Essays since 2011
The aim of this page is to make it easier to find essays of more general relevance published on this blog since 2011 by collecting them in one place. The essays listed below are arranged chronologically moving from the most recent to the earlier published on this blog. For additional images, go to the original entries in the Archives at the month/year given in square brackets. As of ‘On Exhaustion’ (04/12), I have no longer copied the essays themselves here on this page, so now you just go to the month and year given next to the titles to read
Toward Police State Australia [02/17]
The Anthropocene Choice [02/17]
Mapping the Landscape Mapping Itself [01/17]
Castro & the Police State Left [11/16]
First TV Generation [09/16]
Thirty Theses on Right-w. Populism [06/16]
Donald the Trumpet 2 [06/16]
Donald the Trumpet [06/16]
Ars Moriendi [05/16]
Three Political Narratives [05/16]
Whither Humanity? [05/16]
As Within, so without [05/16]
Anguish, Illness as… Crisis.. [02/16]
Some General Notes on Zen [12/15]
Some General Notes on Mysticism [12/15]
Introducing Gustav Landauer [09/15]
A Call to Freedom [09/15]
Hiroshima and Mass Bombing [08/15]
Iraq 3: Invasion 2003ff [07/15]
Iraq 2: Sanctions 1990-2003 [07/15]
Iraq 1: Gulf War 1991 [07/15]
Ten Theses on Socialism [06/15]
Books as Spiritual Elders [06/15]
Beginning Books [06/15]
UnFuturist Manifesto [05/15]
Transforming Anzac Day.Anzac Day 6 [04/15]
Truth, Suffering, Values.Anzac Day 5 [04/15]
The Facts. On Anzac Day 4 [04/15]
Narcissism. On Anzac Day 3 [04/15]
Regression. On Anzac Day 2 [04/15]
The Pure Bugle. On Anzac Day 1 [04/15]
Fascist Masses Germany 1933 [04/15]
The Invisible Holocaust… [03/15]
My Father and the Shadows… [02/15]
Notes on Self-Organization… [02/15]
Conspectus for a Global Website [01/15]
Can we be healthy on a sick planet? [11/14]
Digital Alienation…1-5 [10/14]
Shadows. On Bleakness and Hope 2 [09/14]
Shadows. On Bleakness and Hope 1 [09/14]
Anarchism, Mysticism, Poetry [08/14]
The Lessons of August 1914 [07/14]
Mentor Marx 2 [06/14]
Mentor Marx 1 [06/14]
Mentor Adorno [06/14]
Echoes…Historical Legacy of PD [05/14]
Pollinate or Perish [05/14]
Introduction to ‘Echoes of Autonomy’ [04/14]
On the Dark origins of the Computer [03/14]
FAQ on Participatory Democracy [03/14]
A Bit of Politics [02/14]
TLDR: The Loss of Reading…. [02/14]
Double Standards and the Left [02/14]
Art as Obscenity [02/14]
Primacy of the Rational ‘Unconscious'[01/14]
In South West Tasmania, 1999 [12/13]
Mandela’s Double Legacy [12/13]
As Within, So Without [11/13]
As We See It 2.0 [9/13]
What if…? [8/13]
Thinking and Not Thinking [7/13]
Beginning Books [7/13]
Both ‘Progress’ and the ‘Primitive’ [7/13]
Zen Via Negativa… [6/13]
Not All Live in the Same Present [2/13]
Too Big to See [1/13]
Responding to George Monbiot [1/13]
On Percepticide… [1/13]
System Change not Climate Change [12/12]
On Voluntary Slavery… [11/12]
Obama Won. Hooray? [11/12]
Grammar, schmammar [11/12]
The Shadows of 1968: In Blind Revolt 2 [11/12]
The Shadows of 1968: In Blind Revolt 1 [11/12]
1968, or The Virtues of Disobedience 2 [10/12]
1968, or The Virtues of Disobedience 1 [10/12]
On Infantilisation [10/12]
On Collusion [10/12]
Ecology & Counter-Culture… [09/12]
Ecologically Sustainable Development [08/12]
Net Energy… [08/12]
Eco Basics [08/12]
Commoner’s Four Laws of Ecology [08/12]
Poetry and Ecology [08/12]
The Grassroots Manifesto [07/12]
Coming Home [07/12]
O Felix Culpa [06/12]
Permaculture, Relocalisation, Climate [06/12]
Chernobyl, Then and Now [05/12]
Capitalism 101 Parts 1 & 2 [05/12]
On Exhaustion [04/12]
Friendly Fascism – Are We There Yet? [03/12]
Credo quia absurdum [12/11]
Preliminary Notes on the Anthropocene [07/11]
On Revolution and Its Absence [06/11]
Words. To Die By [05/11]
Four Possible Futures [05/11]
To My Brothers and Sisters in Japan [03/11]
We’re Rational, You’re Emotional [04/11]
Reflections on the Revolutions in North Africa [02/11]
Four Noble Truths of Spiritual Social Ecology [02/11]
Like the Air We Breathe [01/11]
Friendly Fascism – Are We There Yet?
Imagine the following. The leader of a communist or Islamist dictatorship
• orders his secret police to kidnap anyone he declares a ‘terrorist’ and incarcerate them in secret prisons where they are held for years without charge and abused or tortured
• maintains a huge, secret state-within-the-state outside parliamentary or judicial oversight
• maintains a spy network of total surveillance of the communications of his own population deterring people from exercising their freedom of speech and assembly
• orders the murder of his own and foreign citizens on foreign soil
• orders the murder of foreign scientists working on another country’s nuclear energy program
• in undeclared wars sends unmanned drones to foreign countries to murder unconvicted ‘suspects’ and their families
• ignores the ancient and essential basis of the rule of law: habeas corpus, due process and ‘innocent until proven guilty’
• even makes indefinite incarceration by his military without charge or trial a permanent feature of the legal system
• frequently and publicly praises the military as providing ‘a lesson in our national character’ and as the one backbone of the nation which he wants everyone to emulate
Imagine the media coverage such a communist or Islamist dictator would receive in the West. Horror. Disgust. Outrage. Rogue State. Totalitarianism. Fascism. Appeals to the international community to impose sanctions or intervene militarily. Threats of war in the name of human rights, the rule of law, democracy.
This leader exists. He is against communists and violent Islamists. His name is Barack Obama, constitutional lawyer, Nobel Peace Prize winner, President of the United States, that self-styled international beacon of democracy and the rule of law. He is simply continuing the work of his several predecessors, further turning the US ever more into a post-liberal, authoritarian ‘security state’ waging perpetual war and in which the rule of law has been subverted in many key areas under the latest pretext: fighting terrorism. Similar, albeit as yet less militarised, repressive developments have occurred in many advanced industrial states in Europe and elsewhere, including Australia.
There is no outrage in the Western media. There is almost no critical coverage of these ominous developments. Of course this is nothing new: within the corporate media, ethical double standards have always held sway; outrageous when ‘they’ do it, OK when ‘we’ do it. Even when liberal and mildly critical, their core job has always been to provide legitimacy for the capitalist-imperial system itself and to ‘manufacture consent’ (Chomsky & Herman). In their silence, condoning and collusion, the media owners and managers are themselves an important section of the ruling elites responsible for this slide into a post-liberal, authoritarian state.
Liberal mainstream progressives are also co-responsible for the normalisation of the unconscionable. They tend to focus exclusively on the machinations and cretinism of the lunar right. However, especially when the chief executive is a quietly-spoken, ‘cool’, ‘reasonable’, ‘left of centre’ social democrat/liberal, much non-radical grassroots protest and dissent, itself often imbued with double standards, tends to self-pacify and weaken ‒ which is another reason for the progressives’ greater usefulness for the ruling oligarchies in terms of system stabilisation. This lack of radical critique of social democratic politicians in turn results in state-sponsored murder, torture, war crimes becoming even more normalized, mundane. As Phil Rockstroh summarizes:
As exhibited by the often bland, ‘normal’ outward appearance of a serial killer, when the apologists and operatives of an exploitive, destructive system appear to be reasonable, they can go about their business without creating general alarm. By the same token, while many present day Republicans are zealots ‒ barnburners raving into the flames of the conflagrations created by the militarist/national security/police/prison industrial state ‒ Barack Obama and the Democratic Party serve as normalizers of the pathologies of late empire.
In this manner, atrocious acts can be committed by the state, with increasing frequency, because, over the passage of time, such outrages will have been allowed to pass into the realm of the mundane, and are thus bestowed with a patina of acceptability. (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/02/01-0)
As long as there are no actual ‘jackboots on the streets’, all may seem well to a large part of the liberal-progressive spectrum. As Thomas Harrington puts it:
Yes, I know that habeas corpus is gone, that the officer class in the military is more loyal to the own caste and the Republican party than the Constitution, that there is an incestuous alliance between big business and government, that systemic critiques of the nation’s core foreign policy goals are not tolerated within mainstream political discourse, that spying and informing on innocent citizens is rampant, that there is a small army of intelligence operatives carrying out “patriotic” missions that will never be subject to any public scrutiny never mind public sanction, that clearly illegal acts or torture and domestic espionage have been retroactively immunized by congress with the full complicity of both parties, that the president is now openly murdering US citizens, but there are still no jackboots in the streets! (www.commondreams.org on 12 January 2012)
It is, however, important to stress that a post-liberal, militarized, more authoritarian state is not, or not yet, a fascist one, at least in the traditional sense. To avoid political confusion and unproductive polemics, the emotive ‘fascist’ descriptor should only be used with analytical evidence, coherence and precision. The US and Australia can obviously not yet be compared to North Korea, China, Russia. Today there are still largely functioning courts of law (as there still were under Mussolini, by the way), freedom of speech, protest and dissent are still possible, albeit within the usual tightly restrictive limits. There is no explicit one party monopoly of power, although the two main parties substantially represent nothing but the two wings of Capital. There are no storm troopers beating up opponents, Gestapo knocking on doors or concentration camps for the opposition or minority scapegoats. There has been no fascist revolution led by some charismatic dictator abolishing electoral democracy and taking over the state. People can still write essays like this and not land in jail, although they might be recorded in the files of the secret police.
Two succinct attempts at an academic definition of classical fascism may help define the difference. The first by Michael Mann, professor of sociology at UCLA, the second by Robert Paxton, emeritus professor of history at Columbia University:
Fascism is the pursuit of a transcendent and cleansing nation-statism through paramilitarism. (Mann, Fascists, 2004, p. 13)
Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a massed-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. (Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, 2004, p. 218)
Instead, the undemocratic extension of executive power and tyranny in the US and elsewhere in the West has come on cat’s paws. There has been a gradual, and increasing, process of concentrating executive power and concomitant internal weakening of the formal checks and balances of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law along the lines that even ‘father of the US Constitution’ James Madison outlined in 1788:
I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.
It is also important to stress that this ongoing process of subverting constitutional government and formal democracy is no coordinated conspiracy by a few evil-doers in back rooms. The increasing centralisation of executive power is, rather, a systemic development, a result of the inherent and complex logic of events and challenges in globalised capitalism and inter-imperial rivalry since 1945.
Despite conflicts and disputes among various sections of the ruling oligarchies in Big Government and Big Business, the authoritarian, post-liberal system developing today may be, to use Bertram Gross’ term, an incipient ‘friendly fascism’ evolving out of a systemic post-war logic of capitalist and imperial/state development that is now perhaps coming to a head in a new intensity of shrinking resources and global economic and ecological crisis as the American Empire wanes and the Chinese rises. Already in 1980 Gross was asking:
How are the leaders of the ‘Free World’, the Golden International, and the US Establishment responding to the challenges that face them? […] As I survey the entire panorama of contending forces, I can readily detect […] the outline of a powerful logic of events. This logic points toward tighter integration of every First World Establishment. In the United States it points toward more concentrated, unscrupulous, repressive, and militaristic control by a Big Business-Big Government partnership that – to preserve the privileges of the ultra-rich, the corporate overseers, and the brass in the military and civilian order – squelches the rights and liberties of other people both at home and abroad. That is friendly fascism. (Friendly Fascism, 1980, p. 161).
Gross could see these authoritarian developments already in the 1970s and then significantly increasing under the neo-liberal Reagan administration. However he did not see the US of the Cold War as being a form of ‘friendly fascism’ as yet; it was merely a trend towards a possible future about which he was warning. The question today is whether the US and others have now moved much closer to this kind of post-liberal system or are in fact already there.
Although stressing the differences to classic fascism, according to Gross this new possibility of ‘friendly fascism’ of course also contains some similarities:
In each, a powerful oligarchy operates outside of, as well as through, the state. Each subverts constitutional government. Each suppresses rising demands for wider participation in decision making, the enforcement and enlargement of human rights, and genuine democracy. Each uses informational control and ideological flimflam to get lower- and middle-class support for plans to expand the capital and power of the oligarchy and provide suitable rewards for political, professional, scientific, and cultural supporters. (ibid., p. 169)
His words on a major, and ironic, difference to classic fascism also seem quite prescient in the context of the hegemony of the IMF/World Bank/WTO and financial capital over whole nations and government multi-trillion dollar bailouts of finance capital since 2008 and thus transfer of private toxic debts to the public purse:
A major difference is that under friendly fascism Big Government would do less pillaging of, and more pillaging for, Big Business. With much more integration than ever among transnational corporations, Big Business would run less risk of control by any one state and enjoy more subservience by many states. (pp. 169-171)
To anyone with an open mind, thirty years of neo-liberalism and the latest financial crisis of capitalism have surely revealed the ‘subservience of many states’ to Big Business. Whether our always corporatist, increasingly authoritarian systems are yet fully ‘friendly fascist’ or not, the term is useful in drawing attention to the disquieting nature of the new post-liberal states we live in: these strange hybrids of, on the one hand, increasing executive power, militarisation, weakening of civil rights and the rule of law, general strengthening of the populist, nationalist and neo-fascist right in many countries, Orwellian state repression, surveillance and siege-mentalities, and on the other hand, Huxleyan shopping-fun-and-permanent-entertainment. Perhaps we are moving into something like a new social formation ruled by a deeply oligarchic and autocratic ‘surveillance-industrial-entertainment-disaster complex’ within the continuing historical trajectory of capitalism and imperialism.
