Capitalism, Climate Change, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Corporate State, Corporatocracy, Eco-Apocalypse, Economic Collapse, Empire, Environmental Collapse, Extinction of Man, Inverted Totalitarianism, Julian Assange, Mass Die Off, Police State, Privatization, Regulatory Capture, Security and Surveillance State, Slavoj Žižek, The Elite 1%, The Growth Imperative of Capitalism, Tragedy of the Commons, Turnkey Totalitarianism, Wall Street Fraud
Wrapping your head around the seemingly unstoppable upward march of CO2 emissions is like trying to comprehend all those zeros in the expanding global debt bubble; both are so far beyond human scale that people cannot put them into a frame of reference or perspective. They have taken on a life of their own, a force of nature that defies all attempts to control and subdue them. Brian Merchant takes a stab at trying to frame the CO2 numbers behind industrial civilization’s conundrum of catastrophic climate change:
And 2012 is on track for another 2.6 percent increase. Why can’t we stop it? Perhaps the problem is structural and embedded in our economic system.
In a recent interview, dissident Julian Assange commented on the degree of intertwinement between government and corporations, i.e. fascism or more aptly called inverted totalitarianism in our times. Regulatory capture, the revolving corporate/government door, and K Street lobbying(legalized bribery) are examples of the monied interest$ of capitali$m having taken over government.
There’s not a barrier anymore between corporate surveillance, on the one hand, and government surveillance, on the other. You know, Facebook is based—has its servers based in the United States. Gmail, as General Petraeus found out, has its servers based in the United States. And the interplay between U.S. intelligence agencies and other Western intelligence agencies and any intelligence agencies that can hack this is fluid. So, we’re in a—if we look back to what’s a earlier example of the worst penetration by an intelligence apparatus of a society, which is perhaps East Germany, where up to 10 percent of people over their lifetime had been an informer at one stage or another, in Iceland we have 88 percent penetration of Iceland by Facebook. Eighty-eight percent of people are there on Facebook informing on their friends and their movements and the nature of their relationships—and for free. They’re not even being paid money. They’re not even being directly coerced to do it. They’re doing it for social credits to avoid the feeling of exclusion. But people should understand what is really going on. I don’t believe people are doing this or would do it if they truly understood what was going on, that they are doing hundreds of billions of hours of free work for the Central Intelligence Agency, for the FBI, and for all allied agencies and all countries that can ask for favors to get hold of that information.
William Binney, the former chief of research, the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence division, describes this situation that we are in now as “turnkey totalitarianism,” that the whole system of totalitarianism has been built—the car, the engine has been built—and it’s just a matter of turning the key. And actually, when we look to see some of the crackdowns on WikiLeaks and the grand jury process and targeted assassinations and so on, actually it’s arguable that key has already been partly turned. The assassinations that occur extrajudicially, the renditions that occur, they don’t occur in isolation. They occur as a result of the information that has been sucked in through this giant signals interception machinery.
Corporations are the ultimate expression of capitalism. Libertarians decry that what we have is not capitalism, but a corrupted form of it, aka crony capitalism. The opposite is true – unfettered, unregulated capitalism is the purest form of this profit-driven system where economic activity is structured around the accumulation of capital. This is what we get when economic power(money) inevitably usurps all branches of government. Corporate greenwashing, carbon credit schemes, privatization of the commons, and externalizing environmental costs are examples of capitalism’s incompatibility with sustainability and its inability to deal with the degradation of the planet. Corporate power rules the world and it’s what is destroying the planet:
Ecocide is permitted (as genocide was in Nazi Germany) by the government and, by dint of the global reach of modern-day transnational business, every government in the world. Corporate ecocide has now reached a point where we stand on the brink of collapse of our ecosystems, triggering the death of many millions in the face of human aggravated cataclysmic tragedies.
Over the passage of time, tyranny revisits. Tyranny is the cruel, unacceptable, or arbitrary use of power that is oblivious to consequence. Whilst the use of coal stations may not be deemed an intentional cruelty, it is certainly an unacceptable use of corporate power. Our governments collude by encouraging excess emissions, contrary to their UNFCCC commitment to stabilize “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” 60 years ago the tyranny was Nazism. Today it is pursuit of profit without moral compass or responsibility.
All the hand-wringing and cynical views of our evident inability to deal with the problem fail to take into account the inherent properties of capitalism which prevent realistic solutions:
…There are several points to make in response to the belief that capitalism is compatible with a flourishing environment. Firstly, environmental activism can’t alter capitalism’s integral growth dynamic, it’s “grow or die” impulse, as the social ecologist Murray Bookchin put it. As a result the best environmentalism can do is ameliorate the worst effects. “Things getting worse at a slower rate”, is how the late environmental activist, Donella Meadows, described the situation.
