The linear thinking that has dominated Western civilization since the Enlightenment has become a death trap for mankind in the 21st century. The dynamic system of the Earth’s biosphere with its many interconnected parts interacting in complex and unpredictable ways is clashing with modern man’s linear, sequential, and reductionist frame of thought for solving problems. Technical fixes only act as bandaids to the inherent flaws of global techno-capitalism. Time lags and feedbacks set in motion by industrial civilization’s rampant consumption of natural resources will extend over centuries and into deep geologic time. Ignoring the various environmental and social warnings at our own peril, we neither fully understand nor comprehend the consequences of our unsustainable way of life. The laws of physics and chemistry are indifferent to such human tragedy.
Institutional changes required to deal with complicated problems such as climate change move at a sloth’s pace, and the transition to new energy sources has proven historically to be a long, drawn-out process spanning decades. Never mind the fact that so-called ‘green energy’ cannot support the current mode of living nor the overpopulated state of the planet. In other words, our current socio-economic system is unsalvageable.
After one accepts, at least on a subconscious level, these realities, is it then any wonder that nihilism is on the rise? What is more nihilistic than the view that our fate is the end result of the “evolutionary success of an exceptionally rapacious primate”, that “human intelligence is a lethal mutation”(Ernst Mayr), and that industrial civilization is a cancerous growth? I would qualify such thinking by stating that intelligence without wisdom brings destruction. Wisdom is not a genetic trait and has little to do with intelligence. Wisdom is attained through life experience and conscious choice.
…Shanghai can come as a rude surprise. In spite of its nominally communist system, it is the most go-go, unfettered, money and status mad, materialistic place on earth. Its skyline alone is confirmation that money talks loudest. In no other city could you build the world’s largest, tallest and ominously curved phallus—stick it right up into the clouds like a giant “FUCK YOU!” to the world and not have trouble with the NIMBYs…
Billions clamoring for an American level of consumption appears to be the real weapon of mass destruction on the planet. Capitalism shows no sign of stopping its downward spiral into barbarism:
The dilemma of progress, as captured neatly by the authors of The Axemaker’s Gift(1995), is that the human species’ very success in exploiting its natural environment and dominating others of their kind (the two go hand in hand), and generally fulfilling its aspirations (and its aspirations, unlike those of all other animals, seem to have no limits) has directly led to its self-destruction. The linear march of progress, on this view, has been from human life in caves only minimally taxing its environment, to life as tribes and agriculturalists exploiting it just a bit more, to modern life. And what is modernity but the triangle of secular science, corporate-capitalism, and nation-states – all made possible by the human ability to create large, secular, result-oriented organizations? In this inexorable story of progress, nature (as well as human lifestyles friendlier to it) have been the losers. ~ Dr. Ovamir Anjum
Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of the prophetic book The Limits to Growth, says that because capitalist industries and the political-legal framework supporting them are so powerful and entrenched, humanity will not evolve through proactive change, but will stumble into multiple unfolding crises as it clings to failing policies and ideologies of promoting material growth at the expense of all else. If we look at current news, this is clearly what is happening:
Global debt is still soaring:
…Overall, the world’s total debt load has risen from 160 per cent of national income in 2001 to almost 200 per cent after the crisis struck in 2009.
But contrary to all the talk of “deleveraging” that ratio has actually increased since the financial crisis, and was up to 215 per cent globally last year. Put another way, the world owed a collective $70 trillion US before the last recession. But today that figure is up to $100 trillion.
“Contrary to widely held beliefs, the world has not yet begun to delever and the global debt to GDP ratio is still growing, breaking new highs,” the report reads…
The cognitive dissonance between our fossil fuel use and the collapsing environment continues:
Global overpopulation shows no signs of stopping:
The Wealth Gap continues to grow:
The most striking finding in the new Survey of Consumer Finances may be the degree to which wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a small portion of the population.
That trend isn’t new. “Many other studies have also shown the lasting effects of the recession and documented rising income disparity in the United States,” writes Reuters.
But the SCF shows that the wealth gap continues to grow. The share of wealth belonging to the richest 3 percent of Americans was:
44.8 percent in 1989.
51.8 percent in 2007.