However, while we ponder whether we are in a form of ‘friendly fascism’ already or simply continue to ‘amuse ourselves to death’ (Neil Postman), the millions of invisible ‘unpeople’ at the receiving end of the militarised US empire in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the transnationals’ ultra-capitalist and exploitative factories in the emerging and developing countries producing our affluent commodities ‒ all these people would probably have a quite different view of its ‘friendliness’, fascist or not.
Credo quia absurdum
– Or: Why I am a Democratic Eco-Socialist (non-violent Anarchist) –
Wikipedia in 2011 elucidates the phrase ‘credo quia absurdum’ as being
‘a Latin phrase of uncertain origin. It means “I believe because it is absurd”. It is derived from a poorly remembered or misquoted passage in Tertullian’s De Carne Christi defending the tenets of orthodox Christianity against docetism, which reads in the original Latin:
Crucifixus est Dei Filius, non pudet, quia pudendum est;
et mortuus est Dei Filius, prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est;
et sepultus resurrexit, certum est, quia impossibile.
— (De Carne Christi V, 4)
“The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful.
And the Son of God died: it is wholly credible, because it is unsound.
And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”
The phrase is sometimes associated with the doctrine of fideism, that is, “a system of philosophy or an attitude of mind, which, denying the power of unaided human reason to reach certitude, affirms that the fundamental act of human knowledge consists in an act of faith, and the supreme criterion of certitude is authority.” (Catholic Encyclopedia).’
Meaning, Faith and Politics
Although usually not excessively reflected upon, most of us live our lives within some kind of framework of ultimate meaning, set of values or ‘faith’. This framework may be explicit or tacit, something as simple as a focus on one’s work and the well-being of one’s own family or something as metaphysically formalised as a religious belief system.
For those many of us without an orthodox religious belief system who seek some sense of meaning, hope and purpose beyond the private family realm, the task of developing such a secular framework is perhaps more difficult. Given the necessary limits, and final aridity, of the intellect in grounding its own ultimate values (a philosophical version of Gödel’s mathematical ‘impossibility theorem’), it would seem we need some form of critical ‘fideism’ that overcomes the secular/spiritual split. After the deserved post-war demise of the secular ‘grand narrative’ of ‘socialism’, it would seem that the only alternative to both dogmatic religion and post-modern incoherence, cynicism and despair must be some sort of secular and/or spiritual faith in humanity and/or nature.
For me, this trajectory leads straight into one’s conscious or unconscious attitudes towards human history, society and relationships with nature, and to what used to be over-triumphantly called ‘progress’. As these evolutionary phenomena are all, in the end, mediated not only by economics and technology but by questions of power, class and domination, they must in turn all lead back to a reflection on one’s own ‘politics’ in the widest sense of that word.
My own politics were formed in my early twenties within the context of the radically leftist German students’ movement and have remained, despite inevitable modifications and some possible shifts in emphasis, constant in their essential core. This concept of politics was and is anti-authoritarian, direct-activist and ‘anti-political’ in the sense of being deeply critical of (and exceedingly bored by) mainstream party politics and governments of any persuasion left, right and centre. This radical politics, for the most part creatively non-violent, spontaneous and unashamedly hedonistic, was and is interested in liberation, systemic change, the social generalisation of freedom, empowerment, creativity, dignity and equality, in ‘bread and roses for all’.
If pressed, and despite, or because of, an ingrained aversion to herds and –isms, I would see myself as belonging to a great, albeit mostly unknown, tradition of human freedom-seeking and anti-authoritarianism that begins with Lao Tzu, the Buddha and some of the Biblical prophets and culminates in the political philosophies of democratic or libertarian eco-socialism and non-violent anarchism. At their deepest levels these in turn, necessarily, shade off into something like an unorthodox metaphysics or socially informed mysticism. (More on this in my short essay ‘The Four Noble Truths of Spiritual Ecology’, blogged at memengineering in February 2011). I would argue that this anti-authoritarian great tradition may ground what humanist psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm has termed a ‘rational faith’ in humanity (in contrast to any ‘irrational faith’ grounded on emotional submission to irrational authority):
Like the faith in the child, it is based on the idea that the potentialities of man are such that given the proper conditions they will be capable of building a social order governed by the principles of equality, justice, and love. Man has not yet achieved the building of such an order, and therefore the conviction that he can requires faith. But like all rational faith this, too, is not wishful thinking but based upon the evidence of the past achievements of the human race and on the inner experience of each individual, on his own experience of reason and love. (Man for Himself, pp. 207-208)
This is not the place to elucidate the precise content of the terms ‘eco-socialism’ or ‘non-violent anarchism’ at any length. Much will become clear through the points listed below. Suffice to say that in deep contrast to the historical forms of state capitalism and totalitarian tyranny masquerading as ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’, the libertarian strand of socialism is radically anti-authoritarian and insists that there can be no real socialism without freedom and self-management, i.e. without a radical, decentralised, grassroots democracy of self-active, cooperative citizens and producers. The ‘eco-‘ prefix of course marks the relatively new awareness of the centrality of ecology within any social system that has been gained since the 60s. In these matters democratic eco-socialism is basically identical with anarchism.
I would also argue that both the history of anarchism’s confused and self-contradictory attitude to the revolutionary use of armed violence (often wrongly assuming that violent means or war can ever bring about non-violent ends or peace) and, justified or not, its frequent association with terrorist forms of violence in the popular mind mean that today only a non-violent form of anarchism is in fact compatible with its own theory and ethos. Violent anarchism has now become an oxymoron.
Like most of my comrades, I am a democratic eco-socialist or non-violent anarchist for a range of ethical, aesthetic and philosophical reasons. These reasons are of course interdependent as, in my view, conscience (or spirit or soul), the senses and the mind cannot really be separated.
The fact that these reasons are in my view eminently rational does not mean they are based on reason alone, however. I am no rationalist or positivist and do not believe in the supremacy of the intellect in human thinking and affairs. Since the Enlightenment we have learned that our rational minds sit on top of, and are largely driven by, huge non-rational, emotional, intuitive forces within us which are as much ‘us’ as our intellects. We are drawn to certain rational arguments and ethics, and repelled by others, because deeper parts of us want to be. A feeling for what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ precedes, and guides, rather than follows rational thinking about such matters. Rationality is largely a rationalisation of non- or meta-rational impulses that come from deeper layers of our beings. These deeper layers are forms and expressions, individual and collective, of both evolutionary ‘deep time’ and the spiritual timelessness of our original ‘Buddha nature’. The psycho-spiritual formation infusing these deeper layers may be seen as a basic ‘faith’. To argue for this perspective is not a romantic ‘irrationalism’ that denigrates rationality but a meta-rationalism that includes it.
However, as soon as we turn to rational discussion and political debate on these issues, there is no way around the patient and tolerant negotiation of our shared and differing understandings. The following are my arguments for this kind of political and philosophical faith in a very compressed, dot point form.
I would argue that
• It is not right that some live in luxury while many are deprived of the essentials for a dignified existence and most live in exhaustion and misery
• It is not right that the production of useless junk and luxuries can take precedence over the fulfilment of basic human needs for food, shelter, health and education
• It is not right that about 5-10% of people can own about half a nation’s wealth
• It is not right that about 20% of the world can monopolise about 80% of the world’s resources
• It is not right that about 200 billionaires can own as much as 40% of humanity
• It is not right that the rich world can live and waste at the expense of the poor world and the ecological health of the planet
• It is not right that small oligarchies of the rich and powerful can have the economic, political and military power to dominate the lives of billions of powerless people
• It is not right that the power elites and their agents can commit heinous ecological, economic, social and military crimes with complete impunity
• It is not right that power elites and their media can manipulate people for their purposes using the age-old means of fear, scapegoats, wars and nationalism
• It is not right that economic and political decisions affecting the well-being of billions of humans and non-humans can be made secretly and undemocratically
• It is not right that economies are organized irrationally, i.e. in the interests of power, profits and markets, that ‘things are in the saddle and ride mankind’ (Emerson)
• It is not right that people have to sell themselves to others in order to survive
• It is not right that the drudgery and structural violence of patriarchy, wage labour, class and market economies can thwart the majority of people from realising their creative human potentials
• It is not right that formal democracies are in fact plutocratic oligarchies and so-called socialisms are in fact state-capitalist or McStalinist tyrannies
• It is not right that elite oligarchies or so-called radical or revolutionary minorities of whatever persuasion try to violently impose their views on majorities
I would argue that
• Cities dominated primarily by corporate and speculative Capital and its economic needs are essentially inhumane and thus, for the most part, ugly and depressing
• Cities formed by Capital’s needs and exploding demographics are no longer cities but sprawling urban conglomerations of standardised ugliness and boredom
• Cities dominated by state capitalist (Communist Party) tyrannies are inhumane and thus, for the most part, even uglier and even more depressing
• In industrial, capitalist cities vibrant public space is alienated from the public and radically monopolised by Capital, the hectic ugliness of its self-marketing and its private car culture
• In industrial, capitalist cities the beauties and spiritual vitality of nature and wildlife are absent or restricted to the odd manicured park or reserve
• Malls, the frantic temples not of human interchange but of the Commodity god, alienation and manipulation, are inhumane and thus ugly and depressing
• The countryside of capitalist agriculture is primarily formed by the pursuit of profit, industrial economies of scale, and standardisation (monocultures) and are thus anti-ecological and monotonously ugly and depressing
• Many or most products (including celebrities and the ‘beautiful people’) of the corporate media and culture industry are standardised, pseudo-individualised commodities of habitual phoniness and depressing ugliness
• Beauty or aesthetic form without a vibrant culture of creative commoners democratically shaping their lives and environments (i.e. anarchism) is doomed to elitist impotence, commodified self-indulgence or helpless protest
• Anti-authoritarian, democratic socialism or anarchism is not elitist high culture versus industrial pop culture (Orwell’s ‘prolefeed’), but rather the integral overcoming of both aristos and plebs in a creative community of strong and equal individuals democratically shaping their environments and collective futures
• An anarchist society of self-aware creators would, by definition, be a more human-scale, ecologically embedded, beautiful and poetic one: there would, finally, be bread and roses for all
I would argue that
• Human evolution has developed as a spiralling movement outwards and ‘upwards’ of overall material and mental progression interspersed with long periods of stasis, collapse or regression
• Gains in many areas have been offset by losses in others: e.g. gains in intellectual capacities and cosmopolitan urbanity have been gained at the cost of diminished sensory capabilities, general vitality, and of alienation from natural systems
• On the ecological basis of our weed-like human ‘species-natures’ as generalists and opportunists, the overall development of human material and mental evolution has been from narrow to wide, simple to complex, tribal to cosmopolitan, local to global, particular to universal
• However, the ‘higher’ we evolve, the lower we can also fall; as our potential for social liberation and conscious, universal association increases, so does our potential for barbarous enslavement, total alienation and dissociation, for ecocide
• Human history has moved from a narrow, usually xenophobic, form of primitive anarcho-communism in hunting and gathering through the many liberations, oppressions and alienations of agricultural-patriarchal and then industrial class society to the current phase or turning point era
• In our era humanity seems poised to either leap into a post-industrial and post-affluent form of conscious, free anarcho-communism or else collapse into ecocide and regress into varying forms of authoritarian neo-feudalism and militarism
• Although gained via overwhelming ecological and social suffering (e.g. colonial plunder and genocide, imperial wars and oppression, ecological degradation, social fragmentation), the democratic and ethical ideals of secular capitalist society have also brought great progress
• This progress is evinced in phenomena like anti-authoritarian doubt and scientific rationality, individualism, the abolition of slavery, the notions of universal human rights and equality before the law, of racial and gender equality, the reduction of patriarchy, the beginnings of international law
• However, these democratic and ethical notions can only remain flawed and unrealised ideals within capitalist society because their realisation is blocked both by the very nature of this society as one of class power, domination and economic disparity and by a general lack of consciousness on the part of the majority of citizens
• Thus the ‘logical’ next step in human evolution is the unblocking, or practical extension and realisation, of bourgeois democratic ideals in the form of a free eco-socialism or anarchism
• On a very general level, the realisation of these ideals would include the social introduction of direct democracy and the decentralisation of power in economic and technological decision making, of wealth redistribution, of universalised social, political and cultural human rights and the rule of law, of the lifting of tribal-national consciousness into one-world consciousness and ecological responsibility for the biosphere commons that supports all life
• As the world continues to further integrate economically and culturally, all these realisations are already being approached and sketched in various evolving ways in a plethora of social phenomena and fluctuating movements all over the planet
• Democratic eco-socialism or non-violent anarchism can, by definition, not be enforced from above by some so-called elite but can only be realised by the self-conscious actions of a majority, or at least large minority, of citizens
• Democratic eco-socialism or non-violent anarchism is the only coherent philosophical and political alternative to the failed, now obsolete political
philosophies of neo-liberalism, fascism and orthodox Marxism
• Now minoritarian, it is the next spontaneous step in the evolution of human consciousness and spirituality, even though it may yet take many further decades to become generalised on a planetary scale and possibly only after the collective experience of massive social and/or ecological collapse and regression
For those wishing further information and inspiration, the following (in roughly chronological order) anti-authoritarian thinkers, mystics, poets and activists in the Great Tradition that underlies the above arguments might be worth exploring. In differing, often contradictory, forms shaped by differing times and cultural contexts, here is the one spirit breathing through the minds of many men and women throughout the ages, in east and west. It is this spirit that grounds my faith in humanity and the universe.
