"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Separation Of Humans From Nature’

Why We Couldn’t Care Less About The Natural World

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes

Oldspeak: “The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.” –George Monbiot

Wherever i travel in the realm of industrial civilization, i encounter human beings who are far less than alive. Body language, facial expression and lack of animation and passion often communicate more than their predictably articulate speech ever could. Most of the time these folks live in their heads, with little indication of sensation below the neck. Consequently their words are not consistent with the actions with which they profess to be engaged. But i am not surprised by the deadening effect of modernity. After all we are socialized into numbness and encouraged to feel almost nothing except short, bursts of happiness – never any emotion that lasts more than 5 minutes. Otherwise we risk being called “Drama Queens”. it seems that only our indigenous friends in tribal cultures know how to feel about their feelings and fully inhabit their bodies. i suspect that as collapse intensifies, we will be compelled to choose whether we will feel our emotions and work consciously with them in the context of our own bodily experience or will we remain numb and therefore perilously at risk of physical and emotional breakdown?…. Domestication may be the most damaging emotional and spiritual catastrophe of enlightenment, which prized lack of emotion, intellect, and a ghastly disowning of the body as inferior to and even perhaps the enemy of the mind. i believe we must commit to radical aliveness if we are to navigate the turbulent times and remain emotionally and spiritually intact. Only if we settle for nothing less than full aliveness will we be able to discover the resonance of a full spectrum outer reality of external chaos with our inner most being.” -Carolyn Baker

“Humans were just puttering along, for millions of years, in perfect balance with our ecology. But when we lost our connection to it, and got the big idea to create industrial civilization, everything went to shit. i thought the distribution on the scatter chart above was fascinating and telling. Most of the oldest, more mature, pre-industrial cultures  have the most guilt about our impact on the environment, while the younger cultures, largely products of industrial civilization are not very guilty. Think about the profound dysfunction of the pathologically anthropocentric, narcissistic, terminally atomized, life-extinguishing greed and growth fueled  planet hyper-consuming happiness machine populated “civilization” we’ve wrought. The symptoms of this dysfunction are everywhere we care to look. Record levels of mental and physical ailments.  Maladaptive, imbalanced and unsustainable  ways of being viewed as normal. Busying ourselves with endless and ever multiplying distractions from actual reality.  Slavishly working ourselves to death, expending our life energy at jobs we can’t stand, rushing home to briefly interact (maybe) with our family before grabbing a few hours of restless sleep and getting up and doing it all over again. ignoring the hopeless emptiness of our corporatocracy managed lives. We have ‘civilized’ the true and authentic being out of humans. As a result of our near exclusive focus on intellect, science, infinite progress and growth,  ecological collapse, including industrial civilization is certain. We’ve triggered Earth’s most devastating extinction event. Our complete and utter lack of regard for our Great Mother has brought about our end.” -OSJ

By George Monbiot @ The U.K. Guardian:

Locals cross flooded railway lines after the river Thames burst its banks in Datchet.

That didn’t take long. The public interest in the state of the natural world stimulated by the winter floods receded almost as quickly as the waters did.

A YouGov poll showed that the number of respondents placing the environment among their top three issues of concern rose from 6% in mid-January to 23% in mid-February. By early April – though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published two massive and horrifying reports – the proportion had fallen back to 11%.

 

CarbonBrief has plotted the results on this graph:

Public response to UK floods. Photograph: /CarbonBrief

Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.

Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend?

And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?

The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (from the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.

Attitudes to climate change. Photograph: NYT/Pew

This belief is likely to be reinforced by the cherished notion that we lead the world in knowledge, sophistication and compassion. The bar chart puts me in mind of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about manmade climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part. For example, last year the chancellor, George Osborne, remarked:

I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.

But we’re not “the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.” In fact we’re not in front at all. As this map produced by Oxford University’s Smith School suggests, we are some way behind not only some other rich nations but also a number of countries much poorer than ours.

Oxford University’s Smith School climate change map. Photograph: Oxford University’s Smith School

As for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness.

Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.

Greendex survey of consumer attitudes. Photograph: /Greendex

The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.

All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.

So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money.

How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.

 

 

The Big Picture: Anthropocentrism, Essential Psychopathy & Ecocide

In Uncategorized on January 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Oldspeak: “Human behaviour is widely believed to be essentially rational and therefore fundamentally distinct from the behaviour of all other animals. This leads automatically to a belief system that is best described as ‘anthropocentric’… Yet we share the planet with some 20 to 100 million other species, all of them genetically driven. One would think that only a deranged gambler would be fool enough to bet on the presence of a solitary exception in such a vast biota. In other words, anthropocentrism hinges on an extraordinary proposition, one that demands extraordinary proof. Unfortunately, none exists…. Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, suggests that Homo sapiens is not, like all animals, a natural by-product of genetic and Darwinian evolution. We should therefore assume that we, like they, are uncontaminated by any supra-natural influences. We may well be excellent communicators and tool-makers, and also the most self-aware, mystical and malicious animals on Earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that all these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. And yet the myth lives on… Nevertheless, some of us managed to convince the rest that we somehow are indeed “god’s gift to the world,” superior to and masters of all other Life and all of Nature…. And so we built permanent settlements and began the drastic and destructive modification of the ecosystem. As a consequence, there came the hierarchies needed to administer, govern and control rapidly growing populations…. Within these vertical power structures and large populations, a type of human, who had previously been held in check by social power, is able to acquire personal power. By virtue of their lack of conscience and compassion and their skills at manipulation, deceit and obfuscation, hidden by the structure of the new social systems and blending into the growing numbers of humans, they rise through the hierarchies and finally reach the positions of power and control they could never achieve as a member of a small, intimately interrelated and interdependent tribal community….With the coming of civilisation, the essential psychopath escapes from the prison of the self-policing indigenous culture and is free to begin the millennia-long quest for pathological dominance over the rest of humanity. Ponerogenesis is enabled and Pathocracy is born… And so we created societies that could not sustain themselves without exceeding the carrying capacity of their landbases, and the settlements became villages, towns, cities, nations and empires, all of which were inevitably destined to exceed the carrying capacity of the land…. When any given society or culture could no longer be sustained by its ecosystem, its landbase, it became necessary to obtain resources elsewhere. So we invented colonisation, occupation, and wars of conquest… We came to “believe” we had the unquestionable right to exploit everything and everyone in order to continue upon this new path. We developed a sense of entitlement and invented religions and technologies to support it until, today, the cancer of ‘civilisation’ has spread around the world… By now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone with even a modicum of simple common sense that civilisation is killing the planet; it is murdering our Mother. When someone attempts to murder your mother, what do you do?… Industrial civilisation is unsustainable and irredeemable.  Its members, both rulers and ruled, will not voluntarily enact the changes needed to transform it to a culture that is rational, sustainable and natural. Therefore, it will collapse.” –Richard Posner

