Why do they feel guilty if they’re so above reproach…do they, also, feel as if they’re approaching oblivion?
—Harlan Ellison, Approaching Oblivion
Undoubtedly something is about to happen. Or is it that something has stopped happening?
—Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins
We are not posthuman; we are compost. We are not homo; we are humus. We are terran; we are earthlings; we are many; we are indeterminate. We bleed into each other in chaotic fluid extravagance.
—Donna Haraway, Capitalocene and Cathulucene
I used to believe in America, I really did. But no more. Goodbye to all that!
The Left derides the right as “those fascists,” while the Right sounds the alarms of “those socialists”. Our country is so divided and divisive now that the ideological thumpmeter is off the charts. The media circus has lost its mind and become the voice and image of this dark hinterland of ruins, exposing the daily talking heads parade of ideologues who will sell themselves and their forgotten souls for profit to the highest corporate benefactor. All the while the media doesn’t present us with news so much as it does its best to tissue together the fragments of a horror show they hope will bring us a second Civil War. Will America survive the crisis? The better question is is their an America anymore? Of course to answer that we’d have to take the long view, peer into the bloody waters of our own past failures. But whose history, whose past? Does history actually exist anymore in an age of blind aggression and anarchy? We’re told on one side that America is entering that stage of “friendly Fascism”1 in which the collusion of Oligarchy-Plutocracy, Big Government, Transnational Corporatism, and the Global Financial sector are creating a world-wide mesh of power that stretches from Beijing to Moscow, Brussels to Washington, D.C. among other centers and sociopolitical nodes.
The Left following its god, Marx would have it that the ultimate enemy is Capital. This mono-myth and grand narrative has shaped the world view of countless ideologues for two centuries. For the Left there is an entity called Neoliberalism which has overtaken the old terms for this global system of profit. Neoliberals, we are told, believe in global laissez-faire: self-regulating markets, shrunken states, and the reduction of all human motivation to the one-dimensional rational self-interest of Homo economicus. The neoliberal globalists, it is claimed by these critics, conflated free-market capitalism with democracy and fantasized about a single world market without borders. At the heart of this picture is the notion that some inexorable alien will has been guiding the initiatives of globalists everywhere. As if capitalism itself were at heart a system of anti-life or necromantic witchery manipulating and using humans in its inevitable bid to overtake the planet in a death drive syndrome that is neither Freud’s Cosmocrator nor the secret Geist of some Schopenhauerian cosmic pessimism. Instead, under the rubric of alien and alienating world of numbers, machines, and capital we’ve become the zombies who live out our lives captured by forces of physical and spiritual powers not our own, and more blatantly not of this world.
In other words the whole edifice of the neoliberal order was an attempt to create by fiat a completely lifeless universe of rationality which could control the actual real world of human emotion and madness. A regime of totalitarian design that would encompass the totality of the world thereby regulating and controlling every aspect of existence through the power of the rational mind. One might even add – an artificial mind, a mind controlled not by human, but rather in-human alien thought forms of pure mathematical and calculating powers on a world-wide scale. In the past I’ve toyed with various – what shall I term it – systems of evil operative in the world at large. By this I am not literalizing some gnostic cosmocrator at the heart of existence: some eternal metaphysical presence/absence behind the scenes of world-history intervening its affairs. No. Such cosmic pessimism of Gnostics or Schopenhauerian design are merely useful tools, metaphors of a much more mundane tendency – and, as Nietzsche would have it, an all-too-human truth at the heart of this strange amalgam of ideas underpinning our global predicament.
The Right, on the other hand, sees the world as Secular trash dump, a realm in which the Progressive powers the Enlightenment have colluded to invent a Secular Cathedral of Big Government, Academic mind-craft, and the Mediatainment system or the descendants of Puritan Calvinism. The power of this Cathedral is to provide an inquisition against White Male privilege – formerly known as the long sordid history of patriarchal politics and religion – Blasphemy, inquisition, indoctrination, and brainwashing still occur from the perspective of this progressive religion of hate. The progressive Left inhabit that space of the Last Man prophesied by none other than Fredrich Nietzsche himself: “Alas! The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars…. Behold! I shall show you the Last Man…” The Last Man is the individual who specializes not in creation, but in consumption. In the midst of satiating base pleasures, he claims to have “discovered happiness” by virtue of the fact that he lives in the most technologically advanced and materially luxurious era in human history.