Gautama the Buddha
Hui Neng (Eno)
Etienne de la Boétie
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Pierre Joseph Proudhon
Henry David Thoreau
The Marx Brothers
John M. Swomley
M. Conrad Hyers
Thich Nhat Hanh
Wei Wu Wei
Preliminary notes on the Anthropocene. A Vision
Of the future we know nothing, of the past little, of the present less; the mirror is too close to our eyes, and our breath dims it.
– Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864)
In order to see our own epoch, it is necessary to step back from it and view it with a bifocal lens: that of the trajectory of its past and the potential of its future.
Humanity’s three great ecological leaps, the agricultural, urban-civilizational and industrial revolutions, have occurred during the last 12,000-year geological period called the Holocene.
The Holocene is now being replaced by a new geological period termed the Anthropocene (Paul Crutzen).
The Anthropocene denotes the fact that since the industrial revolution humanity has increasingly become an energetic, chemical, atmospheric, oceanic, geological force on a planetary scale.
Due to its use of fossil fuels, humanity now shifts much more soil and rock in just one year than the planet’s rivers and glaciers have shifted in all of geological history.
Humanity’s energy use is now about a third that of the heat released by continental plate tectonics and equivalent to the explosion of a Hiroshima bomb every four seconds.
Humanity’s use and transformation of fossil fuels has disrupted and poisoned planetary biogeochemical cycles in all domains of the soil, biota, air, freshwater and ocean systems.
For the first time, the majority of humanity now lives in cities, disconnected from food production, largely alienated from nature.
The obscurest epoch is today.
– Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 -1894)
In our epoch the ecological constraints and resources that enabled the Anthropocene are, however, peaking: global oil production peaked in 2006. Global population, other fossil fuels, water use, phosphorous production, grain and fish harvests are also peaking.
From global peaks there is no way but down. The Party of affluent resource consumption is over. The post-carbon Anthropocene will be very different to the carboniferous one.
Within the last few decades humanity has overshot global carrying capacity.
In this transition from the Holocene to the Anthropocene, we are at a pivotal turning point in both human and planetary evolution.
What we now do or fail to do as a species will determine planetary and human well-being for centuries, or possibly millennia, to come.
We have previously often seen ourselves, as a species, as spiritually one with nature and humanity. Now we are materially, literally, one.
The previously esoteric has become exoteric. The ramifications for our very identities are profound.
Denying our oneness with nature and humanity for millennia, we have now been dragged into oneness materially, whether we like it or not.
The ongoing and accelerating genetic merging of races and the increasing creative hybridization of cultures into a nascent world culture (e.g. the internet, ‘world music’) are material expressions and pre-figurations of the One World we objectively are and have always, spiritually, been.
However, there is a huge cultural lag between what is objectively the case on a global level (the One World of material interdependence), what is objectively needed to prevent ecocide (One World consciousness and action) and the current subjective consciousness of global majorities.
Even sleeping men are doing the world’s business and helping it along.
– Heraclitus (540-480 BCE)
Capitalism is, and has always been, a dialectical process of enclosures, expropriation and privatization on the one hand, and boundary destruction, globalizing and universalizing on the other.
Via this dialectical process, the great historical motor of separation and fragmentation, capitalist globalization, has become the motor of potential unification and oneness.
On the individual level, the future lineaments of an emerging ‘universal individual’ and ‘individualist universalism’, incorporating and transcending local and national characteristics and cultures, are becoming clearly discernible.
Now that we, not as individuals but as a species, have become objectively what we have always denied being and projected outwards onto an abstract entity called God, we had better become good at it.
When we realise our responsibilities and constraints as a ‘God-Species’, the Anthropocene will move from an unconscious and catastrophic one to a conscious and liberated one.
Once again living on a solar-based energy budget and honouring the basal miracle of plant photosynthesis, the guiding insight of the human ‘God-Species’ will be the paradox of humbly realising the inherent limits of its knowledge and actions and its embeddedness in the greater earth household.
The Anthropocene is now the planet’s way of regulating itself through the human ‘God-species’ which is neither omniscient, omnipotent nor autonomous but fallible, relational and disputational.
Paradoxically, the human ‘God-species’ realises it is an Unknown God, as ultimately unknown as the universe and we ourselves are to ourselves.
The human ‘God-species’ is not an entity but a never-ending process, an internal-external becoming, a paradoxical exfoliating into what it essentially is, like the tree from the tree-within-the-seed that came from the tree; however, in contrast to the tree, we as this ‘God-species’ process never arrive at some final point but are always both about-to-arrive and already there.
God is not a Christian.
– Bishop Desmond Tutu (b. 1931)
In practical terms, the liberated Anthropocene will see the relational wisdom of less replace the narcissistic ignorance of more.
The liberated Anthropocene will see the transition from the capitalist reign of the commodity, the total market and quantity to the reign of use value, free exchange and quality.
The science and art of ecology, the human expression, translation and interpretation of the earth’s language, has for the first time provided a unifying, albeit contested, global language with which we as a species can organize ourselves into our conscious Anthropocene.
This unifying socio-ecological language, like this text itself, is not a purely personal product but the collective expression and result of a spatial, temporal and cognitive interdependence stretching back through human and planetary evolution to the beginnings of the universe.
The Anthopocene can be seen as the planet’s way of kicking us into oneness by releasing its own buried plant energy via humanity’s use of fossil fuels in industrialisation.
Unrestricted and unmanaged in the form of the present unconscious Anthropocene of industrial capitalism, however, this release means climate chaos, civilizational collapse, resource wars and social regression into militarised and authoritarian police states.
Ecologically and sociologically, there is no ‘one humanity’. There are only the powerful and powerless, order-givers and order-takers, the rich and the poor, consumers and subsisters, each consuming vastly different amounts of planetary resources and ‘ecological space’.
The ecocide of humanity’s mounting ecological debt and deficit is due to unfair consumption by the wealthy and powerful, not the sheer numbers of the poor and powerless.
This unfair consumption is the ecological injustice that mirrors classical social injustice. It is a result and driver of the power relations of world capitalism, i.e. market economies channelling resources to those with money and capital.
A post-capitalist eco-society will thus need to be based on the re-distributive justice of the ‘fair earth share’, i.e. the equal share of resources and emissions that each person can consume each year within the limits of global and bioregional carrying capacity.
History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
– James Joyce
Apart from totalitarian market economies, the unconscious Anthropocene consists of capitalist elites seeking to ‘solve’ the problems their system creates by playing patriarchal God with all the hubris of their demonic engineering: planetary geo-engineering, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, carbon sequestration, nuclear power ‒ all seek to further ignore and violate the ecological laws and constraints of outer and inner nature.
The trajectory of the profit drive of capitalist civilization is to replace nature with a dead, artificial world, an image of itself as generalized commodity. Post-capitalist eco-democracy seeks to listen to, work with and embrace nature as its own other.
Capitalist communication technologies are now neurologically ‘re-wiring’ us into both the potential depth of ‘universal individuals’ and the shallows of distracted talking commodities (‘brands’) no longer able to follow complex reasoning or stringently think for ourselves.
The liberated Anthropocene will neither be televised nor tweeted.
Industrial capitalism’s unconscious Anthropocene is pervaded by the technocratic hubris of domination, power-over and the mechanistic, reductionist mindset. The liberated unconscious Anthropocene is pervaded by the humility of ecological wisdom, power-with and an organismic, holistic mindset.
Industrial capitalism’s unconscious Anthropocene is ecocidal and totalitarian: abstract, homogenizing, repressive of ecological and cultural difference.
Yet within this repressive Anthropocene we can, as a consciously acting species, liberate its potential for free, voluntary interdependence: specific, qualitative oneness in-and-through-diversity.
MacDonalds and Walmart express the localized homogenization of abstract globalization. Post-capitalist eco-democracy will be the conscious and free globalization of localized difference.
Opposites cooperate. The most beautiful harmonies come from opposition.
– Heraclitus (540-480 BCE)
Even as it distorts, eliminates or fights them, liberal capitalism has spread its own gravedigger memes: democracy, human rights and the rule of law, individual freedom and dissent, anti-authoritarian and critical thinking, revolution.
These memes are the current, generally very undeveloped, themes and forms of radical dissent which previously took on the (historically premature) guise of socialism and anarchism.
As G.K. Chesterton noted for Christian ideals, free, democratic socialism and anarchism have not been tried and found wanting but found difficult and left untried.
These radically democratic memes, liberated into their own inherent potentials from their capitalist limitations and liberal distortions, are the yeast in the contemporary dough of global popular movements.
The key insight defining the evolving post-capitalist potential of these movements is that there can be no real democracy and human rights in a society while its material basis of production, distribution and communication is organized undemocratically by corporate and state oligarchies.
Due to their own logic, the movements to realise human rights and true democracy will thus at some point either face defeat and/or co-option (a political ‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’), or else they will move from political to social revolution, i.e. beyond a political fixation on the capitalist or dictatorial state and all its jockeying parties, sects and leaders towards the generalized self-management of production, distribution and communication.
The adversaries of the necessary social eco-revolution are the main decision-makers and perpetrators of the unconscious Anthropocene, global poverty, climate chaos and ecocide: the mega-wealthy ruling elites of the transnational corporations and corporate and MacStalinist security states.
The social power of these ruling elites, overwhelming as it may seem, is in fact completely dependent on the belief in, and obedience to, them on the part of a majority of the people.
The almost bloodless collapse of the mighty Soviet Empire once again demonstrated that the withdrawal of belief and obedience, i.e. massive civil disobedience, non-violent direct action and non-cooperation, is all that is needed to bring down a whole political system.
However, in order to also bring down a repressive and ecocidal social system, this civil disobedience and direct action needs to move from protest to construction, to extend from the national political sphere to local communities, the workplaces and the media: citizens and workers can occupy these and run them democratically and ecologically for the benefit of people and planet.
The most dangerous enemies of truth and freedom among us are the compact majority.
– Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)
One of the key problems of this transition to self-managed eco-democracy is the fact that people in the industrialized countries have, as urban wage slaves, been radically and increasingly separated and alienated from both self-efficacy and nature, often for several generations.
The unimportance of sustaining ecosystems, wage slavery, consumerism, obedience and social powerlessness have been internalized over the generations by large numbers of people.
In both industrial and industrializing countries majority consciousness is still largely a form of pre-Enlightenment magic thinking. Current bogeymen and hobgoblins may be terrorists, Muslims, migrants or refugees, all convenient screens for paranoid projections of the ‘dark other’.
Pre-modern animist and authoritarian religious thinking is still rife everywhere and manipulated by powerful elites for their own benefit. Modernized forms of fascism, building on such primitive thinking and the weakening or abolition of hard-won freedoms and human rights, are imminent.
Objectively, however, civilized alienation from nature has prepared the ground for a civilized reconciliation with nature at the higher level of the Anthropocene.
As the young Marx envisioned, the humanization of nature (the Anthropocene) would also entail the naturalization of humanity as its complement.
The naturalization of humanity in the liberated, conscious Anthropocene entails the ’ecologization’ of human identities and social systems.
A naturalized humanity would socially be expressed as ecologically literate people self-managing and tending their communities, cultures and economies modelled on, and embedded within, regional ecosystems in a diverse patchwork of networked, perhaps confederated, mosaics carpeting the planet.
As ecocidal fossil fuels, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and industrial agriculture are abolished or phased out, the conscious Anthropocene will soften into the sophisticated gardening of local ecosystems within the varying limits of their renewable energy and materials flows and budgets.
The conscious Anthropocene in cities will probably be more like Havana than New York, Sydney or Shanghai: planetary carrying capacity is such that 10 billion humans cannot live at American or Australian levels of per capita consumption but probably can at current Cuban levels.
The post-industrial and conscious Anthropocene will necessarily mean more cultural, political and spiritual rather than material and economic interdependence. Hopefully there will still be enough energy to power the global mind that is the internet.
Few or no fossil fuels will necessarily mean less transport, international trade and centralised, energy-intensive technologies and thus localized solar-based economies of neither affluence nor penury, but of much greater material scarcity yet higher quality of life, equality and democratic self-management, i.e. some form of participatory eco-socialism/anarchism.
In a necessarily more decentralised eco-society, plants, trees, animals, solar energy, clean water and fertile soils, community cooperation and knowledge will again be the prime material basis (or ‘capital’) of our sophisticated eco-communities, economies and spiritualities.
Less quantity will be more quality: much lower per capita consumption of resources will be accompanied by more community solidarity and relationship, more empowerment, more dignity, more varied work, more connection with nature and food growing, more health, more time for parenting, personal interests and cultural activities.
As we seem to be now getting into specific blueprinting, it might be time for some caveats.
Paradise is where I am.
– Voltaire (1694-1778)
To now set up detailed blueprints for eco-utopia is to contradict its radically democratic premises.
Collective creativity, the revolution, is spontaneous and locally adaptive or it is not.
Ontologically, Being, or reality-as-it-is, is spiritually perfect because it contains and embraces imperfection.
There is a deep sense in which, for the individual throughout history, nothing need ever be done to realise ‘paradise’ but realise it is already here and now: to ‘recognise infinity in a grain of sand…’ (William Blake)
To attempt the impossibility of a ‘perfect’ society defines the terror of the totalitarian project.
Like the ancient Greeks, we seek the good eco-society, not the perfect. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
The ‘good society’ and ‘good life’ of living lightly and sustainably on the planet cannot be pre-defined by experts but is precisely the democratic process of self-active citizens directly negotiating what they think this means based on ecological observation and data.
The good eco-society must be rooted in the complexity of humanity and its contradictions and paradoxes, not in some inhumane, moralizing and repressive ideal of perfect humans.
The carriers and incarnations of paradox and irony, poetry and wisdom, not the dogmatic and moralizing strictures of theory and ideology, are, apart from the art and science of ecology, the humane guides to the good eco-society.
