The Earth To Live,
Capitalism Must Die
By Juan Santos
This is the Day of Reckoning. This is the Time of Purification. This is the end of the “world”, the end of the city-state, the end of city life, of “Civilization.” The early Christians called it the “apocalypse,” the unveiling. Now, at last, the truth of what we have been presents itself unclothed. There is nowhere to hide. It is upon us. Like a cancer, capitalism, industrialism- truly the most advanced stage of civilization – “advanced” the way that a cancer is called “advanced” - has ravaged the body of the Earth. Life on Earth is disappearing. Nothing that can be done- or that will be done – under the system of global death called capitalism will save Life on Earth. The capitalist, as Karl Marx rightly noted, is “the soul of capital personified.” – a soul unable to see beyond the limits of its own immediate perception of “gain.” The capitalists as a whole – as a white imperial world-ruling class - understand the depth of the emerging crisis as well as we do. But they advance nothing more than schemes to sustain markets and profits, while life itself is allowed to perish in a holocaust in the making, one whose end is as certain as a nuclear winter.
There are no words to convey the depth of criminal horror and illness of the rulers of a system that would create the conditions not only for genocide on an unimaginable, all but limitless scale, but that would commit the murder of all life – ecocide, biocide and geocide - in order to shield themselves from change and protect and maintain their ability to produce “profit.”
But the holocaust we are entering is not made of a single criminal act - it is not the pushing of a button by a lone madman in a fit of religious mania or suicidal despair, it is, rather, the accumulation of a billion little deaths, the reaching of a critical threshold of death, until death itself boils over, the way that water, when it reaches its threshold of heat, roils over the edges of a pot, waging war on the fire that feeds it. It is the final explosion, the river of blood from the slaughterhouse spilling over its banks, no longer to be contained. It is the millions of children beaten, molested, raped, enslaved and “schooled.” It is the billions who live on less than a dollar a day. It is the slow soul murder of television and of going to “work.” It is a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. It is the homeless and the mad left hungry and frozen in the street. In the US, it is the millions of red, black and brown men locked behind prison bars, the mass terror of a racist system whose aim is to brutally reduce whole peoples to a state of utter subjugation, degradation isolation and immobility. Like the Nazi holocaust or the conquest of the Americas and Africa, it is not a single event, it is an historical process and an all - permeating “way of ‘life.’” It is the “supreme” way of life; the “non-negotiable” way, as GW Bush put it; the “American Way.” The capitalist way.
Marx and Engels had this much wrong. Civilization, slavery-based economies and more efficient forms of production like industrialist capitalism and socialism have not led to “progress,” unless “progress” can be counted as progress toward mass death and destruction, toward the enslavement and grave endangerment of human beings – all of us- and of every living plant, animal, fish and insect. Fundamentally, Marx and Engels believed in “profit” at the expense of the living Earth as much as any industrial capitalist – they just wanted to share the profit more broadly in a different money-system. The fundamental alienation of people from their connection with all life – and the most fundamental exploitation of life – would ultimately remain intact.
The Marxist project has failed, just as capitalism has failed. The state didn’t gradually “wither away” over a protracted period of change called “socialism.” Under the conditions prescribed by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao, the state can’t wither away. The state and the city are a single dialectical identity, a unity of opposites - they’re two faces of a single process, and the state can’t “wither away” unless the fundamental process of domination, control, exploitation, ecocide and genocide called the city – “civilization” - also withers away. The city necessitated the state and the state enabled the city. The city and the state arose together and they will die together. No one has remained free anywhere the city-state has arisen or in any area it’s conquered. No one has been free. Not the rulers. Not the ruled.
But that’s all over.
There’s a capitalist maxim: “Grow or die.” The maxim holds true within the limited sphere of the circulation of money and the accumulation of capital in a particular economic system; each individual capitalist project must compete – grow – or be swallowed by other capitalist ventures; in other words, it must “die.”