54.4 percent in 2013.
And the 6th extinction is far worse than we realize:
These are just a few of the realities once we scrape away the greenwashing, political spin, and optimism bias humans are prone to, but let’s not get “lost in a roman wilderness of pain.” Check back with me next year and the story will be much the same as humans accept higher poverty rates, a steeper Keeling Curve, and lower biodiversity levels as the new normal. There’s a name for this gradual adaptation of humans to a worsening environment —environmental generational amnesia. We really won’t know what we’ve been missing until everything is far too gone to support another generation of humans.
To the extent that we depend on prosthetic devices to keep ourselves and the biosphere alive, we will render everything fragile. To the extent that we banish the rest of life, we will impoverish our own species for all time. And if we should surrender our genetic nature to machine-aided ratiocination, and our ethics and art and our very meaning to a habit of careless discursion in the name of progress, imagining ourselves godlike and absolved from our ancient heritage, we will become nothing.
~ Edward O. Wilson, Consilience; Chapter 12: ‘What Does It All Mean?’
From its inception, capitalism paved a one-way path to annihilation, predicated as it was on unmitigated growth, the extraction of finite resources, the exaltation of individualism over communal ties, and the maximization of profit at the expense of the environment and society. The capitalist world was, as one author described so bleakly, ”dominated by the concerns of trade and Realpolitik rather than by human rights and spreading democracy”; it was a ”civilization influenced by the impersonal, bottom-line values of the corporations.” Capitalist industrial civilization was built on burning the organic remains of ancient organisms, but at the cost of destroying the stable climatic conditions which supported its very construction. The thirst for fossil fuels by our globalized, high-energy economy spurred increased technological development to extract the more difficult-to-reach reserves, but this frantic grasp for what was left only served to hasten the malignant transformation of Earth into an alien world.
The Fossil Fuel Age did not end for lack of fossil fuels, but because there was no place left to store its CO2 waste. Earth’s overwhelmed carbon sinks became carbon sources. Humans with their hubristic technological overreach had been living on borrowed time for a long time; techno-fixes were not able to artificially expand the carrying capacity of the planet any longer. The climax of the ecological crisis had arrived.
The ruling class tried to hold things together for as long as they could by printing money, propping up markets, militarizing domestic law enforcement, and orchestrating thinly veiled resource wars in the name of fighting terrorism, but the crisis of capitalism was intertwined with the ecological crisis and could never be solved by those whose jobs and social standing depended on protecting the status quo. All the corporate PR, greenwashing, political promises, cultural myths, and anthropocentrism could not hide the harsh Malthusian reality of ecological overshoot. As crime sky-rocketed and social unrest boiled over into rioting and looting, the elite retreated behind walled fortresses secured by armed guards, but the great unwinding of industrial civilization was already well underway. This evil genie was never going back in the bottle.
The melting of the glacial poles meant that global weather patterns and jet streams were irrevocably altered. Consequently, extreme floods and drought wreaked havoc on agriculture. Sea levels also rose much faster than predicted, inundating coastal cities and salinating farmland. Currency markets collapsed, cell phones went silent, transportation systems ground to a halt, and grocery shelves went bare. The disintegration of globalized trade, the dissolution of nation states, and the exhaustion of the biosphere brought forth a new dark age. Deadly microbes and pathogens that had lain dormant or been restricted to certain outlying areas of the planet were now free to migrate and proliferate in new regions. This opened the door for a string of global pandemics that the world had never seen before. Pestilence and famine whittled the population down to under a billion within a few decades.
The electric glow of the world’s cities was blotted out; the stars and moon were the only sources of illumination in the pitch black of night. A ghostly silence replaced the hustle and bustle of people and machinery that once animated the city. Time was no longer measured with the hands of a clock, but by the rise and fall of the sun and the changing of the seasons. A carpet of overgrown grass, weeds, bramble, and trees silently overtook the crumbling city, uprooting and splitting concrete and asphalt. Skyscrapers, once the temples of corporate power and wealth, were now nothing more than monstrous sundials casting their long shadows across the decaying wastelands. Never again would there be such a complex, globe-spanning civilization on Earth.
