Stuff White People Like: A Critique of Environmentalism?

Doug Bandow’s post on the weak economy hurting the environmental movement got me thinking. Specifically, it got me thinking about Stuff White People Like. SWPL is a very popular blog – and now book – started by Christian Lander. In the blog, Lander satirically describes the tastes of “white people” – by which he really means hipsters and bobos of all stripes.

Lander’s posts describe the contradictions – some would even say hypocrisy – inherent in bobo culture. Bobos claim to sympathize with poor people and know what’s best for them (see Bandow’s post on LA’s fast food ban), but their lifestyle is totally inaccessible to those of insufficient means. Lander writes:

They feel guilty and sad that poor people shop at Wal*Mart instead of Whole Foods, that they vote Republican instead of Democratic, that they go to Community College/get a job instead of studying art at a University.

It is a poorly guarded secret that, deep down, white people believe if given money and education that all poor people would be EXACTLY like them. In fact, the only reason that poor people make the choices they do is because they have not been given the means to make the right choices and care about the right things.

Similarly, Bandow quotes Alice Thomson in The Times of London as saying:

Julie Burchill can’t stand them. According to her new book, Not in my Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, she thinks all environmentalists are po-faced, unsexy, public school alumni who drivel on about the end of the world because they don’t want the working classes to have any fun, go on foreign holidays or buy cheap clothes.

Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, agrees. In an interview with Rachel Sylvester and me, he told us that the “nutbag ecologists” are the overindulged rich who have nothing better to do with their lives than talk about hot air and beans.

So the salad days are over; it’s the end of the greens. Where only a year ago the smart new eco-warriors were revered, wormeries and unbleached cashmere jeans are now seen as a middle-class indulgence.

But the problem for the green lobby isn’t that it has been overrun by “toffs”: it’s the chilly economic climate that has frozen the shoots of environmentalism. Espousing the green life, with its misshapen vegetables and non-disposable nappies, is increasingly being seen as a luxury by everyone.

In fact, environmentalism as a luxury good – and a tool to make yourself feel good – is a running theme throughout SWPL. In his post on the Prius, Lander notes that “the Prius might be the most perfect white product ever.  It’s expensive, gives the idea that you are helping the environment, and requires no commitment/changes other than money… It’s a pretty sweet deal for white people.  You can buy a car, continue to drive to work and Barak Obama rallies and feel like you are helping the environment!”

And check out SWPL’s take on organic food:

Just like with farmers markets, white people believe that organic food is grown by farmers who wear overalls, drive tractors, and don’t use pesticide. In spite of the fact that most organic food is made by major agribusiness, and they just use it as an excuse to jack up prices, white people will always lose their mind for organic anything. Never mind the fact that if the world were to switch to 100% organic food tomorow, half the earth would die of starvation.

For similar sentiments, check out posts on recycling, Whole Foods, vegetarianism, and farmers’ markets.

Lander’s witty critique of the environmentalist movement in essence boils down to this: People feel guilty about harming the environment, while living in abundance and luxury. Rather than reconciling this guilt by accepting that economic growth is a good thing on balance – and one that actually lessens environmental problems – bobos decide to buy into expensive solutions and externalize their guilt onto amorphous, but hated, entities like corporations.

Indeed, Lander expands this critique beyond the environmental movement and into the whole culture of modern American liberalism. Take, for example, his exposition of bobos’ love of free healthcare:

Though their passion for national health care runs deep, it is important to remember that white people are most in favor of it when they are healthy. They love the idea of everyone have equal access to the resources that will keep them alive, that is until they have to wait in line for an MRI.

This is very similar to the way that white people express their support for public schools when they don’t have children.

Or read the conclusion to this post on hating corporations:

When engaging in a conversation about corporate evils it is important to NEVER, EVER mention Apple Computers, Target or Ikea in the same breath as the companies mentioned earlier. White people prefer to hate corporations that don’t make stuff that they like.

Or check out this bit of externalization, in a post on natural medicine:

But perhaps it goes deeper.  Hundreds of years ago, another group of people believed firmly in natural medicine and it’s ability to cure disease.  Then white people gave them blankets with small pox and they all died.  So perhaps turning to natural medicine also helps white people feel better about killing natives.

Products to make us feel better about ourselves? Sounds like stuff white people like to me!