The system’s true believers never thought they’d reach the limits of growth, but that is just what has happened. They’ve reached the limits of their “resource” base – the ecological and geological limits of what can be destroyed to produce more profit. The game is over. They broke the bank. They were warned. They didn’t listen. They’re still not listening. For them, and for most of us who’ve not shaken our entrainment in the ways of seeing the world they stewed us in as children, we have come to an unimaginable passage. Call it the end of the world as we know it. That’s the deal. The inescapable deal. It’s over. One way or another. Either this “non-negotiable” way of “life” ends, or the capacity of Earth to sustain life ends. This is not to say that some solutions can’t be found. It is, rather, to say that any “solution” that doesn’t undo the fundamental theft and imbalance inherent in the system of profit is not really a solution at all. The problem is global - total. The magnitude of the solution must equate with the magnitude of the problem. The system of theft and imbalance called profit is simply not sustainable, not on the whole, not in part. Life that can’t be sustained dies. The capitalist equation is now turned right-side up: “Stop ‘growth’ or die.” And it’s not just the capitalist mode of exploitation that must end. We’ve got to eradicate the cancer at its root, and, of course, capitalism, and modern industrialism more broadly, are built on the foundations of earlier, less “efficient” systems of exploitation and destruction.
While the psychological and biological functions or dysfunctions - the emotional splits and repressions that lie at the very core of the origins of our cultural dysfunction - have yet to be fully articulated and formulated into a coherent picture that explains their intersections with cultural suppression, economic exploitation, and political oppression, this much is clear. The first and fundamental practical expression of these dynamics in terms of their impact on the life of the Earth lies in this: The acquisition of land title by force and the enshrinement of “property” as social law.
That’s how “civilization” started: a city cannot exist without seizing the land around it. A city is all-but by definition a concentration of people too large to be supported by the land within its own boundaries – it must seize control of nearby lands or its population will starve.
The seizure of land by force – both for agricultural and herding purposes and for mineral extraction – continues as a key link in the survival and expansion of a global human population whose numbers are rapidly outstripping the capacities of the territories it already dominates to sustain any further population increase. The result is the rapidly escalating destruction of the world’s forests (and the concomitant eradication of a huge and increasing number of plant and animal species), along with the bottom trawling of the oceans for fish to feed the spiraling human numbers, with the concomitant eradication of 90% of the world’s large fish populations. Other clear examples include the seizure of the territory of the nation of Iraq for its oil and the seizure of a significant portion of Navajo Nation land and the forced removal of its population for access to the 18 billion tons of coal that lie beneath its surface – basically the same thing that is happening to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region as their land is seized for farming, ranching and oil interests. “Growth” means an increase in exploitable “resources,” whether those resources are oil, coal, the fertility of the soil itself, or the “resources” for a “green” economy, like the ores to make the steel to build “environmentally friendly” hybrid cars (auto production creates, to cite just one example, 7 billion pounds of un-recycled scrap and waste annually.) The end result of this orientation toward economic “growth” is death for the land base, for the indigenous cultures that care for it, and for the life the land and native peoples support. It is a cancerous growth. Same as it ever was.
A capitalist – or socialist - “green” economy is little more than another step in the evolution of a millennia long series of more “efficient” systems of exploitation and destruction. The fundamental premise behind the concept of a “green” economy and “green” growth is that the exploitation and destruction of life is somehow ultimately sustainable. "He is blind," as one Hopi elder put it, "So he destroys himself when he tries to save himself."
No matter what we call the mode of production and destruction, and no matter how we distribute the “profit” - the “wealth” extorted from life and living systems – continued growth in production and destruction for the sake of human consumption can lead to only one end. Sooner or later – really sooner than later – we are going to crash full bore into the limits of growth – into the absolute limits of the “carrying capacity” of the Earth – the end of its ability to feed one more human, the end of the capacity of ecosystems to endure the disappearance of one more species without a complete and perhaps irreversible collapse.
There is, if we are honest with ourselves about it, only one possible result that offers hope. It’s not, I am sorry to say, social revolution. Nor is it the process of “bringing down civilization” advocated by some anarchist greens and anarcho-primitivists. The simple fact is that there is no evidence whatsoever that revolutionary movements aimed at an overthrow of the state or at the literal, immediate, physical dismantling of the machinery of death can be developed on a sufficient scale with a sufficient understanding to undo what must be undone – nor could the seizure and wielding of state power do the trick. Not only is the state itself based on the seizure and maintenance of land title by force, but the existence of the state requires the existence of the city – it requires that the fundamental dynamics of empire, “resource” exploitation and “profit” remain intact.
