Category: Practice (Page 2 of 8)

Catabolic Capitalism & Green Resistance

By: Craig Collins

In the first installment of this two-part article we examined the notion that any future without globalization must be an improvement.  But globalization and growth only constitute capitalism’s expansionist phase, powered by abundant fossil fuels.  As energy becomes scarce, boom turns to bust.  But profit-hungry capitalism doesn’t die; it morphs into its zombie-like, undead phase.

Growth-less capitalism turns catabolic.  The word catabolism is used in biology to refer to the condition whereby a living thing feeds on itself.  Thus, catabolic capitalism is a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by consuming the society that sustains it.[1]  As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.  Unless we bring it down, catabolic capitalism will leave its survivors rummaging through the toxic rubble left behind.

Capitalism is adept at exploiting human weaknesses, especially greed and fear.  During the period of rapid expansion, greed provides the most powerful incentive for investors, while fear comes in a distant second.  Investors are encouraged to take big risks and go into debt in the hope of scoring windfall profits.  Speculative bubbles grow rapidly as people try to make it rich on the next big deal.  But when boom turns to bust, fear takes the drivers seat.  In these troubled times, the most profitable ventures capitalize on insecurity, desperation and scarcity.

In the era of fossil fuel abundance, catabolic capitalists worked the dim back alleys of the growth economy.  But, as the productive sector atrophies and the financial sector seizes up, this parasitic sector emerges from the shadows and proliferates rapidly.  It thrives off anxiety and hoarding; corruption and crime; conflict and collapse.  Catabolic capitalism profits by confiscating and selling off the stranded assets of the bankrupt productive and public sectors; dodging or dismantling legalities and regulations while pocketing taxpayer subsidies; hoarding scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; and preying upon the utter desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

This looming catabolic future will transform the Green New Deals proposed by eco-optimists like Al Gore, Lester Brown and Jeremy Rifkin into ecotopian pipe dreams…unless we exorcise capitalism’s profit possession from the economy.[2]  Instead of investing society’s remaining resources into a sustainable recovery and renewal, catabolic capitalism will eat away at society like a cancerous tumor.  A malignant alliance of parasitic profiteers, resource cartels and weapons merchants will infect the body politic and poison any effort to prevent them from ransacking the economy and the Earth.  If society succumbs to their all-consuming thirst for profit, life will become a dismal affair for everyone but them.

However, at the risk of sounding over-optimistic, the approaching period of catabolic collapse presents some strategic opportunities to those who would like to rid the world of this system as soon as possible.  The end of growth seriously erodes the legitimacy of capitalism by undermining its capacity to meet the needs of everyday life. 

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Catabolic Capitalism: The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

By: Craig Collins

“Out of the frying pan, into the fire” is an apt description of our current place in history. No matter what you think of globalization, I believe we’ll soon discover that capitalism without it is much, much worse.

No one needs to convince establishment economists, politicians and pundits that the absence of globalization and growth spells trouble. They’ve pushed globalization as the Viagra of economic growth for years. But globalization has never been popular with everyone. Capitalism’s critics recognize that it generates tremendous wealth and power for a tiny fraction of the Earth’s seven billion people, makes room for some in the middle class, but keeps most of humanity destitute and desperate, while trashing the planet and jeopardizing human survival for generations to come.

On the Left, a loose alliance of ecology and labor activists, small farmers, indigenous peoples and human rights advocates has disrupted international economic summits for many years. They say malignant capitalism demolishes habitats and poisons ecosystems, wreaks havoc with the climate, destroys indigenous cultures, pushes farmers off their land and into slums and erodes wages by pitting desperate workers around the globe against one another. At annual World Social Forums, these social movements voice their opposition to globalization and growth and unite around the belief that “Another World Is Possible!” They work toward the day when neoliberal globalization is replaced by a more democratic, equitable, Earth-friendly society.

Since globalization is so damaging, most activists assume that any future without it is bound to be an improvement. But now, it appears that this assumption may be wrong. In fact, for all of its depredations, future generations may someday look back on capitalism’s growth phase as the halcyon days of industrial civilization, a naïve time before anyone realized that the worst was yet to come.

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Are we Failing to Educate our Children?

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

My wife and I recently watched a Jimmy Kimmel video in which various American young people (including college-educated students) are presented with a map of the world (without written text) and are asked to identify at least one country—any country. All failed, except for a young boy at the end of the clip.

Sure, the sample is small and probably many who identified a country were left out of the video. Kimmel is an entertainer, after all.

But, still, the fact that even a few people couldn’t identify any county—including the U.S. or Canada—is disturbing.

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Licensing Parents

Ryan Jenkins from 1000-Word Philosophy examines the potential worth in licensing parents.

