High-Modernist Green Ideology


Is the road to hell paved with green intentions? 

Edited: 30/04/2024.

How does a High-Modernist Green Ideology influence the transition to a sustainable future?

Mumford’s, (1964) described ‘Authoritarian Technics’ as a powerful system-centred processes and Scott, (1998) discussed a High-Modernist Ideology where abstract ideas were confused with the physical reality. This article highlights how their insights show how the road to hell could be paved with good intentions from well-meaning schemes when the grassroot, democratic processes are stifled.

A ‘High-Modernist Green Ideology’ is defined as environmentally sustainable solutions and processes based on the certainty in science and technology to solve the ecological problems and create a better society.

High-Modernist Ideology

A ‘High-Modernist’ scheme is defined as idealisation of the rational design of social order based on natural laws (Scott, 1998). Scott referred to it as a dogmatic faith that borrows “the legitimacy of science and technology”. It is, however, not scientific practice. Bohm, in his book ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order’ provides a clear understanding of what Scott referred to with ideology as the map not the territory. Science provides theories to describe reality, theories are insights which are neither true or false but provide clarity within certain boundary conditions (Bohm, 1980). These boundaries are often perceived as true, making theories seen as absolute facts and therefore dogmatically believed (Bohm, 1980). Theories are also not a hypothesis (supposition). A supposition needs rigorous experimental testing to confirm whether they are true or false (Bohm, 1980). Some of the most admired scholars agree with Bohm (1980) that there is “no conclusive proof of truth or falsity of a general hypothesis” (Feynman, 2013; Hung, 2006; Kenny, 2007). There is no certainty in science and the presuppositions, taken as fact, need questioning.

“If we supposed that theories gave true knowledge, corresponding to ‘reality as it is’, then we would have to conclude that Newtonian theory was true until around 1900, after which it suddenly became false, while relativity and quantum theory suddenly became the truth. Such an absurd conclusion does not arise, however, if we say that all theories are insights, which are neither true nor false but, rather, clear in certain domains, and unclear when extended beyond these domains” (Bohm, 1980).

Scott provides many examples of previous High-Modernist schemes including urban planning, ‘scientific’ forestry, state collectivisation of agriculture, and industrialization. Many of Scott’s examples describe promoting technological process and function over humanitarian and holistic ecological processes: there is a lack of empathic connection between those at the grassroots and those deciding policy; and a transition to any sustainable techno-economic regime, would be representative of a High-Modernist ideology. A High-Modernist Green Ideology can thus be defined based on the perceived certainty in science and technology as environmentally sustainable solutions and processes that will solve the ecological problems and create a better society.

“When people say ‘we’ must fight against social injustice or global warming, it is an inexistent agency they are identifying with. God is also inexistent, but no more so than Humanity. Both can only be defined by their absence” (Gray, 2023).

Authoritarian and Local Polity

Scott (1998) describes the administrative ordering of nature and society as a large-scale state-initiated interventions with the intention to simplify, standardize and reform society and nature. History has shown us that democracy can be destroyed by an institutional arrangement that gives authority only to those at the top of the social hierarchy (Mumford, 1964). Mumford (1964) framed civilisation around two coexisting systems, which are named as, “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics”. “Technics” is defined as the completely human use of tools, techniques, and processes to transform the environment (Mumford, 1934). This refers to processes of science or of an art (or of the arts in general) especially the mechanical or industrial arts. Mumford referred to a democracy as fundamentally, “small communities and groups whose members frequently meet face to face, interact freely, and are known to each other as persons” (Mumford, 1964). Mumford discussed the concepts of ‘Authoritarian and Democratic Technics’ as two mutually exclusive systems associated with top-down (institutional) and bottom-up (local agent) control (respectively) that need to work together to maintain a healthy equilibrium.

Authoritarian technics are powerful system-centred processes, but inherently unstable, whereas democratic technics are resourceful and durable human-centred processes but relatively weak. Authoritarian Technics are processes that serve the interests of a centralized system of power and control (such as national and international governance mechanisms), while Democratic Technics are technologies that empower human creativity and freedom, using the local knowledge, tacit skills and diversity that are essential for human well-being. Authoritarian technics relates to Scott’s (1998) processes associated with ‘High-Modernist ideology’ whereas Democratic Technics relates to grass roots movements. Mumford (1964) stated that an authoritarian technic is “a deep hostility to life” which can, “wipe out democracy by an institutional arrangement”. Mumford (1964) stated that over the past few centuries political democracy has been increasingly replaced with centralised state authoritarian technic: this is as relevant today as it was when Lewes Mumford wrote this in 1964. The lack of transparency in global governance and the ignoring of grass roots activities could be a problem for appropriate policy development (Mumford, 1964).