But this self-infatuation of the Last Man conceals an underlying resentment, and desire for revenge. On some level, the Last Man knows that despite his pleasures and comforts, he is empty and miserable. With no aspiration and no meaningful goals to pursue, he has nothing he can use to justify the pain and struggle needed to overcome himself and transform himself into something better. He is stagnant in his nest of comfort, and miserable because of it. This misery does not render him inactive, but on the contrary, it compels him to seek victims in the world. He cannot bear to see those who are flourishing and embodying higher values, and so he innocuously supports the complete de-individualization of every person in the name of equality. The Last Man’s utopia is one in which total equality is maintained not from without, by an oppressive ruling class, but from within, through the “evil-eye” of envy and ridicule.
As Nick Land would have it the Secular Cathedral of the Progressive Church is the subsumption of politics into propaganda. It tends — as it develops — to convert all administrative problems into public relations challenges. A solution — actual or prospective — is a successful management of perceptions.
For the mature Cathedral, a crisis takes the consistent form: This looks bad. It is not merely stupid. The Progressive Left follows the echo chamber of its own misguided leaders as if they were the mouthpiece of the way, the truth, the life. The question of legitimacy is, in a real sense, fundamental, when politics sets the boundaries of the cosmos under consideration. (So Cathedralism is also the hypertrophy of politics, to the point where a reality outside it loses all credibility.)
Is your civilization decaying? Then you need to persuade people that it is not. If there still seems to be a mismatch between problem and solution here, Cathedralism has not entirely consumed your brain. To speculate (confidently) further — you’re not a senior power-broker in a modern Western state. You’re even, from a certain perspective, a fossil.
Cathedralism works, in its own terms, as long as there are no definite limits to the efficacy of propaganda. To pose the issue at a comparatively shallow level, if the political response to a crisis simply is the crisis, and that response can be effectively controlled (through propaganda, broadly conceived), then the Cathedral commands an indisputable practical wisdom. It would be sensible to go long on the thing. (Cathedralism)
As you can see from the above both the extreme Right and Left are not only at juggernauts, but have brought us to that point of no return – no bridges between the two images of life and politics can be surmounted, only the civil war of all against all that Thomas Hobbes spoke of when saying: “The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.”
The Coming Collapse of Everything?
I used to believe in a political solution. Not anymore. That game is over…
In our age of glut, of total media saturation and manipulation in which our world-wide civilization is guided by State and Corporate collusion the planet itself has become the enemy. The wars for resources, the grand narratives of both climate disaster and climate denialism, the obliteration of native tribes everywhere, the depletion and deforestation of the Amazon, the desertification of the soils, the slow poisoning of both the oceans and rivers, the cannibalization of every last resource on the planet in the name of profits. There is no end to it now. The End Game is upon us…
Rome (the World) burns our politicians play in the alcoves of the Last Man’s troubled paradise. John Michael Greer with a cheery note on the American tragedy:
It’s been just over a hundred years now since the United States launched itself on its path to global empire, and the hangover following that century-long bender is waiting in the wings. I suspect one of the reasons the US government is frantically going through the empties in the trash, looking for a bottle that still has a few sips left, is precisely that first dim dawning awareness of just how bad the hangover is going to be.2
Yes, the American Century is over and the age of oblivion is ahead of us. There have been five great extinction events in the history of the planet.3 We are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction. Edward O. Wilson went so far recently propose that only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it. He would go on to identify the unique blend of animal instinct and social and cultural genius that has launched our species and the rest of life on a potentially ruinous trajectory. He tells us we need a much deeper understanding of ourselves and the rest of life than the humanities and science have yet offered. As he states it we “would be wise to find our way as quickly as possible out of the fever swamp of dogmatic religious belief and inept philosophical thought through which we still wander. Unless humanity learns a great deal more about global biodiversity and moves quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth.”4
We’re told that we have entered the geological era of the Anthropocene. The concept of the Antropocene marks an inter twining of geological Earth time and human history; it triggers massive amounts of paper work, data, discussions, conferences, art works and philosophical ideas as well of course as misrepresentations in its wake. (Jussi Parikka, 51).5 Haraway in a bitter diatribe offers a dark and troublesome critique: “Capitalocene is one of those necessary but insufficient words that pop into one’s mouth unbidden. Unhappy with the false and arrogant humanist univesalism of Anthropocene, I started lecturing about the historical extractionism and extinction ism of the Capitalocene. (Donna Haraway, 80)
