Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New End Civ Video

Here's the latest (absolutely outstanding) End Civ installment:  Premise 3

The Reified Universe

I just read about a new theory of gravity.  Gravity is an emergent property of the second law of thermodynamics (a.k.a. the law of entropy), a kind of space-time wake created as the unevenly distributed parts of the universe move to lower energy states.   The basic theory has a real intuitive flavor to it.  Think of an uncountable number of bathtub drains distributed throughout the cosmos—the more matter, the more drains; less matter, fewer drains.  The planet Jupiter: lots of drains; the feathery centipede currently undulating across my floor: not so many.  Or maybe a balloon analogy would be better.  Think of a constantly shrinking balloon.  Gravity is akin to the air around the balloon moving in the direction of the constantly retracting balloon surface.  In this sense, gravity is not a force in itself, it’s just something that happens as a result of the balloon shrinking.

But wait.  It’s not the fabric of space-time, it’s the information in the universe that is affected.  Information.  No metaphor here; information is the stuff of which the universe is composed.  According to a couple of Korean theorists, information is continually being erased at the event horizon at the edge of black holes.  Yes, that’s right, erased. This continual deletion process means that some parts of the universe will contain more information than will others.  Gravity is simply the transmission of information from information-dense regions to the more backward countries.

I suppose that we have always created the universe in our own image.  We are told that this is the information age (who is it, I wonder, who has told us this).  And now even the stars are to be understood as only so much data.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Depression is a product of industrial civilization.  And I mean “product” in a very literal sense.  Depression is processed, manufactured, and distributed much like any other product. 

OK, so I’m guilty of a bit of reification here.  But consider for a moment what depression is, what its functional role is in the survival of the species, and then how that function has been co-opted and redirected by the corporate industrial complex. 

Depression, or the collection of psychological states that we associate with that term, is something that happens as a result of goal frustration.  It is a very expensive use of energy for an organism to continue to pursue a goal in the face of insurmountable obstacles.  The depressive state is a means of getting the organism to stop, to disengage from all goals temporarily until it is able to realign its goal pursuit.  The shallow and unnatural goals generated by industrial civilization establish the preconditions for chronic goal frustration. 

Enter corporate marketing.

Friday, March 19, 2010

On Primitives and Progress

The meme of cultural progress surfaced during a casual conversation I was having with a biologist the other day.  The biologists made a disparaging comment about primitive lifestyles, specifically referring to them as “non-advanced”.  I responded by suggesting that it depends on how you define advancement, and that to say that tens of thousands of years in relative harmonious symbiosis with the environment seems quite advanced compared to the approach taken by modern industrial civilization.  His retort—attack, actually—honed in on the idea of symbiosis and harmony.  He made reference to the mass extinctions that accompanied the appearance of humans in the Americas as evidence that humans have always exploited their environment in ways that caused problems. 

I wonder whether I can adequately articulate all of the ways his response bothered me.  First, it is still an open issue whether the large mammal extinctions seen about the time that humans crossed the Bering land bridge were caused by humans or merely coincidental.  Let’s allow for the sake of argument that there was in fact a causal relationship.  If so, then you have a clear example of what can happen when an invasive species is introduced into an ecosystem.  This has no relevance to the question of whether Paleolithic lifestyles were superior lifestyles to ours.  What about Africa?  There have been hunter-gatherer peoples living in Africa since the beginning of people, right up to the present day—hundreds of thousands of years of unflinching environmental support for the tribal lifestyle.  It was only with the advent of agrarian lifestyles that the interaction with regional environments became unsustainable.  What about tribal Native Americans?  In areas where agrarianism was limited, harmonious sustainable lifestyles were maintained until the arrival of Europeans.