Some of the many vocational paradoxes needed by the eco-democratic revolution for the good society will be: non-violent revolutionaries, urban farmers, intellectual gardeners, soft technologists, global peasants, universal individuals, generalist experts, cosmopolitan regionalists, pacifist warriors, poetic workers, proletarian poets. All these already exist in small niches all over the world.
Total consciousness and lucidity are neither possible nor necessary to realise post-capitalist eco-democracy. A greater degree of consciousness among a critical mass of people, however, is.
No democracy without imperfect but aware humans. No deep change without the disinterested attitude of ‘not-doing’ (Taoist and Chan Buddhist wu wei). No revolution without calm minds, non-violence and a sense of humour.
Only despair is boringly predictable (Rebecca Solnit). Who knows what the collective, unpredictable heart, the unconscious, organic and creative process may have in store for us.
It is unreasonable always to follow only reason. (Karol Bunsch 1898-1987).
If the heart is right, it matters not which way the head lies. (Sir Walter Raleigh 1554-1618).
Do we move toward God, or merely another condition?
By the salt waves I hear a river’s undersong,
In a place of mottled clouds, a thin mist morning and evening.
I rock between dark and dark,
My soul nearly my own,
My dead selves singing.
– Theodore Roethke, ‘The Abyss’
On Revolution and Its Absence
Revolutions are strange things. There when you least expect it, absent when you do. In this they are a bit like desire and love itself, perhaps the cosmic prime mover of revolutions when you dig deeply enough.
Revolutions have a mixed press, and rightly so. Both conservatives and progressives, albeit from the perspective of radically different assumptions, have a point. Revolutions reveal both the highest- and lowest points of the human spirit, of human evolution, sequentially or simultaneously, as complex, paradoxical and intermingled as the warp and woof of good and evil, life and death, figure and shadow. One moment the reality and hope of human widening and largeness of spirit, the next the despair of petty retributions, herd violence and new, power-hungry leaders. One moment the storming of the Bastille or the forming of the workers’ councils, the next the Terror. One moment the enthusiasm and democratic rationality of the open citizens’ assembly, the next bloody civil war. I miss them, and fear them, desire them like enlightenment and am anxious at the mere thought.
Yet, even if very few would agree at the moment, revolutions are so obviously, dare I say objectively, necessary today in advanced industrial societies if ecocide and the collapse of civilisation is to be averted. The structural incapability of the parliamentary and capitalist system, as much as the authoritarian ‘market communist’ system, to act vis-à-vis survival issues like climate chaos and peak oil is as obvious to the unbiased observer as is its incapability of even mildly reigning in the suicidal excesses of finance capital in particular and neoliberalism in general.
Most progressives do not see it that way however, and place their social democratic/Green hopes on something they call ‘political will’ and ‘good leaders’ and some form of Green New Deal. Yet even a Green New Deal, which would leave the structural power relationships of State and Capital intact while, theoretically, moving towards a lower carbon economy, is not on the cards anywhere. Much less a revolution.
One problem with understanding revolutions is that revolutions are usually seen as merely political events. Change the government, change the leaders, change the constitution. This governmental focus is indeed the legacy of bourgeois revolutions from the English and French to the Russian, Chinese and Cuban (and current Near Eastern) revolutions. Despite some valiant efforts from below, these were mainly changes at the top, new wine in old flasks, new classes in power, same old power. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the French wisely say. They morphed into brutal dictatorships run by the irksome likes of Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro. They were merely new political systems, while society and the economy became capitalist or more capitalist, peasants became workers, wage labour became generalised, and all dissent was brutally repressed.
The revolution needed today to avert ecocide and realise humanity’s potential at this point in evolution is not primarily a political one in the above sense, although that is of course one part of it. Given today’s total interdependence of crises, today’s needed revolution is simultaneously political, socio-economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual. It is integral (‘holistic’), or it is nothing.
Perhaps such an integral revolution can, like nature and the cosmos, be conceived as a set of Russian babushka dolls. The most external and perhaps most obvious form is the political, but inside that is the deeper layer (doll) of the socio-economic and within that the ecological and cultural and, at its central core, the layer or doll of spiritual revolution. All these layers or dimensions are of course interlinked and shade off into each other, but let us summarily look at each in the most general terms of their possible definition.
The political revolution is about the need to institutionalise the direct democracy of an active citizenry in order to self-manage society from below and practically realise the political and social human rights merely promised by the bourgeois state, and this at all levels both within and between nations.
The socio-economic revolution is about the need to make all general economic and technological decision-making a matter of the democratically organised workers and citizenry and creating greater material equality, cooperation and mutual aid within and between nations.
The ecological revolution is about the need to democratically implement an ecologically sustainable society of much lower per capita consumption, and thus ecological footprint, one producing and living within the limits and opportunities of local, regional and global ecosystems.
The cultural revolution is about the need to find forms of community, gender and ecological relations that are non-exploitative, cooperative, creative, non-violent and yet incorporating maximum levels of individual freedom, tolerance and diversity.
The spiritual revolution is about fulfilling the nascent next stage of human evolution of consciousness: post-industrial, post-modern, post-national One World Consciousness and what could be called ‘Collective Individualism’: the bottom-up and voluntary collectivism of strong and free individuals living in conscious social and ecological interdependence.
This spiritual revolution would be an integral, albeit eternally temporary and imperfect, resolution of the old splits and dualisms of human consciousness: of science and spirituality, body and soul, materialism and idealism, consciousness and the subconscious, prose and poetry, the active and contemplative life, individualism and collectivism, love of place/culture and internationalism, of humanity and nature, of male and female.
All these layered and interdependent revolutions are not merely theoretical necessities or utopian pie in the sky. They are the conscious generalization and articulation of what is going on already at some level somewhere in larger or smaller groups and within individuals themselves. To become revolutionary, they ‘just’ need to come together by becoming aware of themselves and their own telos or directionality and consciously forming supportive networks of communication and action.
People pursuing single issues or some separate strand of the above revolutions are at some point coming to realise that their issue can no longer be solved without looking at the structure of the whole ball game and changing it. To prevent ecocide and create an ecological society you need to get rid of capitalism and the capitalist state (the non-democracy of parliamentarianism). To get rid of capitalism and parliamentarianism you need a cultural and spiritual revolution within and between great numbers of people. To save your little neck of the woods you need a global revolution.
This is not as scary as it may sound: on one important level we already are One World, One Planet in the most material and literal of terms. This is destructive industrial capitalism’s constructive legacy. Now we ‘merely’ need to socio-economically, ecologically, culturally and spiritually realise this fact, both individually and collectively as a species. The yawning gap between the objective development of One World and subjective consciousness needs to be closed as rapidly as possible. This collective and practical realisation would itself be the integral revolution we need to survive as a civilised species. When we have deeply realised this fact of global interdependence, we shall, almost ‘automatically’, seek to remove all those old institutions and ideologies of capitalism and the corporate state standing in the way of the liberated, finally conscious, One World, One Planet.
Within all the confusion and chaos we can see the faint lineaments of another, better but never perfect, world forming. Now and again its form takes on the ongoing, dense, compressed form of evolution known as revolution. Like the beginnings of a new language, it is present as organic growth and yet still absent as self-conscious movement. Will its self-consciousness arrive soon enough to avert civilizational collapse and the rapidly approaching ecological tipping points of climate chaos and the ecocide of the sixth great extinction in planetary history?
Time is not on its side. The ecological clock is set at five minutes to midnight. The pressures making for this radical shift in human evolution are mounting, as are the countervailing forces of fear, right-wing reaction and regression into siege mentalities, authoritarianism, jingoism, militarism, police states. Global emergency can become global collapse and regression into survivalism and totalitarianism or it can become global emergence and progression into the revolutionary self-consciousness of One World living equitably and sustainably on our One Planet. The choice is ours.
Words. To Die By
It is forbidden to kill, therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
Let’s focus our imaginations on civilians being shredded, blasted, fragmented, gunned down, maimed. Children, women, men, say, in Iraq. They are being bombed by US planes or attacked by US soldiers or sectarian insurgents or roadside bombs. Frail human flesh is meeting up with all the lethal hardware of war. Frail human souls are being traumatised for ever. Loved ones are being swept from people’s lives as if they had simply been dead leaves on trees. Children are being mangled, maimed, poisoned, orphaned. People are displaced from their ancient homes and forced to flee to other regions or countries.
Now multiply this horror hundreds of thousands of times until you have a screaming purgatory that simply puts an abrupt end to our imaginings limited as they are by our lack of evolutionary experience of such numbers. One family dead, we commiserate; hundreds, thousands, millions dead and we just go numb. If it were on our screens, which it isn’t, we would switch channels.
Then ask why. Why were these civilians being bombed, attacked, displaced, their land invaded and occupied by the armies of the US, GB and Australia? Why is the full extent of their suffering not on our screens?
The answer is, ultimately, as simple as it is ruthless: these people are ‘unpeople’. For our rulers and their media they are to remain for the most part uncounted, unnamed, faceless. In contrast to us, they had the misfortune of being born in a country full of oil, the ruler of which had moved from being an ally of the US Empire to being a recalcitrant, an impediment to what the masters of the empire had defined as their geostrategic resource interests in the Middle East and Central Asia. This particular ruler, Saddam Hussein, a despot like all the others they support or attack, had to be removed. Any civilian casualties were an unfortunate but necessary cost of the operation: ‘collateral damage’ in the dehumanised Newspeak of the military. No eggs cracked, no imperial omelette. No imperial omelette, no control of oil flows to our happy affluence and military machines.
The pretextual PR accompanying the military invasion is of course different. Its narrative is also very flexible, changing according to the circumstances. At first it’s Saddam’s purported link to Al Qaida and his weapons of mass destruction. When this link cannot be sustained and no WMDs are found, the mission switches to one of removing a tyrant and ‘introducing democracy’. After the invasion and usual difficulties of finding the right political puppets, the usual ‘democracy’ of rotating bourgeois and businessmen is introduced and so are the US military bases, the outbreak of civil war and continuing torture in Saddam’s old prisons.
At this point we will leave the discourse of the imperial PR that fills the corporate media. Any further dissection would cement the impression that it is serious and worth debating. It isn’t. It is risible to any thinking observer immune to the perennial propaganda of imperialisms of whatever stripe. That the Iraq invasion of 2003 was a war for oil and geostrategic control is willingly admitted by the more candid members of the ruling elites (Wolfowitz, Greenspan). What is important from a human and ethical perspective is the death and suffering of the victims of the imperial war machine. What is important from a human and ethical perspective is the issue of culpability.
Who are the perpetrators of this invasion, an illegal war of aggression according to the simple definition of the Nuremberg Trials, and thus the most serious crime according to international law? Beyond the immediate perpetrators – the usual military professionals ‘just doing their jobs’, to a greater or lesser extent believing in their own side’s propaganda of freedom and democracy ‒, the prime perpetrators are of course the political decision-makers of the US, GB and Australia.
PM John Howard immediately joined George Bush’s Anglophone ‘coalition of the willing’ to invade and occupy Iraq. Why? Beyond the PR guff, the main reason, even openly admitted in passing, was the one that has always motivated Australian mercenary participation in British or US imperial wars: the alliance, security, protection, insurance. Australian soldiers die overseas not (with the single and honourable exception of World War 2) to defend Australia from attack but because the Australian political elites, and probably most people if pressed, have always felt that Australia is incapable of defending itself against some hypothetical, usually Asian, invasion. It would thus need assistance from a strong, and white, ally, i.e. Britain and, after 1942, the USA. Australian soldiers’ deaths and injuries are thus a form of premium payment for the hypothetical case of Australia having to make a claim on its allied insurance policy with Britain or the US.
This fact is Australia’s at once open and ‘dirty little’ defence secret that defines most of Australian defence, alliance and foreign affairs policy. It also defines some of the ambivalent characteristics of Australian political life and the contradictions of the Australian national character, one which may be seen as a strange mix of ‘obedient larrikinism’, of ‘dependent independence’. An ex-colonial nation that still cannot stand on its own feet to defend itself but continues to cling to the apron strings of a stronger nation is by definition not an independent adult nation but is stuck in childlike dependence. Some, perhaps most, of the macho Anzac posturing and flag waving merely overcompensates for this unpleasant reality.
This dependence has even been explicitly embraced by Australian political leaders in past and present as if to confirm Australia’s willing client state status. One remembers Menzies’ adulation of the Queen and all things British, Holt’s ‘all the way with LBJ’ or Howard’s proud acceptance of Bush’s designation of himself as ‘(Bush’s) sheriff in the Asia-Pacific region’. In this craven role Howard even indulged in some ludicrous sabre-rattling of his own with talk of ‘preventive invasion’ of close Asian neighbours where necessary.
Howard’s co-culpability for the immense suffering of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians is, by any objective measure, a banal fact. According to such disparate sources as the UN’s Kofi Annan, NSW Liberal Party President John Valder and internal legal advice to the Blair cabinet, the invasion was illegal under international law, i.e. a war of aggression. Those who ordered it are thus war criminals.
Cut to the Sydney Writers Festival in May 2011. Here John Howard was interviewed by the ABC’s Fran Kelly on his autobiography published by Melbourne University Press. The event, referencing the autobiography’s title and interview site, was called ‘Lazarus at the Wharf’. The sub-title of the Festival, appearing on a screen before the interview, was ‘Words. To Live By’. Given Howard’s co-complicity for imperial mass murder perhaps this should be changed to ‘Words. To Die By.’
With this event, the Sydney Writers Festival objectively honoured and validated a war criminal. In doing so, it normalized mass murder. It helped ‘disappear’ hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi women, men and children. It was, in the words of Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize Speech, ‘as if it all never happened.’
