to assume that capitalism will go on forever any more than feudalism or ancient slavery did. Thanks.

Winston Stanley

1st September 2019 at 2:10 am

Slight edits:

* “or some alternative proves itself”. It would have been better to say, “or capitalism becomes materially redundant and some alternative thus proves itself”. More than a single sentence is probably needed to clarify that point but hey-ho.

* for examples of economic base/ morality, one could also mention that feminism reflects the need to expand the domestic workforce once the colonies had been lost and productivity growth peaked and went into terminal decline in the mid-1970s. Also, that mass immigration reduces the need to domestically reproduce the workforce from generation to generation, which thus provides a material basis for the toleration of gay rights as well as reinforcing feminism.

Winston Stanley

1st September 2019 at 3:24 pm

* The material basis given for the toleration of gay rights and for the reinforcement of feminism obviously applies also to the toleration of contraception and abortion. A society that does not rely on the domestic reproduction of the workforce has the material basis to allow all sorts of reproductive “rights” that would otherwise be proscribed by material circumstances.

T Zazoo

30th August 2019 at 2:12 am

Despite the article I’m still worried about what is going on in the Amazon because I just don’t trust that Jeff Buzios guy.

Ven Oods

30th August 2019 at 2:31 pm

Any relation to Jeff Bezos?

T Zazoo

30th August 2019 at 6:13 pm

Yeah that’s him ! He controls the whole Amazon. There’s even a town named after him. Buzios. It’s just up the road from Rio.

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