Practicality as a conundrum: when you can't advocate solutions
Let's start with climate change. My position on climate change was encapsulated in a paper I wrote some time ago. "Climate Change Mitigation in Fantasy and Reality" (the password is AddletonAP2009 to open the PDF document) argues that there's no actual mitigation of climate change to be found in "environmental accounting," which totals up good deeds within corporate society with an implicit expectation that all of the good-deed-doing will amount to something. Instead, I argue, we need to be asking what kind of society would be able to mitigate climate change. Clearly, our society would have to commit to being a sort of "ecotopia," a society dedicated to sustainability, not of the corporate deed-totaling sort, but rather of the whole society, and of a global, wholistic estimate of what sort of society would be able to survive the compound crisis. After all, if the whole society isn't going to survive, then nothing within it can be called sustainable.
But practical people don't advocate that. Practical people advocate X amount of public dollars spent on alternative energy, energy efficiency, and so on. Practical people don't advocate that at some point all fossil fuel extraction cease. Why, the corporations would never agree to that, much less Saudi Arabia. So what else can be done, and not just done to satisfy the egos and the fat wallets of the doers, but done effectively, to mitigate climate change. "When the Last Tree Is Cut Down, the Last Fish Eaten, and the Last Stream Poisoned, You Will Realize That You Cannot Eat Money" is not advice we give to investors.
Or, well, how about COVID-19. For instance, you've got states like North Dakota whose governors couldn't be bothered to ask residents to wear masks, and you've got states like Pennsylvania where health care workers are abused in other ways. These places are asking for ever-worsening disaster, devouring the lives of those who have been certified to save lives. What should be done? The practical thing to do would be to strike, and to call a general strike, until a proactive regime of COVID-19 emergency assistance could be established. Does anyone want to do this? Lots of people would die, and their deaths would be blamed on those who were striking. But, at the same time, such a strike appears as the one practical way to avoid an even greater death toll.
"Overpopulation" has long since been a bugaboo of Malthusians and neo-Malthusians. The worry is that there are too many people in the world, and that by dint of sheer numbers the human race will suffer a population crash. The "overpopulation" bugaboo is easily dismissed -- the complaint that there are too many people in the world is an elite complaint about the smelly masses, you know, if they keep breeding like rabbits they'll invade our golf courses or something like that. All those people can successfully be fed and integrated into the world -- with socialism. You see otherwise intelligent people in historical writing -- my favorite is Aldous Huxley -- complaining about overpopulation, and then stopping support of any dire prediction of its effects or any proposal of a solution.
Well the obvious and quick "practical solution" to overpopulation, assuming that one poses overpopulation as a practical problem in need of a direct solution, would be to kill a lot of people. To be practical, however, one would first have to propose such a thing, and nobody's going to do that. Nobody should do that. And then there's the additional problem of empowering the horrible specimens of (in)humanity you'd have to recruit to do such a thing -- to be sure, our governments of today had and have no problem recruiting people to fight pointless wars so that weapons manufacturers can achieve profits. But such wars don't really change anything; that's not their purpose. And then of course even if you were to reduce human population in such a direct and brutal way, the people would come back thereafter. Such a line of reasoning, however, points to the real problem with overpopulation. If there are too many people in the world, that's too many tragedies that can occur when governmental malfeasance of some sort or another, usually involving the recruitment and employment of people who shouldn't be that way in the first place, kills those people off. And nobody going to come out and say they want that, either. Birth, however, remains the leading cause of death.
The obvious reality is that "overpopulation" is a problem without a practical solution. Oh sure, we can advocate birth control and such. But that's it, and it's not much. What I've been suggesting, as I write my book, is that when we encounter problems without practical solutions, the last line of defense should be the utopian dream -- we should all dream of the world we want to see, and then work together to achieve that dream. If our dreams differ, we should discuss that matter with each other until we can reach a consensus on the right utopian dream to have, and act on that. Then maybe we find a way of making the impractical problem into a practical one. The thing is, utopian dreams are usually able to achieve things upon the momentum of other such dreams, within the historical purview of an Age of Utopian Dreaming, an era of history in which ideas of utopia ("progress," "development," what have you) permeate our ideas of the future. We haven't lived in an Age of Utopian Dreaming since the Seventies. We're kind of stuck that way. I'm up for a revival, though.