Maybe his response can be understood in terms of differences in our definition of “harmonious.”  When I think of harmoniousness or symbiosis with the natural environment, I don’t mean to infer that life was all peaches and cream.  When a local human population decimated the local sources of food (as many surely did), they suffered starvation and death, and bloody conflict with neighboring tribes over depleted resources.  Eventually balance was restored.  The general lifestyle was sustainable and maintained in check by a natural give and take—that’s what I mean by harmonious.  Such a lifestyle can exist indefinitely.  The shift from tribal subsistence to agriculture is not an advancement when you consider it brings with it (1) a linear exploitation of the environment that is ultimately unsustainable, (2) division of labor accompanied by the hierarchical distribution of power (read: access to the resources necessary for survival), (3) a three- or four-fold increase in the amount of work for the majority of the population (defined as time devoted to the provision of necessities—hunter-gatherers spend roughly three to four hours a day “working,” and rarely if ever make a clear distinction between work and other kinds of activities).   I’m not sure I could even begin to elaborate all of the specific ways that industrial society represents an additional (exponential) deterioration of the human state of affairs on top of that seen with the shift to agrarian lifestyles. 

The entire (absurd) notion of progress is itself merely a by-product of industrial civilization.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pseudo Arguments against the Primitivist Agenda

Countering typical arguments against the anarcho-primitivist posture (based on those found here):

1. Anarcho-primitivists want to abolish technology.  But doing so would have dire consequences for (a) the environment in terms of nuclear waste leakage, etc., (b) individuals with medical problems requiring technological intervention, and (c) the general quality of life.

(a) The continued existence of the status quo has dire consequences for the environment.   Nuclear waste leakage is guaranteed to occur regardless.  We are screwed either way.  We can hope for some future solution to each of the individual problems industrial civilization has produced while we continue to generate additional problems, themselves requiring some future technological solution.  That’s conceptually analogous to ripping the leaky board out of the bottom of the lifeboat to use it as a paddle.  It is ridiculous to think that adding more of what caused the problem in the first place is any kind of solution.  To think that technology is going to save us from the mass destruction caused by our technological system is pure arrogance.  And worse, it’s delusional.

(b) Right now there are millions of individuals with medical problems that require technological intervention who will die because they do not have access to the technology.  And the number of people whose lives existing technology will be able to extend does not begin to offset the number of people currently dying from medical conditions caused directly or indirectly by life in industrial society.

(c) The general quality of life argument is probably the most difficult to counter.  Not because it has any merit, but because it doesn’t make any logical sense.  Two issues need to be clarified right up front.  First, what do you mean by quality of life?  And second, whose lives are we talking about?  If you are talking about quality as a matter of convenience, or how technology provides us with labor-saving devices, then the argument doesn’t hold water.  Most of our so called conveniences (e.g., automobiles) are convenient only with respect to the behavioral requirements of living in a technological society.  Rain-forest dwelling tribesmen have absolutely no use for automobiles.  And, they spend considerably less time “working” than the denizens of our technologically enlightened world.  The extremely rich among us, of course, live very well.  But for them to do so requires a society supported by literal hoards of wage slaves who live far more austere lives.   And if we use the median as our measure of average, then there is every indication that the average quality of life will continue to deteriorate as global population increases and the chasm between the very rich and the very poor continues to expand. 

2. The planet will not support 6-7+ billion people living pre-civilization lifestyles.  Thus the end of civilization will require a dramatic reduction in global population.  Primitivists are not clear on how this will come about.  Who decides who gets to stick around?

The planet would not long support 6-7 billion people living Western consumer lifestyles.  Civilization is unsustainable.  What part of the word unsustainable do you not understand?  There is a limit to what the planet can support.  We may have already surpassed global carrying capacity.  Whenever a species exceeds carrying capacity, there is an inevitable—and usually very dramatic—reduction in population.  Our increasing global population is a direct result of technological advances in food production.  Historically, for every advance in food production, there has been a subsequent proportionate increase in population.  It is our technology that has pushed us to the brink of carrying capacity and can therefore be blamed for the inevitable massive die-off that looms in our future.  The proximal cause of the die-off may be war or a global pandemic or starvation or something else or a combination of these things.  But our advanced technology is what got us to this point.