Secondly, in the low or no growth world we are entering, environmental priorities are being sacrificed to meet the short-term need to revive growth. “We can’t be ambivalent about growth,” is how the UK government’s “planning” minister, Greg Clark, justified reducing regulations to make it much easier to approve building development in the countryside.
Thirdly, many polluting practices in western countries that have become culturally unacceptable have been exported to poorer countries, where people have less power to make their objections count.
Lastly, the experience of the 21st century has shown that when environmental activism directly confronts huge capitalist industries like oil, automobiles and mining, it does not win. The 1987 Montreal Protocol was the last successful international agreement to change capitalist behaviour. The protocol called for strict restrictions on chemicals that deplete the ozone layer (chlorofluorcarbons) and the results have been impressive. But, says Schweickart, the industries affected had substitutes to hand, and the protocol “should not lull us into thinking capitalism can accommodate all sensible environmental solutions.”…
…The consequence of the conflict between environmental sanity and profit has been that many capitalist countries – most notably the US – have been unable to change course to ameliorate climate change. Not only this, a political culture has developed that denies the existence of climate change even when its effects become harder and harder to ignore.
Of course the prospects of thinking outside-of-the-box on economic and foreign policy issues has always been heresy. As long as we think we can fix the ecological problem with the same tools that caused the problem, we can expect the Eco-Apocalypse, a tragedy of the commons on a global scale, to unfold as predicted:
Zizek:…………… the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. Its ‘four riders of the apocalypse’ are comprised by the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property; forthcoming struggles over raw materials, food and water), and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions.
On a smaller scale…
Excellent post as usual, I don’t know how you do it. I really like the way you weave together snips from different sources to make an independent, separate whole. Assange is such an interesting character…but I think you never answered my question…don’t you think capitalism is kind of irrelevant to the most fundamental human dilemma which is our innate greed and refusal to curb our reproductive enthusiasm and our complete depravity against even our own species? Check out this link, all tribal romanticists: http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMEGQ9_Boyd_Parker_Torture_Tree_Leicester_NY
“…the Iroquois would cut their captures open and pull out their intestines, then force their captive to walk around the tree, where they were tied to it with their own living intestines. The intestines would dry out (much as an umbilical cord), tightening as it dried. The captive generally died of exposure, dehydrating at an extraordinary rate due to having been thus turned inside out.”
Anyway – the video is awesome I will have to steal it.
Glad you liked the video… my answer to your questions below.
There are a number of examples of indigenous people who got along just fine in cooperative tribal communities for thousands of years. They would never have survived without mutual help from each other. In places where transnational corps have moved in, these indigenous communities have been torn apart, their land taken, their culture destroyed. A highly competitive, dog-eat-dog society, i.e. capitalism, is incompatible with these people. They fall into the usual array of social degeneration – drugs, alcohol, prostitution, domestic violence, depression, etc.
That’s what capitalism does to society – it atomizes people and pits one against another for jobs, resources, and social inclusion. It promotes materialism, glorifies material wealth as the measurement of self-worth, encourages consumption as the way to achieve contentment and validation, Lifestyles of the ‘Rich and Famous’, etc.
Studies have shown that once people’s basic needs are met, additional income doesn’t increase happiness. Americans work more hours than anyone else on Earth, yet we have psychiatric facilities on every corner, rampant depression and other psychological problems, and consume more resources than anyone else on the planet, per capita. We’re a country of insecure, emotionally disturbed workaholics. We have commercialized the prison system and now incarcerate more people than any other country on the planet. The list of perversions that our profiteering system has created is endless. That doesn’t sound like a sane society to me. How many people in suburbia talk to their immediate neighbors, let alone even know their names? And now we are working hard to make sure our children have a desolate planet upon which to scavenge for survival. Sounds like a fitting end to capitalism.
I can’t imagine anything beating industrial capitalism’s running tally of human deaths, environmental destruction, and general mass misery. And all of it to support the excessive and self-indulgent lifestyle of a tiny sliver of the global population.
I don’t disagree with any of your assessment of American excess…but human deaths, environmental destruction and general mass misery characterize industrial society in general, not just capitalism. The Soviet Union wasn’t any better, and neither is China now. The pollution in China is horrific, and many of the people are virtually slaves. Exploitation of indigenous people is part of their m.o. too – look at Tibet.
