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.

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I was really wanting a news outlet that reported reality.

Everything is so biased anymore.

Unknown people control the internet. Corporations run media.

There is no trust.

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@Mickt
Capitalists also own MSM and are well on the way to harnessing the internet branch as well. I expect this calamitous cabal of profiteers to persist in peddling their delusional narratives until societal and economic collapse imposes a reality too overwhelming to be ignored by the masses.

Only then, will collective humanity be in a position to chose between red pill or blue, between a reality based modest and communal way of life or subjugation to a totalitarian dystopia of continuing lies and gross inequalities.

Is pursuing ‘Truth’ compelling enough for us to forgo our cultivated complacency and the entertaining flat screen digital ‘reality’ we have become immersed in? Do we even have the choice, or is that simply another persistent illusion?

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“We have a very small window in which we need to make a fundamental shift away from capitalism.” Kshama Sawant

It didn't have to be this way.

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"We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false." ---- William Casey, CIA Director, 1981

janis b's picture

your analysis and reflection of today’s state of affairs in the context of history and the environment.

I would love to know what new insights Howard Zinn would bring to understanding the state of the world today.

From the past ...

The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Civil disobedience, that’s not our problem. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.

https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/howard-zinn-quotes/

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Cassiodorus's picture

@janis b -- is to invent an alternative to the society run by the grand thieves, and to move on to that society in great haste.

Before he died in 1997, the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis wrote this:

I think we are at a crossroads in history, in History with a capital H. One path is now clearly marked, at least as for its general direction. That path leads to the loss of meaning, the repetition of empty forms, conformism, apathy, irresponsibility, and cynicism, along with the growing takeover of the capitalist imaginary of unlimited expansion of rational mastery” – pseudo-rational pseudo-mastery – of the unlimited expansion of consumption for consumption’s sake, which is to say for nothing, and of technoscience racing ahead on its own, and obviously a party to domination by that capitalist imaginary.

The other path would have to be opened up: it has not been marked out at all. Only a social and political awakening, a renaissance, a fresh opening up of the project of individual and collective autonomy – that is, of the will to be free – can cut that path. This would require an awakening of imagination and of the creative imaginary. (from p. 86 of Figures of the Thinkable)

At this point, we'd better be looking, quite furiously, for that crossroads, so that we can choose the path that wasn't taken 25 years ago.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

janis b's picture

@Cassiodorus

will likely define the choice at the crossroad.

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usefewersyllables's picture

the "Age of Regress", perhaps better known as the "Revolution of Lowered Expectations".

You remember what it was that you really, really wanted from life, just 10 years ago? Just as Fee Waybill said, "Well, you can't have that!". Art doesn't imitate life: it predicts it.

Now, we're all just waiting for the baby's arm holding an apple. Have some Brawndo, get all your papers, and smile at the sky...

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Twice bitten, permanently shy.

Cassiodorus's picture

@usefewersyllables to get out of this. Extinction Rebellion is a start, but it runs into the same problem the Pearson piece had.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

janis b's picture

@Cassiodorus

regarding the environment is another fear-driven generalisation in this time of neurosis?

Many of us know and are doing our best to help the environment, and like we humans maybe the environment has the capacity to find homeostasis.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@janis b upon what sort of homeostasis is eventually achieved. The planet Venus is in homeostasis.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

Cass, is the most significant bit.

We have no structure to oppose the evil we see.

No mechanism.

No place to go.

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NYCVG

Cassiodorus's picture

@NYCVG need to get out of the business of promoting "lesser-evil voting."

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

@Cassiodorus are they not.....

Where is the Solution to join up with?

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NYCVG

Cassiodorus's picture

@NYCVG January: "Let's do something interesting and helpful."

October: "Let's elect our syndicate boss because she's better than the other syndicate boss."

You can see, then, the loss of collective imagination as the year went on -- that's what needs to be stopped. As for institutional solutions, they have to be invented. A global peace movement might be nice right now, for instance.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

away from the Neo agenda will require a switch to a local co-op based economy.
Can't see a politically based solution. Empowering a community of sharing
goods, services and other exchange credits, outside of the faltering system, may be
a solution.

Thanks for your thoughtful essay!

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I was reading an anthropologist who said that intelligence (the kind that humans have) is not necessary for an animal to survive. Dinosaurs certainly weren't doing calculus. And they lived a very long time as a type of animal.

