On the same scale, Proxima Centauri, our nearest star, would be 16,000 kilometers away. Even if you shrank down everything so that Jupiter was as small as the full stop at the end of this sentence, and Pluto was no bigger than a molecule, Pluto would still be over 10 meters away. (Bill Bryson, “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, 2003
2006-09-06, by Ted Jackman, Independent Financial Adviser

#Politics || #UK || #Iraq ||

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Pessimism is understandable. Totalitarian capitalism in its baroque complexity nestles into every niche of society, suffocating the human spirit. Under the extreme conditions created in the world over the past 50 years, in such places as Baghdad or Beirut, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chile or Argentina, Bosnia or Chechnya (the full list is very, very long now), within the extended enclaves of criminality that now abound in every country, any talk about universality might seem idle, as mere survival is all that matters. It is well worth considering how and why it has been possible to effect this worldwide suffocation.

As visitors to these pages will be aware, we take the view that scarcity is a secondary factor in the world, and that abundance is fundamental. After some thought, the page administrators decided to include the word “Capital” in the title, as much to distinguish it from various perfumeries and money-making schemes, as to make the idea more precise. Capital refers to the social relation that dominates the Earth; Abundance to something far more fundamental and universal.

Mere survival may mean begging for a piece of bread, struggling across a metropolis every day to get to work, finding a place in your neighborhood to hide from aggression by local gangs to aerial attacks by foreign or local invaders, living in the midst of wars, being “displaced”, losing everyone in your family and/or community, among many other things. It is not surprising if our reaction to being in any of these situations is to stop thinking about the future and focus on the immediate. The system seeks to depoliticize us.

Why should it? Simply because it is ego-centric? Or because it has the power to do so? What tends to be forgotten is that yesterday things were different –a change has taken place. The change has hit us in many ways, but the reality is that growing worldwide abundance under Capital (headed by American capital) has been accompanied by a policy of increasing strife and security, domestically and internationally. Instead of the increased prosperity implied by greater productivity leading to generally greater and greater freedom for human beings (which can be seen to have occurred in earlier epochs), we have less and less freedom at the civil level –what is public is more and more de- prived.

We also have larger and larger business enterprises and more and more powerful States –i.e., a greater concentration of wealth and power (not to speak of the oligarchies who personify this wealth and power). But we, the people, whether more or less prosperous (and more are poorer, even if some are wealthier), have less and less organization, are (as mentioned in the first part) increasingly fragmented, atomized, individualized. Doesn’t all this suggest the work of intentions? Faced by the problem of increased prosperity and the freedoms it implies, power, while continuing to concentrate wealth in its hands, also struggles to ensure its monopoly against “the rest”.

But we need to know what grounds there might be for optimism! They are manifold, but are systematically blocked –shouldn’t we expect that? They are blocked by unscientific ideas and by the concealment of truth.

A good example is the oil question. Ever since the 1950s, people have been saying that oil is running out and the economy will break down soon –the “peak oil” thesis. It takes different forms –some think nothing else will do the job, so the world will collapse, others think we can survive only by tightening our belts, and so on. Anyway, the future looks bleak, catastrophic collapse imminent and so on –a need for greater strictness due to the scarcity of an economically key resource.

But that argument, which is still being pushed, and especially as a result of Capital’s aggressive lurch in Central Asia, has been challenged on several fronts. I shall not go into them all in detail here –some of these points are covered by other articles on this site –in the section on energy –while it is now quite easy to find the contrary arguments elsewhere on the Internet. Briefly, though, the “peak oil” argument has been shown to be false on theoretical grounds (petroleum is not produced by organic matter, but deep within the Earth from inorganic matter –see the Gas Resources Institute) and by reference to real supply, demand and reserves (see, for example, Peter Odell’s work on this). Petroleum-use has diminished as economies and alternatives have come into play, and its huge post-war growth period came to an end during the last quarter of the 20th century, as population growth slowed.

The other thing is that there are indeed alternatives to petroleum –these can be found flashing around on the Internet more and more –electric cars, vehicles run on natural gas, the hydrogen cell, and a whole lot more. The skeptics’ club views these alternatives (already in use or being experimented on) with disdain, while attempting to make itself look separate from the interests of Big Oil. The latter is also determined that we should ignore the plentiful reserves of oil that exist (but without enough refineries, what use are they?) and that we should not see any alternatives to petroleum for running our engines, heating our homes and so on. It must cost them quite a bit to keep down these alternatives –but the massive increase in oil prices since the U.S. launched its war policy in Central Asia can easily cover such costs. Iraq has been occupied for various reasons, and stopping the flow of oil certainly seems to be among them.

What is the corollary of this argument? That we do not face an irreversible collapse in the economy due to “natural causes”. If economic decline is coming (or is already on us) it is due to something closer to home –the system itself. That was always the case in the past, whatever the “peak oil” lobby may want us to believe. But what is also very important for Capital is that we should not realize how things work –and not work.

I personally feel more confident about the future knowing that energy is really not the problem (notwithstanding its effects on atmospheric pollution). This also brings me back to the original theses of the progressive thinkers of the past, linking us once more with the wisdom of previous times, when theory really meant something to society as a whole, going well beyond the situation today when everything is reduced to “points of view” –the so-called “democratic path”. The world is clearly blossoming with abundance –and the universe, too.

But then they turn around and tell us population has grown (is growing) too fast, and even if output satisfies its needs, pollution and congestion will destroy society. This myth has been going on ever since the 1960s when the Club of Rome published “The Limits to Growth” –in fact, it has been going on even longer than that –see “The Myth of over-population in the 1930s”. The argument was used then to justify war, and has been used again and again since then. But population growth has been slowing since the 1960s, and population growth could very well turn into decline sometime in the middle of this century. The problem is not that there are too many people or too much civilization, but that there is too much capitalism, too much concentrated private property and exploitation of others, in fact, too much parasitism.

The entire geological-demographic-environmental-meteorological and cosmological amalgam is being given an orientation that points to catastrophe, collapse. However, scouring more books on these subjects, Internet pages, and reviews (etc.) shows that the situation is far too complex for this simplistic prognosis –and this should surprise no one (except arrogance which stands in the way of science). We are talking about things we cannot measure, so vast and distant are they. A good place to start, if you want to check this out is Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History of Almost Everything”.

It seems clear that the beautiful catastrophic consistency everything appears to have is very much contrived when it comes to the true state of nature. The experts do not agree on global warming, pole-shift or the “Big Bang”, and the picture of all-round disaster is not supported by the facts. Do these theories not instead presage a man-made disaster? Do they not play a role in preparing people’s minds for large-scale desolations caused not by natural elements beyond humanity’s control, but by a social system bent on survival against all the odds? Disasters cannot be abolished. Nor can death, which points us on to the rather contradictory question of the way that a large-scale death-orientation, Freud’s death-instinct or “Thanatos” as a socio-political syndrome, might support a moribund social system.

It is, therefore, not simply a question of fighting injustice, war and exploitation. Today, capitalism, with its most sophisticated use of aggression, is actually demonstrating its inability to hold society together. Capitalism has therefore embraced social fragmentation, which it believes to be not just necessary, but impossible to fight. That would seem to be the challenge.

Ted Jackman

Ted Jackman contributor to abundance.org.uk
Independent Financial Adviser