Save Us from the Gentle Green Giants : BOOK REVIEW ; the Chicago Gangster Theory of Life Andrew Ross Verso, Pounds 18.95

Article excerpt

Watch out, watch out! There's green gangsters about. These guys are armed not with the standard mobster accessories, but with arguments that use natural and biological authority as a model of social and cultural policy.

Ideas and metaphors based on notions of natural behaviour are increasingly shaping our society, argues Andrew Ross in this swashbuckling and insightful book. The basic premises of environmentalism - conservation of nature, biological holism, nutritional

purity, rural simplicity, energy efficiency, scarcity economics and strong regulation of industry - have deep roots in right-wing authoritarian thought.

Environmental arguments have been used throughout European history to justify the excesses and superiority of the West over other cultures. This process is now being extended, with the adoption of scientific accounts of genetic structure as models of social behaviour and cultural control.

One of the culprits towards whom Ross directs much of his venom is the sociobiologist Richard Dawkins. In his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins compares the human gene to a "successful Chicago gangster". This is the kind of metaphor, Ross asserts, that pro j ects assumptions about nature on society and ends up encouraging social Darwinism. The genetic structure of life is used to provide a rationale for the cut-throat ideology of free-market competition. If genes act like gangsters, then it is only naturalf or people to behave like thugs. Thus the language of nature is transformed into the language of power.

Thanks to such ideas and metaphors capitalism has wholeheartedly embraced the anti-humanist philosophy of modern environmentalism. Ecology has gone pop. "Greenwashing", which requires everything from the washing machine to the performance car to carry certificates of environmental fitness, has become the norm. Giant corporations have been transformed into gentle green giants operating on the principles of sustainable ethics. …