Most people think it’s obvious that we have a right to procreate and raise children. In fact, many people think reproductive rights are among the most important rights we have. After all, reproductive rights protect some of the most intimate acts between adults and many people think that rearing children is the greatest source of meaning and fulfillment in life. It’s hard to fathom a government with the arrogance to deny its citizens these rights.

At the same time, most of us think there are some situations where the government is justified in taking away someone’s children. Cases of extreme neglect or abuse come to mind – cases where people have demonstrated that they are not fit parents. If it’s okay to take someone’s children away after the fact, could it ever be okay to deny them the right to raise children beforehand? One way of denying parents the opportunity to raise children would be to require them to procure a license to parent in the same way we require licenses to drive a car or own a handgun. Many would find this surprising, but perhaps there is a good argument for licensing parents.

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Populism: The Long Con

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

Some time ago, likely in a moment of procrastination over some more important task, I found myself browsing through a cache of old interviews from The Daily Show (the Jon Stewart era). One such interview was with Mike Huckabee (2015), which I’d remembered watching live years earlier. Huckabee was promoting his apologia, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy–– another puritanical installation in the great conflict between the provincial interior and the cosmopolitan coasts. After likening Beyoncé to a stripper and mocking the Harvard faculty, Huckabee posed a question: “If your car breaks down in the middle of the night on a country road, who do you want coming by? An MBA in a Beemer, or do you want a couple of good ol’ boys in a pickup truck, with a toolbox in the back?”

These “would you rather” scenarios are a common trope in the culture war. The most famous is probably William F. Buckley’s claim that he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the phonebook than by the Harvard University faculty. Huckabee, who grew up in Arkansas and was educated at a Baptist University, might be able to claim membership in the heartland, but Buckley (a Yale man) certainly couldn’t have, no more than most Republicans in the House of Representatives can today.

With decades of this stuff piled high in the American consciousness, the mental conditions required to give rise to a populist like Trump should have been obvious. These kinds of sentiments, aside from being very stupid, are also very insidious, and highly corrosive to the idea of an informed society. For populism’s great peril is in its mawkish insistence on normalcy as a kind of authenticity––on there being a “real America.” And more still, that this authenticity is somehow measured by, say, how much gravy one has coursing through one’s veins. It also produces rip currents of anti-intellectualism and vulgarity (and by vulgarity I don’t mean profane, but simply that which is “of the common people”). The apotheosis of this has been reached (one hopes) with the 45th president of the United States, who is less a portrait of someone with an anti-intellectual posture than someone living an anti-intellectual existence.

Populism is an old trick. It’s been around since the earliest democracies. Plato, Aristotle and all the classical thinkers wrote about it and rightly condemned it, understanding that it would naturally end with a demagogue. And it should come as no surprise that they regarded the most threatening aspect of this kind of politics to be its disdain for the educated. One of the best dramatizations of this in the ancient world is Aristophanes’ The Clouds. Written during a lull in the Peloponnesian War, it’s considered one of the playwright’s lighter, apolitical comedies.

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Why Party Polarization Is (Probably) Here to Stay

Guillaume LeBlanc from New American Perspective analyzes the highly polarized political climate in the United States.

Among the more striking developments in American politics recently is the increased polarization of the two parties. Republicans have moved to the right, Democrats have moved to the left, and this shift is easy to see. Even the 2008 version of Obama, who opposed gay marriage, talked about immigration restriction, and even said that he could understand nativist sentiment, could not win his party’s nomination today, even though he was hailed at the time as the triumph of its progressive wing. For all the talk of how similar the two parties are, it is actually getting clearer and clearer that there are major differences between the two parties. They may both be terrible, yes – but they are different kinds of terrible.

It wasn’t always like this. For decades, both major political parties in the US were defined by their lack of polarization, which allowed for both parties to have liberal, moderate, and conservative wings. It may be true that since at least Franklin Roosevelt, if not William Jennings Bryant or William McKinley, that the Democratic Party tended to be the more left wing of the two parties, at least on a national level, but this was only slightly true. Ideological diversity was seen in both parties, and it forced both parties to make compromises within themselves, with each faction needing some say in order to keep the peace. And when parties are already making compromises within themselves before they meet the other party, making compromises with the other party becomes much more natural. During this era, party line voting was rare, with liberal Democrats joining liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats joining conservative Republicans on many bills, which is why, though his party only held the majority in the Senate briefly and never held it in the House, Ronald Reagan was able to get so much of his agenda passed-:there was a large number of conservative Democrats willing to work with him.

