The basic problem for the world at the moment is that we have had an economic system that has kind-of worked for several hundred years but is reaching its sell-by date, but, as yet, we have no credible alternative on offer. The fact of reaching an end point is partly because of the system's inherent internal contradictions and partly of the effects of the ecological crisis and these two are not wholly unrelated.

The system is expansive capitalism. It has delivered a lot over the years and our politics and social life revolve around it. However, it is predicated on the assumption of endless growth and progressive integration of the whole world into the one dominant system. These two factors are ultimately irreconcilable because the whole world does not grow endlessly and this limiting aspect has recently been made increasingly obvious by the ecological crisis.

In the 17th century we had the illusion of expanding our economic activity in a limitless space. Now, however, the limits are ever more apparent. Our expansion squeezes out other species. Our farmers want to protect their livestock from diseases, so they exterminate wildlife. The expansion of our fields destroys the habits of other life. Our expansion of industrial activity ruins the seas and the atmosphere. We are placing ourselves in mortal danger as a species.

At the same time the philosophy of capitalism teaches us that the solution to problems is individual, so we all do our best to run our individual households in a vaguely ecological way even though this is a totally insufficient remedy for the problem. At the same time, we still clear the way for big business and big government to go on massively depleting the natural world.

So what is the solution? This is very difficult to discern. Yellow vest protests and the rise of the far right politically do nothing to put things right, they are simply a symptom of the frustration that is an inevitable concomitant of the system gradually grinding to a standstill. We protest that the system is no longer yielding more and more and more. We protest even though we are, collectively, for the moment, at least, some of the most fortunate humans who have walked the Earth. We protest  because we cannot understand what is happening.

What experiments are there? China is attempting an extreme degree of regulation and social control, but will this actually change the rate of depletion? It is difficult to see how it can. The EU is trying to create a liberal, progressive utopia, which is, in some ways, admirable, but again it is unlikely to make much dent in the fundamental problem. Socialistic experiments too have their merit but they are variants upon the existing theme when what is called for is something so radical as to be uncontemplatable.

Perhaps, to live in balance with out planet there needs to be many less of us. Perhaps if the world population were reduced to 5% of what it is today we might begin to have a chance. Even then it would be on the high side. Perhaps we need to slow everything down - travel by sailing ship rather than airplane - reverse the tendency to faster and faster which is really just another reflection of more and more. Is it even thinkable that we could? Perhaps agriculture needs to be more or less totally replaced by horticulture, which might mean returning 50% of the population to the land - can you see it happening? Not really.

It seems more likely that nothing is going to really change until we hit a wall. It is not a happy thought that in all probability disasters are going to multiply more of less steadily until nature has forced us to change in ways that are more radical than anybody can bear to think about seriously at the moment.

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Replies to This Discussion

Acceptance of the accuracy of your words is contingent upon each of us understanding we are all complicit in this outcome. Instead we become held in anger and blaming as we begin to see the reality of the situation. We do little to resist. So much activism is caught up in finding new ways to maintain our level of energy use...or abuse more accurately. Extreme slashing of our energy use is not even yet on social and individual agendas. The hubris of naming ourselves the wise apes...

Yes, I think we are on the same page. Thanks, Robert.



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