T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men alludes to the end of the world coming “not with a bang, but with a whimper..” However the end of capitalism will not be the end of the world; far from it. It will be a glorious new beginning for humans and the other species on this planet.
In a blink of evolution’s eye, capitalism has done more damage to the planet we co-habitate, than any meteorite strike or cataclysmic galactic event. The destruction of species is occurring at phenomenal speed, the changes to our climate through gaseous emissions, the poisoning of much of our planet for millenium… and for what?- a bank balance with lots of numbers?, some pretty things that self-destruct in your hands after a year or two?, the capacity to tell your friends about all the places you have seen?; merely “Dust in the Wind” as the band Kansas would say..
To change the direction of this juggernaut of self-destruction requires more than political will, a mass movement or a United Nations declaration; we are all of on board this juggernaut -whether we are up there in the driving seat, or hanging on for dear life on the roof desperately trying to claw our way inside to the easy seats while it hurtles towards oblivion. We all have an investment in ensuring that this insane model of “progress” continues; we are “locked in” for the ride. .. (the university degree that you spent all those years sweating over so you could get the job of your dreams, the expensive house you spent years slaving away at a horrible job to afford, or simply the years you spent at the factory so your kids could get an education…)
However some have a greater investment in it than others.
John Peterson from the Arlington Institute argues it this way:
It’s almost as though there is a “coefficient of adaptation” associated with human societies that varies with the relative level of “development” (whatever that means) which describes the amount of change that a social system can effectively assimilate without becoming unstable. It’s not just quantitative, but also qualitative, having clear hot-button issues (often related to women and the role of government) that, if pushed too hard, accelerate the movement toward state change.
What also happens, of course, is that the powers that be, regardless of the particular discipline or sector, see the abrupt change as a threat and, like white corpuscles rushing to staunch a wound, leap forward in defense of the status quo – regardless of the relative merit of the new proposal. This is where I get hung up. It’s as though the “system” embraces the status quo, even though things are clearly not working very well and treats thoughtful new proposals as mortal threats, even as people die and suffer because of the present policies. And it’s not just that they defend the status quo, but that they leap to attack the new ideas in very non-rational and sometimes inhumane terms.
Does all this imply we should all be living as medieval peasants in some country idyll?
No , but we can, if we have time, start to turn the wheel, take the foot off the accelerator and truly experience the scenery-instead of watching it whipping past in a blur. Imagine if the money and hype that is now put into selling this or that useless product, was instead put into showing you how to work alongside your neighbour, how to create living spaces around us instead of neat and tidy ones, how to co-exist with the other species we live alongside, how to avoid conflict and promote peace, how to stop and just enjoy these brief moments we all have in this life.
Yes, we surely need good sanitation, clean water, cheap healthy food and good shelter. There is plenty to go around for all the billions of humans on this planet right now. Yes we will need to learn how to consume less and enjoy more; there are plenty of tools out there to do that right now if one cares to look.
We cannot afford to have people control this world and its resources whose only interest is the production of power and money for themselves and to hell with everything and everyone else. Those fools are dragging us to oblivion , the point at which literally this planet becomes a hell-hole. Poisoning the world and its living things, paving over the living earth, killing our fellow species, for a few cheap baubles -that is truly insane. Sadly we are all “locked-in”: -we cannot see the madness.
But, there is a saving grace to this. While Lovelock has reneged on his view of the Earth as a living entity “Gaia”- this planet has not! We are rapidly reaching the point as humans where we are opening our eyes to the damage we have caused; where the cost of “improving’ or maintaining our standard of living becomes too great-we have reached “peak capitalism”.
And just as with “peak oil”, the point of optimum utilization of a particular process is invisible to the onlooker; the forces change and adapt. The price of oil rises inexorably year by year but we only notice the ebbs and falls; the capacity to pump oil crude out of the ground wanes, but production stays with demand as we develop more costly and more environmentally damaging processes like shale oil… and consequently economies begin their progressive wilt under the ongoing pressure….
The fundamental flaws in the capitalist system become ever-widening abysses into the unknown; and we have the opportunity now to create something wonderful for ourselves as human beings and for our fellow species on this planet.
That opportunity is neither capitalism or communism or any other “ism” created to capture or -redistribute the “wealth” of this planet. It is an understanding that we are not the guardians of this planet, (we have made the most appalling job of trying to do that!); we are simply co-habitators whose guidance will come from listening and valuing everything around us.