Friday, July 1, 2011

Why we are doomed

Most of the things that contributed to our modern way of life began about the same time.  I suspect they are highly interdependent.  I'm talking about:

1) Exponentially increasing use of fossil fuels, starting with coal
2) Capitalism (essentially, privatization of the formerly aristocratically controlled commonwealth)
3) Constitutional representative democracy
4) Modern science and associated technologies, such as engineering and medicine

these led, before long, to exponential increases in human population, and utilization of land and other resources

Now what happens as the unsustainable exponentially increasing use of fossil fuels (and every other material resource) declines.  Can capitalism and representative democracy be sustained?

It looks to me that in a low-to-negative growth scenario, which is the future, the answer for various reasons is probably not.

What is the point of "investment" when there can be no growth?  The existing order, which at its peak included robust social democracy, relied upon growth to satisfy both the capitalists and the non-capitalists.

Currently, as peak everything is topping out, the first thing to go is general prosperity for all.  The rich, who have the power to do so, are holding on to what they have taken, and are still trying to grab more, in so doing leaving the non-rich worse and worse off.  Since wages are sticky in the downward direction, the result is unemployment gets worse without end.  This is the destruction of the middle class.

But in the long run, this is unsustainable too.  The richness of the capitalist rich depended on capitalism, growth, consumer markets, and so on.  As the poor are squeezed, all those things will fail also.

The resulting uber-rentier state, in which a very few top fat cats continue to rise, leaving little else, is ultimately politically unsustainble.  Some strong leader(s) will arise to crush the last remaining uber rentiers who will claim vast multiples of the annual product as their personal wealth.  Those strong leader(s) and their lieutenants will ultimately constitute a return to aristocracy, the social order humans have known pretty much from the beginning of large scale civilization.  We know that "works" in the sense that it can exist in the face of a no growth political economy.

Many other visions exist, but it is not clear if any truly address the human faculties.  Some envision, for example, localistic anarcho-syndicalism.  That might be possible if the level of human intellectual capabilities and memory were high enough.  Most who envision it believe in a sort of peaceful coexistance.  Probably most who have envisioned it simply block from their minds the influence of militaristic power.  Existing power has collaborated with capitalism, but when capitalism collapses there will be no alternative power left.  Military power centralizes society.  Localism only exists now because it is harmless to the pervasive capitalist matrix.  But when the falling apart of capitalism happens, the centralizing effect of remaining military power will prevail.

Watching the current spectacle of preoccupation with rentier's holdings (deficits!) at the expense of the entire economy (unemployment!!!) does not give one confidence in human intellectual capabilities.  Of course this is coordinated by a fully corrupted media, but something like that is likely always to exist and be subservient to the centralized power.

Another possibility might be (and this might well happen eventually, say in 500-1000 years) is that the human population is so reduced that centralization is impossible, leaving some kind of localism, which could be anarcho-syndicalism, but is probably more likely to be feudalistic tribalism.  That is unlikely so long as there are more than 100 million human beings on earth.

One way that this dismal thesis could be wrong is through the freedom, growth, and lack of destruction of collective memory, knowledge, etc.  That is the major countervailing force of our time against the dominant powers.  Certainly the recent USA (United States of Amnesia) experience does not give one much confidence in this, but that case could either be special or unnecessary.

The rise of plutocracy in the 1970's came in many ways, especially including the rise of "government is the problem" Republicanism.  Social democracy was the ultimate glue that made capitalist democracy work. Social democracy temporarily made it possible for ordinary people to satisfy their wishes through the collective power of government.  But when it had a hiccup, the more dominant force of plutocracy prevailed, and the pre-social democratic order of government-of-by-and-for-the-rich prevailed.  Representative democracy has now been degraded back to being merely a tool of wealth.

Such a cabal of crook representatives cannot cope with the huge problems that are forthcoming in any positive way.  Plutocracy is about the short-term-gain.  When overfishing depletes the fish, the money simply moves on to something else.  But in the future of now, we are running out of something-elses.

The main reason why social democracy could be crushed was lack of memory of the prior order.  That does not bode well for the future of representative democracy, for it is that kind of long term memory which is essential to keeping plutocracy at bay amidst a plutocratically rigged media-PR brainwashing system.  Now I fear the rise of plutocracy over democracy is irreversible.  That is likely to lead to increasing failures of government leadership toward the common good, and ultimately the rise of totalitarian dictatorship.

It is said that James Madison feared democracy most of all, which is why he designed a very limited representative democratic system, intending that the best men would prevail.  Problem was, he did not fear plutocracy sufficiently.  A limited representative democratic system is almost certain to be subservient to plutocracy.  And that works only so long as economic growth is possible to satisfy all.

Another factor which forced plutocracy to work toward the common good in James Madison's day was limits on the ability to change investment quickly through Wall Street, the casino of corporations, forcing more long term thinking.

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