We are illusionists. There is very little that is physical in the world we’ve created and made ourselves to believe. From Friday to November to religious dogma to the boundaries of Russia to fiat currency to political parties … all are constructs – simplifications – to structure and order the world around us in our collective minds. We have the power to chart our future actions on this planet, and hence the flows of energy and matter that result from whatever rules guide our collective minds. If this is the case, then why do we fetishize a particular set of rules that understands human progress as continuous throughout (i.e. extraction, production, consumption and waste)? Why does the dominant human culture, which has extended to every corner of the globe, continually persist in advancing this goal, without comprehending the biophysical touchstone that allows such throughput to occur in the first place?”-Vijay Kolinjivadi, Economic Growth is Killing Us

All countries are basically social arrangements, accomodations to changing circumstances. No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact, they are all artificial and temporary-Strobe Talbott

“At what point will the rapidly changing circumstances on our planet force us to pay attention to reality and reject the artificial and temporary unreality we’re being drowned in? Probably not until industrial civilization collapses. Enjoy the ride to extinction…-OSJ

By Richard Posner @ The Hampton Institute:

Kind reader;

Being a self-educated generalist, it has long been my practice to wade in the shallows of many disciplines rather than plunging into and fully immersing myself in any one. I think this has served me fairly well since I have consequently not been restrained by the bounds of specialisation. I have not drowned myself in the depths of any single field of study to the exclusion of all others.

It’s my opinion that being a generalist enhances one’s ability to take a broader view of Life, its tumultuous history and seemingly endless mutability. It enables one to more readily see “the big picture”.

You may note, and I trust it will not be too disconcerting, that I follow something of a non-linear path with this essay. That’s simply because that’s how it was conceived and consequently presented.

I may occasionally diverge from the specific subject of any given section to temporarily pursue a tangential but relevant thought, only to return a paragraph or two later.

There may also be some instances of redundancy, which simply means I feel that certain points warrant repetition.

The Rise of the Human Empire

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”

Albert Schweitzer
A basic rule of thumb in evolution seems to be: the larger and more complex the organism, the more slowly it adapts to changes in the environment and, consequently, the longer its evolutionary path. With a very short generational time line, a virus may mutate in a matter of days or even hours while a creature like a whale, or a human, with generations lasting many years, may require hundreds or even thousands of those long generations to undergo any widespread, substantial, physiological alteration.

All the creatures of Earth that have come and gone over a span of years numbered in hundreds of millions, excepting only Homo sapiens, have either succeeded or failed while attempting to adapt and evolve to the environmental changes Nature has thrown at them. Our species alone, in lieu of adaptation, has turned to the radical and irreparably destructive process of altering the environment, on a massive scale, to suit our preferences.

Discounting events such as asteroid strikes, massive volcanic activity or other rapidly occurring natural disasters, some triggering widespread extinction events, manifold species have either managed to adapt to changes in their landbase or migrated to new places that better suited their physiology. If their survival tactics failed, they simply disappeared into the void of extinction.

Our ancient ancestors, going back some five or six million years, adapted and evolved in the same manner until quite recently. During the Paleolithic Period, beginning a mere 750,000 years ago, we still existed as a part of and in balance with Nature.

The Paleolithic ended around 15,000 years ago and, sometime shortly thereafter, in the early stages of the Neolithic Period, something happened that took the human species off the path of natural evolution.

Somewhere around 10,000 to as long as 13,000 years ago, our ancestors started behaving oddly. They abandoned the way of Life that had allowed the primate family Hominidae, the hominids, which includes H. sapiens, to survive for some five million years.

“In the Levant – the area that today encompasses Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan, and western Syria – archaeologists had discovered settlements dating as far back as 13,000 B.C. Known as Natufian villages (the name comes from the first of these sites to be found), they sprang up across the Levant as the Ice Age was drawing to a close, ushering in a time when the region’s climate became relatively warm and wet”. (source)

These settlements were not constructed by farmers but by hunter-gatherers.

“Yet although the Natufians lived in permanent settlements of up to several hundred people, they were foragers, not farmers, hunting gazelles and gathering wild rye, barley, and wheat. It was a big sign that our ideas needed to be revised,” says Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef . (source)

Archaeological evidence from locations such as Gobekli Tepe, in southeastern Turkey, indicates that, around eleven thousand years ago, Neolithic humans started building large structures, temples, and places for ritualistic gatherings. At the same time, most significantly and most damning, we began to think of ourselves as separate from and superior to all the other Life of Earth.

“Anthropologists have assumed that organized religion began as a way of salving the tensions that inevitably arose when hunter-gatherers settled down, became farmers, and developed large societies.

Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt’s way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it ” (emphasis added). (source)

We were thus set upon the path of ecocide.

This seems to be when, where and why the human animal stopped evolving. Our physiology and mores are essentially still much the same as they were in the Paleolithic era. Our “progress,” advancing exponentially since the Neolithic, has been far too rapid for our bodies and morality to keep pace.

Rather than adapting to a changing world, humans began radically and destructively altering the planet to suit their needs and desires. Eventually desire came to be more important than need. Our inability to keep pace with the speed of our “progress” has sickened us physically and morally.

We became “civilised” and were overwhelmed by pathological anthropocentricity.

Is anthropocentricity a genetic aberration?

“Human behaviour is widely believed to be essentially rational and therefore fundamentally distinct from the behaviour of all other animals. This leads automatically to a belief system that is best described as ‘anthropocentric’.”

Anthropocentrism:

(1) Viewing the world in terms of human experience and values.

(2) The belief that our species is the star that crowns an evolutionary Christmas tree of Life.

(3) The belief that humans are the pivot upon which our divinely ordained universe turns.

“Yet we share the planet with some 20 to 100 million other species, all of them genetically driven. One would think that only a deranged gambler would be fool enough to bet on the presence of a solitary exception in such a vast biota. In other words, anthropocentrism hinges on an extraordinary proposition, one that demands extraordinary proof. Unfortunately, none exists.

Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, suggests that Homo sapiens is not, like all animals, a natural by-product of genetic and Darwinian evolution. We should therefore assume that we, like they, are uncontaminated by any supra-natural influences. We may well be excellent communicators and tool-makers, and also the most self-aware, mystical and malicious animals on Earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that all these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. And yet the myth lives on.” (source)

Nevertheless, some of us managed to convince the rest that we somehow are indeed “god’s gift to the world,” superior to and masters of all other Life and all of Nature.

And so we built permanent settlements and began the drastic and destructive modification of the ecosystem. As a consequence, there came the hierarchies needed to administer, govern and control rapidly growing populations.

Within these vertical power structures and large populations, a type of human, who had previously been held in check by social power, is able to acquire personal power. By virtue of their lack of conscience and compassion and their skills at manipulation, deceit and obfuscation, hidden by the structure of the new social systems and blending into the growing numbers of humans, they rise through the hierarchies and finally reach the positions of power and control they could never achieve as a member of a small, intimately interrelated and interdependent tribal community.

With the coming of civilisation, the essential psychopath escapes from the prison of the self-policing indigenous culture and is free to begin the millennia-long quest for pathological dominance over the rest of humanity. Ponerogenesis is enabled and Pathocracy is born.

The following examples make clear how the psychopath was kept in check for millennia until the cancer of civilisation metastasised during the Neolithic Revolution. In a few remote locations that still harbour indigenous people who have not yet been “civilised,” ponerogenesis is still held at bay by the social power of the small traditional community.

A story reported by Dr. Jane M. Murphy, now director of Harvard’s Psychiatric Epidemiology Unit, serves as an example of the vigilant stance that one millennia-old, indigenous culture – a group of Inuit in Northwest Alaska – takes regarding psychopathic types within their midst . (emphasis added)

So aware is this group regarding the existence of these individuals that their language includes a term for them – kunlangeta – which is used to refer to a person whose “mind knows what to do but does not do it,” resulting in such acts as lying, cheating, stealing and taking advantage of the tribe without making sufficient contribution. (emphasis added – a concise description of the modern capitalist financier, corporate CEO or politician)

And how seriously do the group’s members take the need to respond to the threat such individuals pose to the group’s sustainability? When asked what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, Murphy was told “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking”. (source)

Ancient Indians referred to the culture Christopher Columbus brought to the new world as “wetiko” – meaning a culture of cannibals – a culture that feeds off the lives of others. (source)

In the West, the formal recognition of psychopaths goes back at least as far as Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, whose study of the Unscrupulous Man defines the basic characteristics of psychopathy. (source)

While research into prehistoric psychopathy is admittedly sparse, due to the absence of recorded accounts or other physical evidence, the narrative of the “kunlangeta” above indicates clearly that there have been psychopaths among us for thousands of years. Ergo, they have survived in spite of being more easily detected during the ages before very large concentrations of population became the norm.

Though they might have been unable to achieve any dominance in small tribes or groups, which is by no means a given in all cases, they were nonetheless able to procreate. The ponerogenic gene was thereby passed along and into the era of the Neolithic Revolution where I theorise that the psychopathic met with the opportunity to flourish.

And so we created societies that could not sustain themselves without exceeding the carrying capacity of their landbases, and the settlements became villages, towns, cities, nations and empires, all of which were inevitably destined to exceed the carrying capacity of the land.

When any given society or culture could no longer be sustained by its ecosystem, its landbase, it became necessary to obtain resources elsewhere. So we invented colonisation, occupation, and wars of conquest.

We came to “believe” we had the unquestionable right to exploit everything and everyone in order to continue upon this new path. We developed a sense of entitlement and invented religions and technologies to support it until, today, the cancer of ‘civilisation’ has spread around the world.

By now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone with even a modicum of simple common sense that civilisation is killing the planet; it is murdering our Mother. When someone attempts to murder your mother, what do you do?
A Matter of Priorities

It seems likely that the Anthropocene Epoch will not be discussed in any future history books or scientific journals for the simple reason that there will be no such books or journals nor historians or scientists to fill them.

But for now, every day, there are thousands of “articles” to be read online regarding the multitude of catastrophic issues facing the human species.

A mob of “pundits,” who make a lot of effort to sound like they know what they’re talking about, write lengthy and often mind-numbing disquisitions about a plethora of these “issues”:

  • the economy
  • unemployment
  • food stamps
  • social security
  • medicare
  • education

· the financial industry (now there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one)

  • police brutality
  • gun laws
  • politics
  • global warming
  • climate change
  • nuclear power
  • war
  • poverty
  • same sex marriage
  • peak oil
  • renewable energy
  • hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
  • the ostensible war on terror
  • health insurance
  • unions
  • mountain top removal
  • strip mining
  • deforestation
  • etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum

The list could go on for pages and that’s a major problem, because all these individual issues we face today add up to one very big problem: global ecocide. This can end only one way: near term extinction of humans and possibly all Life on Earth.

The expert commentators, more often than not, treat these incidental problems as if they were of the utmost importance and their resolution vital to the general welfare of humanity.

In fact, nearly all these “issues” are nothing but distractions, and many are kept in the public focus for that very reason.

These issues are merely branches of a poisonous tree. Everyone is hacking at the branches but ignoring the root. Even if you cut down the tree and grind away the stump, any root allowed to remain below the surface will continue to send up new shoots. You cannot kill the tree by hacking at the branches; you must destroy the root. The root of this tree is industrial civilisation.

This is not to say that the human race must be destroyed. But, after many years in denial, during which time I clung desperately to a utopian illusion of a sustainable, enlightened, techno-industrial society, I have finally reached the conclusion that industrial civilisation must be brought to an end or the human race will effectively destroy itself and quite possibly all Life on Earth.

The single “issue” that must be resolved above all others is the destruction of the ecosystem, the murder of the planet. The only resolution is the end of civilisation as we know it. All the other issues only exist as effects of civilisation. Putting an end to civilisation will, in due course, automatically and naturally resolve them all.

It won’t be pretty or pleasant, easy or even bearable, but nothing less will suffice.
What Have We Done?

In all probability, the global warming “tipping point” has already been passed, a planetary state shift has begun and the Sixth Great Extinction is underway.

