You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Civilization’ tag.

Cheery stuff I know, but its interesting to see some of the trajectories we are on, and maybe if we shed enough light on them, we can can change them.  Optimistic?  Absolutely, but I’d rather have the motivation to continue the struggle than the gilded-glitz peace of the nihilist who has given up.


Greer estimates that it takes, on average, about 250 years for civilizations to decline and fall, and he finds no reason why modern civilization shouldn’t follow this “usual timeline.”[3]

But Greer’s assumption is built on shaky ground because industrial civilization differs from all past civilizations in four crucial ways.  And every one of them may accelerate and intensify the coming collapse while increasing the difficulty of recovery.

Difference #1:  Unlike all previous civilizations, modern industrial civilization is powered by an exceptionally rich, NON-renewable, and irreplaceable energy source—fossil fuels.  This unique energy base predisposes industrial civilization to a short, meteoric lifespan of unprecedented boom and drastic bust.  Megacities, globalized production, industrial agriculture, and a human population approaching 8 billion are all historically exceptional—and unsustainable—without fossil fuels.  Today, the rich easily exploited oilfields and coalmines of the past are mostly depleted.  And, while there are energy alternatives, there are no realistic replacements that can deliver the abundant net energy fossil fuels once provided.[4]  Our complex, expansive, high-speed civilization owes its brief lifespan to this one-time, rapidly dwindling energy bonanza.

Difference #2:  Unlike past civilizations, the economy of industrial society is capitalist.  Production for profit is its prime directive and driving force.  The unprecedented surplus energy supplied by fossil fuels has generated exceptional growth and enormous profits over the past two centuries.  But in the coming decades, these historic windfalls of abundant energy, constant growth, and rising profits will vanish.

However, unless it is abolished, capitalism will not disappear when boom turns to bust.  Instead, energy-starved, growth-less capitalism will turn catabolic.  Catabolismrefers to the condition whereby a living thing devours itself.  As profitable sources of production dry up, capitalism will be compelled to turn a profit by consuming the social assets it once created.  By cannibalizing itself, the profit motive will exacerbate industrial society’s dramatic decline.

Catabolic capitalism will profit from scarcity, crisis, disaster, and conflict.  Warfare, resource hoarding, ecological disaster, and pandemic diseases will become the big profit makers.  Capital will flow toward lucrative ventures like cybercrime, predatory lending, and financial fraud; bribery, corruption, and racketeering; weapons, drugs, and human trafficking.  Once disintegration and destruction become the primary source of profit, catabolic capitalism will rampage down the road to ruin, gorging itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.[5]

Difference #3:  Unlike past societies, industrial civilization isn’t Roman, Chinese, Egyptian, Aztec, or Mayan.  Modern civilization is HUMAN, PLANETARY, and ECOCIDAL.  Pre-industrial civilizations depleted their topsoil, felled their forests, and polluted their rivers.  But the harm was far more temporary and geographically limited. Once market incentives harnessed the colossal power of fossil fuels to exploit nature, the dire results were planetary.  Two centuries of fossil fuel combustion have saturated the biosphere with climate-altering carbon that will continue wreaking havoc for generations to come.  The damage to Earth’s living systems—the circulation and chemical composition of the atmosphere and the ocean; the stability of the hydrological and biogeochemical cycles; and the biodiversity of the entire planet—is essentially permanent.

Humans have become the most invasive species ever known.  Although we are a mere .01 percent of the planet’s biomass, our domesticated crops and livestock dominate life on Earth.  In terms of total biomass, 96 percent of all the mammals on Earth are livestock; only 4 percent are wild mammals.  Seventy percent of all birds are domesticated poultry, only 30 percent are wild.  About half the Earth’s wild animals are thought to have been lost in just the last 50 years.[6]  Scientists estimate that half of all remaining species will be extinct by the end of the century.[7] There are no more unspoiled ecosystems or new frontiers where people can escape the damage they’ve caused and recover from collapse.

Difference #4:  Human civilization’s collective capacity to confront its mounting crises is crippled by a fragmented political system of antagonistic nations ruled by corrupt elites who care more about power and wealth than people and the planet.  Humanity faces a perfect storm of converging global calamities.  Intersecting tribulations like climate chaos, rampant extinction, food and freshwater scarcity, poverty, extreme inequality, and the rise of global pandemics are rapidly eroding the foundations of modern life.

Yet, this fractious and fractured political system makes organizing and mounting a cooperative response nearly impossible.  And, the more catabolic industrial capitalism becomes, the greater the danger that hostile rulers will fan the flames of nationalism and go to war over scarce resources.  Of course, warfare is not new.  But modern warfare is so devastating, destructive, and toxic that little would remain in its aftermath.  This would be the final nail in civilization’s coffin.”