What has sometimes been termed the Great Acceleration in which the human impact on planetary existence have clearly evolved from insignificance in terms of Earth system functioning to the creation of global-scale impacts that are approaching or exceeding in magnitude some of the great forces of nature, operating on much faster time scales than rates of natural variability, often by an order of magnitude or more, and taken together in terms of extent, magnitude, rate and simultaneity, have produced a no-analogue state in the dynamics and functioning of the Earth system. 6
Catastrophe, it seems, is becoming something of a way of life for us. Indeed, it has become the new norm for civilization.7 The point of this Anthropocene message being presented in book after book seems clear – humanity is doomed if we don’t do something about the great platform that supports life as we know it: the Earth. In some narratives one hears that with the technological conquest of the earth by Western – now actually planetary civilization – we know where the “causes” are coming from, and they can no longer be blamed on the gods. We are at fault for the state the earth now happens to find itself in, for we have taken over the roles once formerly occupied by the gods of old. Human beings now find themselves responsible for planetary management – and mismanagement management – and so there is no one else left to pray to in order to show us mercy in the situation that has come about. If we want mercy, we had better start rethinking the layout of the current civilizational order, since we were the ones, and not the gods, who set it up in its present configuration.
But is this the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Or, is there another story, one with a darker tale to tell?
The Postmodern Condition
Science has always been in conflict with narratives. Judged by the yardstick of science, the majority of them prove to be fables. But to the extent that science does not restrict itself to stating useful regularities and seeks the truth, it is obliged to legitimate the rules of its own game. It then produces a discourse of legitimation with respect to its own status, a discourse called philosophy. I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth.8
Sound familiar? Isn’t the whole complex of narratives surrounding climate change and now the incorporation of the grand narrative (science backed metadiscourse?) surrounding the Anthropocene beginning to sound “human, all to human
in this myth of natural and civilizational collapse? Are we being guided and shaped by the academic, mediatainment system, and all the current propaganda of fear mongering to expect a bleak future full of extinction, death, decline, decadence, and total collapse unless we change our ways. But who are “we” really? Before I answer that question one must realize that the supposed postmodern thinkers have run their course according to contemporary philosophical circles. We seem to be in a space beyond the relativism and ironizing tendencies against grand narratives, etc., no the new breed of academic journalist, philosopher, thinker seems to think all this past effort is passé and was if not wrong at least had issues with its conceptuality. Most of the contemporary academic treadmill grinds this all into the humus of thought without ever actually confronting it head on. One need only look into the bibliography of any current work and realize that there is a positive feed-back loop of authors reflecting the echo chamber of current theory over and over with hand-claps and back-pats. Nothing original comes out, only the endless parade of echoes from each others work over and over and over again all under the guise of inventing the future, the new.
The Anthropocene is such a myth, a grand narrative invented under the auspices of both scientific and academic authority. We know the Anthropocene was popularized by the Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere. The changing composition of the atmosphere, especially the well-documented increase in carbon dioxide, seemed to Crutzen so dramatic and so potentially consequential for life on Earth that he concluded that a new stage had begun in Earth’s history, one in which humankind had emerged as the most powerful influence on global ecology. The crux of the Anthropocene concept is just that: a new period (whether epoch, period, or era in geologists’ parlance) in which human actions overshadow the quiet persistence of microbes and the endless wobbles and eccentricities in the Earth’s orbit, affecting the governing systems of the Earth, and therefore define the age. (Anthropocene)
We also know that Crutzen had a political motivation behind his science. As Steve Connor, Science Editor of the Independent, wrote: Professor Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, believes that political attempts to limit man-made greenhouse gases are so pitiful that a radical contingency plan is needed. In a polemical scientific essay that was published in the August 2006 issue of the journal Climatic Change, he says that an “escape route” is needed if global warming begins to run out of control.9 So that it is the progressive Left stance of this particular scientist invested in the notions of climate change and catastrophism that drove his politicization of the science and its narrative. Others have followed suit to the point that this grand narrative is owned and operated by the political, artistic, and academic establishment of the Progressive Cathedral or Secular Church.