Two friends and I considered this a scandal. During the interview at the Sydney Theatre my two friends silently unrolled a large banner proclaiming Howard a war criminal as I filmed them. The audience of irate Howard devotees reacted with strong booing. Howard, a master in the projection of reasonableness, reacted with the astute politician’s most advantageous form of damage control: the well-honed bonhomie of ‘let them be’. My friends were asked to leave by Festival attendants but didn’t. In question time they later asked Howard two direct questions in relation to the Iraq invasion. I was asked to stop filming which I did after the second and rather aggressive threat of being forcibly removed.
We note with interest that, to our knowledge, the Australian intellectual community, assuming there is such a thing, has neither in print nor action in any way responded to the scandal of Howard’s validation by the Sydney Writers Festival. There has been a deafening silence. Does this indicate anything about the state of this intellectual community? We would assume it does.
It would seem that writers and intellectuals have always had three choices with regard to their relation to the powerful and their victims: (a) either to sing the praises of the powerful, (b) to sit on the fence and/or ignore them for one’s own special field of inquiry or craft, (c) or else to declare solidarity with the victims and attempt to ‘speak truth to power’. We assume that intellectuals knowing about Howard at the Sydney Festival and not of the first persuasion mainly chose the second option. If so, their stance, like that of the ABC and SWF, is subject to Bishop Desmond Tutu’s objection: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’
To participate in a festival that honours a war criminal is to betray a critical intellectual’s responsibility and to further trivialise public discourse about things that matter to one of self-serving talk-fests, writer celebrities and pure entertainment. It is also to be complicit in the continuing ‘disappearance’ of hundreds of thousands of dead, maimed, displaced Iraqi men, women and children. As long as this complicity continues, ‘words to die by’ will continue to mock their lives or memories.
Four Possible Futures, or: Another World is Possible
This time of weakness and volatility in the whole capitalist system opens the mind to other possibilities. Majorities are disillusioned with both the economic and political elites. In theory, this is a, possibly fleeting, window of opportunity for radicals to shift the habitual parameters of public discourse and raise systemic alternatives.
However, this does not seem to be happening widely, possibly because many feel there are no real systemic alternatives.
Such has been the success of individualising consumerism destroying any meaningful collective consciousness and public discourse.
Such has been the success of the great brain washing project of the capitalist culture machine (corporate media, advertising, PR, corporate think tanks etc.) which began
in the early the twentieth century as a stabilising response both to the perceived threat of the militant working class and the problem of overproduction inherent in capitalism’s growth dynamics.
Such has been the success of Stalinism’s destruction of the anti-capitalist project by identifying ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ with a terroristic state capitalism geared to achieving primary capital accumulation in agrarian countries.
In sum, Thatcher’s authoritarian mind program has been successful for a great many people: ‘there is no alternative’. This essay attempts to counter that dogma.
Of course, the idea of an alternative will be closely linked to the idea one has of what it is supposed to be an alternative to: ‘capitalism’.
Our understanding of capitalism is based on that of one of its first and most radical critics, Karl Marx. According to this view, capitalism is a social formation based on the total domination of society and politics by Capital. Capital, in turn, is both a form of money, an apparent thing and an impersonal relationship of domination by the owners of Capital, the means of production, over the rest of society, most of which is obliged to sell its labour power to those owners or risk starvation. Capital itself is driven by nothing but the compulsion to accumulate money/capital without limit. This is its only ‘value’ and ‘meaning’.
Capitalism is thus a social system in which, for the first time in human history, no social or cultural values determine social production and exchange but only this abstract compulsion of a form of money to grow, make profits and, by doing so, effectively dominate every other aspect of society and nature. As a result, ‘Things are in the saddle and ride mankind’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson) and alienation or pervasive meaningless masquerade as ‘culture.’
The common thrust of all the original socialist alternatives, in contrast, sought to put humanity in the saddle: society as a whole was to democratically and consciously determine its social production and exchange according to need, not power, profit and accumulation. The two broad streams of socialism differed as to what ‘democratically determine’ meant in this context: social democracy and official Marxism opting for the state (whether ‘parliamentary’ or dictatorial ‘workers’ state’), anarchism and council communists opting for grassroots citizen assemblies and/or workers’ councils.
Two broad leftist alternatives to capitalism in its present form are feasible: a more ‘realistic’, reform-oriented model in the pre-neo-liberal social democratic tradition that radically reforms neo-liberal capitalism without changing its essence (‘Green New Deal’) and a more radical model that is another system altogether (Eco-Anarchism). Right-wing pseudo-alternatives to neo-liberal capitalism are also feasible, indeed probable under certain conditions. Let us start with the latter.
1. Friendly Fascism
‘Friendly fascism’ (Bertram Gross) of course poses no real alternative to capitalism at all. Here the democratic constitution and most external trappings of the neo-liberal state are kept while its executive branch and its internal powerful ‘secret state’ continue extending their present inordinate power, usually through the ongoing incremental process of eroding civil liberties and human rights rather than via a military coup. Using fear politics, an artificially created siege mentality and external threat pretexts, the rule of law is severely compromised, with essential liberties like habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, freedom of speech, movement and assembly, the right to fair trial, the right to privacy, the right to asylum suspended, eroded or diluted beyond recognition. Overseas wars of aggression are waged on the flimsiest of pretexts and war crimes committed. Hundreds of thousands of innocents are killed. The ‘neo-con’ governments of Bush, Blair, Berlusconi and John Howard already come very close to this kind of post-liberal, authoritarian system.
So far their social democratic versions (Obama, Rudd) have not markedly differed from this course. While toning down the neo-con rhetoric (‘war against terror’ etc) and making some easy symbolic gestures (joining Kyoto, apologising to the indigenous stolen generations), the post-liberal, authoritarian state is alive, well and progressing. No effort has been made to re-introduce the basic civil liberties and human rights demolished by their neo-con predecessors. The surveillance state, ‘rendition’, torture of ‘enemy combatants’ and wars of aggression (Afghanistan, now extended to Pakistan) continue. Nothing new here: social democrats are notorious for, initially at least, changing the PR styles while continuing with business as usual and imperialism. Capitalism, as an economic system, of course, remains completely untouched. The revolving doors between the political and economic elites continue to merrily turn, assuring the continuing near-identity of these two main fractions of the ruling class. Mussolini’s definition of fascism as a form of corporatism here finds its ‘softer’ expression, ‘friendly fascism lite’ as it were.
2. Classical Fascism
The more ‘classic’ or ‘unfriendly’ form of fascism also poses no real alternative to capitalist economics although it may seem to do in some respects, usually for purely demagogic purposes.
Like other bourgeois politicians, fascist demagogues are notorious for initially attempting to appeal to everyone and no one when they are seeking power. Policies are kept ‘populist’, i.e. general and vague, often with a slight ‘left’ drift in social matters (e.g. ‘banks’, ‘fat cats’, ‘Islamo-fascism’) and staunch nationalism and xenophobia otherwise. The appeal is often to the ‘ordinary person’s common sense’ understood as a murky conglomerate of fearful and simplistic perspectives and ingrained prejudices. Current talk-back radio is rife with it. Renewed forms of this kind of more primitive fascism are feasible under siege conditions of economic collapse, resource depletion, overwhelming waves of migration, wide-scale environmental collapse, food shortages, rationing, imperial rivalries etc. Fearful masses may find fascist demagogues again successfully appealing to their weaker, infantile and paranoid-xenophobic selves looking for ‘strong’ father-figures and scapegoats. Internal and external scapegoats can always be found to deflect attention from ruling elites: ‘queue jumping’ asylum seekers, ethnic minorities, the intellectual ‘chattering classes’, terrorists, communists etc. The ultimate logic of this is of course war.
If leftists and liberals want to avoid the right-wing pseudo-alternatives, they had better start massively struggling for the progressive alternatives. Another world is possible only if people want it. For them to want it they have to first know about it.
3. Green New Deal
This is an ecologically updated version of social democratic Neo-Keynesian reform. Power still lies with the state and Capital. There is, however, massive state intervention in the economy to create new ‘green’ forms of infrastructure, technology and thus capital accumulation. Remaining fossil fuel subsidies are initially used to build high-tech centralised renewable energies as the energy core of production with smatterings of gas, biofuels, CCS, nuclear. There are Green taxes and carbon trading/offsetting. Public works projects. Massive reafforestation perhaps mainly as cloned plantations. Mass transit emphasized over private transport, with latter restricted to wealthy able to buy more expensive ‘green’ vehicles. Capital-intensive high tech is emphasised: nanotech, gene tech food systems, synthetic biology, AT, robotics, virtualisation via online economy etc. The mass media remain corporate-dominated. There is a maintained minimum of social welfare to head off social unrest. The parliamentary system continues with its usual anti-democratic fusion with economic elites. Wage labour is left untouched but there could be some weakened form of a Guaranteed Minimum Income.
Here power lies with local communities, not big business and national parliaments. Resilient and highly conscious communities organise their own economic and political affairs via mutual aid and self-federation from below. Local and revocable delegates are sent to a-once-a-year national forum/parliament to implement the remaining national co-ordinations. There are a plethora of political and economic forms like town meetings, workers’ councils, workers’ and consumers’ cooperatives, small entrepreneurial businesses. Communities are both globally networked and consciously embedded in their local ecosystems and bioregions and operate within their ecological carrying capacities. All communities’ ecological footprints are now sustainable. Consumerism is a thing of the past. Massive reafforestation of natural forests integrated into productive edible landscapes. Ecologically sustainable and localised food production, with many more people involved. Land reform to enable this. Renewable energies are produced mainly locally/regionally as are all other main inputs like materials, tools, food and water. Some complex tools and machines are still produced centrally in semi-automated factories. Mass transit systems are still run centrally but with considerable local participation. GMI and local currencies allow greater freedom from wage slavery and more time for democratic participation in running local economies. Wealth has been re-distributed more equally, particularly vis-à-vis the poor regions and countries to enable them to emerge from poverty.
As always, for us to choose.
To My Brothers and Sisters in Japan
I am speaking to you as one who experienced the Chernobyl catastrophe in Europe in 1986 with a three year old son.I know what you are going through, especially if you have small children. Your children will be picking up on your and the collective fear and anxiety, even, perhaps especially, if it is not talked about. Their dreams, drawings, bed wettings will be revealing this. Hold them close.
This is why the nuclear industry, like nuclear weaponry, is a form of terrorism, a form of corporate and state terrorism against the population. Even when there are no massive catastrophes, leakages and cover-ups, the domestic and military nuclear industries hold us, our children and descendants hostage to their ongoing and accumulative global contaminations and ticking time bombs.
There are more than 440 nuclear reactors in the world, countless fuel reprocessing plants, uranium mines. They are all potential Fukushimas or Chernobyls. They are all an extreme form of industrial violence against life. Nuclear corporations, politicians, experts and adherents are extremists.
However, we must face the fact that nuclear energy is also a terrorism that has been allowed to happen by a majority of the population, whether as outright support, quiet collusion or in naive ignorance.
Many are enamoured of the high-energy gadgetry and ‘all electric’ lifestyle propagated by the corporations and power utilities. Although many share passive discomfort about nuclear energy, anti-nuclear activists actually willing to confront the powerful are usually a minority in all countries.
I am trying to speak to that part of you that is strong and free and intelligent and moral. (If you are not in contact with that part you will probably have already stopped reading this.)
Like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the Fukuyama meltdown is an opportunity to change one’s mind about unexamined beliefs and assumptions about how our ‘democratic’ and industrial-capitalist system works.
One has a choice to continue naively and loyally trusting the powers that be like infants that know no better or of starting to think for oneself like an adult.
The whole system is not primarily structured to express majority opinion and satisfy human needs but to make profits and maintain power for its decision-makers in business and government.
For example, the government does not regulate corporations rigorously in the public interest ‒ that would be so-called ‘socialism’. Not just the nuclear sector but most industry is ‘self-regulated’, i.e. it can make up reports on emissions and emissions controls as it suits its bottom line, with only cursory or no real checks by government. This is called ‘minimising red tape’ and ‘maintaining investor confidence and international competitiveness’. The corporation running the Fukushima plant has been caught cheating and doing fraudulent reports on several occasions, but it is just doing what they all do. Corporations must, by their very nature within the capitalist system, aim to keep costs down and profits high. Fraudulent reporting helps keep costs down. Welcome to capitalism.
The government in every country is thus collusive with big corporations in degrading, contaminating and destroying ecosystems and human health. Science and scientists are not objective and shown to be very malleable for political purposes. As now in Fukushima in regard to occupational radiation ‘safety’ levels, after Chernobyl governments simply raised the legal radiation ‘safety’ levels in food and water in order to ‘keep the economy going’.
What was ‘unsafe’ yesterday becomes magically ‘safe’ today. Abracadabra.
All this primitive voodoo thinking is sold to us as ‘prosperity’ and ‘economic growth’, and most of us believe it like trusting children believe fairy tales.
If you still believe in it, then I can’t see how you can really complain about nuclear meltdowns or the terror your children are experiencing now when the inevitable catastrophe happens. Catastrophes just suddenly reveal how the system always works, at least for all that have eyes to see.
The answer, from my perspective: people cooperating globally to change the power structures so that the people decide what should and should not be produced and how. Nuclear power can never be part of a truly democratic and ecological society.
The people of Japan, once they have recovered from the first shock of the triple catastrophe, instead of passively waiting for the authorities to act, could be seeking to meet up in popular assemblies, organize their own mutual aid and practical cooperation networks, discuss the ways and means of shutting down nuclear power stations and the kind of Japan they want for their kids. I know this is highly unlikely even as it was in less culturally ‘obedient’ Germany in 1987.
As for right now: get potassium iodide tablets especially for your kids to prevent thyroid cancer, move your kids as far from Fukushima as possible and seek out organic produce grown with fertilizers rich in potassium to reduce the uptake of caesium-137. And hold them tight.