There are of course intelligent ways of reducing population to the point of sustainability—ways that do not require any existing person to die.  We could, for example, take steps to make birth control a widespread global norm, take steps to ensure women everywhere have control over their reproductive rights, etc.   Substantial negative population growth could get us within striking distance of sustainability in just a few generations.         

Who decides who gets to stick around now?  Who decides it’s OK to incinerate innocent men, women, and children in Afghanistan?  Who decides whose attempts at genocide are worthy of military intervention and whose are allowed to proceed?  Who decides which inner city infants deserve medical attention and at what level?   

3. Related to number 2:  even allowing for some massive pandemic or environmentally-generated reduction in human population, it will be the poor and powerless who die off; the rich and powerful will still be able to exploit their power and we will still have a class society.

Right.  That’s where the anarcho- part of anarcho-primitivism comes in.  That’s why it is the machine of civilization itself that needs to be the target, not just its technological accoutrements.  The powerful in society are powerful only because of their position within the hierarchical structure.  Where are the rich and powerful going to get their food when transportations systems are no longer operating?  Where are they going to get the energy to heat their mansions when power plants no longer have access to coal?  Without the artificial hierarchy imposed by civilization, the playing field becomes remarkably flat.

4. It is not civilization itself, or industrial technology that is the problem.  It is the particular way we do civilization, our political system, consumerism, or corporate capitalism that is the problem.  We can solve our problems by fixing the existing system.

This is the progressive delusion.  History provides plenty of evidence against this theory.  Every previous civilization has eventually disintegrated.  Civilization involves the unidirectional concentration of resources and the exploitation of (the vast majority of) people.  The problems are structural, systemic.  Our system isn’t broken.  It simply doesn’t work.  Actually, I should say that it works very well for an exceedingly small and powerful minority—but even then only for a finite period of time.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Hope is a Virus

The April 5th edition of NewScientist included a piece by Debora Mackenzie entitled The End of Civilization.  Mackenzie suggests that the increasing complexity of our global civilization makes it increasingly vulnerable, and that a temporary work-force reduction similar to that caused by the flu pandemic of 1918 could terminally derail the system.  The problem, she says, is one of interdependency and a complete lack of redundancy.  Specialization is important for our global network to function efficiently.  But a high degree of specialization leaves the entire network at the mercy of its weakest nodes. 

The tone of the article is one of ominous warning.  We need to build redundancy into the system to avoid catastrophic failure.  And, of course, the driving assumption is that we should work to preserve civilization at all cost.  Interestingly, the article ends by pointing out that subsistence farmers would be least affected by civilization’s collapse; and the author couldn’t resist throwing a disparaging barb their direction, saying that “Perhaps the meek really will inherit the Earth.”  Subsistence farmers meek?  Comments like that cut right to the heart of Western arrogance.  I know, let’s have a reality survivor show where a subsistence farmer and a Wall Street banker spend a year on an island.  Smart money is on the farmer.  The truth is the meek have already inherited the Earth, and it’s time we reclaim our birthright from these meek quasi-humans.

Back on point: two things about this article are relevant for the current discussion.  First, the machine of civilization is becoming increasingly fragile, which should give some hope to those of us searching for ways to pull it apart.  Second, because interdependency and specialization are the very things that give the global machine its power, by heeding Mackenzie’s warning, increasing redundancy and decreasing specialization, we will be essentially starving the beast—and doing so in a way that eases us into a post-civilization lifestyle.    A post civilization futureif there is to be one for us—will include an extremely high degree of redundancy from one local community to another, a bare minimum of interdependency, and specialization limited to local expertise. 

Unfortunately, I can’t see any of the global corporate monsters acquiescing to policies aimed either at increasing redundancy or reducing specialization. 

So I guess we tend our gardens and wait for the next pandemic.

The Mismatch Hypothesis: An Allegory

Our brains—and thus our behavioral tendencies—have evolved in response to very specific environmental and social conditions.  Many of those environmental and social conditions no longer exist.  There is an enormous mismatch between our present-day circumstances (life in modern post-industrial society) and the kind of world our physical and psychological systems have evolved to deal with.  Many if not all of our most pressing physical and mental health problems can be traced to this mismatch.