My point is that, although once upon a time some tribes (arguably) may have lived cooperatively and harmoniously (although the opposite is certainly more common) the only reason they could do so is because their numbers were so low and food was plentiful and relatively easy to obtain. Once human population outstrips resources, things get ugly no matter what social or cultural system is in place. And I don’t know of a place where human population didn’t eventually overrun the environment, with the possible exception of cultures that practiced infanticide, or had the ability to export people willing to emigrate.
It seems to me the problem is that we have filled every corner of the globe that is remotely habitable, and then some, and yet our population and levels of consumption continue to increase. There is no place left to emigrate to. It can’t last.
There is little distinction between the topic of industrial society and the fetishization of capital. Industrial society came of age directly as an adjunct to the capitalist mode of production, simply a more efficient, mechanized means of realizing exploitation.
The (almost) funny part is that it was originally proposed as a remedy to the ravages of mercantilism and the dominant feudal cultures of the Dark Ages. Born of Enlightenment thinking it (capitalism) was posited to provide an uplifting of the common man without needing to be born as landed nobility, and end run around the vagaries of class structure.
Adam Smith dutifully followed with his treatise on how an unregulated society could prosper as the result of individuals pursuing their own utilitarian goals, and (laughably) could at the same time benefit the greater good.
The class structures of early 20th century Soviet Russia and modem day China are very good example not of Communist class structures, rather these are clearly example of large scale State Capitalism. The metric to the validity of this comment is the distribution of surplus, who gets it? During the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the factory owners and capitalist class were sent packing- and replaced with party officials that appropriated the surplus value. Meet the new boss- you know the rest….
Pre-capitalist tribes had examples of both success and failure, perhaps equal measure of both. The key principle to these types of cultures succeeding is the principle of superabundance. There is strong correlation to the disappearance of superabundance and destructive tendencies.
When superabundance is (inevitably) rendered invalid, it must be supplanted by a means to re-appropriate surplus in a fair and equitable manner- devoid of exploitation and informed by tangible limits, such as those posed by the environment and population limits. Such a system is not compatible with profit seeking, as many in the environmental movement are now discovering- nor has it ever been put successfully into practice.
Nor is it likely to be.
Aha… I knew DK was out there somewhere…
xraymike79 – why, there are some things which are worse than industrial capitalism in terms of general misery, environmental destruction and human deaths. One of such things is tyranny of mentally ill, paranoidal monarch/dictator – wikipedia article about Ivan the Terrible can tell you some details about how bad it sometimes gets. Another thing which is much worse than industrial capitalism – is anarchy. True it can’t last any long (few years tops) since it is too destructive to nearly everything to last any more, – but that’s exactly the point. Capitalism at least has its own “self-preservation” instinct – capital seeks to preserve itself, and to this end, to maintain in functional condition means of production, which happens to include peasants, slaves and workers – i.e., “the people”. Psychotic tzar, dictator or ravaging bands of bandits don’t do even that, readily able to tear apart whatever and everything if that’s what they want to do for any reason – or without one. And of course, racist ideologies like nazi, if allowed to rule the world, would indeed be at least comparable to “non-racial” industrial capitalism, too – world paid with some ~40 millions lives in a few years of Hitler’s regime of Germany, many if not most of those deaths being a result of nazi ideology. Imagine this one ruling today’s world, with concentration camps in every last country, gas chambers, gestapo and SS with their methods running unchecked. Not a pretty picture!
The true specialty of capitalism, though, is indeed a combination of large harm steadily done to environment (“externalities”) and ability to survive much better than nearly any other social structure. This combination produces systems which can keep going and going for decades and centuries while (and despite) lots and lots of people and other lifeforms continously suffer. It’s like chinese bear bile farms, with societies = bears, and industrial technologies = bile extraction techniques.
And you see, ever-present moral dilemma of prolonged pain vs quick death – does not have any rational solution. I mean, as long as there is any even remotely faint hope that pain could be removed in some future. This stands true for societies too, i guess.
Although I have heard of bear bile farms, your comparison of it to capitalism, which has such a strong grip on the globe while slowly bleeding it through environmental degradation, prompted me to read up on the barbaric practice:
It’s an appropriate and meaningful analogy.
It is. Among other things, there is cruelly ironic bit to it, too: color of bear bile is quite similar, if i remember correctly, to the color of gold – the latter being a symbol of capital.
I guess we cannot discuss implications of what i said in the last paragraph of my previous message here in public; alas, i suspect you see them well without any further discussions.
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Aptitude Design said:
Yep: so easy to wander off the track: archaeology with out having to dig: yet. [ Salton City ] when the post-lithic has ended, back to another Stone Age?