Marx’s postulation notwithstanding, for the state to “wither away” the City must also “wither away”.
It is only the accumulation of wealth at the expense of other forms of life that makes the concentration of power in a state apparatus possible. Only an increasingly radical imbalance in the energy flows of the planet, an imbalance skewed toward humans at the expense of all life, makes for such an accumulation, and the imbalance must grow in concert with the human population’s growth until it reaches the very crossroads we have reached today. The seizing of state power in no way changes the fundamental equation. An ecologist might say that the equations of the
solar budget are the only equations – the only bottom lines – that count.
The only way out – which is to say the natural way out – is a population crash. No human-invented scheme can overrule the way – the natural consequences or “laws” of nature. And what happens to any and every population in overshoot in nature is a population crash. It’s nature’s way.
It can’t be improved upon. It can’t be subverted. It can’t be avoided, although, perhaps, the severity of the collapse can be softened. Blame is irrelevant, except to the extent that in identifying causes, we are able to learn and avoid their repetition. But, a human population crash will do nothing more than delay even worse results – like utter extinction – unless it is accompanied by a profound process of identifying and learning from what went awry in what has gone before.
Under the best of circumstances the global economy and the global system of dominance that rests on it will run into limits it cannot transform – so that it cannot continue until the point that the global ecosystem – life itself – collapses all around us and within us. In the best case scenario, peak oil will prove just such a limit, a limit that sinks the system of production and destruction to such a degree that it prevents it from resurrecting itself.
This formulation can, of course, be denounced as Malthusian. It can also be denounced by revolutionaries of all kinds. But here’s the simple fact. All we can do is hope, and to the best of our ability, align ourselves spiritually and strategically with the forces of life. Yes, as Derrick Jensen suggests, hope is what you do when you have no agency, no power, no control. But then, it is precisely our drive to control and reorder nature that has brought us to this point, and it is that drive for control, and the pain that drives it, that must be healed, transformed and left behind. But, while we may not be able to control outcomes, make a revolution or “bring down” civilization, we can align ourselves spiritually and strategically with the forces of Life.
By the same token and the same logic, the key tasks before us lie not in saving the global economy, not in creating a “green” economy, not in inventing new ways to exploit new energies in order to continue to mine the life of the Earth, nor in any other activity that would seek to preserve this system in any form whatsoever.
The key tasks before conscious people today are the forging of a profound understanding of what has gone wrong – a sweeping and utter re-evaluation of all values that will be tantamount to a new renaissance, a conscious re-creation and co-creation of culture. Much of that work began to be undertaken in the 1960s, and has borne important fruit, like William Kotke’s work, The Final Empire. It is ours to forge an authentically sustainable culture, even in the midst of this civilization’s fast approaching end – by relying on and integrating the deepest, clearest and most coherent teachings of traditional indigenous cultures, of students of the ecology, and of the multivalent healing practices of both indigenous cultures and of the new therapies that have arisen in the last 50 years. Such a movement – one that is intent on restoring the Earth and fostering social justice and renewing our cultures by incorporating the values and vision of indigenous peoples – is already underway on a global scale. Paul Hawkens, in his important book Blessed Unrest, calls it an “unstoppable movement to re-imagine our relationship to the environment and one another.” His research shows that it is the largest movement in human history, involving some 2-3 million organizations worldwide and some 200 - 300 million people whose cultural, ethical, political and ecological creativity are already impacting billions. That the processes of renewal - of healing, rectifying and relearning - will best be fostered among those in living in direct contact with, and in a caretaking relationship with the Earth and other, non- human living beings should, I hope, be self evident.
Juan Santos is a Los Angeles based writer and editor. His essays can be found at: http://the-fourth-world.blogspot.com/. He can be reached at: JuanSantos@Mexica.net.