Humans began contributing to environmental lead pollution as early as 8,000 years ago, according to a University of Pittsburgh research report. ( source)

Demand for the mercury compound vermilion was strong enough to support a large-scale mercury mining industry in the Andes as far back as 1400 B.C., according to a new study. (source)

In 1306, Edward, instigated by a group of prominent noblemen and clerics, passed legislation banning the burning of sea-coal. ( source)

London also recorded one of the earlier extreme cases of water quality problems with the Great Stink on the Thames of 1858, which led to construction of the London sewerage system soon afterward. (source)

The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824, first reliably experimented on by John Tyndall in 1858, and first reported quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. (source)

In 1896 Adolf Just wrote, in “Return To Nature”:

Man in his misguidance has powerfully interfered with nature. He has devastated the forests, and thereby even changed the atmospheric conditions and the climate. Some species of plants and animals have become entirely extinct through man, although they were essential in the economy of Nature. Everywhere the purity of the air is affected by smoke and the like, and the rivers are defiled. These and other things are serious encroachments upon Nature, which men nowadays entirely overlook but which are of the greatest importance, and at once show their evil effect not only upon plants but upon animals as well, the latter not having the endurance and power of resistance of man .” (emphasis added)

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says that ” half the world’s great forests have already been leveled and half the world’s plant and animal species may be gone by the end of this century.”

“It is with the coming of man that a vast hole seems to open in nature, a vast black whirlpool spinning faster and faster, consuming flesh, stones, soil, minerals, sucking down the lightning, wrenching power from the atom, until the ancient sounds of nature are drowned in the cacophony of something which is no longer nature, something instead which is loose and knocking at the world’s heart, something demonic and no longer planned-escaped, it may be-spewed out of nature, contending in a final giant’s game against its master.”

Loren Eiseley, (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977) an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, who taught and published books from the 1950s through the 1970s.

So, as we can see, we have been receiving cautionary messages regarding our reckless, headlong rush of “progress” for a long time. We have been “polluting” Earth’s atmosphere since we learned to use fire. However, it was not until the Neolithic Revolution and the consequent growth of permanent settlements with the attendant sedentary agriculture and surge in the growth of human population that pollution began its evolution into something Nature could not deal with.

This steady, unrestrained poisoning of our biosphere finally became insuperable with the eruption of the industrial age. Unless this industrialised civilisation is stopped and dismantled, the fate of human Life on Earth seems dubious at best.

That being said, it must be added that those who conflate “the end of the world” with the extinction of Homo sapiens are experiencing the delusion of human exceptionalism. Contrary to popular misconception, the world does not need us. We need the world and we need it to exist within very narrow parameters in order to ensure our survival. Our “civilisation” is moving the conditions of Earth’s ecosystems far outside those parameters. If we do not make the necessary fundamental changes to our culture immediately our species will not survive. But, if that be the case, after we are gone Earth and whatever Life remains will continue to evolve quite nicely within the new paradigm of the world without people.

Meanwhile, everyone seems to be stuck in a mindset that demands any actions we take to address the multitude of distracting issues created by our culture be predicated upon the continuation of the very “civilisation” that is their cause. I don’t think so.

A problem cannot be solved by applying more of the same reasoning and principles that precipitated it.

A culture and economy that demands perpetual growth and depends, for its very existence, upon the endless and unrestrained extraction and destruction of non-renewable resources cannot endure.

As far as I can see, it all shakes out about like this: Industrial civilisation is unsustainable. The existing paradigm can end only one way: the collapse of civilisation.

The landing could be made a little softer if, putting our accrued knowledge and power to good use, civilisation was intentionally and rationally dismantled, but that’s not likely to happen.

Instead, the ruling class will cling to their self-proclaimed, unquestioned “right” to exploit everything and everyone; unhindered, until it’s physically impossible to do so. Then civilisation will crash, hard.

The longer we wait for civilisation to break down, or the longer we delay bringing it down ourselves, the greater the suffering and death for whatever Life survives through and after the collapse.

Seems to me nobody has a clue how bad things really are or will become. Suffice it to say it will probably be worse than anyone is expecting.

I’d suggest anyone under the age of eighteen be given a crash course on how to live as a hunter-gatherer, sooner rather than later. Why wait til the last minute?
Evil Stew

Whether or not governments, corporations and financial institutions of civilisation are evil depends upon whom you ask. I think it’s more likely that the actual evil is to be found in the essential psychopaths who create and sustain such institutions. The institutions themselves are only symptoms of the terminal disease called industrial civilisation.

Ultimately there are no solutions to any of the separate issues in this mélange of catastrophe that will make any significant difference in the big picture and over the long term. This disease cannot be cured by putting band-aids on the symptoms. Unless the cause of the disease is eliminated, the patient’s premature death is assured. The end of civilisation as we know it is the only cure that can ensure the possibility of continued human Life on Earth.

Acculturation to the compartmentalised character of our civilisation makes it extremely difficult for its individual members to reach an understanding of its mortiferous nature. The forest cannot be seen for the trees. People just don’t see the big picture. They are consumed by their own pet issues, their specialised functions and their own self-interest.

However, it should by now be getting easier for people to see that this system cannot be “fixed”, that we can’t get things back to “normal”, that normal is the problem, not the solution.

Simply put, the main function of industrial civilisation is to turn all things into profit for the purpose of keeping a ruling class in power. This is done by killing the planet and transforming that death into sellable commodities for us to “consume”.

That the extraction and consumption of non-renewable resources without restraint cannot go on forever should be self-evident to anyone. Yet this culture not only consumes non-renewables with reckless abandon but devours or destroys renewables, like land, trees, fish, all other food sources and water, at a rate far surpassing that of their recovery. Any culture that depends for its very existence upon such a system cannot endure.

What is the big picture?

Industrial civilisation is unsustainable and irredeemable. Its members, both rulers and ruled, will not voluntarily enact the changes needed to transform it to a culture that is rational, sustainable and natural. Therefore, it will collapse.

Only when humans have completed the transformation of Earth from a luxuriant, verdant, bountiful and nurturing home into something akin to their own sterile, barren and lifeless inner landscape will they finally understand the horror they have visited upon themselves; and then it will be too late.

