6th Mass Extinction, Annalee Newitz, Capitalism, Charles Bukowski, Climate Change, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Consumer Culture, Corporate State, Dr. Paul Willis, Eco-Apocalypse, Ecological Overshoot, Extinction of Man, Financial Elite, General Electric, Gross Inequality, Inverted Totalitarianism, Omar N. Bradley, Overpopulation, Privatization of Science, Security and Surveillance State, Singularity Network, Social Unrest, Techno-Optimists, Technocapitalism, Technotopia, The Elite 1%, Transhumanists, unwashed public, Zdzislaw Beksiński, Zygmunt Bauman
What had been designed to be our servants became our masters, then our owners and gods, and finally our destroyer….
Some days I wake up and despise the monotony and pettiness of this culture and its followers: its celebrity worship, its staged news reporting, its chameleon politicians, its conniving marketers of consumerism, its cookie-cutter neighborhoods, its push-button surveillance state, and its clueless masses all working together to create the illusion of normalcy. Everyone goes along with this mindless program like obedient slaves, afraid of the social stigma attached to questioning any radical deviation from what constitutes normal. God forbid anyone openly discusses the cliff we are fast approaching, its sheer drop-off and craggy rocks below coming more clearly into view. One last scramble for the last bit of habitable land at the poles will be the inevitable end game as atmospheric warming catches up to the glacial melt and sea level rise humans have set into motion. In light of all the scientific evidence accumulated over decades, mankind has known for some time that a radical reconfiguration of our socio-economic system was the only way to avoid collapse, as described beautifully back in 2008 by a longtime blogger who has been writing for nearly a decade:
There can be no “soft-landing” for a species adding another million of itself every 4 and a half days to consume and convert into more and more human flesh what little remains of the planet’s tattered web of life. Worshiping paper symbols of wealth as the only measurement of social and environmental worth, our species has monetized and misunderstood nature, ignoring its true incalculable value. Surely something is amiss when the financial interests of the insecticide industry trump the health of humans and the survival of pollinators. Examining the root cause of such corrosive effects in our economic system, i.e. capitalism, is nearly as taboo as mentioning the collapse of modern civilization. The culturally Pavlovian responses to any such criticism directed at capitalism or the unsustainability of industrial civilization is to argue for the rehabilitation of capitalism into something less destructive and tout humanity’s unfailing ability to adapt to any situation. Reinforced by past successes such as the Green Revolution, robotic exploration of distant planets, and Moore’s Law of technological advancement, the marriage of capitalism and technology has created a mindset which takes for granted the belief that the marketplace will create a hi-tech fix to any and all problems. Little green aliens, paranormal experiences, and techno-utopian futures seem to be more socially acceptable subjects for discussion rather than the collapse of a way-of-life that requires several more Earths if everyone were to live like Americans. Perhaps that is why we get technotopian books like this one:
The myth of progress is central to corporate ideologies of materialism, modernism, and technocapitalism. The mythical quality of technological progress was expressed most succinctly in GE’s slogan from the 1950’s: “Progress is our most important product.”
There are reportedly hundreds of Transhumanist-affiliated groups(life extensionists, techno-optimists, Singularitarians, biohackers, roboticists, AI proponents, and futurists) in the world with the largest, the Singularity Network, claiming 10,000 members. Few in our society can imagine this planet exhausted of its resources, inhospitable to agriculture, and devoid of all its keystone species, but such a world is fast becoming reality as industrial civilization steamrolls the planet under the direction of technocapitalism. Millions of factories continue to spit out products by the ton to be shipped to every corner of the globe. The ravenous hordes struggling for a higher standard of living never think twice about the energy and eco-social damage tied to these consumer products that magically appear on store shelves.
“A transhuman future is a day-dream and we are rapidly running out of the luxury of being able to do nothing about the very real problems that face us now. A transhuman future is a nightmare of the electric sheep.”
~ Dr. Paul Willis
The boundaries of a finite planet have been temporarily extended by technology, giving mankind a false sense of power over his environment, but technological complexity is not immune to the law of diminishing returns; the problems are overwhelming the solutions:
“…Technology cannot bring back a concentrated resource deposit like soil, phosphates and fossil fuels that have been dispersed and converted so completely that no amount of energy can get them back. The links in the technological evolutionary chain have been successful so far, but all it takes is a single broken link that will drop us into the waste heap of failed evolution. The next link of the chain always exists in the imaginations of men, technological wonders to carry us forward, but malignant growth, the kind sponsored by corporate, banking and Wall St. entities, will guarantee the current technological link is our last one…”
For a culture that lives for today and ignores the consequences of tomorrow, the show must go on even as cracks and weaknesses in this false façade become more evident day by day. Omar N. Bradley may have been thinking about weapons of mass destruction when he made an observation about mankind’s tools of self-destruction, but he could not have been more prescient in the broader sense of technology’s reach into our lives when he said, “If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.”
As in previous fallen civilizations, today’s elite are more out of touch with our precarious position than most realize, and they will try to cling to their wealth and social status despite how much blood flows in the streets as the masses bear the brunt of collapse first –poverty, disease, war, starvation, etc., but ultimately no one can run from the death of the Earth’s oceans, the spread of novel diseases, and the die-off of trees. Those now deciding how our technologic scalpels will be wielded are not institutions looking out for the greater good of humanity, but by the ultra wealthy for their own personal financial enrichment and narcissistic interests:
“For better or worse,” said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money…
…that personal setting of priorities is precisely what troubles some in the science establishment. Many of the patrons, they say, are ignoring basic research — the kind that investigates the riddles of nature and has produced centuries of breakthroughs, even whole industries — for a jumble of popular, feel-good fields like environmental studies and space exploration…
..the rise of science philanthropy may simply help “rich fields, universities and individuals to get richer.” The new patrons are responsible for one of the most striking trends on these campuses: the rise of privately financed institutes, the new temples of science philanthropy.
This privatization of science is just one more aspect of capitalism’s usurpation and corruption of the body politic.
The art in this blog post is from Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksiński whose intricately detailed paintings of apocalyptic landscapes, mutated and deformed humans, and surreal images were said to be inspired from his nightmares. He never gave titles to his paintings and signed them on the back. It is said he would often wake up in the middle of night to paint his dark visions. In 2005 he was found dead lying on the floor of his Warsaw flat in a pool of blood, stabbed 17 times.
Perhaps the greatest nightmare of modern man is the fact that he is at the mercy of an ever-expanding industrial civilization running on autopilot, as Zygmunt Bauman described, with no realistic way to stop its onslaught of toxic waste, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and numerous other ecocidal features. I can see this horror when I look at much of Beksiński’s work, but I also see nature reclaiming the battlefield after man has defeated himself.
To a great degree, humans are their own worst enemy, prisoners of their flawed cerebral wiring with its neuroses, blind spots, and cognitive biases, but the real enemy is the omnicidal juggernaut our numbers have created; its base urges can’t be contained.