The continuing decline of civilization
Once upon a time, there was imagined to be an "Age of Progress." There was an era demarcated as the "Age of Progress" (and here I will arbitrarily choose the definition given in a Time-Life series book titled "The Age of Progress," in the "Great Ages of Man" series), approximately from the year 1851 to the onset of the First World War. In this "Age of Progress," the story of history was pervaded by a "Whig history," in which the darkness of the past was said to proceed gradually toward the light of the present. Such a history was fortified by pivotal inventions -- the car, the light bulb, the large-scale power plant, the radio, the airplane -- which revolutionized the society of the "core nations" of that time.
There was also, in the imaginations of the Whig historians, a social progress, in which equality was said to replace hierarchy in human relations. So for instance, there were the promises of equality and democracy of the American and French Revolutions, there was the end of slavery, the broadening of voting rights in the UK of the 19th century, the extension of voting rights to women and to 18-year-olds, and so on.
With neoliberalism the reigning notion of "progress" changed. Here's what I said in a forthcoming piece I wrote for Capitalism Nature Socialism:
With neoliberalism, “progress” was reduced to a mere series of tech upgrades, a following-through of Moore’s Law, while in social reality the world regresses toward (for instance) abrupt climate change disaster.
Basically, then, as alternatives to neoliberalism have no foundation in social reality anymore, we can expect social progress to die and be replaced by wholesale regression.
In 2007 Naomi Klein defined the neoliberal business model at the very top of the capitalist hierarchy: the "Shock Doctrine." Without doubt, Klein's depictions of the Shock Doctrine didn't freak out the wealthy of the core nations -- it was those "other" people, the people of the Third World, of abandoned towns of the Midwest, and those stranded in Hurricane Katrina, who had to be traumatized so that the business model of the Shock Doctrine could exact profits from the world. But now it's whole core-nation economies being destroyed so that the rich can extract profits from them. Witness, for instance, what's happening now in the United Kingdom:
With the Federal Reserve in the United States waging class war upon the people since July, it could only have been predicted that imitator-nation United Kingdom was going to try something like what Liz Truss is doing, sometime this year. My guess is that the Conservative Party knew what it was getting when it made her Prime Minister.
To be clear, it isn't the anonymous workings of "the market" conducting class war. Rather, there is an agent: government. The core-nations rich, the "beneficiaries" of all of this, buy our politicians, making it all possible. It is hard, however, to discuss genuine beneficiaries when the whole system is in decline, which indeed it is.
To get a glimpse of where the world's attention ought to be focused, we might look at abrupt climate change, which will doubtless wipe out what is left of the system after class warfare weakens it fatally. Counterpunch has an amusing piece, issued last Friday, about the urgent global climate revolt that isn't happening. The truth of Pearson's article is in her argument that "the bulk of our energy needs to go into bold, structural demands." The silliness, however, gets some air time here when she argues that "We have to stand up for the planet as though our own home were on fire, because it is. That means accepting some personal sacrifice, such as demanding public transport replace cars, even if that is a little less convenient." Much as I admire the sentiment of Pearson's piece, with its conclusion that --
Climate change is disrupting and harming our lives, so we need to disrupt and force change, with shut downs, strikes, take-overs, marches, road blocks, and more.
-- let me suggest here that the main reason people are not paying attention to climate change is none of those which she mentions, which are all good supporting reasons, but not the main one. The main reason climate change is on nobody's agenda is that there is a rather intense and violent class war going on in front of their eyes. Inflation robs us of buying power, government becomes increasingly authoritarian, war becomes increasingly dangerous, migration has become deadly, and, oh yeah, housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for bigger and bigger segments of the population:
The obvious solution, then, is that this class war must be resolved to the benefit of the global 99% before ANYTHING can be done about climate change.
Way back in 1992 there was a landmark piece, more or less gloating upon the fall of the Soviet Union, titled "The End of History and the Last Man," and written by Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama, reviving Hegel, argued that there was a telos, an ultimate end, to history. This ultimate end, he argued, was in liberal, capitalist democracy. In this regard Fukuyama was right to consider that there was an ultimate end to history -- but from the perspective of 2022 it appears that the ultimate end is the rule of predatory kleptocracies of the sort described in Yuliya Yurchenko's book Ukraine and the Empire of Capital. Oh, sure, people might pretend that ideologies matter, as they hang their Ukrainian flags outside of their homes, but what really matters in the world of 2022 is how much you can grab when you are "on the take." The Ukrainians know this, the Russians know this, and the West knows this. Pretty much every tinhorn dictator of any country in Asia, Latin America, or Africa knows this.
Back in 2014 or thenabouts, Philip Mirowski went onto what was then "Firedoglake" (which was subsequently handed off to Kevin Gosztola, who put its contents onto Shadowproof). At any rate, Mirowski's point in being a "guest star" on Firedoglake was to promote his book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste. Mirowski's truth, though, was that in exposing what he called the "neoliberal thought collective," the intellectual entity ruling the world today, he learned that there really wasn't anything in the world, not any more, to challenge neoliberalism. There is no non-neoliberal collective of global movers and shakers out there who are ready today to step into power if the neoliberals were somehow magically to be overthrown. This, then, is why we can expect the decline of civilization to continue across the globe: for a world desperately in need of something new, there is nothing new.