By Mike Meyer
We have a planet with several billion people who, depending on how far they are from the edge of surviving, are foundering in a stormy sea of change. Those folks still struggling at the edge have bigger issues than change although they may be in that condition because of the larger storm.
A major factor in the sea of change, that is becoming rougher by the day, is that a far larger percentage of the human population are better off and better educated that at any time in human history. Combined with the power of communication and information technology evolving over the last century we have less than 10% of our population now in extreme poverty providing 90%+ the freedom to think about the future.
To be a bit clearer, the nature of sentient beings is to imagine and then worry about the future. Extreme poverty, however, means that future is very immediate and excludes almost everything but food, shelter, health, and security. Nearly seven billion people now have time to worry themselves sick about where the world is going and how it is changing.
That is a lot of concern and middle of the night sleeplessness. But this change in percentages creates a very different planet and a much larger range of reactions to rapid change.
One of these differences is disruption to the exclusivity of the populations who once defined themselves by not being part of the starving mass. For the populations of Europe, North America, and select elite around the planet that was an exclusive hierarchy. The loss of that exclusivity is an unstated factor in the relapse into racism and related social pathologies.
Having grown up in North America sixty years ago, my memory of the world was that most were starving. I and all my friends were constantly warned to finish our vegetables because millions were starving in China. Depending on the family and the day’s news that might be India or Africa or, even, Mexico.
For us in the US that meant a strange combination of emotions and ideas. We were, after all, the chosen people and exceptional but the rest were starving or close to starving so they were somehow to be pitied. That was the norm. We all were trying to get food to them but there was only so much we could do. The reason for that was never explained but had to do with acts of nature and the absence of miracles. After all we were already the shining example for all the people to try to emulate.
This was the foundation of the white, western civilization that owned the planet. For those who travelled this changed but only for some. In the US most foreign travel was connected to the military due to the growing list of foreign wars for resources. The troops and families were kept separate so they could pretend to have never left home if they wanted to and most did. But once the US professional military and mercenary contractor system was in place this could be kept relatively small.
The majority of the US, and the heartland specifically, was and is incredibly provincial. I say this from personal experience with relatives who assumed that the majority of people in countries other than Europe lived in mud huts and were grindingly poor. This was an important part of life’s security as the judeo-christian god made sure those who were not chosen were kept in their place. I heard various versions of that as I was growing up.
It is this self identified, privileged population that has, now, had some years of direct access to the rest of the planet via the internet and greatly diversified media and they don’t like what they see. Fortunately most of them don’t yet realize how poor they are but they are being told that the undeserving are committed to coming and stealing their possessions.
This is a shock and an outrage. My point here is that I understand this. The problem is decades of ignorance within a huge public education system. Unless you traveled or moved to a major, regional urban center that is part of the planet’s post digital culture this is all new and shaded by strangeness. It’s both threatening and just not right. It wasn’t meant to be this way.
We know the forty years of successful propaganda by the forces of authoritarian oppression has allowed the steady deconstruction of our nation’s future. By replacing the future with endless anxiety and debt, the population is easier to exploit.
We know the tricks played with the bizarre American versions of Christianity combined with Capitalist Realism that has gutted the country’s once wealthy middle class. Decades of stagnant wages, growing debt, and anxiety for the true believers had to be blamed on minorities and foreigners when there were no other excuses. The problem couldn’t have been the very people who the true Americans elected.
Forty years of gutting public education and state universities worked to ensure a manipulatable base who’s ignorance could be played like a violin. But they are scared and worried because they may have been screwed by more people than they realized. It haunts them even if they don’t admit the reality around them. That is a nasty feeling as you begin to realize that you have been lied to and screwed and it’s your own fault.
My worry is that they are coming to understand how far down the US has fallen and how out of sync with reality they have become and that only heightens the reaction, denial, and anger. This information is all available to them if they want to look but they have to see so they are told they cannot trust their own eyes.
This problem is played out in Great Britain and the more naturally authoritarian and archaically religious parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. This is, finally, Western Civilization’s collapse after a century of identified decline. This collapse is not from poverty but from self destructive and poorly managed wealth.
The terminal condition is, I think, the absence of a future. When a civilization can no longer see a future the only thing left is fear of loss. The old leadership of the West can no longer see anything different than the past. There is nothing else and nothing to expect but accelerating loss. That is the source of hoarding and the desperate need to deny others anything. That is the field of fascist opportunists offering fictional jackpots with the facade of military security.