A reworking of an allegory that I read in one of Scott Nearing’s books a long time ago:

There is a small town by a large rock outcropping at the base of a tall hill, right below where a minor highway makes a hairpin turn.  Several times a year, a car will miss the turn, careen down the hill, and smash into the rocks.  The nearest hospital is twenty miles away, and the town has but a single beat-up ambulance that is always breaking down.  So even when there are crash survivors, they often die en route to the hospital.  One day the town receives a windfall from a rich benefactor.  The townsfolk all agree they are going to spend the money to fix the problem of people dying as a result of the highway situation.  Immediately the town cleaves into three factions.  One faction wants to buy a new ambulance and pay for a professional driver so that survivors can get to the hospital more quickly.  Another group wants to put high-tech water-filled crash bumpers at the base of the hill as a buffer; they argue that this would greatly reduce the seriousness of the injuries to the point that trips to the hospital would be exceedingly rare.  But there is a third group that wants to find out why the cars are missing the turn in the first place.  Once we understand the problem with the highway, they argue, we will know the best course of action to take to prevent the accidents before they occur—maybe all that is needed is to install a small guardrail at the top of the hill, or a warning sign, or both.  

In terms of dealing with the mental health problems that result from the mismatch, the ambulance advocates represent social workers and charity organizations; the bumper advocates represent psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and the medical community in general, with its emphasis on pharmacological “treatments”; and the third group represents experimental psychologists and other empirically grounded social scientists.

This allegory can be applied to general political postures as well.  The ambulance advocates are socialists.  The bumper advocates are corporate capitalists.  The third group represents the delusional progressive stance.

There is, of course, a fourth approach to the allegorical situation, one that finds its clearest expression in the anarcho-primitivist perspective: let’s remove the need to drive; let’s fashion a lifestyle that makes automobiles superfluous—or the more politically germane variant of that approach: let’s blow up the highway and sabotage the machinery (both bureaucratic and metallic) that could be used to rebuild it.

Note that only one of those approaches can guarantee that there will be no more deadly car crashes on that particular stretch of road.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Food for Thought

The May 2009 issue of Scientific American Magazine included an article entitled Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization? The author, Lester Brown, made a cogent case for an affirmative answer to that question.  Rising demand in combination with eroding soils, environmental changes brought on by global warming, and the depletion of non rechargeable “fossil” aquifers means that wide spread food shortages are a virtual certainty in the very near future.  When this happens, already unstable third-world governments will collapse like dominos and the global economy will disintegrate, leading to a worldwide crisis that could unravel the threads of modern civilization.  After some considerable arm-waving about how we need to make “a monumental shift away from business as usual,” Brown offers technical solutions that are sweeping in terms of the policy changes involved, but that essentially leave the status quo intact.  He includes such things as cutting carbon emissions by 80%, stabilizing global population at eight billion, magically eradicating poverty, and reversing the destruction of forests, soil, and aquifers. 

There are at least two potentially erroneous implicit assumptions woven into Brown’s discussion.  One is that the disintegration of civilization is necessarily a bad thing, something we should prevent at all cost.  It is an open question as to whether modern civilization is truly worth preserving to begin with—an open question that is very likely to have a negative answer when all is said and done.  Not only is the disintegration of civilization ultimately unavoidable, but it is something that we should be actively facilitating, something that we should be directing all of our efforts toward bringing about in a way that does the least amount of long-term damage.  Looming political and economic crises generated by food shortages might just be the catalyst we need to redirect our collective attention toward the humane dismemberment of the global corporate system.  Another implicit assumption that Brown makes is that the problems that he outlines are not in fact inevitable consequences of civilization itself.  Civilization is the root cause of aquifer depletion, overpopulation, poverty, soil erosion, global warming, and forest destruction.  It’s not how we do civilization; it’s civilization itself.  And it’s not just our modern civilization, either.  Civilization is destructive by definition.  All civilizations have generated these kinds of problems.  The difference is merely one of scope.  The destruction caused by the great civilizations of the past was (relatively) more localized.  The ancient Egyptian civilization, the Mayan, the ancient Greek or Roman civilizations were not global in their reach.  And, of course, they were not industrialized; they were powered largely by human labor, an energy resource with a far smaller environmental footprint than fossil fuels.  The point is that the serious problems that Brown claims will eventually lead to the disintegration of civilization are themselves natural byproducts of civilization.  But Brown is right about one thing: food is the keystone of civilization.  It has been the keystone and thus the Achilles heel of every civilization.  As such, food production and distribution should be the primary targets of our efforts to redirect the status quo toward ending civilization’s destructiveness by intentionally ending civilization itself.  