I’m not concerned in this essay to defend or dispel the actual science behind this grand narrative, only to make people aware that it is ideologically and politically motivated by a specific school of thought: Progressivism. Being neither conservative nor progressive I’ve always tried to situate myself as an independent voice of reason and intelligence. I’ve critiqued both Left and Right at times and have no qualms in doing so when appropriate. Hell I’ve written about Slavoj Zizek and Nick Land two philosophical enemies that probably wouldn’t be seen on the same podium (although Zizek reads even the arch-conservative Peter Sloterdijk, and Land knows Marx’s writings in depth!) No, for me it is more that as a young man I woke up and realized the world I lived in was a carefully scripted realm of illusion. Growing up in the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and ‘Andy of Mayberry’ world of 50’s America I was shaped by the propaganda of that era’s controlling narratives. As I began to question that conservative worldview I also realized that the opposite one was just as blind to its own narratives and culture. So for me the path from man – as Emerson once taught me, not to man was the way of freedom and independence. So I’ve never been much of a joiner of political parties nor the scripted propaganda of slick journalists and philosophers. Goodbye to all that!
We’ve found ourselves in a self-reinforcing political correctness machine under the command and control of behind the scenes political operatives on both sides of the battle lines using both the mediatainment systems and social-media to fend off pressure on the real power elite and enforcing instead a war of all against all narrative of Left / Right extremes that is producing and propagating fear, hate, and social collapse to the point that most people seem lost in the labyrinth of chaos. Most scientists think they are politically free of ideology; most academics think their progressive agendas are the only way, truth, life; and, the rest of us commoners are left in the great divide of this nation bound to one side of the image being controlled by the establishments of progressive/conservative grand narratives without an ability to stand back and judge the world clearly and unbiased. No. this is not my America anymore. Goodbye to all that!
In the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx wrote: No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore, mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely, we always find that the task itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist, or are at least in the process of formation.
Socialism, in other words, would not be possible until capitalism had exhausted its ability to expand and increase profits. That the end is coming is hard now to dispute, although one would be foolish to predict when. Global capitalism, in its final iteration, may replicate China’s totalitarian capitalism, a brutal system sustained by severe repression where workers are modern-day serfs.
The end stages of capitalism, Marx wrote, would be marked by developments that are intimately familiar to most of us. Unable to expand and generate profits at past levels, the capitalist system would begin to consume the structures that sustained it. It would prey upon, in the name of austerity, the working class and the poor, driving them ever deeper into debt and poverty and diminishing the capacity of the state to serve the basic needs of ordinary citizens. It would, as it has, increasingly automate or relocate jobs, including both manufacturing and professional positions, to countries with cheap pools of laborers. This would trigger an economic assault on not only the working class but the middle class—the bulwark of a capitalist democracy—that would be disguised by massive personal debt as incomes declined or remained stagnant and borrowing soared. Politics would, in the late stages of capitalism, become subordinate to economics, leading to political parties hollowed out of any real political content and abjectly subservient to the dictates of corporations.10
The combination of oligarchic-plutocracy, corporate autarchy, and the financial and resource monopoly of the world has tied us all to the fate of a collapsing and decaying system in which the rich and powerful prey upon the weak and ignorant to their own detriment. As Chris Hedges laments civilizations over the past six thousand years have the habit of eventually squandering their futures through acts of colossal stupidity and hubris. We are not an exception. The physical ruins of these empires, including the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Mayan, and Indus, litter the earth. They elevated, during acute distress, inept and corrupt leaders who channeled anger, fear, and dwindling resources into self-defeating wars and vast building projects. These ruling elites, consumed by greed and hedonism, retreated into privileged compounds—the Forbidden City, Versailles. They hoarded wealth as their populations endured mounting misery, hunger, and poverty. The worse it got, the more the people lied to themselves and the more they wanted to be lied to. Reality was too painful to confront. (Hedges, KL 453)
The Silicon Valley Moghuls like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos see the writing on the wall and are promoting secession and exit, offering their future escape strategies for a posthuman humanity on either the Moon or Mars. These Space Barons as some of these new entrepreneurs behind some of the biggest brands in the world—Amazon, Microsoft, Virgin, Tesla, PayPal—have disrupted industries ranging from retail to credit cards to air travel. And now they are betting vast swaths of their enormous fortunes that they could make space available to the masses, and push human space travel past where governments had gone. This new grand narrative of escape and exit, a dramatic struggle to open the space frontier is an improbable one, full of risk and high adventure, in which underdog upstarts rise up against the nation’s military-industrial complex, a political fight that has overtaken the White House, providing visions to put humans on the moon and Mars, and, of course, the historic landings that heralded what Bezos was calling a new “golden age of space exploration.” At its heart, the story was fueled by a budding rivalry between the two leaders of this new space movement. The tension is played out in legal briefs and on Twitter, skirmishes over the significance of their respective landings and the thrust of their rockets, and even a dispute over the pad that would launch them. Musk, the brash hare, was blazing a trail for others to follow, while Bezos, the secretive and slow tortoise, who was content to take it step by step in a race that was only just beginning.11
So in an age of decadence and decline we are also being given visions of rebirth and revolution into a posthuman future beyond earth. It’s as if the moneyed powers have seen the light at the end of the tunnel and realize it is indeed very dark for citizens on planet earth, so let’s just leave. But of course we know where this is going, it’s not good for those left behind or their children as the rest of humanity slowly devolves into semi-feudalistic City-States and serfdom bound to corporatocracy and the political machinations of decline and fall. I used to think people would rise up and revolt, that the masses would finally say we’ve had enough and wake up and do something. No more. Goodbye to all that!