   How quickly we slip in barbarity.  From Normalizing Atrocity, Ken Orphan writes on Counterpunch:

“Thousands of socialists and leftists were marched into stadiums in Chile in the 1970s and gunned down, tortured, or disappeared in a country with a much smaller military than the US. Between 1965 and 1966, at least a million communists, or those believed to be communists, were hunted down and brutally murdered in Indonesia by rightwing death squads and the police. And millions of Jews, Roma, communists, homosexuals and the disabled were persecuted, rounded up and sent to concentration camps in the 1930s and 40s in Germany and Nazi occupied countries, where most perished at a time when many ordinary people thought “the logistics” of doing something like that were too “enormous” to fathomed, much less carried out. And each atrocity was preceded by the rise of a pernicious fascism and the language of dehumanization by leaders.

The notion that atrocity “can’t happen here” is soundly refuted by the fact that it has happened here. And countless times. The US, a nation founded upon organized ethnic cleansing and genocide of the native population, and the brutal enslavement of millions of Africans, has also been home to more recent mass atrocities. Thousands of black and brown men and some women were lynched over the early part of the 20th century. Events organized and sanctioned by authorities, police and politicians, where popcorn, postcards and body parts were sold as souvenirs to the ghoulish onlookers. Thousands of Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in internment camps in the desert during WW2 for the sake of “national security.”

The US has many a precedent to follow with regards to mass detainment and slaughter.

And even a short historical account of the American ruling establishment and its institutions reveals that it has the capacity to participate and administer the most heinous crimes against humanity that have ever been conceived. ICE is more than happy to follow his dictates, and establishment Democrats, the so-called “resistance,” have indicated time and time again that they will unite with Republicans in defending the most odious of American policies.

One thing history has proven is that mass atrocity can be committed with few people, with great efficiency at a moment’s notice, little technology, and with shocking approval or the complacence of the majority of ordinary people. But it must first be normalized. To be sure, if a people can tolerate dehumanizing language of entire groups by its leader, and the utterly sadistic policy of ripping children from the arms of their parents and putting them in cages, or pregnant women being shackled to beds, or the torture of non-violent LGBTQ and mentally ill migrants via solitary confinement for days, or militias working in tandem with government agencies to round up unarmed migrants, or a government prosecuting those who provide water and shelter to other human beings in desperate need, it is certainly capable of tolerating, or even applauding, even worse monstrous depravity. And without a doubt, we are only one absurd tweet away from that potential nightmare.

Election time in 2020. War abroad and societal repression on the homefront perfect for reelecting an populist incumbent president.


   We have not written on America’s imperial adventures for awhile here at DWR.   Constant examination of the antithesis of our civilization lays bare the soul, to touch the carefully crafted web we ensconce ourselves in and shake it till the dirty bitter truths rupture forth, wearies the heart and mind.  To see things as they are, as Buchan does, empties the carefully nurtured vessels of hope and replaces it with despair and bitterness:

“You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.”

  • John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir Ch. 3 “Tells of a Midsummer Night”, The Power-House (1916)

There is only so much anger and rage to go around, and after awhile, the grave injustices of the imperial wars led by the US forces us to indulge (well mostly me as I primarily wrote about it) in the luxury of “anger fatigue” where we have the privilege of  simply not responding anymore to the toxic stimulus the entire war/torture/inhumanity scenario Guantanamo so perfectly engenders.

Doesn’t work so well if you happen to be residing in the Guantanamo black hole;  as a Canadian citizen well knows – thank goodness they have finally released Omar Khadr. But there is another less happy tidbit of news, this week marks the 10 year anniversary of “Gitmo” and the international embarrassment it causes and continues to cause for the USA.

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the first prisoner arriving at Guantanamo Bay, making it the longest-standing war prison in US history. Guantanamo has been a catastrophic failure on every front. It has long been past the time for this shameful episode in American history to be brought to a close. 

President Obama has failed to shutter Guantanamo, even though on his second day in office he signed an executive order to close the prison and restore “core constitutional values”. In fact, the 2012 National Defence Authorization Act that Obama signed on New Year’s Eve contains a sweeping provision that makes indefinite military detention, including of people captured far from any battlefield, a permanent part of American law for the first time in this country’s history. This is not just unconstitutional – it’s just plain wrong.

I sure Hope he Changes that particular law, stat.  Indefinite detention is a precious handmaiden that portends the malevolent abuse of power.  Unfortunately until important (read the 1%) start getting detained it will remain out of the consciousness of the American public.

As documents secured by the ACLU demonstrate, Guantanamo became a perverse laboratory for brutal interrogation methods. Prisoners were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, extreme temperatures and prolonged isolation. It started with two false premises: Those who were sent there were all terrorists picked up on the battlefield and that, as “unlawful enemy combatants”, they had no legal rights. In reality, a tiny percentage was captured by US forces; most were seized by Pakistani and Afghan militias, tribesmen, and officials, and then sold to the US for large bounties.”