Haunted for millenia by the legacy of mankind’s fossil fuel binge, roving bands of human survivors were condemned to wander this angry Earth. Only the most physically and mentally fit were able to eke out an existence in an increasingly inhospitable world to pass through the evolutionary bottleneck. They huddled together at night around bonfires and fed the flames with old office furniture and business papers from abandoned buildings. Without electricity, modern medicine, and sanitation systems, life became a short and brutal affair. Nature’s primal forces could no longer be disregarded; their harsh reality sharpened all the senses. Nearly all the technology that had enslaved and anesthetized modern man for so long was now of no use in this neo-medieval world. Megacities were reduced to entropic wastelands, their detritus scavenged by these post-apocalyptic tribes.
Like a rocket disintegrating in mid-flight, capitalist industrial civilization rushed headlong into oblivion, always believing human ingenuity and free markets would solve the mounting number of crises. It turned out humans were extraordinarily clever at deceiving others and, in turn, equally clever at deceiving themselves. They burned the devil’s excrement, split atoms to play with lethal radiation, and tinkered with the building blocks of life, but they never heeded numerous warnings against such folly. Like Icarus who, flying too close to the sun, forgot that his wings were made of wax, humans ignored their earthly origins, believing too much in their own technological infallibility.
A passage from The World Without Us:
There Will Come Soft Rains
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
“Mother nature is a brutal bitch, red in tooth and claw, who destroys what she creates.”
~ Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
The root of the problem
Despite modern man’s unparalleled ability to gather and synthesize mountains of data on climate change and other growing dangers, he is helpless to stop the inevitable and well-worn trajectory that all previous complex societies have followed. This time, however, is different in that the scale of environmental overshoot is planet-wide – the world’s oceans are becoming too acidic to sustain life, the soil too eroded and degraded to grow food, and the atmosphere too polluted with heat-trapping gasses. As the green mantle of the Earth is swallowed up in the geologic blink of an eye, eon-long processes of plant and animal evolution are stopped dead in their tracks. Of all the horrors modern civilization has brought forth, the most damaging and longest-lasting legacy is the wholesale loss of genetic and species diversity. Global ecocide is certain suicide.
Faith in technology and “free market” capitalism to solve the planet’s ills has already proven to be a very dangerous and faulty belief. Politicians are always looking for easy solutions to complex problems, and they see technology as the mechanism by which to reconcile endless growth on a finite planet. Public Relations and greenwashing are all-pervasive. Science has been privatized to the highest bidder. Essentially, those who are anti-environmental and those who claim to be environmentalists are both proponents of the same omnicidal death machine. One recognizes that fossil fuels are indispensable to industrial civilization while discounting or refuting anthropogenic climate disruption(ACD). The other acknowledges the reality of ACD but falsely believes that “renewable energy technologies” can harmlessly supplant carbon-based energy sources. In both cases, neither can accept that the root of the problem is capitalist industrial civilization. Neither the anti-greens nor the faux environmentalists are willing to give up their globetrotting airline flights, sprawling suburbia and car culture, oversized McMansions, overprocessed fast food, virtual world of cyberspace and all the rest of their energy-intensive, unsustainable way of living:
…This“standard of living”is a product of an alienated society in which consumption for the sake of consumption is the new god. In a grow-or-die economy, production and consumption must keep increasing to prevent economic collapse. This need for growth leads to massive advertising campaigns to indoctrinate people with the capitalist theology that more and more must be consumed to find “happiness” (salvation), producing consumerist attitudes that feed into an already-present tendency to consume in order to compensate for doing boring, pointless work in a hierarchical workplace. Unless a transformation of values occurs that recognises the importance oflivingas opposed toconsuming,the ecological crisiswillget worse. It’s impossible to imagine such a radical transformation occurring under capitalism, whose lifeblood is consumption for the sake of consumption…
…As Murray Bookchin argues,“If we live in a ‘grow-or-die’ capitalistic society in which accumulation is literally a law of economic survival and competition is the motor of ‘progress,’ anything we have to say about population causing the ecological crisis is basically meaningless. Under such a society the biosphere will eventually be destroyed whether five billion or fifty million people live on the planet”[“The Population Myth”inWhich Way for the Ecology Movement?, p. 34]… – link
Civilization is not in of itself evil; the problem lies in how it is organized and functions. Capitalism encourages the unregulated growth of gigantic corporations that exploit the environment and people, create economic disparity, promote hyper-consumerism, and usurp and corrupt governments. In addition to using military might for exploiting foreign resources and pools of labor, capitalism encourage war for the sole purpose of profit, i.e the military industrial complex. It also encourages overpopulation by the gross maldistribution of wealth:
…There is an inverse relationship between per capita income and the fertility rate — as poverty decreases, so do the population rates. When people are ground into the dirt by poverty, education falls, women’s rights decrease, and contraception is less available. Having children then becomes virtually the only creative outlet, with people resting their hopes for a better future in their offspring. Therefore social conditions have a major impact on population growth. In countries with higher economic and cultural levels, population growth soon starts to fall off. Today, for example, much of Europe has seen birth rates fall beyond the national replacement rate. This is the case even in Catholic countries, which one would imagine would have religious factors encouraging large families.
