Email Forwarded from Charles A. Hall, Sep 7, 2010
A number of my correspondents have expressed the opinion that my pessimistic views of our economic, political and social future are, shall we say, a bit on the extreme side. For all of our sakes I hope you are correct. On the other hand, Eric Chornenky has forwarded the article below, ‘Peak Oil’ and the German Government, which neatly outlines one of the more profound issues facing (and, in almost all instances, publically ignored) governments and policy analysts around the world. To make matters even worse, “peak oil” is only one of many critical “peak resources” modern industrial capitalism requires to keep the gears of the military-industrial-financial complex humming along and – as many neo-classical economists blindly presume – growing forever. I am therefore taking this opportunity to offer a summary explanation of why I am not optimistic about our future as a people, as a nation and as a species.
Capitalism, as many of you understand clearly, cannot exist as a coherent economic system in the absence of steady consistent growth. If growth fails, capitalism fails. It is a simple and some would say inevitable nexus. And resource limitation is only one of many hydra-headed monsters facing our national and international communities. Most Western governments and many of the social institutions supporting them, particularly those in the United States, have become hopelessly corrupt servants of international financial interests and the military-industrial behemoths surviving on the public dole – either directly through infusions of tax dollars or indirectly through regulatory capture and forbearance. Most of these interests are controlled by short-sighted ideologues who are theologically certain believers in the absolute truth of neoclassical market economics – and hopelessly and mindlessly corrupt in carrying out their beliefs. That is to say, they don’t follow the principles they claim to cling to with ideological certainty – there is no free market, there is only a rigged socialized market serving their parochial interests – pushing the rest of us ever deeper into an inescapable black-hole of debt.
In many nations of the Middle-East and Far East, where there is frequently less need for pretense of public participation, moves aimed at corralling needed resources are proceeding apace – though at varying rates depending on relative national power and wealth. The BRIC coterie of nations are working on becoming either internally or collectively self-sufficient in critical resources at the expense of Western industrial powers. They may succeed at this for awhile but, ultimately, they will also fail to gain control of all of the resources needed for economic stability. And, as if this is not enough, global climate change (and, at this stage, the cause of the change is absolutely irrelevant because humanity is not, and perhaps cannot, do anything meaningful to arrest its progress) is proceeding at an ever quickening pace which may in the short-term threaten global food supplies (through increased desertification) even if petroleum resources remain sufficient to keep the “green revolution” rolling for the next few years.
This is a time when, if homo sapiens were truly “rational” creatures, we would recognize these and other equally demanding challenges to the existence of the species and make some effort to put aside long-standing cultural and tribal disputes over who did what to whom 200, 500 or even 4,000 years ago – but we won’t. Dave Cohen (Decline Of The Empire) asserts that we can’t – that there is a fatal flaw in the human character (perhaps in the genome) which prevents this type of collective action for the benefit of all. And, I agree. I see no indication whatsoever that we are capable of learning from past mistakes, of reasonably and rationally analyzing the nature and scope of the problems we face and coming up with any unified effort to respond to the limits of humans continuing to live on this planet. Instead, we chose the time-tested solutions of “I’ll get mine first, no matter the consequences for you.”, and / or “We can just keep doing what we’re doing and science, technology, some really bright people, space aliens, etc. will figure out a magic bullet solution and save us all before it’s too late.” It was Albert Einstein who famously wrote – Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is where the world is today, and this is why I see no silver lining in the optimistic views of most of my peers.
Clearly, I don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future and I am certainly no brighter or better informed than any of you on these issues. But, unlike most of you, I don’t see humanity progressing in any sort of positive way toward some future state of perfection or even necessarily a better state of existence. We have, it is true, made significant – even magnificent, in some instances – advances in science and technology. And yet, for each positive advance, each new wonder, we have found ways to use these processes and developments against ourselves. We can now kill more people more easily at a greater distance with fewer moral qualms that at any time in history. And, if history is any judge, we will. But, whether we do it in a final surge of hydrogen fury or by the inadvertent release of a toxic gene or the climatic destruction of our ability to feed ourselves makes little difference, in the end – if we can do it we will – whether deliberately or accidently. With all else we believe we have mastered over the millennia, we have not managed to master the capacity to know our limits and to know what is in our own best interests – and this will be our downfall. Life on earth is a process, it has no direction. The purpose it has for humans is the purpose we give it. Thus far, humanity has failed to demonstrate that the evolutionary process of intellectual development has matched intellectual capacity for self-destruction.
Richard Dawkins posited the concept of the “selfish gene” but he failed to note that it was also a stupid and self-gratifying gene – parasites always tend to consume their hosts.
John Fowles in philosophical text The Aristos said it best for me:
To the outside observer all the special privileges we claim for our species, all the feathers in our cap, might seem as absurd as the exotic ceremonial finery of some primitive chieftain; of no more significance than the flowers in my garden for a surveyor. My flowers may mean a great deal to me; but I cannot assume that the purpose of evolution is to give them to me.
What we call evolutionary progress is so for nothing but ourselves. The very term ‘evolution’, with its assumption of development-from, is misleading. We are like the observer in sub-atomic physics who distorts the nature of the particle observed by the very act of observation.
The indifference of the process to the individual objects that constitute it, this ‘God’ which is a situation and not a person, which does not intervene, this blind obsession with the maintenance of infinity – all this may appear to leave our human world intolerably bare. But even here one can detect evidence of a universal sympathy. How can we not see? By not being in our sense of being, by not intervening, ‘God’ is a warning to us that Homo sapiens, like every other form of matter, is not necessary, but contingent. If our world is annihilated, and all of us with it, the whole will not suffer. It is madness, a delusion we inherit from our remotest ancestors, to suppose that thanksgiving can influence the course of events; that these man-like projections of our own wishful thinking can intervene on our behalf in the process.
No one will save us but ourselves; and the final proof of the sympathy in ‘God’ lies in the fact that we are – or can by exercise become – free to choose courses of action and so at least combat some of the hostile results of the general indifference of the process to the individual. . .
We are in the best possible situation because everywhere, below the surface, we do not know; we shall never know why; we shall never know tomorrow; we shall never know a god of if there is a god; we shall never even know ourselves. This mysterious wall round our world and our perception of it is not there to frustrate us but to train us back to the now, to life, to our time being. . .
It is in this that we have, in my opinion, failed ourselves and humanity. We have freely chosen our course of action. We have yet to learn to think in the now, to the understanding of life and its contingency on this planet. We think only of ourselves and our immediate circumstances. What we can get – and keep – for ourselves; not what we do for our species and those others dependent upon our actions for survival. For much of life on Earth we may be “God” – and thus far we have been a bitter and vindictive one indeed. As we proceed with “business as usual” the food chain grows shorter by the day, the rate of extinction increases until, absent the hydrogen crucible, Soylent Green (look it up) will likely become our sad and bitter end.