Fear and desperation is the door for sociopaths to enter and begin to loot. But that is inherently unstable and quickly descends into chaos. Elizabeth Warren has joined the economic ranks warning of impending collapse. An economy grossly out of balance and running on debt producing a population with the bottom 50% having negative net wealth is waiting for the final blow. As we know growth markets never die of old age. They are killed by stupidity.
Not only do we have no future culturally but we may not survive much beyond the end of this century. The absence of a cultural future has been attributed to Capitalist Realism by the late Mark Fisher. The only hope is Acid Communism but Mark Fisher was unable to finish that book. But that is another story and thanks to Stuart Mills for an introduction to this.
Capitalist Realism makes any other future impossible to imagine. There is no future beyond endless consumption and destruction. Nothing else is allowed.
We need very strong medicine that will purge us of Capitalist Realism and the old rituals of denial and accusation, and the fascist opportunists . This will not be a ‘return’ to anything but the desperately needed discovery of a new future that may allow us to survive on this planet.
We now live in a very different world than we have ever experienced. We have maybe twelve years to reduce carbon drastically to hold at 1.5° C increase in temperature. That is probably too optimistic as we are burning through the carbon budget far faster than we can to have any hope of meeting that goal.
We are seeing what 1°C increase means now and we are already staggering from it. Just to complete the picture there is serious question that we could retain our civilization at 4 degrees. At this rate that is where we will be in seventy or eighty years.
To hold at 1.5 degrees means all fossil fuels need to be eliminated starting now. Drive past your local Ford or Dodge or Chevrolet dealership and look at the lots of giant pickup trucks that need to be scrapped. Who is going to do that?
Capitalist Realism will not even allow that image to be presented. The suggestion cannot be made. The only answer is that it cannot be done. Cannot, cannot, cannot.
A trillion trees will get us a quarter the way to our goal. How soon will we get a trillion trees planted? If we scrap all fossil fuel vehicles over the next ten years and plant a trillion trees we may be half way there but that uses up our ten years and we are still going to be at 1.5° C on the way to 2.0°. I’m afraid that we will be all too aware of what that might mean in the next five years. Sadly there is no going back and no redo on what was not done.
We now have a working summary of our planet’s and Western Civilization’s ugly end. The insidious horror of losing your future is that our future is our only source of hope. We not only have lost our future culturally but we may have no future as a species as we and many others face extinction.
How do we climb back out of this? What could we hope for if we could hope?
Perhaps we can find some ideas in our experience as a species. One thing we know is that when disaster strikes and we become refugees we try to take too much stuff with us. Our lives are so totally tied up in our things, another aspect of Capitalist Realism that we cannot bring ourselves to leave them. But reality quickly intrudes.
We have all grown up watching film, video, and stories of population forced to abandon their homes to survive. What starts off as loaded carts, trucks, wagons, and cars or simply people carrying suitcases and bags becomes trudging people and miles of abandoned goods.
What I am suggesting is that we all need to plan on becoming refugees. No one ever wants to think that they will become a refugee. Those are the people that the US and it’s frightened, angry minority are locking up in prison camps and threatening to kill. Perhaps they sense that this is their future and they want desperately to reject that.
But perhaps we should simply accept this reality as a positive. If we are going to be refugees and can plan for it what would we do? The best choice would be to eliminate the impending cause that will drive us from our homes. But everyone thinks that it won’t happen to them and, for many of us, it is probably already too late. The climate crisis is beginning its long persistent attack on coast lines, potential deserts, and vast equatorial and temperate areas that are expected to be killed by heat.
My point is that we might as well begin the process of shedding all that stuff that will end up the ditches. Let’s begin to reduce our possessions because if we need to move out quickly we will lose it all anyway. We have traditions that are useful. Proactive refugees may be thought of as nomads. They are organized and able to move quickly and regularly. Maybe that is what we must all become. We will need to adapt and evolve to survive on the planet as we have made it.
It makes no sense to buy things that are going to be lost down the road. Why not save the trouble and not buy them now while disposing of things we don’t really need or use. We need to plan for disaster. It is always good sense to be prepared. And if we are planning for disaster we won’t be surprised when it comes.
We could make this the first step in creating a new future. We need to figure out what we need and that is all that we will have. And we need to know what we will abandon if the time comes. This could begin to return control back to us even if it is depressing. But that is a future that we would be working to manage instead of denying with closed eyes.