20 January 2007
“The less you eat, drink, buy books, go to the theater, go dancing, go drinking, think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save and the greater will become that treasure which neither moths nor maggots can consume — your capital. The less you are, the less you give expression to your life, the more you have, the greater is your alienated life … So all passions and all activity are submerged in greed” – Karl Marx, notebooks, 1844
If one looks at the historical record, in times of severe social upheaval almost without exception, societies respond in remarkably similar ways, most often by resorting to apocalyptic visions most often accompanied if not actually delivered by messiahs of one kind or another, who offer salvation if and only if, we accept the word. The alternative is presented as being too horrible to contemplate and/or an afterlife consisting of essentially more of the same.
Today’s world is no exception, depressing I know but the failure of the socialism to offer a viable alternative to the ongoing capitalist disaster has left many millions of people not only vulnerable to the offerings of all kinds of ‘solutions’ whether one of a variety of religious fundamentalisms or even nuttier alternatives (is this possible?) which I won’t bother to go into here, but also desperate for a solution. The net result is a vicious cycle, for even those who adopt one of the ‘solutions’ on offer find that things do not change, except for the worse which in turn drives many to seek even more extreme alternatives.
And it is also this vulnerability that gives the ruling political class their raison d’etre for the various ‘solutions’ they have to offer, whether it be the endless ‘war on terror’ scenario or the increasing clampdown on civil and political rights, all of which appear to offer stability in a world of uncertainty and increasing chaos.
Tony Blair’s speeches for example, are predictably full of such glop composed of vague generalities as well as a healthy dollop of quasi-religious platitudes and even medical metaphors would you believe (I have documented them at length elsewhere).
To add to our litany of woes, we now have what appears to be the ultimate apocalyptical disaster on hand, climate meltdown. Is there no end? Apparently not for if we thought that producing political/economic alternatives to capitalism is difficult enough, averting climate change requires us to do what we should have done decades ago and perhaps, without be overly apocalyptic myself, it may already be too late to avert.
But there again, it may not and this presents the capitalist class with a convenient ‘out’, for on the one hand they can use climate chaos as a convenient scapegoat to further repress our diminishing standards of living as well as justifying their ongoing assault on the planet’s people, all in the name of saving us from ourselves. For along with the ficticious ‘resource wars’ we have once again the ‘over-population crisis’, a ‘crisis’ confined conveniently to poor people of colour in far-off (and not so far-off) lands.
And if you think I exaggerate, just look at the slew of ‘green’ programmes on offer on TV, radio and in print, all telling us to tighten our belts but continue to consume but consume in a ‘green’ fashion. It’s the ultimate in eating your planet and keeping it (as long as it’s us who do the keeping)!
Of course, nowhere will you see anything resembling an alternative to the present economic free-for-all. So for example, we are told that we have to reduce ‘our’ use of packaging but can you imagine going into your local supermarket, buying a chicken and ripping it from its plastic packaging and telling the checkout person that all you need is the chicken? Chaos would reign for the packaging not only has the price on it but also the bar code needed to track the unfortunate chicken’s ‘progress’ from factory to toilet bowl. I suppose you could do it aprés the cash register, but if anyone does attempt to do this, I’d be interested to know what happens. But in any case, it still doesn’t solve the problem of the useless production of plastic packaging made from, you guessed it, petroleum products.
To add insult to injury, in an effort to shift the onus from manufacturer to consumer, some local councils are now experimenting with charging consumers per bin of garbage whilst others now want to fine the hapless consumer for ‘mis-binning’ (a new word for the dictionary) the crapola, that is to say, putting plastic in the bin reserved for paper or whatever! Yet there is no national standard for disposing of waste, thus my local council (Lambeth) only allows me to ‘recycle’ particular kinds of plastic, the rest goes into the landfill and it has no means of recycling clothing, ideal for paper making (unless of course it’s made of plastic, sorry synthetic fibres, then it too, goes into the landfill or up the chimney flu). Other councils have different ‘standards’ for waste disposal.