To be clear, we are not saying that overpopulation is not a very serious problem. Obviously, population growth cannot be ignored or solutions put off until capitalism is eliminated. We need to immediately provide better education and access to contraceptives across the planet as well as raising cultural levels and increasing women’s rights in order to combat overpopulation, which only benefits the elite by keeping the cost of labour low in addition to fighting for land reform, union organising and so on. However, the “population explosion” is not a neutral theory, and its invention and continual use is due to its utility to vested interests. We should not be fooled by them into thinking that overpopulation is the main cause of the ecological crisis, as this is a strategy for distracting people from the root-cause of both ecological destruction and population growth: namely, the capitalist economy and hierarchical social relationships it requires. – link
Ferguson is only a small spark before the conflagration
Those communities that are the most discriminated against and disenfranchised will be the first to erupt in violence as the social fabric is stretched to the breaking point. The city of Ferguson, Missouri experienced ‘white flight’ since 1990 which changed its demographics, creating a majority of African-American residents but with whites still dominating the institutions governing the city. The racially charged social unrest in Ferguson has its roots in the rapacious system of capitalism. Several policies and effects of neoliberal capitalism worked to drain wealth and opportunity away from Ferguson: “outsourcing of American industry, the housing bubble and credit crunch, and education reform and privatization”. In addition, the militarization of local law enforcement and targeting of African-Americans with fines to fund the police department is another tactic of rogue capitalism preying upon the poor:
Emerson Electric, the dominant employer in the area, offshored its production little by little over time to foreign factories with cheap labor.
Mortgage lenders targeted predominantly black and Hispanic areas for the highest-risk, highest-cost types of mortgage loans, such as adjustable-rate mortgages and loans with high prepayment penalties. This led to higher-than-average default rates, according to the Housing Commission established by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
The mayor of Ferguson and its all-white city council then collaborated to keep property values low around the historic district for reinvestment and redevelopment.
On the basis of its state test scores, the impoverished Normandy School District where Michael Brown attended was declared a failure and its accreditation was pulled by the state. Because of this, Normandy School District was obligated to pay for the transfer of its students to other wealthier schools. (This is one of the schemes of the privatization of education and “school shopping” that the state is using rather than funding and providing resources to these schools.) The costs of student transfer bankrupted Normandy School District, so the state then dissolved the district and created a new one which it exempted from accreditation so that students would no longer be allowed to transfer out to other better-funded schools. The pipeline from such poverty-stricken, failed educational systems to prisons–many of which are for profit–is direct.
The militarization of the domestic police force in the U.S. has been occurring for several decades and is in line with the ever-increasing militarism of America’s foreign policy. With the entire globe now treated as a battlefield in the ‘War on Terror’, summary executions can be carried out by remote-controlled drone aircraft. Americans have now joined the ranks of those in South America, the Middle East and the rest of the Third World who have been exploited by the neo-coloniali exploitation of U.S. corporations over the last century. As the economy fails to ‘improve’ and global unrest becomes more frequent, the brutality of a fascist corporate state will reveal itself right here at home in more overt ways. The growing police state in America is the response by those planning to protect their elite positions at the top of the capitalist hierarchy in this corrupt state of ever-widening wealth disparity, resource depletion, and environmental collapse:
Predicting that it is “highly likely that megacities [described as metropolitan areas with populations of more than 10 million] will be the strategic key terrain in any future crisis that requires U.S. military intervention,” the report reveals that the Pentagon has conducted “case studies” and “field work” in preparation for such interventions in: Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lagos, Nigeria; Bangkok, Thailand; Mexico City, Mexico, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil … and New York City.