Friday, March 12, 2010

Reclaiming Masculinity

Civilization emasculates.  And Western culture renders masculinity obsolete.  The masculine is far too self-contained, far too independent to serve the needs of a society based on mass consumption.     

The drive to impose your will upon an unyielding world, to embrace fear and push through pain, to forge your being in the struggle to wrench free from that which would have you contained, that is our male heritage and the evolutionary legacy of everyone who carries a Y chromosome.  But that drive to assert your masculine birthright has been stolen, co-opted, redesigned and refashioned to fit the plush feminine prison of a corporate boardroom, or, more often the case, simply siphoned off through the slow castration of a forty-hour workweek.  Even our meat, the food of choice for man the hunter, is infused with female hormones, as if to keep us like the cattle, docile.

We are offered hollow substitutes in the form of weekend sports and a six pack, passive forms of entertainment.  We have become fat, feminized voyeurs with plasma screen televisions and surround sound.  We project ourselves into Hollywood’s characterizations of men, and envy the professional athletes with their dazzling physical demonstrations.  But despite the camera angles and the steroid regimens, the actors and the athletes aren’t true men any more than we are. 

We try to hide our shame from our wives and children—and most importantly, from ourselves.  We hide it behind a stock portfolio, or a new car.  We hide it behind alcohol and cigarettes.  We hide it behind pornography and sexual conquests.  We hide it behind a well manicured lawn and a bass boat in the driveway and a round of golf.  But deep down, in the core of our being, we know we are not being true to our design.  And the shame creeps ever upward and outward until it threatens to become our very skin if we allow it. 

We cannot allow it.  We cannot lose our legacy.  The future of the world depends on it. We need to embrace our fear, push through the pain, wrench ourselves free from society’s emasculating chains, and reclaim our birthright as men.

The Rule of 150

Research puts the number of people we can reasonably incorporate as a meaningful part of our personal lives at about 150.  There are individual differences, to be sure, but the limits in our ability to process and retain information that are imposed by the size and complexity of our cerebral cortex prevent us from knowing personally (beyond just a name and a few isolated facts) more than around 150 other persons—about the number of people in a small, well-established tribe. 

But we haven’t been strictly limited by the size and complexity of our cortex since the advent of written language.  And now, with our internet-based personal networking gadgets, we can manage the names, faces, and continuously updated trivial life details of hundreds, even thousands, of “friends.”   

It’s an obvious quantity-for-quality trade-off reflective of our mass-consumption approach.  We once lived in close contact with people who directly supported our physical existence and provided the raw material out of which we constructed life’s meanings.  Now we live in giant tribes of two-dimensional beings, engaged in a shared superficial monologue, searching for constant distraction, desperately trying to convince ourselves—through sheer quantity of experience—that our pathetic consumption-driven lives are meaningful.      

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Aliens and Alienation

I was listening to a discussion on a radio talk show about the possibility of life on other planets, and more specifically about the possibility of intelligent life.  It became clear from the listeners' comments that the possession of sophisticated industrial technology is an essential requirement for an alien race to be considered intelligent.  It seems never to occur to folks that humans existed for tens of thousands of years without industrial technology.  And further, that there has been no discernible increase in human brain power during that time—our biologically-supported intelligence today is pretty much what it has been for countless millennia.  Industrial civilization, an extremely recent event in terms of the emergence of our species, is more likely to be a quirk of historical caprice than an inevitable consequence of our cerebral wiring.

