“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me”. (Hamlet. Act 2 Scene 2).
Jem Bendell wrote a paper and published it in 2018:
Deep Adaptation: A map for navigating climate tragedy. You can find it here along with responses, many of which are well worth a read. After outlining what we currently know is happening right now, Jem concludes that social collapse is inevitable within our lifetimes.
This conclusion is, of course, not an original claim. Clive Hamilton (Requiem for a Species and Defiant Earth) writes:
“So today the greatest tragedy is the absence of a sense of the tragedy. The indifference of most to the Earth system’s disturbance may be attributed to a failure of reason or psychological weaknesses, but these seem inadequate to explain why we find ourselves on the edge of the abyss.”
Jared Diamond’s ‘Collapse‘ explored why societies fail. Wolfgang Streeck (2016) echoing Antonio Gramsci, suggests the current context is actually a ‘post-capitalist interregnum’ in which the old system is dying but a new social order cannot yet be born. Streeck calls the current order one of multi-morbidity, climate change being one of many frailties as we head towards social entropy, radical uncertainty and indeterminacy. David Wallace-Wells describes our future on The ‘Uninhabitable Earth‘.
Rowland Atkinson and Don Mitchell in ‘Fracturing Societies’ also paint a rather bleak picture:
“The world feels like it is falling apart, and maybe it really is. Maybe the weight of human misery, the collapse of civil societies, ethno-national tensions and divisions, political exits and polarization and the accelerating ecological crisis, maybe all of this make things different this time.”
Hans Rosling (2018) provides a good deal of data to argue that although ‘things are bad’ they are also getting better. It is easy to read his book (Factfulness) and interpret it as praise for free market capitalism. It is not. Rosling provides data to show certain metrics are improving but little detail on why things are improving and no social theory to explain the processes. He does provide some insight into the various methods that work, and as a public health professor supports a mixed bag of tools to achieve success. He neither supports free-market capitalism as the answer to everything nor state planning. He also outlines five global risks we should be worried about (2018 p237):
- Global Pandemics (such as flu).
- Financial Collapse.
- World War 3.
- Climate Change or Breakdown/catastrophe.
- Extreme Poverty.
And yet, if your only source of information is from popular culture then you will be blissfully unaware of the tragedy around you. Sure, David Attenborough has highlighted the issue of plastic and so we are now running around ditching drinking straws. This is, however, pissing against a Tornado.
This crisis, this global emergency, is at root a crisis of capitalist political economy. Marx and Engles could not have foreseen the current detail of the Anthropocene, but they presciently wrote about capitalism unleashed and the technological forces it produces would result in transformations and disruptions we cannot control.
For Marx and Engels, however, this disruption is to be celebrated. It acts as a catalyst for the final push humanity needs to do away with our remaining prejudices that underpin the great divide between those who own the machines and those who design, operate and work with them, “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned,” they write in the communist manifesto of technology’s effect, “and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind”. However, they were ignorant of just how and why disruptive carbon-based capitalist forces of production would be. But they were right in that we are being forced to confront our real conditions of life.
Except that we choose to look away.
We are also being deliberately deflected, misdirected and distracted.
I suggest you read Jem Bendell’s paper and some of the responses.