Consummatum est

 

Humanity in Flux: Would a Species that Recognizes Its Own Worth Be Actively Destroying Itself

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 11:09 pm

Oldspeak: ” The root of our sense of worthlessness (and the ruling elite’s ability to convince us of it) is perhaps our separation from the natural world and the cycle of life. Humans see themselves as standing above nature as opposed to being a part of it. Because of our self-appointed supremacy, we have isolated ourselves from the natural world and reign supreme over all life showing little respect by constantly violating, trashing, extracting, destroying, killing, and exploiting every aspect of the environment. We have no reverence for nature and only turn to it to extract more fuel to power our unsustainable lifestyle or to objectify its beauty when it serves us. Rarely do we stand in awe and respect of the incredible complex and intricate network of life that weaves together animals, plants, and countless other life forms into a sophisticated and mysterious existence – an existence that has been evolving for billions of years, while humanity’s short presence on Earth is threatening to destabilize the ecosystem, which, in turn, will undoubtedly lead to our demise… The fatal mistake of humanity is its arrogance rooted in the illogical and insanely narcissistic belief that humans are more powerful than nature. A rational species would realize the obvious: that human beings are dependent on nature for their survival. However, it is the pompous mindset of supremacy that blinds one from recognizing the interrelationship between oneself and the outside world, which eventually brings the dominators’ unconscious reign to a disastrous halt. It is precisely this separation from nature and all life that has led to an identity crisis – a confusion about our place in the world that compels us to seek meaning and worth through domination, suppression, and conquest of the outside world and each other…. Undoubtedly, we are sowing the seeds of our own annihilation. It is perhaps humanity’s unconscious desire to destroy the worthless within, because what is devoid of value is insignificant, meaningless, useless and it deserves no attention or love – and above all – it does not deserve to exist… In order to stop our unconscious march towards collective suicide, we must undertake the painstaking process of self-discovery and transform the personal belief structures that betray our own sense of worthlessness.[6] There is no higher power, no God, no Messiah that will magically come down and save us from ourselves: it is up to each one of us to expand our awareness and channel the higher ideals of cooperation, unity, justice, and compassion here on Earth. -Kali Ma

Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust.” ―Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Behold! The bitter and poisonous fruits of globalized capitalist patriarchy! Competition, aggression, dehumanization, injustice, inequality, violence, avarice, objectification, domination, exploitation, fear, exclusion… The systems around which we’ve organized our civilization are an incalculable failure. Our silence will not help us. We need to dismantle the repetitive crisis generating disimagination machine and find a more humane way to face our demise.” -OSJ

By Kali Ma @ The Hampton Institute:

It is common sense that what we value, we wish to take care of, preserve, and treat with respect. Often times, this care is expressed towards material objects such as cars, jewelry, and luxury items; or more abstractly, towards traditions such as religious holidays or family and cultural customs. But what is the value we assign to the life of a human being?

When we take a look at how we treat each other as people, it is safe to say that we do not seem to value human beings very much. In a system based on materialism and the pursuit of “success,” money and power have come to define a human being’s value. Consequently, nothing has inherent worth – everything is just a means to obtaining a desired end and satisfying our seemingly obsessive need for recognition and power. In the pursuit of these goals, the environment is being destroyed with a fanatical vigor one expects of an adolescent consciousness whose shortsighted impulse for instant gratification leaves it dangerously indifferent to the consequences of its actions; at the same time, countless human lives are sacrificed in wars over resources while financial tyranny waged against the working class in the form of austerity is plunging millions of people into poverty across the globe. Nothing is off limits in corporate capitalism’s suicidal quest for profits. But, when everything has a price, nothing has inherent value.

One of the most important and sacred ­­­processes any human being undergoes is the development of his or her own personhood. It is the highly personal choice of who we wish to be in the world and how we wish to express our own individuality and uniqueness as part of the human community. Central to this development of the Self is education. But instead of serving as a building block for individual and collective development, education today is merely a means for getting a “good job” and “moving up” in the world. It has no intrinsic value: the joy and curiosity that accompany learning and discovery about ourselves and the world have been completely commodified and turned into what Dr. Cornel West often refers to as “cheap schooling.” [1] In this “cheap schooling,” the curricula is defined by what is profitable in the “marketplace,” not what is valuable for individual growth and humanity as a whole. Social studies, the humanities, arts, and anything that presents an alternative to the sterile and lifeless corporate culture that has permeated all corners of our existence is degraded, ridiculed, and deemed unworthy by the “marketplace,” which only seeks to employ mindless, obedient drones who will do as they are told.

Critical thinking and a person’s unique perspective are highly undesirable in a system of hierarchical ownership and top-down management of resources and institutions. The right to cultivate our personhood is sacrificed at the altar of corporate capitalism, which provides us with a cheap substitute for individuality and self-expression through a false sense of belonging, empty personal achievements far below our true potential, and, of course, the formation of a “unique” crowd identity through fashionable consumer products manufactured by wage slaves in foreign countries whose working conditions regularly cause mass deaths and drive others to suicide.[2] As a result, the system effectively robs humanity of citizens whose genuine development of individuality, identity, and a true sense of Self would result in a more conscious society that values life, diversity of expression, and that views each living being as an invaluable part of the whole.

But how can we expect people to appreciate anything for its innate value when most of us do not even recognize the inherent worth of a human being? We discriminate against one another because we deem others unacceptable and, thus, not worthy enough of our respect; we kill and maim other humans on mass scales through wars and conflicts in the name of profit, all the while masked as heroic undertakings for “worthy” causes in “defense” of one’s “superior” tribe; on a more social level, we assign worth and value to human beings based on their socio-economic status and whether they are “productive” members of society. This is why “failure” can be so devastating to a person’s mental well-being and self-image: because our worth, value, and sense of purpose are defined by external achievements which, if removed, decimate our sense of self-worth and make us invisible casualties of corporate capitalism’s disposable culture. What these few examples show us is that just being a human is not enough. One has to do something or be a particular way in order to be considered valuable or worthy. This mentality – the belief in the inherent worthlessness of a human being – lies at the core of the hatred and condemnation we direct towards one another. The message is clear: unless you meet society’s standards of what it means to be “valuable,” you are worthless.

The owners of the system – the corporate oligarchs – have, through mass propaganda and cultural conditioning over time, taught us that worth is about how much money a person has, the type of job they hold, the amount of property they own, and how “successful” they are (i.e. how well they reflect the values of the dominant culture).[3] In this type of society, materialism and the trivial become our Gods to which we pledge allegiance in an economy that constantly profits from our desperation to be accepted and seen as worthy. The meaning of life is reduced to achieving “success” and recognition while the deep-seated desires of one’s soul for truth and connection are willfully sacrificed for superficial achievements whose promises of “happiness” and “worth” never seem to materialize. In the end, life itself becomes meaningless.

