Should you hate industrial civilisation just because it’s killing the planet and it’s too late to stop it?

”[What will it] look like as this all begins to disentangle, as the pressures of climate change drive the largest human migrations in history and the ability of national and international political institutions to defend the global flow of capital and trade begins to crack and fade[?]. Jacob Bacharach. Truthdig

That quote comes from a piece on Truthdig entitled The Trillion-Dollar Fantasy at the Heart of the Global Economy. It’s about the popular delusions that underpin starry-eyed stock investors’ valuation of Apple. Which, any way you look at it, amount to very little.

Apple’s ‘valuation’ has nothing to do with its potential earnings. It’s a business already showing signs running out of steam, control and ideas. The techno-Utopian hype mostly reflects people’s personal investment in the idea that Apple – along with Tesla and Uber – well, anyone willing to promise self-driving flying cars for everyone – embodies mankind’s manifest destiny: per handheld gadgets ad astra.

Apple never asked to be a talisman for a safe future for humanity, although it has been happy to run with the idea in general and the money in particular. It’s us humans who want to see a towering tech giant with colossal systemic dependencies as the stepping stone to an incredible future.

The reality is that all the dreamy reach and connectivity of what we may as well call ‘Civilisation 3.0’ depends utterly on the extractive, fire and steel economy of (industrial) Civilisation 2.0 … born c.1750, became terminally ill c.1970.

Civilisation 2.0 is still what keeps the 95% of the world economy afloat. Its successor is merely a thin veneer on top of it epitomised by the vanity skylines of the likes of Dubai – brittle progenitors of every cut-and-paste Sci-Fi movie megacity.

The system needs to grow at two to three per cent a year or it dies. Albert Bartlett was never fashionable and now he’s dead so hardly anyone groks what exponential growth means. Two to three percent means the system doubles in size every 23-35 years.

If it pulls off that trick one more time, in 2050 our civilisation will want as much in the way of energy, resources, demand and the rest as it got through in all the preceding years since Civilisation 1.0 got going on a dusty riverbank 10,000 years ago.

Hint. That won’t happen.

What we have is a huge, shiny, totally unsustainable system that is now eating away at its own life support system ever more rapidly. It is brilliant for the elites. They always have the best of everything, and “21st century best” is hundreds of times better than any previous era.

It is still pretty damn good for the next rung down; that is, middle class humans in developed countries (guilty m’lud). Which is why very few will admit that the system is nearing the tipping point, and fewer still would try to prevent that happening even if it were possible.

And it’s not possible. Whenever that train left – possibly between the First Oil War, 1914-18 and the Second but certainly in my lifetime – humanity voted to keep its feet on the station platform. Which now really is becoming a burning platform. Which in turn is rather ironic in the sense that ‘burning platform’ is corporate jargon for a situation requiring great willpower to resolve: humanity as a whole displaying almost no desire to kick the consumerist habit.

Industrial civilisation seems pretty well determined to shove itself into a bottleneck.


It will be much to the surprise and disgust of those of us in the developed world that the bottleneck will apply equally if not more to us than to those in countries we tend to think of being there to do the slaving and suffering on our behalf.

Civilisation is not to blame. We are. ‘Modern life’ is novel and exciting and extremely comfortable by any standards, let alone compared to pre-1950 ones. Such a shame the arrangement is auto-destructive.

Honestly, the best anyone can do is manage the transition through the bottleneck as humanely as possible. Or possibly not humanely in the sense of “having qualities befitting human beings”. Isn’t that how we got into this mess?

So let’s not hate civilisation. We should feel sorry for it. Even apologise. We set it up. Made it work hard for us. And when we saw where that was going, we opened the throttle hoping to maximise our own pleasures and die naturally leaving the bill to our descendants.

A few years ago I’d have thought that, as I’ll be nearly 70 in 2025, I had good odds on foisting that unpleasant little trick on the next generation. Now I’m not so sure.

The intended suckers – the Millennials and younger generations – aren’t buying the programme (shedloads of debt and shitty jobs to compensate for diminishing net fossil energy flows for supporting the elites). Hence the increasingly deafening volume of propaganda and visual distraction designed to keep the masses in their place while the elites prepare to withdraw to technologically-cushioned boltholes until it’s time to resume control in Civilisation 4.0 – which if the surviving masses are fortunate will be like Civilisation 1.0 but with proper dentistry and mass literacy.

One reason the system managers give Apple such a massive approval rating is its effectiveness at keeping people’s eyes hooked to its devices instead of what’s actually going on.

Bon chance, everyone!

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