T.S. Eliot was right: “Humans cannot bare too much reality!” No. We rather believe in the lies and specious rhetoric of sophistry and cynicism than change the world. We’d rather believe we are powerless than understand we are the creatures of power who can change everything. No more. Goodbye to all that!
People are going to continue down this path no matter what I or anyone says until the actual real bleak picture of extinction and oblivion are upon them. They want believe it even then. The lies will continue to keep them oblivious of their demise until it comes knocking at their door, and even then they will only say: “But why? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? I’m a good person, I’ve done my best, I supported the political party of my leaders… they are at fault, not me? I’m not to blame. I’m blameless.” Go on, believe that old lie, keep on telling yourself you are not a part of the problem, that you are innocent… bah! No more. Goodbye to all that!
We’re all guilty of something, but what the hell does guilt or shame have to do with this end game scenario? Responsibility? Am I responsible for this catastrophic collapse of all being? Is it really come to that? No more. Goodbye to all that!
Fate and Destiny were grand narratives to keep us tied to other lies that controlled our behaviours and shaped us to inherited visions that enforced social mores and habits we supposedly could not escape. As if the world was bound to some iron law of finality, a great apocalypse or Ragnorok. The End of the World as we know it has always been portrayed with apocalyptic imagery, and our cinemas are replete with these end game scenarios. One can see New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, etc. all destroyed by a myriad of natural and man-made catastrophes on screen. It’s as if we are preparing our psyches for the advent of such an event so that unconsciously we will have already participated in the invention of our own demise. Oblivion as a predictable and awaited event without recourse, a fate from which we cannot absolve ourselves. No more. Goodbye to all that!
Maybe I truly have become pessimistic and cynical in my old age. Maybe this has nothing to do with humanity at all. Maybe we are just tired of the stupidity of the human species and realize that words are not and cannot change anything anymore. People continue to breed, propagate, marry, have children, and fill up every last niche of the planet with humanity as if we saw no limits of growth or expansion of the human race. As if capitalist expansion was also human expansion without end. As if the good ole earth would provide plenty forever and ever. As if the resources of water and energy would never dry up and be gone. As if we have millions of years ahead of us… No more. Goodbye to all that!
- Gross, Bertram. Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America. Open Road Media (March 8, 2016)
- Greer, John Michael. Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (p. 105). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (p. 2). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
- Edward O. Wilson. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (Kindle Locations 72-77). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
- Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman Glossary. Rosi Braidotti (Editor), Maria Hlavajova (Editor) Bloomsbury Academic (February 22, 2018)
- Adapted from Steffen et al, Global Change and the Earth System, 2004PDF (pdf, 4.2 MB)
- John David Ebert. The Age of Catastrophe: Disaster and Humanity in Modern Times (Kindle Locations 26-27). Kindle Edition.
- Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. University Of Minnesota Press; 1st edition (June 21, 1984)
- Steve Connor (2006-07-31). “Scientist publishes ‘escape route’ from global warming”. The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2008-10-27.
- Chris Hedges. America: The Farewell Tour (Kindle Locations 141-156). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
- Christian Davenport. The Space Barons (Kindle Locations 112-119). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.