When money, recognition, and materialism determine a human’s worth, only the few are seen as valuable. As Chris Hedges explains in“Let’s Get This Class War Started,” [4] the rest of us are deemed worthless, “disposable human beings” in service of corporate oligarchs who view the lower classes as “uncouth parasites, annoyances that have to be endured, at times placated and always controlled in the quest to amass more power and money.”

Our oligarchic rulers have successfully convinced us that their values are ours – most of us seem to believe that humans are inherently worthless and only serve as means to achieving one’s personal objectives. In this kind of culture, everything and everyone – including friends and family – become disposable commodities to be used, exploited, and worn out for self-interest and shortsighted ego-desires. Unsurprisingly, in such a society, friendship is a foreign concept and practiced in superficial settings and contrived “meet ups” that mask an inner sense of isolation and loneliness, a natural by-product of an egocentric culture. We are disconnected from one another because we do not value anything for its essence – the inherent worth of cooperation, friendship, and genuine togetherness is considered a bore and a waste of time. There always seems to be some ulterior interest inherent in our relationships that satisfies our fleeting appetite for company – rarely do people get together out of a genuine desire to connect and honestly share themselves with each other.

Our devaluation of people and life itself is simply a reflection of our own personal, deep-seated sense of worthlessness as human beings. It is what psychiatrist Carl Jung referred to as projection – the act of prescribing one’s unconscious inner quality onto an object that lies outside of oneself – which “change[s] the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”[5] What we are reflecting on the outside is a belief that we are nothing more than worthless biological creatures here to consume, amass, hoard, and “succeed” (read: dominate) over those around us and for much of humanity, a vile creation whose sole purpose is to repent and make up for its existence to a wrathful, authoritarian God-figure. No wonder we have no respect for life and each other.

The root of our sense of worthlessness (and the ruling elite’s ability to convince us of it) is perhaps our separation from the natural world and the cycle of life. Humans see themselves as standing above nature as opposed to being a part of it. Because of our self-appointed supremacy, we have isolated ourselves from the natural world and reign supreme over all life showing little respect by constantly violating, trashing, extracting, destroying, killing, and exploiting every aspect of the environment. We have no reverence for nature and only turn to it to extract more fuel to power our unsustainable lifestyle or to objectify its beauty when it serves us. Rarely do we stand in awe and respect of the incredible complex and intricate network of life that weaves together animals, plants, and countless other life forms into a sophisticated and mysterious existence – an existence that has been evolving for billions of years, while humanity’s short presence on Earth is threatening to destabilize the ecosystem, which, in turn, will undoubtedly lead to our demise.

The fatal mistake of humanity is its arrogance rooted in the illogical and insanely narcissistic belief that humans are more powerful than nature. A rational species would realize the obvious: that human beings are dependent on nature for their survival. However, it is the pompous mindset of supremacy that blinds one from recognizing the interrelationship between oneself and the outside world, which eventually brings the dominators’ unconscious reign to a disastrous halt. It is precisely this separation from nature and all life that has led to an identity crisis – a confusion about our place in the world that compels us to seek meaning and worth through domination, suppression, and conquest of the outside world and each other.

Undoubtedly, we are sowing the seeds of our own annihilation. It is perhaps humanity’s unconscious desire to destroy the worthless within, because what is devoid of value is insignificant, meaningless, useless and it deserves no attention or love – and above all – it does not deserve to exist.

In order to stop our unconscious march towards collective suicide, we must undertake the painstaking process of self-discovery and transform the personal belief structures that betray our own sense of worthlessness.[6] There is no higher power, no God, no Messiah that will magically come down and save us from ourselves: it is up to each one of us to expand our awareness and channel the higher ideals of cooperation, unity, justice, and compassion here on Earth. We can only do so once we recognize our own inherent worth and decide to act on our potential as unique creations of an ever-evolving consciousness whose existence is worth saving. Viewed from this perspective, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Will we heed the call?

Notes

[1] “Cheap schooling” is different from “deep education,” which Dr. West refers to as the “formation of attention” . . . the “shift from the superficial to the substantial, from the frivolous to the serious, from the ‘bling bling, to wrestling with life, death, sorrow, sadness, [and] joy[.]” Dr. Cornel West, Speech at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Transcript, last accessed December 3, 2013,http://www.hws.edu/about/presidentsforum/west_speech.aspx; see also Sonoma State Star, “Activist Cornel West meets students, gives lecture,” April 16, 2013, http://www.sonomastatestar.com/news/activist-cornel-west-meets-students-gives-lecture-1.3028957?pagereq=1 (reference to “cheap schooling”); Smiley and West, The Conversation: Julian Assange (Remastered), published August 2, 2013, https://soundcloud.com/smileyandwestshow/august-2-2013-julian-assange (reference to “cheap schooling”).

[2] Jason Burke, “Bangladeshi factory collapse leaves trail of shattered lives,” The Guardian, June 6, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/bangladesh-factory-building-collapse-community ; Aditya Chakrabortty, “The woman who nearly died making your iPad,” The Guardian, August 5, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/woman-nearly-died-making-ipad

[3] Being “successful” in society’s eyes most often includes having a family, a “respectable” job or career, owning property, and generally living one’s life in accordance with cultural and social expectations.

[4] Chris Hedges, “Let’s Get This Class War Started,” TruthDig.com, October 20, 2013, https://www.truthdig.com/report/item/lets_get_this_class_war_started_20131020/

[5] C.G. Jung, Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self, Vol.9, Pt. II (Bollingen Series XX/Princeton University Press 1959) pp. 8-9

[6] For starters, ask yourself some basic questions: What does value and worth mean to me? What makes me valuable . . . the simple fact that I am human or is that not enough? Do I believe that human beings are inherently worthy or do I place conditions on the value of human life? Do I view nature as a means to an end, something to be conquered and dominated or do I see humanity as an intricate part of nature whose existence depends on the cooperation with the environment? Our thoughts about ourselves and our relationship to nature reveal a great deal about our current state of awareness. Because much of our existence rests upon unquestioning obedience to authority and cultural dogmas, we rarely ask ourselves these fundamental questions and thus remain largely unconscious of our participation in humanity’s self-destruction.