According to something called the Fermi paradox, the probability is extremely high that there should be intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy, which means that by now alien civilizations should have spread all over the galaxy; yet there is no sign of them (ignoring the delusions of the crop circle crowd and their ilk).  This apparent paradox, however, is not very strong evidence against the existence of alien intelligence.  If anything, it is evidence of a failure to comprehend the nature and relative time frame of technological civilization (and perhaps the nature of intelligence itself).  In relative terms, industrial civilization represents only the last few nanoseconds of life on this planet.  Further, because our technologically advanced civilization is completely unsustainable (i.e., founded on exploitation and the unidirectional extraction and concentration of resources, as is all civilization as a matter of definition) it is, at best, only a short-lived blip in our species’ tenure on this planet, the last visible spark of a brief smoldering flame.  It may be that that is the nature of all high-tech civilization—you don’t get “technological advancement” of the kind that leads to space exploration without the industrial revolution.  And you don’t get the industrial revolution without a society that includes exploitation, alienation, and the division of labor, all byproducts of the agricultural revolution.  Far from being a principal indication of our species' intelligence, modern civilization represents a pretty unintelligent and impoverished mode of living.  And more relevant to the Fermi paradox, all other so-called intelligent species in the galaxy that became technologically advanced have very likely already been and gone because of the extremely transient and volatile nature of civilization itself.  Because civilization represents such a short-lived period of an intelligent species’ existence, the odds that we would find other civilizations in existence during the brief window just prior to our own civilization’s evaporation become exceedingly small even if technologically advanced civilizations are fairly common occurrences throughout the universe. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Coming to Terms with Our Subsistence Future

The lifestyles of our tribal ancestors and our still extant but rapidly "disappearing" hunter-gatherer relatives can serve as a model, a trajectory. If we are to have any future at all as a species, it will involve a return to subsistence lifestyles more reflective of our Paleolithic heritage.

There is a powerful and pervasive myth, frequently caricaturized in the media, that the people alive during the Pleistocene were “primitive” in the sense of being incomplete or not fully human: the fur clad caveman carrying a thick club and dragging his woman around by the hair. This myth is informative with respect to the conceit and arrogance characteristic of Western culture, but has absolutely no bearing on reality. Perhaps the most famous articulation of this myth comes from Hobbes and his claim that life in a state of nature was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Nature is red in tooth and claw, and human existence would be a war of all against all if it were not for the protective walls of civilization.

The anthropological and archeological evidence against the Hobbesian view is overwhelming. First, life in a close-knit family-based tribal community is anything but solitary. In fact, it might be argued that our present degree of personal alienation, the autonomy, isolation, and loose and shifting social networks endemic in our corporate consumer society make life solitary beyond endurance from the perspective of our Pleistocene ancestors. Second, modern-day hunter-gatherers lead exceedingly rich lives, if the ability to freely pursue personal goals and the capacity to provide for material needs are used as metrics. And far from “nasty,” life in these subsistence communities can be extremely pleasant, filled with celebration, singing and dancing, and an enormous amount of free time. If by brutish Hobbes meant a lack of sophistication or culture, then his comments simply reflect his Eurocentric bias. And, of course he was entirely ignorant of the findings of modern anthropology and archeology with respect to life-expectancy as well. The evidence also suggests that our Paleolithic forefathers and foremothers suffered less from chronic disease, ate far healthier diets, were happier, were less aggressive, and were relatively more egalitarian—both in terms of gender equity and the lack of class distinction.