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Capsule Introduction to Capitalism and Socialism

by Victor Wallis

A short introduction to key terms in political theory by the author of Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism

A capitalist society is one in which the major decisions about what is produced (and how, and how much, and for whom) are made by the capital-owning class and/or its representatives. Capital differs from earlier forms of wealth in that it is liquid, i.e., it can be bought and sold on the market. Capitalist wealth includes machinery (what Marx called “means of production,” or capital in the narrow sense), but it also includes land and financial instruments (money, stocks & bonds, etc.).

Most of this wealth is concentrated in large corporations or financial institutions, whose goal is to maximize their own profits. To do this, they must sell as much as possible and pay out as little as possible. Sales are maximized by responding not simply to needs but rather to market-demand (i.e., needs or wants backed by purchasing power). Market-demand is in turn shaped partly by public policy (e.g., if there’s no mass transit, more people will have to buy cars) and partly by a whole culture of advertising and public relations. At the same time, costs are minimized by paying workers as little as possible (including moving production to low-wage areas) and by skimping on such matters as waste-disposal and workplace safety & health.

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Netflix’s Five Second Rule:  High Heels & Sexual Display in the Workplace

By: Glen Paul Hammond

We tell children it is impolite to stare at another person—and it is—though it is not always easy to explain why.  In one way, we can say, unusual things draw attention and people are uncomfortable being seen as unusual, so we admonish against it.  Yet, in another way, extraordinary things also draw attention and this kind of attention is not always undesirable.  There are further complications: We are visually drawn to things that horrify and, oftentimes, we look at such things for much longer than we even desire; at the same time, we also tend to look at things that attract us and, if they attract us absolutely, we fall out of time and become unaware of how long we have been looking.  It’s complicated; it’s natural; it’s impolite—but is it harassment?

Netflix’s alleged ban on employees looking at each other for more than five seconds as part of its new anti-harassment policy suggests it is on the verge of being codified as the latter (Timpf).  If this is true, then who is the culpable party and how might this effect the way employees visually present themselves in the workplace? To give these inquiries a more specific focus, I will repeat a question that came across as outrageous when the much discussed public intellectual Jordan Peterson first posed it to a VICE interviewer during a discussion on possible rules for sexual harassment in the workplace:  “What about high heels?”

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“Make America Great Again”: Regina Jose Galindo’s Performance Art Illustrates the Struggles of Immigration

Art of Politics, Politics of Art, A Series By: Jeanette Joy Harris
In this series, Jeanette Joy Harris looks at how artists around the world are using public and participatory art forms to describe, analyze, and influence contemporary politics.

In May of 2018, Guatemalan national Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez was shot at the US-Mexico border by patrols. The previous month, former Guatemalan military dictator and human rights criminal, Efrain Rios Montt died at the age of 91. Considering these two events together illustrates the struggle that Central Americans face as they deliberate between staying in countries with high levels of violence or risking immigration into the United States. Guatemalan artist Regina Jose Galindo has spent much of her career bringing international visibility to the very issues that these people deal with at home. Her performances are often brutal physical actions that reimagine environments that portray the social, political, and economic instability of many countries in Central America.

Galindo has had a special focus on Montt, exemplified by her performance “Quien Puede Borrar Las Huellas,” (“Who Can Trace These Tears”). The artist was outspoken when the former military leader ran for president of Guatemala in 2003. Early on election day morning, she went to a medical lab and purchased human blood. She poured it into a white basin and then, clothed in black, started a 45-minute walk that began outside the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City. It ended at the front steps of the National Palace. With each step she dipped her feet in the basin, leaving a trail of bloody prints behind her. As she faced security guards at the end of her pilgrimage, she left two final footprints and the basin as the final documentation of the work.

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On the Precipice

by Victor Wallis

Like many others (unless they are in a state of simple denial), I sometimes feel paralyzed by the enormity of the environmental challenge.

How to break through this?

We must begin with the certainties.

First is the science. Not every aspect of it, of course, but the basic contours. The most in-depth, up-to-date, and accessible account is Ian Angus’s 2016 Monthly Review Press book, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (see my review at Climate and Capitalism). When you read this book, you will see how in some respects the point of no return has already been reached. But even if full collapse is only a matter of time, many life-and-death choices will still confront us along the way – over what we may hope will be more than a single lifetime.

The second certainty is that we are being systematically lied to by the most powerful interests in this society. It is now known that the big oil companies, by their own research in the 1970s, confirmed what would later become common knowledge about the climate-impact of greenhouse gases, but they then undertook a deliberate campaign of obfuscation which continues to this day (see updates at kochvsclean.com).

The third certainty is an outcome of the second: hundreds of millions of people who should – and could – be waging the battle of and for their lives, are instead propelled by a structured inertia, part “practical” and part ideological, to continue with their daily routines – of heating or cooling, driving, flying, over-indulging in one or another addiction, and acquiescing in wars of domination – as though nothing had changed.

And yet things have changed!

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