An authoritarian state is one that has the capabilities of using coercive powers to enable reform (Scott, 1998). Scott highlighted that an authoritarian state that is willing to use their powers to produce the High-Modernist ideology – often at the expense of local grass roots policy – could lead to disaster (Scott, 1998). On a global scale, with the recent pandemic and the ongoing climate debate, global governance organisations including the WHO, WEF and the UN are aiming to take more responsibility and sovereignty from nations (Dowling, 2022; Mahlburg, 2022; TNI, 2016; WEF, 2019). This is a top-down authoritarian High-Modernist agenda to solve current perceived global issues.

Disaster due to State-initiated social engineering schemes

Scott (1998) stated that a complete disaster – from a state-initiated social engineering scheme – would require (1) administrative ordering of nature and society, (2) a High-Modernist ideology; (3) a willing and able authoritarian state to enable the High-Modernist ideology; and (4) a suppressed civil society unable to resist the plans. A suppressed civil society is defined as one that is deprived of its autonomy and diversity by the state’s intervention: it is one that is subjected to the High-Modernist ideology, where the state imposes the administrative order on the complex and diverse real situation where the map is considered the actual territory. All four elements (above) are required for a complete disaster (Scott, 1998).

Administrative Ordering of Nature and Society

Examples of large-scale state-initiated administrative ordering of nature and society include changes in farming techniques to promote the global Green agenda (WEF, 2021) and urban planning that aims to create spaces where human needs are within a 15-minutes’ walk from their homes (“15-minute cities”). These state-initiated interventions intend to simplify, standardise, and reform society and nature which can, according to Scott (1998), potentially lead to planning disasters and failures.

A High-Modernist Green Ideology was defined as environmentally sustainable solutions based on the certainty placed in science and technology to solve the ecological problems and create a perceived better society. Where the state and elite organisations develop and implement authoritarian policies (nationally or internationally), the High-Modernist Green Ideology could fail to consider the civil society who are the stakeholders at the grass roots (in which there is no direct financial gain). If the Democratic Technics (the technologies that empower human creativity and freedom, the local knowledge, tacit skills and diversity that are essential for human well-being) are ignored or suppressed then it is likely this would lead to disaster (Scott, 1998).

“Where it goes brutally wrong is when the society subjected to such utopian experiments lacks the capacity to mount a determined resistance.” (Scott, 1998)

UN and Climate Change

The United Nations is an example of an organisation with a global agenda. The International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) is the political science division of the UN, and their reports provide a major source of data. The UN defines climate change as the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns with the caveat “since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas” (UN, n.d.)  – this is a presumption taken as fact.

The media message is often sensationalised, reporting the worst case scenarios, and usually not contested: science should be apolitical (Saad, 2020) which does not appear to be the case. – as it appears to be – acting as a science advocate (Pielke, 2007). The honest broker (in this context) should seek to provide clarity on the scope of choice (expanding it) and allow the decision makers to narrow the focus based on their own preferences. However, the issues advocate narrows the scope of choice based on (political) value judgements. Pielke, (2007) stated that, to be impartial, scientists should act as an honest broker; the representative of the IPCC, and its report often serve as a Stealth Issus Advocate due to some policy options being favoured over others.

The IPCC’s remit is to prepare “comprehensive Assessment Reports about the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for reducing the rate at which climate change is taking place”(IPCC, n.d.). There are several underlying assumptions that are taken as a matter of fact and not questioned in the IPCC’s remit, including the presumption of only focusing on the future risk (with the implication of no benefits) and the rate of change (implying an urgency). It has been framed as a Wicked Problem. Whether this is intentional or not, this framing of the science is inherently biased and is a presumption not necessarily fact (Bohm, 1980, 1992; Lakoff, 2010).

Are we on the Road to Hell?

Although the framing of this analysis is weighted towards implying systemic faults in policy and polity, with the implication of another impending disaster with the implementation of the High-Modernist Green Ideology, it is currently an area requiring further investigation. We need to consider how we can prevent disaster from the implementation of a High-Modernist Green Ideology, or how we can prevent a green agenda becoming an ideology. We need to consider what mechanisms, policies and processes associated with the green agenda might be – or are being – adopted, that could lead to a suppressed civil society. Plus, what grass roots movements (‘Democratic Technics’) are there that can mount a determined resistance to a High-Modernist Green Ideology?


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