Stanley Diamond had this to say in his book In Search of the Primitive:

"The ordinary member of primitive society participates in a much greater segment of his social economy than do individuals in archaic civilizations and technically sophisticated, modern civilizations. For example, the average Nama male is an expert hunter, a keen observer of nature, a craftsman who can make a kit bag of tools and weapons, a herder who knows the habits and needs of cattle, a direct participant in a variety of tribal rituals and ceremonies, and he is likely to be well-versed in the legends, tales and proverbs of his people (a similar list could be drawn up for the average Nama female). The average primitive, relative to his social environment and the level of science and technology achieved, is more accomplished, in the literal sense of that term, than are most civilized individuals. He participates more fully and directly in the cultural possibilities open to him, not as a consumer and not vicariously but as an actively engaged, complete person."

But what about modern technology? 

Perhaps part of the misconception is that stone-age lifestyles were somehow inadequate to the tasks faced by stone-age people. They used very simple tools, for one thing. They did not have industrial technology to provide them with the sophisticated tools that we have. Given that a return to subsistence living implies a return to many of the same challenges faced by our Paleolithic ancestors, and that our Paleolithic ancestors addressed those challenges successfully for five hundred thousand years, we would be well advised to examine their tools rather closely. And we should also remember that most of our sophisticated tools are useful only because of our dependence on industrial technology.

What does modern technology actually do for us? Does it actually improve or enrich our lives? Most of the products of our technology are anti-human in that the ultimate ends they serve are those of exploitive nonhuman entities, corporations and central governments. Even the way that we define “advancement” in technology is usually based on corporate industrial goals such as speed, efficiency, and productivity, rather than on truly human goals. And many tools that appear superficially to be serving human ends are beneficial in the short term only, with long-term social and environmental costs that ultimately make things worse for us. David Watson, in his book, Against the Megamachine, makes a very cogent case against the industrial technology of corporate capitalism. Not only does this technology devastate natural ecosystems, but it alters the way we think about ourselves—it reshapes meaning, it creates a perception of time that trivializes the present moment, it changes our relationships with other people to the point that we become nodes in an impersonal network, standardized cogs in a global megamachine that is devouring the planet.

OK, but what about our advanced medical technology?

Any discussion of a low-tech future is bound to hit upon medical technology sooner or later. Clearly, this is one arena in which our modern technology serves truly human ends.

Or is it?

Not if you consider that the overwhelming majority of medical conditions that require treatment using advanced medical technology are themselves direct or indirect results of our dependence on technology (I owe a debt to John Zerzan for this insight). Consider diabetes, heart disease, depression, and most types of cancer (for years I have been intrigued by the irony behind exposing people to the carcinogenic effects of X-rays as a way of detecting cancer). Before anyone suggests that modern medical technology does more good than harm, they need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits—taking care to include the hidden physical and mental health costs associated with the corporate industrial infrastructure that serves as a precondition for modern medical technology’s existence in the first place. You don’t get MRIs or antibiotics without a toxic environment and a crowded, stress-filled, nutritionally-deficient modern lifestyle. The need for advanced medical technology is to a large extent a direct byproduct of the conditions that support its development.

It is a deep and informative paradox: the abandonment of industrial technology eliminates many of the reasons for its very existence.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Planetary Euthanasia?

On the one hand, we are told that we have to conserve. But any form of conservation that allows the continuation of the corporate status quo merely prolongs the inevitable. We can, perhaps, slow environmental degradation, but degradation will continue nonetheless because our system requires it—our system is founded upon unidirectional consumption.

We are told that recycling is important, and certain rather benign recycling activities are quickly becoming behavioral norms. But recycling doesn’t address the problem of resource consumption. Recycling is a red herring meant to push responsibility away from corporate polluters. Recycling doesn’t solve any of our problems any more than the proliferation of fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicles changes the fact that we have finite oil reserves.

The choice of conservation over the status quo does not alter the fate of the world, it only alters the timeline; it pushes the problem off on the next generation. An argument could be made for taking just the opposite tact. Perhaps we should focus instead on using up natural resources as quickly as possible. Rather than prolong the pain, we should consider slitting the planet’s throat in a single humane stroke.

The problem is Western civilization, period. And the only cure that stands any chance of success is the complete elimination of Western culture, starting with the immediate evisceration of our corporate consumer system.