‘We’re Rational, You’re Emotional’,
And Other Common Myths of the Nuclearists
The British journalist George Monbiot is the latest environmentalist and climate change activist to convert to nuclear power. Amazingly, it has taken the very meltdown and ongoing contamination of and by the Fukushima plant to finally convince him. He joins a gaggle of previous environmentalists-for-nuclear graced with illustrious names like James Lovelock, Jonathan Porrit, James Hansen, Steward Brand and Tim Flannery. Their common, logically infantile and ethically untenable, position boils down to ‘coal is worse’ (more about that below).
With the overcompensating zeal of the recent convert who needs to bludgeon his own doubts and convince himself of his new creed, Monbiot has written two articles in The Guardian. The one plays down the likely effects of the Fukushima meltdown and reframes the disaster as actual ‘proof’ (‘scientific’, no doubt) of the minimal risks associated with nuclear power plants. The other negates all estimates of the numbers of Chernobyl victims but the official ones by the UN; the former are labelled as unscientific, irrational green scaremongering and conspiracy theories on a par with those of climate change deniers.
For those wanting latest (early April 2011) scientific figures on the contamination catastrophe at Fukushima, they might well start at: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/04/05-8 and http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/04/05. With various emissions thousands or millions of times the legal limits, with iodine and caesium emissions currently 73% and 60% of Chernobyl levels, suffice it to say that the levels of radioactive caesium emitted into the Pacific Ocean will destroy the Japanese seafood industry and impact on others’ as well as the contamination is concentrated up marine food chains. Sayonara sushi, seaweed, tuna, shark. The emerging picture relating to the contamination of Japanese food growing districts and urban water supplies does not forebode well either. The Fukushima plant contains ten times as much fresh and spent nuclear fuel, and thus radiation, as Chernobyl did. Fukushima at the moment seems like Chernobyl in slo mo.
I will leave the discussion of the various estimates of Chernobyl victims (from 6,000 to 1.8 million) to another article. Here I would like to concentrate on a few of the common myths that nuclearists like Monbiot use, ex- or implicitly, when discussing the nuclear issue.
‘We’re Rational, You’re Emotional’.
This is a favourite one at some point in the debate. Science and Reason are posited as being exclusively on the side of the nuclearists while anti-nuclear positions are denigrated as being merely emotional, irrational, conspiratorial, extremist. It is revealing that this monopolising of calm, unemotional rationality for oneself is often, as in Monbiot’s case, put forward with great emotion. It doesn’t take much knowledge of psychology to work out that the self-styled representatives of science and Reason – still mostly but ever less exclusively men ‒ are also driven by complex emotions, the difference being that the emotions are covert and for the most part unconscious. These emotions may have to do with the unconscious defence of self-identity wedded to complex belief systems ranging from things like the efficacy of scientific and technological fixes for all social problems or the need for eternal economic growth right up to the ultimate meaning of life. All these may be seen as threatened by anti-nuclear stances and ‘green emotionalism’.
Scientists, not being trained in areas like ethical thinking, emotional intelligence or social critique, may view all such ethical and ‘soft science’ perspectives as threatening. Denigrating them as irrational and emotional helps avoid them and suppress those aspects within oneself that might be tending that way. It takes a lot of emotion to remain emotionless. Denied is the simple human fact that emotions may guide and inform rationality to the mutual benefit of both heart and head. Yes indeed, the heart may have quite a lot to say about nuclear energy if it is allowed to do so.
‘Science’ is What We Say It Is
In all these anti-anti-nuclear diatribes the notion of ‘science’ is simply assumed as naively defined in the popular imagination: i.e. as an activity that is value-free, objective, non-ideological and non-political, as an institution that possesses a solid consensus on most issues and that can thus objectively guide political decision-making. In a secular world it has come close to replacing the Church as the supreme authority on interpreting reality and meaning-making.
In the real world of course, ‘science’ is a much more complex phenomenon. Rather than being non-political and objective, it is very often closely bound up with social and economic interests. Government and industry can often buy and/or cherry-pick the scientific results they need (as we know they may do with intelligence to justify military invasion). Thus, for example, officially ‘safe’ levels of chemicals or radioactivity in food vary greatly between countries and times and are often adjusted upwards during disasters in order to safeguard specific industries or the economic system as a whole. The definition of ‘safety’ becomes more an ‘economically feasible’ than a strictly scientific issue.
As buyers of research, governments and industry can also define the narrow parameters within which research shall take place. Toxics and radiation ‘regulation’ can decide to exclude the study of long-term effects, of effects in utero, on cumulative effects, synergetic effects, sub-lethal chronic effects, for example, although these are all undoubtedly real-world effects of toxics and radiation. Using self-chosen parameters, the tobacco industry had scientists ‘proving’ for years that smoking was not linked to lung cancer. (Equally, it is simply not possible to scientifically ‘prove’ that it directly ‘causes’ cancer or that humanity ‘causes’ global warming; despite this, many governments have nevertheless restricted the unfettered freedom to smoke but refuse to restrict the freedom to burn fossil fuels).
In addition, many forms of scientific consensus are also not constant but change radically over time: thus officially ‘safe’ levels of radioactivity have constantly been revised downwards over the decades. ‘Safe’ one day, deadly the next, all based on old or new scientific evidence interpreted differently.
‘Science’ is also not a monolithic block of solid consensus: many issues and findings are hotly contested within scientific circles themselves and scientific controversies abound.
During the Cold War, ‘father of the Soviet H-Bomb’ Andrei Sakharov maintained that the fallout from nuclear bomb tests would lead to massive increases in cancer and death rates globally while Edmund Teller, his US counterpart, vehemently denied this. Such scientific controversies also exist because scientific hypotheses, choice of data and results are all dependent on various assumptions made, scientifically unverifiable theories adhered to and methodologies employed. Certain assumptions made will mean that certain data are not even looked for or at. A different methodology applied to the same data may produce a completely different result.
All this should be kept in mind when the nuclearists maintain that ‘the science’ is on their side or, like Monbiot, that ‘the science’ says that the health effects from the Fukushima disaster will be minimal or ‘there is no scientific evidence’ for large numbers of cancers, genetic damage and deaths from the Chernobyl disaster.
Which science and whose science is he referring to? What assumptions was this science based on? Whom does this science benefit and at whose cost? Why does other science come to contrary conclusions? In the end the thinking person can only choose between the credibility of a science paid for by the industrial and state interests that caused the disasters or are keen to continue with business as usual and a science dedicated to the victims and prepared to question business as usual.
Nukes are less dangerous than a CT-scan
One of the favourite nuclearist arguments is that even after nuclear meltdowns like at Chernobyl or Fukushima very few people will die at once and most people not directly at the plant will be receiving only very low doses of radiation that pose no significant health risks. Monbiot mentions that this is what convinced him of the charms of nuclear power during the Fukushima meltdown. These assertions are supposedly based on ‘scientific evidence’. In fact, they are based on very unscientific avoidances or manipulations of the science.
This science can be usefully summarized as (a) the ‘no safe threshold’ hypothesis, (b) radioisotope incorporation, (c) bio-accumulation. Let’s first look at the first two.
That there is no threshold below which exposure to radiation is safe is the one element of scientific consensus that pro- and anti-nuclearists now share. The former have now been obliged to concede this. In the words of the US National Academy of Sciences 2006 BEIR Report VII Phase 2: “the committee concludes that the current scientific evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a linear, no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans.”
A common manipulation that the nuclear industry and governments often indulge in during meltdowns is the emphasis placed on exposure to direct, external gamma radiation (measured with Geiger counters and expressed in sieverts) and the downplaying of the internal radiation received through the incorporation of radioisotopes like iodine, caesium, strontium, plutonium (measured in becquerels) via food and drink. The focus on the former allows soothing comparisons to be made to gamma radiation received voluntarily in X-rays, CT-scans or long distance flights. In actual fact, this external focus is of great significance for the safety of the directly exposed workers but of smaller relevance for the populations of the region, country and beyond. For the latter, the main exposure to radioactive contamination will be via the food and drink they ingest. In contrast even to X-rays or CT scans, incorporated radioisotopes emit their radiation right beside or within the cells and thus cause the DNA damage that may lead to serious illnesses and defects down the track.
Finally, the issue of bio-accumulation.
Don’t Worry It Will All Disperse
The engineering mindset that rules the world and governmental ‘regulation’, loves dispersal theory. The theory is that all sorts of toxic waste products that industry emits from stacks and pipes will form plumes that will soon disperse in the atmosphere or water bodies. The reassuring verb ‘disperse’ is here intended to mean: break up into smaller and smaller particles until there is as good as nothing left and the problem is solved. All plumes, including radioactive ones, become the proverbial drops in oceans and the toxics or radioisotopes are magically ‘disappeared’. Abracadabra.
This is voodoo thinking, an unscientific lie. It is unscientific because it acts as if nature consisted only of physical media like air and water. It ignores living organisms and the elementary ecological fact of bio-accumulation. Obviously plants and animals feed on each other and as they do so up the food chains they, like living vacuum cleaners, increasingly concentrate the microscopic substances that have been incorporated by their food sources. Radioisotopes in grass accumulate in the cow’s meat and milk, those in plankton will concentrate in small fish and even more in bigger fish. The result is that a top-end predator ‒and that includes humans like babies at breasts ‒ will be incorporating thousands or millions of times more radioisotopes than were contained at the bottom of the food chain in plants or water. Nothing really ‘disperses’.
(Just as, at the other end of things, nothing can be really ‘contained’ from contaminating nature for very long either, much as engineers and nuclearists would unscientifically believe so. That is also why the nuclear waste problem is unsolvable on principle.)
Coal Is Worse
Ah yes, the Green nuclearists wearily sigh, nobody is saying nuclear power is not without its problems, but look at climate change, coal is even worse. Unfortunately, this seems a rather emotional and illogical argument to be made by the valiant defenders of calm and pragmatic Reason against the anti-nuclear emotionalists. Need one point out that two wrongs do not make a right, or that jumping from the frying pan into the fire is not exactly the most rational of actions?
To say that climate change will kill many more people than nuclear power ever will seems almost on a par with a statement like ‘Hitler killed less people than Stalin, let’s go with Hitler’. What we will have if nuclearists win out will be both the ecocide of runaway climate chaos and a nuclear wasteland to boot. Nuclearists seem incapable of even imagining a world run neither with fossil fuels nor nuclear energy but with renewables and living at much lower levels of production, consumption and waste.
Look Ma, No Carbon Dioxide (And Ignore the Nuclear Cycle)
Finally, the last number in the nuclearists’ little bag of rhetorical tricks: compartmentalisation. Let’s just look at that nuclear plant to the exclusion of everything else. See how it emits almost no carbon dioxide, isn’t that great? So it must be the solution to the climate change problem, right? Wrong.
Part of the anti-nuclear answer to that has already been dealt with above: two wrongs do not make a right, i.e. the ethically outrageous position of ‘let’s add radioactive emissions to coal’s CO2 and toxics for a real humdinger of a contaminated planet’. The multifarious disease effects of radioactivity emitted all through the whole nuclear cycle from uranium mining through fuel production and enrichment to the power plants themselves (even without catastrophic meltdowns) and eventual ‘disposal’ of both old plants and highly radioactive wastes over hundreds or thousands of years – all these are distracted from when nuclearists focus only on single power plants and their carbon emissions.
Even the latter are not totalled correctly. It is certain that the whole nuclear cycle is, like any large-scale, hi-tech project (including renewables), at every stage highly dependent on large inputs of fossil fuel energy and thus also responsible for considerable carbon emissions in absolute terms. It is important to remember that the planet only cares about absolute amounts emitted, nothing else. In socially relative terms, a single nuclear power plant of course compares extremely favourably to a coal- or gas-fired plant in terms of carbon emissions. However, no one has done a study of the total carbon emissions produced over the whole nuclear cycle including plant decommissioning and waste storage over hundreds of years. The amounts would again be immense. Nuclear power cannot avert climate chaos (for other reasons as well that we need not go into here).
In sum, nuclear power is an extremist technology. No other technology outside its parent nuclear weapons (and possibly bioengineering) has such a capacity to wreak extreme devastation on people and planet. Monbiot has now joined the Green extremists Lovelock, Porrit, Brand, Flannery et al. Whatever they may subjectively believe, objectively these men have become the environmentalist mouthpieces of the nuclear state and capital. I think it is fairly safe to predict that he will, like them, soon receive titles and honours from the powers that be. Arise, Sir George.
General Reflections on the Revolutions in North Africa
• Like the beginnings of most anti-authoritarian revolutions, and especially in these times, the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya fill one with admiration of, and hope in, the ineradicably freedom-loving nature of the human spirit: beneath all the complicated muck and no matter what the culture or nationality, our essence seems to be an inherent sense of justice/injustice and love of freedom that must, in time, surface even in the most draconian of tyrannies.
• Perhaps the main positive outcomes of these political revolutions will be as much psychological as anything else; these masses have now experienced what the quiescent masses in the affluent west have yet to experience: the confidence and self-empowerment that comes through collective direct action to change things and through the practice of direct democracy in a self-organizing movement beyond the stifling control of political sects and parties; they have lost their fear, the main bulwark of all repressive regimes, including ours (‘war on terror’), the world over.
• Another dimension of this psychological revolution is that these people have opened up an imaginative space that enables both them and us to realise that another world is possible and dependent exclusively on our decision to autonomously act together; this, and not the mere change in governments, is the most subversive level of these revolts and one which fills rulers everywhere with the most anxiety.
• The other main positive outcome of these political revolutions is cultural: stereotypes about the supposed quiescence, obedience and passivity of the so-called ‘Arab street’ and/or the dominance of Islamism have been thrown to the wind; age-, class-, religion- and gender-related differences among the people were largely overcome within the unifying momentum of the non-violent citizens’ movement; women’s active participation has meant that their liberation from the repressive strictures and violence of these still largely patriarchal, partly even tribal, cultures have taken an immense step forward.
