In The Myth of Human Progress, Chris Hedges draws on history for perspective on why we're destroying ourselves with Climate Destabilization.

The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the Earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way.

The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence.

But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel ... we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism.

Complex civilizations have a bad habit of destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us.

They tend to collapse quite soon after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity. That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the Romans, the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island."

We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature.

We’re Ice Age hunters with a shave and a suit. We are not good long-term thinkers.

Wright, who in his dystopian novel “A Scientific Romance” paints a picture of a future world devastated by human stupidity, cites “entrenched political and economic interests” and a failure of the human imagination as the two biggest impediments to radical change.

The experience of a relatively easy 500 years of expansion and colonization, the constant taking over of new lands, led to the modern capitalist myth that you can expand forever,” Wright said. “It is an absurd myth. We live on this planet. We can’t leave it and go somewhere else. We have to bring our economies and demands on nature within natural limits, but we have had a 500-year run where Europeans, Euro-Americans and other colonists have overrun the world and taken it over. This 500-year run made it not only seem easy but normal. We believe things will always get bigger and better. We have to understand that this long period of expansion and prosperity was an anomaly. It has rarely happened in history and will never happen again. We have to readjust our entire civilization to live in a finite world. But we are not doing it, because we are carrying far too much baggage, too many mythical versions of deliberately distorted history and a deeply ingrained feeling that what being modern is all about is having more. This is what anthropologists call an ideological pathology, a self-destructive belief that causes societies to crash and burn. These societies go on doing things that are really stupid because they can’t change their way of thinking. And that is where we are.”

And as the collapse becomes palpable, if human history is any guide, we like past societies in distress will retreat into what anthropologists call “crisis cults.”

“Societies in collapse often fall prey to the belief that if certain rituals are performed all the bad stuff will go away,” Wright said. “There are many examples of that throughout history.

“We all have the same, basic psychological hard wiring,” Wright said. “It makes us quite bad at long-range planning and leads us to cling to irrational delusions when faced with a serious threat. Look at the extreme right’s belief that if government got out of the way, the lost paradise of the 1950s would return. [emphasis mine]

Tags: Climate Destabilization, economic expansion, ideological pathology, modern capitalist myth

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Replies to This Discussion

Delusions is right.  The part that makes me angriest, though, is that they don't remember the 1950s for what they were, but some fairytale version they wish could be.  At least if you are going to pine for a different time in history, remember it right.

LOL Good point. They long for an idealized past that never existed.

An excellent summary of very complex factors facing us. Tipping points of economic expansion, energy depletion, environmental degradation, changes in climate caused by overproduction of CO2 and deforestation that can no longer soak up excess gases, and chaotic conditions that drive some into superstition and seeking "comfort" instead of solutions.
Warring binds up people and resources, interfering with research and development. Noting that every great society on Earth has failed at this point and there is little prospect of being able to restore the planet to health, let alone its cultures. (Tainter)

Lessons from history of the pattern of accumulation of wealth in a few of the population, food shortages, extreme poverty developing and inequitable distribution of all resources weakens nations from inside. (Redmond).

From the Stone Age through to the modern era, greed plays its part in failing to move beyond acquisition of wealth to a social system that maintains and perpetuates progress before collapsing in a new Dark Age. After each progression, a cycle repeats of development, stratification, collapse, a Dark Age, and a new progression begins. Only this time, the Earth's living things may not survive. (Wright).

The period after WWII, during the build up of respect and acknowledgment of those who produce goods and services and who had protection from greed of oligarchs, began a period of distribution of profits for the first time of which I am aware. The owners of capital and the owners of labor had legal rights to shares of profits. That changes with the breakdown of safety nets, profits going to investors instead of producers and the partnership link came apart.

Production is a partnership between financial providers and labor providers. When that link breaks, culture collapses.

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