October 30th, 2016 – Montréal, Québec, Canada
Dear Mr. Michael Moore,
I am a graduate student at McGill University, and I would like to talk to you about a topic that I consider extremely important for all of us.
I decided to write to you because you are an incredible documentary filmmaker, with the ability to present our society in a witty way, highlighting the links within the system, pointing out the uncomfortable truths, and in the end giving the public a lot of issues to be concerned about. In particular, I appreciated the documentary Capitalism: A love story, for its analysis of the recent rude awakening from the capitalist dream, that after promising a wealthy standard of living ended up in a failure for the society. Indeed, my aim is to expand your reasoning and point out other greater, more serious failures.
Let us look at the situation from a broader perspective.
As you pointed out, Capitalism is “a system of taking and giving–mostly taking”. You were referring to what this system is doing to people, and you were right. Now, let us switch from the human-human relationship to the human-environment relationship.
What is this system doing? Land, coal, oil, gas… certainly, a lot of taking.
What about the giving? Carbon emissions, water pollution, waste… we are giving the Earth several nice presents, are we not?
In other words, our selfish system is deleterious for the society, and catastrophic for the planet. And the news is, the planet–just like people–may not be able to bear the situation any longer. Indeed, climate-related disasters, resource depletion and biodiversity loss are unequivocal signs of the wounds we have inflicted to the planet. Ready or not, we are about to pay for our excessive taking and irresponsible giving.
How did we reach this point? It is matter of disconnection.
As you pointed out, we used to be much less selfish. In Capitalism: A love story you show that there was a time in which Jonas Salk, the discoverer of the polio vaccine, was happy with his researcher stipend and donated his scientific discovery for the good of humanity, instead of using it to become extremely rich at the expense of those who were in need.
What are we doing now, instead? We are only pursuing short-term gains, no matter what we have to sacrifice. But as you show, short-term gains are not a synonym of a high standard of living for people: They are an abstract measure, disconnected from the reality of our society. Moreover, if we broaden our perspective and include the environment, the awakening from the capitalist dream is even ruder. Indeed, we have sacrificed for the sake of an imaginary measure not only equity, justice and people’s well-being, but also the delicate equilibrium of life, along with the resource stocks accumulated in millions of years.
What can we do now? Reconnecting our goals to the environmental and social reality may be a starting point.
So, it is a matter of education.
The problem is, we cannot blame ourselves for our destructive behaviour, if many years spent at school have not given us adequate information about the environmental consequences of our behaviour. As it is pointed out by David Orr in What Is Education For? Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them, the current state of the environment “is not the work of ignorant people. It is, rather, largely the result of work by people with BAs, BSs, LLBs, MBAs, and PhDs”. Indeed, education as we know it helps us in our path to become successful people, but if the direction of our actions is wrong, education just makes us more successful in creating problems.
Therefore, a change in education is essential. And a proper education should simply make all students–including the future businessmen–aware of the environmental consequences of their actions, not because this makes them more successful professionals, but because it makes them more conscientious citizens and less dangerous human beings. And this is at least as important as being successful, is it not?
It is a matter of student allocation, too.
Besides, a widespread lack of environmental education is not the only problem. As you pointed out in Capitalism: A love story, nowadays the smartest kids are not encouraged to pursue careers useful for the common good. They are sent instead to Wall Street, where they invent financial products that are useful to make money in a nearsighted perspective, but useless–or even destructive–from every other perspective. Are derivatives increasing the quantity our food? Are credit default swaps increasing the quality of our education? No, they are just redistributing money, and they are probably not doing it with the same intentions as Robin Hood.
Again, our student allocation is pursuing an abstract goal that makes sense only in the unreal world of Economics, at the expense of the real world. How much better would everything be, if these brains were encouraged to work for the good of the society and the stewardship of the planet, in a long-term perspective?
Let us look at the moral side.
How can we do this and in the same time be at peace with our conscience? We can, because our conscience is disconnected from reality just like our brain. As you pointed out in Capitalism: A love story, we are obeying to a narrative according to which our economic system is good, or even sacred. Clearly, if a destructive behaviour is regarded as a moral behaviour, more and more people will pursue it with the same enthusiasm we usually reserve for a faith or an ideal we deeply believe in.
Your retort to this distorted idea is the Catholic morale, while my secular retort is a respectful attitude towards every being. I think we can definitely be moral allies struggling against the capitalist morale and its immoral commandment to maximize the profits at the expense of everything else.
And now I need your help… the Earth needs your help.
Proper environmental education and information are urgently needed. People cannot be adequately respectful of the environment, if they are not adequately informed and educated. And guess who is remarkably good at informing people and promoting change, perhaps also in the education system? You.
Therefore, I would like to suggest you to make a film about how our system is unsustainable considering that we only rely on one planet. It may be a sequel of Where to invade next, and the title may be Where to invade next, part 2: Moon, Venus or Mars? If we succeed in our information mission, hopefully this extra-planetary invasion will not be necessary. Otherwise, let us prepare our astronaut suits.
Thank you for your attention, and congratulations again on your work.
Michael Moore, Capitalism: A love story, Dog Eat Dog Films, The Weinstein Company, 2009
Michael Moore, Where to invade next, Dog Eat Dog Films, IMG Films, 2015
David Orr, What Is Education For? Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them, The Learning Revolution (IC#27), page 52, Winter 1991 (http://www.context.org/iclib/ic27/orr/)
This letter, in a slightly different version, has been written as an assignment for a course I attended at McGill University in Fall 2016, as a requirement for the Economics for the Anthropocene program (the project website is this: https://e4a-net.org – have a look, this program is awesome!).