• We are in awe of the magnificent courage of masses of largely unarmed people prepared to confront, and possibly be killed by, the armed terror of the authoritarian State, its thugs and mercenaries while armed, in Tunisia and Egypt at least, with nothing more than their passionate resolve, and sometimes a few paving stones, to rid their countries of their dictators and autocrats.
• In Tunisia and Egypt the immense power of mass non-violence was again demonstrated, even within the context of dictatorships and police states; again it was shown that non-violence can be crucial in splitting or winning over key sections of the military and police: once the State’s gun-toters mutinee and/or refuse to shoot, the uprising has won; again it was shown that non-violent movements need to counteract both self-defeating tendencies within its own ranks towards violence against people and the State’s use of employed looters, thugs and agents provocateurs to discredit the movement (e.g. Mubarak in Egypt).
• As history teaches again and again, no one can ever precisely predict when the years of collective frustrations and suffering will lead to, or what will trigger, the spontaneous mass uprising against repression; in this case it happened to be the self-immolation of 26 year old Mohamed Abouazizi, Tunisian PhD and fruit vendor after the unjust confiscation of his stall by the police; apparently this extreme symbol of frustrated aggression against a police state turned inwards against himself by an impoverished intellectual touched some deep psychological chord first in Tunisia and then across the Arab world (in much the same way Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat in the bus also sparked the black civil rights movement in the USA in the fifties); the repressive autocrats in Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran suddenly had reason to quake in their hob-nailed boots.
• Again like most anti-authoritarian uprisings, these were spontaneous, leaderless, self-organizing movements of ordinary citizens; being authoritarian and hierarchical propaganda institutions themselves, the mainstream media were initially always looking for leaders and organizations to interview and feature, all to no avail (all they could usually find were the usual ‘oppositional politicians’ waiting for their chances on the sidelines).
• At the beginning of the revolts, and for the same authoritarian reasons, the mainstream western media , like their political masters in western governments who initially continued to support their thugs, were often not at all sympathetic and only gradually did the vocabulary of ‘chaos’, ‘instability’ and ‘mobs’ shift to sympathy for the ‘uprising’, ‘democracy’ and ‘revolution’.
• One aspect of these revolts which thus also slightly tied the mainstream media in a bit of a knot was the fact that they cast a bright spotlight on the otherwise ignored fact that these were popular revolts against the west’s own dictators, thugs and torturers; many have been literally embraced by a range of politicians like Blair, Berlusconi, Chavez and Mandela and, more importantly, cooperated in doing the outsourced torture work for the CIA and also been the Arab friends of the Israeli government; a domino effect of mass revolts could even affect the main Big Oil dictatorship itself: Saudi Arabia, and thus the main guarantor of lower oil prices.
• The mainstream western media of course also ignored or downplayed or openly feared the important role that social questions (food and fuel prices) and workers played at least within the Egyptian developments; the first fearless and inspiring actions against the Mubarak regime came not from the middle classes but from striking textile workers along the Nile; after the political revolution there were rolling strikes throughout the Egyptian economy and, if extended into workplace occupations and systemic demands, these would be the portents of the real (social) revolution to come.
• From the outside and wider perspective of historical development, the limits of these revolutions are also obvious; specifically, the Egyptian movement was not in its majority conscious enough to unequivocally demand the immediate release of all political prisoners as a basic minimum or to refuse the handing of power to the same military and secret service that had oppressed them for years. The ambivalence towards women assuming strong roles obviously remains, even among the activists themselves (cf. the sexual attack on the US TV journalist in Cairo’s main square).
• More generally, these revolutions, like those in Eastern Europe and Latin America, were catch-up 1789 revolutions, i.e. merely state-oriented, political revolutions for the formal introduction of liberal democracies; they were fixated on single autocrats like Mubarak and cosmetic constitutional change rather than on changing the social and economic system itself that underpinned such repressive autocracies; as much as less police state repression is a great achievement, the probability is that they have, as in Eastern Europe, merely changed one set of corrupt ruling oligarchs for another, soon to be democratically elected.
• Obviously, this in no way diminishes the human tragedy of the thousands who lost their lives at the hands of the oppressors or the real, anti-authoritarian achievements and heroic courage of the North African uprisings; sadly, it would seem that stages of historical development cannot be easily leapt over and that the collective learning of the human race must go through much practical self-action, illusion and disillusionment, co-option and suffering before a liberated world of social justice and democratic self-management at all levels of society becomes possible.
The Four Noble Truths of Spiritual Social Ecology
The problem is suffering: avoidable personal, spiritual, social and ecological suffering.
The cause of this global suffering is alienation: personal, spiritual, social and ecological alienation.
The cure for alienation is personal, spiritual, social and ecological liberation: the abolition of alienation.
There is a way of liberation: a watercourse way fed by the countless searching streams of human freedom seeking that ebb and flow, trickle and rage, dry out and issue majestically into the great ocean, sink and source of all beings, symbol of our own original nature or Self.
Notes on the Four Noble Truths
The deep current of suffering, which includes wavelets of happiness, is now total. The closer the potential for liberation, the greater the suffering. The tide of suffering reverberates through all our systems: economic, social, ecological, psychological, spiritual. Hungry and exploited peasants and workers, prisoners and refugees, abused women and children, epidemics of anxiety, narcissism and depression, the pervasive isolation, meaninglessness and spiritual emptiness of capitalist culture and society, the silent suffering of animals and plants under ecological stress or industrial abuse.
However, the suffering of gradual breakdown also contains the potential for break-through, total emergency the potential for total emergence, the emergence from alienation.
Alienation is a form of split and loss. Things that are, in essence, one, or that should be in close communication for healthy functioning, are split apart and made antagonistic or placed in a relationship of domination and subservience, of craving and frustration. The list of alienations is endless, reaching from the most personal to the social and ecological.
The person is alienated from his/her ground or centre, in Jungian terms the ego from the Self. The patriarchal male, fearing and dominating women, is alienated from his gentler female aspects, the patriarchal woman from her energetic male aspects. With the breakdown or destruction of subsistence economies and community in advanced capitalism we have all been alienated from our independent means of livelihood, from our personal power of shaping or growing things and from each other as productive indiviudals. With the historical and ongoing enclosures, proletarianization and industrial urbanisation we are alienated from nature and its local ecosystems. The industrial city dominates and syphons off the surrounding and global ecosystems.
Money, Capital and the State are dominator abstractions with no intrinsic connection to nature and human inner nature. When inner nature is split off from external nature, our conscious minds also tend to split off from the creative potentials of our wild and unconscious natures; art tends to the hyper-cerebral or over-compensatory neo-primitivism, others and bodies become dominated by abstract minds as in most scientific reductionism and industrial medicine. Cyberspace adds another level of abstraction from nature and inner nature.
These splits, separations and alienations have developed over the millennia of human history with the key socio-economic markers being the agricultural, industrial and post-industrial revolutions. However, this ‘Fall’ from the ‘Eden’ of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer society was definitely also a great Ascent. Collective consciousness has evolved from animist and magic thinking to modern critical and post-modern thinking. The long history of domination, exploitation and suffering, and now potential ecocide or nuclear apocalypse, is also one of widening consciousness and gradual liberation.
Liberation is simultaneously personal and collective or it is not liberation. Anarchism would seem to possess the only acceptable social ethics: no one can be truly free when anyone else remains in chains. Conversely, there can be no free society without ex- and internally strong and free individuals.
Liberation is thus no primitivist regression but a forward-thrusting emancipation based on both present individualised-globalised consciousness and lingering collective memories of one-time independence. Liberation is freedom that has gone through domination and alienation, and knows it. Liberation is the healing of humanity’s deep splits and losses. Liberation is the revolution, the revolving, the turning around, the re-finding of true Self, true Nature and community, on a higher, now more individualised, level. Liberation is, reflecting the complexity of the cosmos and ecosystems, a spontaneous self-ordering by enabling the free communication of differences within and between free and equal human beings.
For the first time in human history, commensurate with the encompassing nature of the global crisis, an encompassing liberation of humanity is possible. The material and immaterial, collective and individual, economic and ecological, spiritual and scientific have become increasingly interwoven strands of one critical knot and can only be liberated together or not at all. For the first time truly universal individuality, based on material equality, is now possible on a mass scale. Liberation is One World Consciousness practically realised.
How to get there? Ends cannot be separated from means. Liberation cannot be achieved by domination or violence, elitism or sectarianism. The end is the means, the Way, the Path, the Dharma, the Tao. Humans have struggled against oppression, domination and exploitation in a multitude of forms, many but not all of them violent, over the millennia. This is a rich heritage and reservoir of creative tactics for liberation, from sullen go-slow and boycott to sit-in and general strike. The sense of justice and freedom would seem to be innate.
Strictly, i.e. paradoxically, speaking, these means, these tactics already contain the ends, the liberation itself. Totally unfree individuals could not even conceive of freedom, much less struggle for it. Even more paradoxically still, the splits, un-freedoms and alienations are in some spiritual sense illusory, otherwise they could not be perceived: we can only even conceive of liberation if we are, in some sense, already liberated. The split can only conceive of the One if it is in some sense already one. One can only suffer under a sense of alienation and desire the end of alienation if some aspect of one is non-alienated. The ego can only conceive of the true or original Self if it is already that Self. How can we conceive of, or hope for, a liberated future if that future is not already in some sense contained within, or some version of, the present?
This paradox also relates to all scientific endeavours and their tacitly assumed splits between observer and observed. Scientists never seem to understand they are the cosmos they are peering at through their telescopes. Their complex mathematical theories and models of the universe are models of their own minds. The universe is the mind in its explicated aspect. The mind is the universe in its implicated aspect. Like scientists we are all a little like cats chasing our own tails pretending the tails are separate from us, that natural laws, mysterious dark energy, black holes, liberation, ‘God’ are somehow ‘out there’.
In that sense, there is truly nothing that needs to be done for liberation except realise that we already are liberated. This revolution is not one of compulsive, busy strategic doing for planned outcomes but one of not-doing, of ‘wu-wei’. This does not at all mean doing nothing. It means, as in the Mahayana Buddhist notion of the Bodhisattva, acting radically in the spirit of disinterested non-action for the benefit and liberation of all beings. It means knowing liberation is both already there in the means and, in another sense, not there at all.
Thus, the final paradox perhaps: the avoidable suffering, domination and alienation in the world are totally real, outrageous and unbearable, to be passionately struggled against with all one’s strength, and, at the same time, they are ‘unreal’ aspects of our true selves. We seem to be both in the world and at the same time not of it. This paradox cannot be solved by any sleight of thought but only within radical action in the paradoxical spirit of non-action that seeks to transform self and society into the liberated cosmos of community, free of avoidable suffering, they already are. It means floating flowers in the void as we struggle for bread and roses for all.
Like The Air We Breathe. How Capital Achieves Domination in Advanced Societies
Introduction: The Ideology of the End of Ideology.
For the liberal-social democratic orthodoxy that now rules most minds, class and class domination no longer exist. While it is conceded that such unpleasant phenomena may have existed from the Bronze Age through to, say, the proverbial child labour and dark satanic mills of the nineteenth century, and perhaps even up to the Great Depression of the 1930s, they now are simply as good as absent from the scene.
As we know from the various recurring ideologies of the ‘end of ideology’ and ‘end of history’ (read: Marxism, socialism, class) first posited by Daniel Bell in the boom time 1950s, hierarchical class societies have been replaced by something like ‘flattened’ democratic pluralist societies of rising affluence in which various ‘interests’ or ‘lobbies’ now just equitably jockey for ‘position and influence’. In this view, Big Business and Labour lobbies now simply take their pluralist place alongside those of the welfare, farming, environment, indigenous, compassion and other ‘industries’. Democratic government then mediates and balances out these various interests ‘in the national interest’ and to maintain what all obviously want: economic growth and development. Social problems have thus now become mere technical problems to be fixed by more funds, experts and more growth and development. History has mysteriously ended. Power, class, and domination simply no longer exist. They apparently died around 1945. Or perhaps around 1947 when President Truman invented the notion of ‘Development’…
Cui bono? This technocratic ideology of the end of ideology of course suits those in corporate and political power just fine. They become invisible. At the same time, like most ideologies, this particular version also contains an important historical truth.
The nature of class and class domination has indeed changed considerably since the days of Marx, Mill and Bakunin. In the age of the ‘information society’ and cool designer capitalism, the Old Left caricatures of capitalists as cigar-smoking fat men in black top hats no longer quite cut the mustard. While every small-time local drug hoodlum may sport his Rolex, a capitalist can now wear jeans as well as Armani jackets or even assume the persona of a vegan Asian lesbian feminist if need be. Even queer can be cool. Workers are also no longer the slouch-capped burly men of the old Depression era newsreels but more likely to be checkout ladies at the supermarket, call centre workers in Mumbai or IT workers staring at a boring, number-filled screen all day in open-plan offices with staff volleyball and mountain-bike racks. An increasing academic or semi-academic proletariat of nominally independent consultants, part-time professionals and small entrepreneurs (a new white collar ‘precariat’) would also seem to muddy the old bi-polar picture of Capital versus Labour.
In short, domination, social class relations and systems have indeed become much more complex and differentiated in ‘late capitalism’. The significant post-1945 shifts to consumerism and fairly generalised affluence, declining industrial workers and increasing service and professional workers, outsourcing, state welfare nets (to name but a few)… all these have of course radically changed the forms of the old class and domination equations in the advanced economies.
However, whether they have changed the essential substance of these equations is another matter altogether. Globally, it could even be argued that class polarisation and domination have never been so stark: if immense wealth equates to immense power and wage labour to a modern form of slavery, then, in Adrian Peacock’s apposite phrase, we are indeed in a situation of ‘two hundred pharaohs and five billion slaves.’ Such are the bare statistics, but where is the old ‘prime mover’, where is Capital in all this?
