Thursday, November 24, 2011

Civilization is a Powder-Keg

Super busy. Didn't have a clue what to write. Went and looked at unpublished drafts of entries and decided to put this out, ... whatever it is.

The world isn't flat. It's round. But for tens of thousands of years, humanity, if we thought of it at all, believed that the world was flat, because we are so insignificant, and the world is so vast, that we simply couldn't perceive things accurately (or simply in their entirety). [Evidently, the Ancient Greeks, noticing how islands rose up from out of the horizon on the Mediterranean, decided that the world was round and they calculated the size of the planet by measuring the curve as determined by the height of a mountain and the distance between when it first appeared over the horizon and when it came fully into view.]

Through ice-ages, and periodic warmings, and across vast migrations, humanity has adapted and survived. And, I should add, individuals often didn't grasp that they were adapting to changing conditions, but thought they were conforming to the way things always were.

With the rise of civilizations, great masses of human beings came to be subjected to changing conditions created by their fellow man. People became enslaved. People were made exiles. Religions were created and imposed and stamped-out. Livelihoods became upended. As humanity increased in numbers and our technology became more sophisticated, these convulsions became greater and greater, affecting more an more people with increased intensity.

Something enormous is happening today. For over a thousand years, some kind of formal democracy was developed in the Mediterranean, and then spreading out and shifting its centre into North-west Europe. This "democracy" has achieved great things, and, without being too Eurocentric, aspects of it have held out an appeal to people in other societies as well. [I really don't want to glorify European civilization and disparage other civilizations. The First Nations in North America had their own version of self-government which included many democratic practices. Agricultural villages everywhere had and continue to have their traditions of decision-making which put our present elite-controlled, centralized systems of domination to shame. But I do think that the enshrining of rights and equalities into legal codes is unique to Europe and is seen as attractive by hundreds of millions of non-European peoples.]

Some would argue that the democracy of Western Europe and North America was made possible by the economic wealth (created by capitalism, and nothing else 'natch!) that made it affordable. I have long argued that it was more likely that democracy created the relatively greater equality of wealth, which created a more robust economy which made capitalism possible. I believe that even after giving technology, plundering the rest of humanity, and capitalist economics all their due, that it was the rise of democracy that made the West rich. Lo and behold! The height of democracy in the West came out of the crises of the Great Depression and the Second World War, and its flowering between 1945 and 1973 produced the capitalist postwar "golden age." The right-wing counterattack since 1980 has targeted democratic strongholds and institutions, producing more poverty and inequality than ever before. The elites are attacking democracy, they are winning, and we are becoming poorer.

About that "plundering the rest of humanity": I'm referring of course, to European imperialism. Whatever the limitations of the social-economic orders in other parts of the world, and whatever long-term benefits other parts of the world obtained from contact with the Europeans, it cannot be argued that European imperialism constituted a net loss for the rest of the world. Tens of millions died as a result of British callousness and expropriation in India. Tens of millions of Chinese peasants died of starvation as the Europeans squeezed their civilization for everything they could. Millions upon millions of Africans were sold into slavery, or reduced to absolute penury as the Europeans laid claim to their lands. Millions of Native Americans, North and South, died of diseases and as a result of cruelty and deliberate slaughter. Whatever the benefits of a railroad running through (white-owned) plantation country down to an ocean port where European freighters waited to take their produce to Europe, Africans, and others, lost more than they gained from contact with the white man.

Here's a bunch of links that were supposedly important to me while I was writing the above ...


Owen Gray said...

This isn't the first time democracy and capitalism have been in crisis. But it is the first time the world has been so inter connected.

If we don't get things right, we'll bring the whole edifice down around our ears.

thwap said...


Marx was right about how the capitalists will create an international working class.

We find ourselves increasingly in a "global village" where everything is going wrong.

The world is indeed a powder-keg and we are in danger of everything falling to pieces in the blast.