Violence Against Our Environment

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2013 at 7:05 pm

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Oldspeak: “An increasing number of environmental activists, myself included, regard the word “environment” with some suspicion, generally preferring the term “ecological.” The reasoning behind the change in emphasis is because using the word “environment” posits the idea that nature is something that surrounds humans, but at the same time, something that we are fundamentally outside of, and separate from. The separation of nature from humans is the ideological position underlying capitalist orthodoxy; namely that the biosphere is a subset of the economy, rather than the other way around. Capitalists can freely take “natural resources” from outside of the economy as inputs, and dump waste from the production process back into the environment as outputs. Mainstream economic theory then pronounces that the ramifications of such an outlook will have only limited impact on the planet as a whole, and, thereby, economic accumulation and growth can continue indefinitely.

“Ecological,” on the other hand, embeds humans back within the external world as a natural component of it, the same as any other organism. The use of tools such as microscopes, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices, can then be seen not simply as humans investigating nature in order to understand it, but that we are concurrently investigating ourselves, because tools are merely mechanical extensions of our bodily senses. No doubt, Marx would very much approve of such an attention to the hidden social meaning of words, particularly with regard, in this example, to his very important concept of “metabolic rift”: the devastating and unnatural split or break between humans and nature, forced on us by capitalist social relations…

….Capitalist environmental violence rests on the dual exploitation of humans and nature, which were regarded by Marx as the twin sources of all wealth. Exploitation of the natural world, driven forward by the never-ending hunt for profits, is merely the flip side of the exploitation of humans, put to work to turn the source of sustenance into money. Viewed this way, socialists fighting for social justice and a different world cannot avoid integrating a fight for ecological justice, as the two are inseparable components of the same fight.” -Chris Williams

“Brilliant insight. in much the same way as we otherize & dehumanize each other in order to perpetrate violence, we consider ourselves separate from ecology we’re fundamentally a part of to rationalize violence against it. The faux distinction allows for the length, breadth and depravity of capitalist ecological violence. Blown up mountains. Poisoned waterways. Habitat Destruction. The list of offenses is very long. The economic system around which we organize our societies is at its foundation, ecocidal, homicidal, exploitative, repressive, racist, patriarchal, and interminably bureaucratic. it is animated by violence destruction & death. As long as we regard the biosphere a subset of the economy, the prospect of a livable future environment and planet is nil.  There is no economy on dead planet.” -OSJ

By Chris Williams @ Dissident Voice:

Both the words “environment” and “violence” have so many meanings, that they require some definition of how they can be of use in the context of a struggle for social justice. Regarding the word violence, according to Merriam Webster, one definition is “the use of brute strength to cause harm to a person or property”; a definition that doesn’t seem to have an immediately obvious connection to ecological issues associated with climate change, loss of biodiversity and various forms of pollution.

An increasing number of environmental activists, myself included, regard the word “environment” with some suspicion, generally preferring the term “ecological.” The reasoning behind the change in emphasis is because using the word “environment” posits the idea that nature is something that surrounds humans, but at the same time, something that we are fundamentally outside of, and separate from. The separation of nature from humans is the ideological position underlying capitalist orthodoxy; namely that the biosphere is a subset of the economy, rather than the other way around. Capitalists can freely take “natural resources” from outside of the economy as inputs, and dump waste from the production process back into the environment as outputs. Mainstream economic theory then pronounces that the ramifications of such an outlook will have only limited impact on the planet as a whole, and, thereby, economic accumulation and growth can continue indefinitely.

“Ecological,” on the other hand, embeds humans back within the external world as a natural component of it, the same as any other organism. The use of tools such as microscopes, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices, can then be seen not simply as humans investigating nature in order to understand it, but that we are concurrently investigating ourselves, because tools are merely mechanical extensions of our bodily senses. No doubt, Marx would very much approve of such an attention to the hidden social meaning of words, particularly with regard, in this example, to his very important concept of “metabolic rift”: the devastating and unnatural split or break between humans and nature, forced on us by capitalist social relations.

Given these issues, and the importance of words to explain and communicate thought, how should those of us engaged in a struggle against capitalist environmental violence, conceive of that fight?  If we are to argue that the social, economic and political system known as capitalism is the root cause of environmental violence, what are we arguing it is responsible for?

Interestingly enough, but, perhaps unsurprisingly given the prevalence of overt violence in our world, the dictionary gives almost 50 related words for “violence”. These begin with words such as “coercion”, “compulsion”, “constraint”, go on to “barbarity”, “brutality”, “damage” and continue with “onslaught”, “tumult” and “upheaval.”

Putting these words into a human context and joining them up with the word “environment” now starts to make significant sense. It is no longer possible to restrict violence to an act that is immediate and causes direct and obvious harm, whether that is in the most commonly thought of cases of warfare, police brutality, or state-sponsored torture such as waterboarding, or racist, sexist or homophobic language and bigotry.

Capitalist environmental violence rests on the dual exploitation of humans and nature, which were regarded by Marx as the twin sources of all wealth. Exploitation of the natural world, driven forward by the never-ending hunt for profits, is merely the flip side of the exploitation of humans, put to work to turn the source of sustenance into money. Viewed this way, socialists fighting for social justice and a different world cannot avoid integrating a fight for ecological justice, as the two are inseparable components of the same fight.

In this broadened understanding of violence, capitalism is an intensely violent system, as it depends on the systematic coercion of workers who are daily faced with the choice of working for “a living” or starvation and homelessness; their life choices for education, health and human fulfillment are hugely constrained by the unyielding ferocity of class exploitation and racism. Billions of people’s lives are stunted and foreshortened by the daily violence meted out to them via the dictates of a system that prioritizes profit above all else. In Volume I of Capital, Marx’s words resonate as much in our day as his:

In its blind unrestrainable passion, its werewolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is supplied to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential.

But for Marx, the violent treatment of humans by capitalist social relations, in shortening and hamstringing their lives through overwork, poor housing, inadequate food and pollution, was directly analogous to capitalist farming practices:

Capital cares nothing for the length of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the [worker’s] life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.

One can only have nutritious food, health care, or decent housing located in an unpolluted neighborhood, if one has the money to pay for those things. Lack of access to these necessities by some, where others have access, makes the violence explicit. Furthermore, there is the violence of institutionalized racism, and a culture saturated with sexism that turns women’s bodies into objects, doubly exploits them through unpaid domestic labor, and in the United States, refuses to allow women control over their own reproductive organs.