Paradoxically perhaps, the more Capital has permeated, informed and reconfigured modern societies in its own image, the more it seems to have indeed become invisible. ‘Capital’ is not a discrete ‘thing’ but shorthand for an exploitative relationship between invested money and labour, a system. And systems, like a society or a forest, can of course never be ‘seen’ but only individually or collectively imagined. What now makes this perhaps even more difficult is the fact that in advanced societies at least, Capital no longer represents the violent cultural uprooting and ‘shock of the new’ it did during its industrial origins (and as it still does in newly industrialising countries like China and India). In Gestalt psychology terms, what was once a sharply visible foreground against a pre-industrial, pre-capitalist background has now become the background itself. There now seems little left with which to contrast it. For most, it has become like the air we breathe: unnoticed, at least until we choke on it. Fish also do not know they swim in water. Until they are somehow yanked out of it. This essay can be seen as a compressed attempt at such a yanking.
It is hardly contested that Capital (also more familiarly known as the mainstream reifications of ‘the economy’, ‘markets’ or the ‘free market’) of course dominates the economy and the workplace, and that this is so whether or not there is any formally countervailing power in the shape of trade unions, for example. However, Capital cannot securely achieve this domination without also dominating in three key areas of society outside the economy itself: (1) individual socialisation, (2) culture, (3) democratic government. By dominating psychologically, culturally and politically in these key areas, Capital gets the individuals, culture and governments it needs. It achieves cultural ‘hegemony’ (Gramsci). These areas are all essential to securing its constant expansion, its minority class interests and social power at the expense of the well-being of current human majorities, future generations and the very ecological viability of the planet as a beautiful living organism on which we and all other life forms so critically depend.
Our points are presented in summative form as rough general guidelines for constructing a social system according to the interests of Capital.
(Cautionary note: this Machiavellian approach of course certainly does NOT mean to imply the near-lunatic notion that the social structures of domination by Capital are consciously developed and implemented by some global conspiratorial cabale of capitalists plotting in the backrooms of some anonymous skyscraper near Wall Street. That kind of personalising village-scale subjectivism is at least two to five hundred years out of date and is simply absurd in a world totalised and objectified by Capital. There is no simple linear or intentional causality at work here. Seen systemically, people as specific individuals do not matter very much at all. Specific people can be replaced, as long as their systemic roles and functions remain intact. These complex structures of domination grow and differentiate under the whole historical momentum of the capitalist and industrial System itself as it develops. They simply ‘go with’ or ‘constellate as’ the system that is driven by the core, unchanging logic of Capital: self-accumulation and domination. Although the interlocking webs of the System function in the interest of Capital and specific holders of wealth and power, no one ‘rides’ this particular beast. As both Marx and Emerson noted even at a much earlier stage of Capital, ‘THINGS are in the saddle and ride mankind.’)
1. How Capital Socialises the Individuals It Needs
Our core argument here is that Capital-as-consumerism needs mal-bonded, unvalidated, neurotic, ‘other-directed’ (David Riesman) individuals with low self-esteem (psychoanalytically: weak egos). Such weak egos will attempt to fill or compensate this inner sense of inadequacy, hollowness or emptiness with various bought commodities (including ‘experiences’) that can, however, never completely satisfy the unconscious need to be loved or validated and thus have to be frequently exchanged for new ones.
At the same time, Capital-as-domination needs mal-bonded, neurotic, ‘other-directed’ individuals with low self-esteem who will internalise core capitalist values and thus conform, obey and not question their order-givers but rather identify with strong leaders as unconscious parental figures who promise to protect them and fix their problems for them.
In short, Capital needs ‘kidadults’ (Patrick White), i.e. individuals ‘stuck’ in infantile patterns of response and unfulfilled needs for love, recognition, validation. Advanced Capital needs the generalisation of the psychological personality disorder known as ‘recognition hunger’ (Eric Berne) or ‘narcissism’ (Freud). Maternally malbonded, abandoned, misrecognised or unvalidated in a critical (‘narcissistic’) phase of infantile development, such individuals later have problems building strong, secure identities and relationships and are prone to a generalised sense of meaninglessness, emptiness, loneliness, anxiety and/or depression. The foundations of the basic neurotic and ‘other-directed’ character structures the system needs are built up throughout the socialisation process from the early perinatal period to adolescence.
(a) Perinatal Separations and Mal-Bonding
• Discourage empowering natural birth processes and midwives
• Strengthen fears in mothers-to-be about their inner capacity to give birth
• Isolate mothers in hospitals away from traditional support networks
• Medicalise birth: redefine birth as a medical ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’ by doctors
• Interfere with and complicate natural birth processes as much as possible through cascading chemical and/or surgical interventions (contraction modifiers, epidurals, caesareans etc)
• Separate the newborn and mother as much as possible to impair the innate mammalian bonding process and further separation anxiety and anxious attachment
• Encourage bottle feeding as soon as possible to minimise breastfeeding and impair bonding, encourage maternal re-entry into the paid workforce asap and sell formula
• Encourage separate rooms and prams for babies and infants to lessen holding-bonding, increase sense of isolation and self-loathing and sell more baby products
• Propagate infant rearing theories that discourage meeting its needs for unconditional love and attention (‘spoiling’) and increase its sense of self-loathing and isolation, e.g. ‘controlled crying’, ‘toddler taming’
• Make it financially difficult and socially unappealing for women or parents to intensively care for children for first 2-3 years
• Continue the perinatal mal-bonding and dis-validation process by profitably ‘outsourcing’ child care as soon as possible (e.g. from 6 months onwards)
• Encourage a for-profit pre-school industry run on industrial lines: maximum throughput/revenue (children) with minimised input/costs (staff).
• Fund research supporting ‘no harm’ theories regarding institutional pre-schooling
(c) Infants and Primary School
• As in pre-school, under-fund staff and resources so that class sizes remain large and attention given to individual children’s needs is restricted
• Set curricula that emphasize the abstract/intellectual skills (needed in advanced capitalist job markets) as soon as possible to further disadvantage working class children, diminish natural-practical, sensory-imaginative learning and the development of relational/emotional intelligence
• Structure the school and classroom system to run mainly via individual competition and extrinsic motivation and achievement (grades) rather than via cooperation, process pleasure and intrinsic motivation
• Begin the internalisation of the industrial ‘hidden curriculum’ (Ivan Illich) of schooling: the experience of powerlessness and the belief in the experts/authorities (teachers)
(d) Secondary School
• Continue the under-funding and the under-valuing of teachers, especially in the public school system
• Cement class structures by having a public-private, hierarchical and/or meritocratic system in which dominant middle class values, curricula and people are the gate keepers to social opportunity
• Isolate schools from the community and work
• Fragment learning into tightly separate subjects and divorce them from interchange and from the practical and socially useful
• Continue to habituate students to extrinsic motivation and achievement (grades), individual competitiveness and the industrial rule of abstract clock time
• Continue the ‘hidden curriculum’ of schooling: the internalisation of powerlessness, non- or token ‘participation’ in school management and belief in experts (teachers)
• Strengthen the emphasis on abstract/intellectual skills and ‘information’ rather than holistic learning and the development of understanding/knowledge
• If at all, give the development of critical thinking and the creative imagination only secondary or decorative roles within curricula and the school structure
2. How Capital Achieves Cultural Hegemony
Our core (‘Gramscian’) argument here is that Capital needs a generalised ‘culture of Capital’ in order to maintain its social domination over minds as well as core economic decision making. Capital needs to create and maintain the core frameworks of meaning (i.e. culture) that permeate society. These frameworks come to define ‘normality’. This culture then pervades all social institutions from the family and school to the media and entertainment industries. It becomes part of the almost invisible interpersonal fabric of a society, a thoroughly ‘normal’ and almost ethereal net or veil of unexamined assumptions and values that lies over most social interaction. Some of those assumptions and values are often indicated in both obvious terms like ‘individualism’, ‘materialism’, ‘market values’, ‘consumerism’, ‘scientism’, ‘reductionism’, and also in less obvious ones like socially prevalent definitions of ‘work’, ‘achievement’, ‘success’, ‘meaning’ or ‘happiness’.
• Make people totally dependent on your system by historically, violently separating people from their autonomous means of livelihood (land, households, tools, skills), from nature and from their traditional communities and structures of meaning/cultures (industrialisation, modernisation)
• Introduce the factory system and wage labour (i.e. the compulsion to work for someone else in order to survive) and attendant waged work-oriented culture (‘Protestant’ work ethic, thrift, clock time orientation/punctuality, self-repression, authoritarian character, ‘materialism’)
• Dis-empower and reduce the family to an isolated, non-productive economic unit of consumption and recuperation from wage labour
• Encourage the urban breaking up of extended families/support networks and the development of ever smaller family units of consumption and social isolation
(b) Corporate Media and Culture Industry
• Ensure that the main channels of public information, discourse and entertainment (the media) are firmly in private hands and run as for-profit corporations selling industrially produced cultural commodities (‘information’, ‘entertainment’) and corporate advertising space
• Counteract and sideline any remaining socialising agencies (family, community, church, school) by swamping society with medial socialisation through powerful, industrially produced images, especially via TV and the internet
• Brainwash and socialise children from infancy by short-circuiting natural, active, sensory and body-oriented learning and inundating them with the passive and cerebral consumption of entertaining, fast, fragmented images, stories, role models and commercials and video/computer games
• De-politicise people by letting TV commodify and reframe politics and social issues as disconnected (meaningless) items of personalised trivia and ‘celebrity’ sound bites, lurid sensationalism and ‘entertaining’ spectacles of passive consumption
• For the presentation or debate of social issues, help manufacture consent by setting narrowly liberal parameters of ‘pluralist’ discourse which disallow views that radically question the system itself
• Further help manufacture consent by setting narrow parameters of ‘newsworthiness’ so that phenomena or events that might undermine trust in the system are generally not even reported (e.g. the system’s millions of ‘unworthy’ victims, the lack of effective regulation of corporate activities)
(c) Advertising Industry
• Using all the insights and tools of psychoanalysis and behaviourism, create powerful marketing images embodying capitalist values that appeal to unconscious drives and conditioned responses
• Create ‘perfect’, often sexualised and gendered, self-images and styles that build on and reinforce a pervasive sense of personal inadequacy which can then be apparently alleviated by buying commodities
• Effectively privatise public consciousness and space by monopolising and saturating media and public urban space with advertising
• Brainwash children from infancy with saturation marketing so that as many as 200,000 TV commercials will have been seen by age 18
• Artificially create and maintain a broad variety of segmented ‘style’ markets (gender, age group, sexual orientation) that reinforce segmented group identities and social divisions
(d) PR Industry, Think Tanks, Front Groups
• Create a separate ‘public relations’ industry exclusively concerned with manipulating public opinion for the benefit of corporate and state interests and disseminating corporate and state propaganda
• Use mass PR and advertising campaigns to swamp poorly funded alternative views
• Provide media with video and audio news releases then broadcast without disclosure of their corporate PR origins
• Fund a plethora of private propaganda institutes (‘think tanks’) and publications to work on framing public debates in the corporate interest, especially in economic matters
• Set up and fund a plethora of ‘independent’ and ‘citizen’ front groups to counteract the work of progressive NGOs
(e) Research and Universities
• Reduce public funding of universities and public research institutions so that these must become more dependent on corporate funding/sponsorship/partnerships and research for corporate needs rather than public welfare
• Restrict free academic research and the traditional intellectual commons by commodifying research and knowledge as saleable ‘intellectual property rights’
• Create revolving career doors between Big Business and academia
3. How Capital Runs Democratic Governments
Our core argument here is that democratic governments are not democratic at all in the original sense of ‘run by the people’. They are in fact democratically elected oligarchies run by Capital. They are the formally interchangeable, state executive wing of the same elites that make up Capital. Major political parties always represent nothing but differing wings of the one (‘System’) Party. Minor parties may at times present more seemingly ‘radical’ agendas; however, even these ‘opposition’ agendas are as good as never systemic, are ditched as soon as coalition executive power is achieved (for systemic, not ‘betrayal’, reasons) and serve to dissipate and bind more radical energies to a belief in reforming the system rather than re-structuring and replacing it. These reforms are often those of the more advanced wing of Capital and express the conditions that the system currently needs in order to expand or maintain itself .
• Make sure all fundamental economic decisions (e.g. on investments) are always quarantined from democratic and governmental interference (‘let the markets/managers decide’, ‘efficiency’, ‘cut red tape’, ‘de-regulate’, ‘privatise’ etc)
• Create your own unelected global economic government/administration to where necessary directly or indirectly override elected national governments (World Bank, IMF, WTO)
• Where necessary use your own institutional autonomy to economically blackmail elected governments that seem to threaten your interests in any way (threat of capital strike/flight, currency devaluation plus corporate media backup)
• Through a system of ‘revolving doors’ between the various bureaucracies of Big Business and Big Government, make sure that essentially the same people run both
• Now and again you can even have your own CEOs directly run governments (e.g. Bush-Cheney administration) and/or write their actual political policies for them yourselves (e.g. PM Howard’s energy and climate change policy)
• Make sure that all key policy decisions are not made in the public arena, democratic parties, elected parliaments or even cabinets but behind closed doors in meetings between the most senior members of the political executive, bureaucracy and industry lobbyists
• Embed own interests in the political bureaucracy by infiltrating it via the non-public committee system and influencing the advice it provides to the political executive
• Where possible even embed your own lobbyists as part of official government delegations to international conferences
• Via industry-government partnerships and your own ‘think tanks’, provide direct advice and research work for government in your own interests
• Guarantee easy access to government executives and make politicians and parties financially dependent on you by a system of overt and covert donations to party funding
• Back up your power over government by selectively framing issues in your own interest and maintaining constant ideological pressure via your own corporate media editors, commentators, radio talk-back hosts, PR industries and polling consultants.