Describing the conditions that it anticipates will require US military intervention, the report warns, “As inequality between rich and poor increases … Stagnation will coexist with unprecedented development, as slums and shanty towns rapidly expand alongside modern high-rises. This is the urban future.”
“Radical income disparity,” is further described as the foremost “driver of instability” in these far-flung urban areas.
In other words, the Pentagon brass is seeking to prepare the US military for directly counterrevolutionary interventions aimed at quelling popular revolts that it sees as the inevitable consequence of the unprecedented social inequality created by world capitalism in crisis… – link
As reported by Cyrano’s Journal Today, the Obama administration’s call to review U.S. government funding of military equipment for local/state police departments is simply a PR ploy to calm the nerves of uneasy Americans. In reality, the U.S. government will work to normalize and standardize the militarization of domestic law enforcement:
…The aim of the Obama administration’s review—beyond being a public relations exercise—will be to cut down on such unprofessional displays and make the use of domestic military police more systematic, widespread and regular. In this it will be similar to the administration’s reviews of its domestic spying programs, each of which has only resulted in the extension of illegal spying by the US intelligence agencies.
Far from acting as a restraining influence on local police departments, the federal government has been the most active facilitator of police militarization. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report entitled “War comes home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” which concluded that “the federal government has justified and encouraged the militarization of local law enforcement.”…
To add insult to injury, the Ferguson police made it a practice to feed off the poor by filling its coffers with millions of dollars in fines and court fees that it collected by specifically targeting and harassing African-Americans. I seldom quote ZeroHedge here because it is pro-capitalist and attributes all social and economic problems to Federal Reserve monetary policies rather that correctly placing the blame on the inherent workings of capitalism, but I did read an informative article from them on the scale of poverty that is affecting not only Ferguson, but all major metropolitan areas in the U.S.:
The biggest concern, however, is that Ferguson is merely the canary in the coalmine. According to Brookings, within the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, the number of suburban neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line more than doubled between 2000 and 2008-2012. Almost every major metro area saw suburban poverty not only grow during the 2000s but also become more concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods. By 2008-2012, 38 percent of poor residents in the suburbs lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher. For poor black residents in those communities, the figure was 53 percent.
A long history of colonialism, slavery, and racism underlies the economic, political, and social disenfranchisement of African-Americans today in communities like Ferguson. Their exploitation has been institutionalized, and thus deemed acceptable.
We’re just an extra in this global reality freak show
The world certainly appears to becoming much more unstable with Russia and the Ukraine flirting with nuclear war, barbaric decapitations at an all time high in the perpetually destabilized Middle East, the failure of Japan’s ice wall to stop its radioactive clusterfuck fallout, redneck commando wannabes of America’s local police departments running roughshod over those they are sworn to “protect”, the Wall Street Casino Royale reaching all-time highs as average Americans get new lone shark PayDay loans to pay their previous lone shark PayDay loans, and our corporate overlords celebrating even higher profits while paying even less taxes. And while this circus of humanity plays out, both poles continue their meltdown with new outgassings of methane promising to wipe us out with one monstrous belch.
The techno-utopians will continue their crusade to save mankind from himself. The free market fundamentalists will seek comfort in the fantasy that Adam’s Smith’s invisible hand will fix everything. The climate change deniers will continue to rationalize the increasingly destabilized biosphere as a new normal that has happened before. The things we know that should be done to save ourselves are only philosophical narratives running in our head, never to see the light of day. All you can do is watch it all unfold because this reality freak show is global and you’re just an extra in it, whether you want to be or not. After all, I don’t think any of us are completely free from some sort of delusion. If we were, we wouldn’t be human.