Anti-capitalist meetup: How did we get here? A look at human social evolution. And a book preview by Don Mikulecky
Our new book: Global Insanity: How Homo sapiens Lost Touch with Reality while Transforming the World Is about to come out. This diary is a brief introduction to the book with additional comments about why it is in the Anti-Capitalist Meetup tonight. I will start by saying that the frames “capitalist” and “anti-Capitalist” are really not of much use anymore. We have created an entire new epistemology. The old categories neither work nor do the free us from what has caused us the problem. Any attempt to work within the old paradigm feeds the system that enslaves us. We need a revolution that is total. Capitalism, as it has evolved to this day is very much like an economic and social cancer. As one who has developed computer models of cancer and then therapy to fight it I can speak with some authority.Cancer is not an infectious disease. It is a way the system develops that eventually does that very system in. So my analogy is appropriate here. Capitalism has grown as a system that will do in the system it arises from. In that context, who could be for cancer? Once the present state of capitalism is understood, who could be for it? Clearly we have large numbers of people who are so there is more to the story than my simple analogy. That is really the simple part even though large parts of the human population still do not understand. Let’s carry the cancer analogy a bit further. How do we “cure” cancer? It can not be reversed. It must be stopped. All ways of stopping are harmful to the host. That is because it is such an integral part of the host. Chemically killing or surgically removing or radiating cancer cells does damage beyond just the cancer itself. Stopping capitalism before it destroys us is a similar problem. You and I are part of capitalism and we contribute to the damage it is doing by the way we live. You can not even have a remote hope that we can survive its destructive march to the cliff without dealing with our contribution to the disease. Every treatment for cancer involves pain and suffering. We claim to be concerned about future generations but will we willingly put that claim into action? Before you jump to the conclusion that I am trying to lay a guilt trip on you, realize that our book deals with how we got here and why no one is “to blame”. On the other hand knowledge transforms people and once they see the problem further inaction is certainly no longer excusable. I have spent my life trying to understand. Fortunately, when I thought I was close I published my initial thoughts and my friend and colleague Jim Coffman read that paper. Now we have this book. In it we speak about our continuing contribution to the cancerous blight of capitalism as an addiction. They pushed the “drug” and we are hooked! So if you are able to handle a quick diagnosis that is not at all pleasant then please continue reading
Our book is not a recapitulation of anything you have seen before. It is a radical new analysis that uses a lot of our cultural evolution to put that evolution into an entirely new perspective. First from the preface:
To work against your own short-term interests requires that you acknowledge that those interests are harmful or unhealthy. So it is reasonable to ask why more people do not acknowledge and act on the increasingly serious health problems that confront us all as a result of anthropogenic environmental degradation. The answer to this is, in a word, complex.
The efforts of science to speak to the condition of the planet are often met with hostility, to say the least. One working scientist who has been subjected to a living hell merely for doing his job is climatologist Michael Mann. A quote from his recent book gives a flavor of what is at stake:
We look back now with revulsion at the corporate CEOs, representatives, lobbyists, and scientists-for-hire who knowingly ensured the suffering and mortality of millions by hiding their knowledge of tobacco smoking’s ill effects for the sake of short term corporate profits. Will we hold those who have funded or otherwise participated in the fraudulent denial of climate change similarly accountable—those individuals and groups who both made and took corporate payoffs for knowingly lying about the threat climate change posed to humanity, those who willfully have led the public and policy makers astray, and those politicians and media figures who have sought to intimidate climate scientists using McCarthyite tactics?
Two things need to be pointed out in preparation for what we are offering here. First, the issues described by Mann are not isolated. The entire spectrum and character of political and civic life is subject to powerful economic forces, and while those forces may on the surface reduce to simple greed, below the surface are undercurrents that are not at all that simple, emanating from among other things our animal nature, human psychology and the historical origins of our culture. The second point concerns why political arguments cannot be won with empirically demonstrable facts and logic. We will attempt to address these issues in what follows.
Clearly I can not develop what we put forth in this short diary. There are those who will see this as a “book promotion” and it is that too, but it is also, and more importantly, an attempt to get get your attention for we have something very important to say. Here is the beginning of the introduction:
Introduction: Our Thesis, and What We Hope to Achieve
The thesis of this essay is that Western science has misconceived life. As a consequence, civilized humanity, by way of its scientifically informed industrial economy cum existential nihilism cum retreat into fantasy, is destroying the biosphere—and hence itself.
The misconception is that life is engendered and fully explained by mechanisms.
This is absurd. In biology anything that can be construed as a mechanism can also be logically construed as having a purpose. Means imply ends, and are thus meaningful. Life is neither created by mechanisms, nor an emergent property thereof: to the contrary, mechanisms, to the extent that they perform useful work, are created by living systems in the service of life. Wherever they exist, they do so in order to realize some subjective goal.
And at some level, all biologists know this to be true.
Let me try to remind you that George Lakoff and others have been saying these same things to us in a political context and our book bravely marches into that forbidden territory. Forbidden to “objective” science which is one of the myths that makes change so hard. Going further into the introduction:
We contend that Western civilization, in developing a global consumer economy based on industrial mechanization requiring rapid dissipation of non-renewable, high-grade energy, lost touch with reality and embarked on a path of self-destruction. Accessing a new path conducive to long-term human survival and quality of life will require that we fundamentally change our relationship with nature, which will in turn require that we significantly improve our comprehension of nature—including human nature. It will require that we develop a more realistic way of life, and healthier ways of imbuing our existence with meaning.
We are not alone in calling attention to the urgency of our situation. We do however have a unique explanation for how we got here, and the role of human intellect in that process. Contrary to what is now almost universally accepted as given, our technological creativity and scientific inquisitiveness have not served us well. The reason for this is that the development of our cognitive abilities produced an unhealthy mental imbalance. The technological aspect of the human mind has come to repressively dominate other aspects, and this is intimately linked to the unconstrained development of the consumer economy. Science and technology feed that system by supplying a continuous stream of ‘disposable’ commodities, as well as techniques for ensuring that people keep buying them, in order to drive economic growth, which then feeds back to drive science and technology. What many (perhaps most) people fail to appreciate is that this is a vicious cycle whose continuance assures the collapse of civilization, and quite possibly the extinction of humanity.
As will become clear in what follows, meaning is constructed by way of interpretation, and interpretation is a subjective matter. Depending on your perspective, the world can appear either simple or complex—and either very big or very small.
That should challenge you to read the book. I’ll be here when the diary is published to discuss what I have said. Thank you for the opportunity.
A footnote,/strong>: We develop a thesis based on the acknowledgement That “Cartesian Reductionism” is one of the fundamental epistemological bases for modern “enlightened” thought. What Descartes left us with is the mind/body dualism and the idea that all things can be seen as machines and therefore reduced to their parts. Then the study of the parts would lead to total understanding of the whole. We refute this and base our argument on the idea that reducing systems to parts removes their essence and makes them impossible to understand..