There is the associated psychological violence done to humans against our own sociality, whereby we are forced to live, in Marx’s emotive phrase, in “dot-like isolation,” as the primacy of the individual over the collective is sanctified. Few have written of the social alienation and environmental degradation suffered by working people with greater effect than Frederick Engels, in his classic study, The Condition of the Working Class in England.

Engels highlights the contradiction engendered by capitalism, between bringing millions of people together in giant urban conglomerations, which, rather than fostering collective solidarity and companionship, instead produce its opposite — an unfeeling and solitary individuality that corrupts the human spirit:

After roaming the streets of the capital a day or two, making headway with difficulty through the human turmoil and the endless lines of vehicles, after visiting the slums of the metropolis, one realises for the first time that these Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature, to bring to pass all the marvels of civilisation which crowd their city; that a hundred powers which slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been suppressed in order that a few might be developed more fully and multiply through union with those of others.

For  Engels, this produces feelings and a mode of living that is profoundly alienating of all that is good about humans:

The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest, becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together, within a limited space. And, however much one may be aware that this isolation of the individual, this narrow self-seeking, is the fundamental principle of our society everywhere, it is nowhere so shamelessly barefaced, so self-conscious as just here in the crowding of the great city. The dissolution of mankind into monads, of which each one has a separate principle, the world of atoms, is here carried out to its utmost extreme.

Of course, there is the more overt and immediate violence of the state against people trying to protect their land from environmental degradation and ensuing displacement and poverty associated with fossil fuel extraction. From the Ogoni people in Nigeria fighting Shell, to indigenous people poisoned by Chevron in the forests of Ecuador, the paramilitary arm of the state serves corporate priorities the world over.

In North America, this was brutally demonstrated in September, as members of the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq First Nation, alongside local residents, blockaded a road in New Brunswick, Canada. They were trying to prevent fracking exploration and were assaulted and tear gassed for their protest by paramilitary police.

The group, which had never been asked about whether they wanted their land used in this way, had blocked the road to stop shale gas exploration by SWN Resources Canada, a subsidiary of the Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. As Susan Levi-Peters, the former chief of the nearby Elsipogtog indigenous group, told reporters, “The RCMP is coming in here with their tear gas – they even had dogs on us… They were acting like we’re standing there with weapons, while we are standing there, as women, with drums and eagle feathers.

There are myriad ways in which environmental violence plays out, especially when it is compounded by climate change. So, for example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, lack of tree-cover from ongoing deforestation, means even when rain comes, it runs off the land and carries fertile topsoil with it. As a result, women and girls, who are responsible for over 70 percent of water collection, have to travel further and further to obtain it. The UN estimates that women in Sub-Saharan Africa spend 200 million hours per day collecting water for food and farming purposes, or 40 billion hours annually.

In 1992, Lawrence Summers, who was at the time chief economist of the World Bank, later to become Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, president of Harvard, and most recently one of Obama’s key economic advisors in his first cabinet, wrote in an internal World Bank memorandum published by The Economist:

“Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs?” By way of answering his own question, he gives three reasons. Here’s the first:

(1) The measurement of the costs of health-impairing pollution depends on the forgone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

The fact that a major establishment actor is able to advocate and rationalize the dumping of toxic waste on poor communities is a perfect illustration of the inhumanity of the thought process behind capitalist decision-making.

As I have argued, we need a much broader definition of violence than is allowed for by limiting its meaning to a physical and immediate brutal act of aggression, and one that includes an environmental dimension. Violence can happen over extended periods of time. Exploited workers in unhealthy conditions and poor communities exposed to toxins gradually succumb to a worsening quality of life, through a compendium of often intersecting long-term ailments. Due to financial restrictions on health care (itself a violent act), they often can’t treat these illnesses by going to the doctor, seeking another job, or relocating to a different neighborhood.

A broadened definition of violence is exactly what Rob Nixon, Rachel Carson Professor of English at the University of Madison, argues is required in his book, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor:

By slow violence I mean a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all. Violence is customarily conceived as an event or action that is immediate in time, explosive and spectacular in space, and as erupting in sensational visibility.

That is to say, the unplanned, shorter and shorter time frames upon which capitalism operates, clash with the longer and longer term effects of the actions taken on those shorter time scales. Human induced climate change is arguably the primary and perfect example of just such a contradiction between the short-term priorities of capitalism to make profit from continuing to burn fossil fuels, and the longer term implications for future generations of humans, and planetary life in general, due to the now well-known side-effect of increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. One could reasonably debate whether climate change, or the irradiation of the atmosphere from atomic tests and the need to deal with nuclear waste from nuclear power plants — waste that remains toxic and deadly for hundreds of thousands of years — is a more disruptive and long-term negative impact of capitalist social relations.

In the more immediate sense, while we currently produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet, over one billion people suffer starvation and hunger. In discussing why people starve in England, when food was in fact abundant, Engels posed the question of who should be blamed for the extreme violence of death by starvation: “The English working-men call this ‘social murder’, and accuse our whole society of perpetrating this crime perpetually. Are they wrong?”

In answering Engels’ question, one must blame the system for the long-term “social murder” of our planet, and the daily degradation and violence of life under capitalism. Given the critical state of the biosphere and an exploitative and constantly-growing economic model based on profit and fossil fuels for energy, which is bringing about global climate change, Rosa Luxemburg’s assertion, that we face the choice of barbarism or socialism, rings true now more than ever.

If we accept that premise, to return to where I began, one cannot be a social justice activist without equally being an ecological justice activist; and link arms with all those fighting racist environmental violence the world over.

Ultimately, all of this can only be solved by the self-emancipation of humanity and putting in place a system that prioritizes long-term human and planetary health; real, bottom-up democracy based on cooperation; and production for human needs at its center. We need a system of cooperative and meaningful production, whereby the goal of society is social equity and ecological sustainability, and where environmental violence, in all its manifestations, is a thing of the past. To bring this about will require a social and ecological revolution. While we organize and fight for that future, we must simultaneously work to bring about the small victories, necessary to make people’s immediate lives better and less polluted under capitalism, organize, and gain confidence for the larger, longer-term, and more profound and revolutionary battles to come.

Chris Williams is a long-time environmental activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis (Haymarket, 2011). He is chair of the science dept at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University in the Dept of Chemistry and Physical Science. Read other articles by Chris.