Ah yes, back to the unreality of the GWBII’s rule.  The whole we are empire, we make our own story and you plebes conduct yourselves accordingly to our narrative.  This particular break with reality is not going away quietly.  The whole shining beacon of freedom and democratic rule narrative the US likes to trumpet to world is much less believable with the spectre of Guantanamo Bay lurking conspicuously in the foreground.

“Our nation continues to pay the price for those egregious errors. Torture is the principal reason for the astonishing fact that, more than 10 years after 9/11, the alleged perpetrators of those attacks – though in US custody for as long as nine years – have not been brought to justice.

The reputation of the US as a defender of human rights has been profoundly diminished because of Guantanamo’s continued existence. Our allies have refused to share intelligence out of concern that it will be used in unfair military commissions, and will not extradite terrorism suspects if they will end up in military detention. Perhaps most critically, military officials acknowledge Guantanamo has been used for years as a recruiting tool by our enemies – creating far more terrorists than it has ever held – thereby undermining rather than enhancing our security. And torture is also why federal courts were rejected in favour of military commissions with looser evidentiary standards. Even under this imbalanced system, only six Guantanamo prisoners have been sentenced for crimes before a military commission”

    The farther we fall from truth the more our lies become the reality of our consciousness.  Orwell, in 1984, describes the process, the thinking unthinking – the conscious denial of reality in pursuit of the ever dimming goal of security and “peace”.  We strive for security yet continue with actions and policy that directly undermine our stated goals.  There is official truth and then there is the reality of the situation.  Torture is never permissible in civilized society, but enhanced interrogation techniques are?  The dissonance is frightful, but goes on as a acceptable truth, a foul monument to media an its sterling misinformation campaign.  The media helps us forget our empathy – we overlook our role in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, innocents except for possessing the wrong ideology and skin colour.

Is starving to death not considered torture?  We should be asking the survivors who languished and suffered but managed not to die under the UN sanctions in Iraq during the 1990’s, about civilized behaviour.   We talk of rights, but extend them unevenly depending on ethnicity and skin colour.  We have the audacity to wonder why they still hate us after all we’ve done for them…

“Each branch of government shares responsibility for the perpetuation of Guantanamo’s legacy. Congress has chosen to score political points rather than do what’s right. It has repeatedly used its power of the purse to prevent the release or resettlement of Guantanamo prisoners cleared for release, and to bar criminal trials of those against whom there is evidence for prosecution in federal court.

Guantanamo was not a problem of President Obama’s making, but it is now one of his choosing. After his pledge to close Guantanamo within a year, the president failed to show the commitment necessary to build Congressional support, provide a logistical plan to release Guantánamo prisoners or bring them to trial. Like President Bush before him, Obama has also claimed the authority to detain without charge or trial terrorism suspects captured far from any theatre of war. 

Finally, the courts have refused to articulate and enforce clear limits on the executive’s detention authority. To be sure, the Supreme Court has on three occasions heard challenges to the Guantanamo regime, and every time has repudiated the excesses of the political branches. Those decisions held that Guantanamo prisoners could challenge their detention under habeas corpus, that the Geneva Conventions applied to the fight with Al Qaeda, and that the Executive Branch could not unilaterally create a military commission system with limited rights for the accused.”

Let’s bust out a little Dostoevsky, from his “The House of the Dead”:  “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”  How do we fare now that we embrace the concepts of infinite detention and enhanced interrogate techniques?

“All branches of government must rise to the task. The Supreme Court must define the scope of war-time detention. It must ensure the right to habeas corpus is a meaningful one that tests, and does not rubber stamp, the government’s case. Congress must lift the unnecessary restrictions on transfer and release from Guantanamo, particularly for the 89 men whom our security services and military have unanimously determined should be released.

President Obama must also show the courage of his previously stated convictions and either prosecute the other 82 men in federal court or set them free.

Then Guantanamo must close.”

Guantanamo must close indeed.

It is the first step in the necessary self examination regarding our claim to be civilized and protectors of liberty and justice.  Does one treat gangrene by ignoring the symptoms?  A little perfume for the rotting stench?  A fresh white bandage to mask the fetid pustules on our corpulent ideals?  (smacks about the head for mixing metaphors?)  Guantanamo is but a symptom of what is wrong with our society and democracy; it is at our own peril that we continue ignore the root causes the Gitmo’s, the Patriot acts, and challenges to our basic liberties.

Fantastic.  Our cracked conservative government is floating yet another trial balloon on its anti-empirical evidence “tough” on reality crime bill.  Listen to all the surreal talking points from the interview on CBC’s The Current Podcast.

Civilized states do not put people to death.  We should remain counted as a civilized state.


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