Contrast this approach with a story I saw the other day on Cuba which has just completed the entire switchover from incandescent light bulbs to low power, fluorescent versions. Overnight, they just stopped selling the old, energy intensive bulbs (invented well over 100 years ago and basically unchanged since then) and replaced them with the new low consumption version (not to mention the fact that they last about ten times longer). Can you imagine this happening under free-for-all capitalism? Dream on.
While we’re on the subject of Cuba, it has also completed a shift to the organic production of vegetables, pesticide-free (they cost too much) and has created a national education project to assist in the transformation to sustainable, small-scale agriculture. Again, imagine the howls from big agri-business if such an approach was to be mandated by what passes for government.
Even the BBC, in its late night news programme last night (BBC 2 ‘Newsnight’, 18/1/07) devoted time to actually raising the issue of whether capitalism was capable of dealing with these issues at a fundamental level, the consensus being a resounding NO. Of course nobody mentioned the dreaded word Socialism, preferring instead to skate around the issue of an alternative. But of course the fact that capitalism is the root cause of our current situation was inescapable, based as it is on endless ‘growth’, that is to say, persuading people to buy products they don’t need in order to make a profit.
At one point the BBC reporter even raised the issue of what to do about the future of giant multinational corporations but again, the alternative was unthinkable and unmentionable, instead the viewer was left swinging in the wind with the programme suggesting that it was down to us to change our ‘life-style’.
The paradox of not only reducing our consumption but also the kinds of products we consume without transforming the economic nature of production was hinted at but again, no alternative was offered. Instead, a CEO of a leading soft drinks company talked of “responsible capitalism” and of measuring his company’s “carbon footprint” but as there was no guest on the programme to challenge his assertion about the inherent contradiction of a ‘responsible capitalism’ and to offer a viable alternative, one can only guess at the conclusions the viewer came to but they are not too difficult to imagine.
Yet even the fact that the BBC, mouthpiece for the government, has been forced to at least acknowledge the crisis that faces us, reveals that many millions of people in the UK and elsewhere are, at the very least deeply perturbed by the situation, for in spite of their illusory wealth, they are afflicted with a vast array of dis-eases from addictions of all kinds, psychological disorders as well as the more obvious physical effects, obesity, heart disease and so on. In other words, as a society we are sick, unhappy and alienated and all is the product of the capitalist way of death.
What amazes me is the fact that the left in the totally misnamed developed world has failed to grasp Marx’s essential observation about the nature of capitalism, alienation, and to develop an alternative based upon the creation of a socialism of modesty and sharing, in a word, community, where the development of our spiritual life is central to the creation of a society in harmony with the planet that is our (only) home.
‘Could it be that we are unwittingly precipitating another punctuation that will alter the environment to suit our successors?’ — James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaea
Which brings me on to to my pet interest, the concept of Gaea, named after the ancient Eygptian goddess of the Earth, the Earth Mother, giver of life, mother of all gods of the ancient world. Derided when James Lovelock first proposed the notion over thirty years ago, the concept is now generally accepted as a coherent model for explaining the fact that life is the regulator of all chemical and geophysical processes, including the nitrogen and carbon dioxide cycles, in other words, the climate, even down to being central to locking surplus carbon into rocks. The entire process we call the biosphere is one, single, infinitely complex, interlocking ‘organism’.
We are therefore, merely one expression of this complex process, albeit apparently its most complex one, but as the venerable Frederick Engels so eloquently stated:
“…we have the certainty that matter remains eternally the same in all its transformations, that none of its attributes can ever be lost, and therefore, also, that with the same iron necessity that it will exterminate on the earth its highest creation, the thinking mind, it must somewhere else and at another time again produce it”. —
Frederick Engels, from the introduction to ‘The Dialectics of Nature’, 1883.
All very well, but I would rather we try and rescue what we have right now and before it’s too late.
It is perhaps the realisation of this fundamental reality that is finally sinking in to our addicted and damaged lives that will finally move our tired and sorry arses and get rid of the bastards who are destroying our once beautiful planet.