Evolution (to personify it) threw the dice and gave us humans a copious type of intelligence which in the end will lead us to our doom. We have created problems which are beyond our abilities to fix. Not a unique idea, but maybe a very true idea.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@MrWebster there remains the possibility of a new, vibrant, society. What I'm suggesting is to stop discarding that possibility -- certainly a daunting task, but possible.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

Pluto's Republic's picture

...through the unfolding of events that are interpreted in so many subjective ways. All the while, we are standing in the midst of the narratives that are programming us. One must achieve a very high orbit above the planet to gain a true perspective, and one's focus must be guided to critical events that are routinely filtered out of the information flow that reaches the West. The isolation of Americans, in particular, is shocking and extreme. At times like this, the total of what People in the US don't know about what's taking form in the outside world is just.... breathtaking.

... 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.

.

Except for China.

I realize that it's impossible for the West to grasp just how amazing the timing is for a truly enlightened leader and a huge, high IQ population to suddenly emerge as counterweight to neoliberalism, at this precise moment. A miracle, really. The Chinese are the most optimistic people in the world, today.

Read this:

It's a very high-orbit monograph with wrap-around views. I find it hopeful, in light of current events. Perhaps you will glimpse that.

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____________________

The political system is what it is because the People are who they are. — Plato
Cassiodorus's picture

@Pluto's Republic The Chinese might be able to out-survive the neoliberal West, though -- this was the prediction of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway's The Collapse of Western Civilization.

Even though the Chinese social organization may be superior in some ways to the one reigning over most of the rest of the world, I don't really think it's enough to save global civilization from its overall decline. The Chinese variant of capitalism shares the same fundamental flaw with capitalism in the rest of the world, that of instrumentalizing "nature" (Jason W. Moore calls it "cheap nature") such that the end result is the build-up of what Moore calls "negative value," pollution, depletion, and so on. China, like elsewhere in the world, is ruled by an oligarchy. Its Internet is censored, its political system unmarked by competition, and its educational system, like with many others in the world, is hung up upon the passage of exams. As far as I can tell, then, China does not distinguish itself from the rest of the world in terms of what the rest of the world needs more than anything else: collective acts of imagination.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

@Cassiodorus

It has not escaped everyones notice that the if you overlapped the people
denouncing Chinas Xinjiang policy you essentially have a map of Nato.
And the countries that support Chinas policy in Xinjiang contain quite a few
Muslim countries. So the degenerate West can screech about “concentration
camps in China” until their breath is hoarse. However in reality the
concentration camps that actually exist are to be found on the
US-Mexico border where doctors have been found to be sterilising women
without their permission.

https://ia801804.us.archive.org/18/items/longer-telegram-short-article/L...

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Cassiodorus's picture

@QMS that I am not arguing NATO's line against China.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

Floating above the mess on the surface is a good way to see this world.

There is no other nation whose population has such a large gap between myth and reality, between what the people believe their government has done and what it has actually done.

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My only tiny solution is to try and not buy stuff. If I have to, it's yard sale or thrift store. Both are pretty crowded these days. Main problem is the necessities, food, transportation, education, health care etc. have been monetized to beyond the max.

The old time robber barons had the savvy, or arrogance to make their own decisions on capitalist transactions, win or lose. Today's money buys Harvard MBA's, politicians, bankers, Wall ST whiz kids to do nothing all day except to increase the fortunes of their wealthy employers and it's never enough.

Meanwhile, us unwashed are birthed and fitted with capitalism goggles, reinforced by education to be good little workers, while the good schools educate the elite kids to be our bosses. Ours is the best system, if we don't benefit it's our own fault. Didn't work hard enough, or smart enough, or just had plain bad luck. Too bad for us losers.

There was the story about how to catch wild pigs for food. 1st, you dump food every day in the same spot till the pigs become accustomed to it. Then you put up one fence, and the pigs are at first wary, but become used to it. Then you put up another fence, and they become wary a bit but get used to it. Then the third fence goes up same story. Free food. Then the last fence, with a gate goes up. When the pigs come to feed, the captor comes and closes the gate. That's where we are now, minus the free food. We had to buy our way in for all the cheap trinkets.

We've been economically fenced in. Instead of having a government that we use to make our lives better, It's purpose is to make our live worse, and the well off more than comfortable.

If we keep playing their game, with their rules we'll never win. If we stop buying their stuff, in the short run we'll inconvenience them, but once those gov.analysts and MBAs notice we saved a few bucks, they'll find a way to capture it, and we can't seem to stop them.

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