Will capitalism endure even in the most apocalyptic scenarios?
As nature’s ability to regenerate the resources that we need is diminishing, and with an increasing population putting even more weight on an overburdened planet, fifty shades of collapse have been postulated: on the extreme end of this range, a complete collapse of capitalism and the world economy are being predicted, as climate change-induced conflict and disruption tear apart at the fabric of vulnerable global chains of supply and demand, while an ailing food production system struggles to put enough fresh food on the supermarket shelves. In this scenario, many of us die while the lucky few survivors become local farmers wearing colourful Mexican ponchos and hats belonging to dead people they never met. They spend a lot of their time raking semi-decomposed compost over their permaculture back yards, and develop interesting hobbies on the side such as pickling, weaving and soap-making. The level of detail in which this particular scenario has been described, or “imagined” I should say, is actually nothing short of breathtaking, given the number of unknowns about the when, how, what. And this has led to a dangerous type of “cult” following almost, of a very specific type of collapse that is probably unlikely to pan out exactly as in the romanticised scenario that sees people walking in green fields holding straw baskets, as they collect apples to bring back to their log cabins where they bake them over firewood. It sounds more idyllic to me than realistic. And it is also a collapse for the white, and the privileged.
Enough of this image, as nice as it sounds. This image will, after all, be represented by a very small minority of people that live through the collapse, long after things “settle”. What matters to the vast majority of the rest of us is what happens before that, during the actual collapse, when the “shit really hits the fan” so to speak. Are we talking of multiple crises, or just a couple? The coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan shows us that there is more than one way to collapse. We just don’t know what will give first: our food security, our democracy, or our borders, as climate refugees flood in. Take your pick. And FYI: hundreds of apple orchard farms in NY state (an important apple-producing US region) have closed in recent years, the trees decimated by climate change weather extremes. Just saying.
Collapse version 2: the Techno remix
At the other end of the scale, one can envision a scenario where an even more oppressive form of capitalism endures, well into the collapse, as The System desperately tries to maintain its grip on the ever more dwindling resources available. In its frantic pursuit of even the most marginal profit margins, this new anarchic system resorts to crime, corruption, information fascism, fake news and mind control in order to keep its stronghold on diminishing resources and the powers that control them. Whether centralised or fragmented, the capitalist system organically reorganises itself like mercury droplets finding each other after the thermometer shatters: this time without the need of governments, which have either collapsed in their entirety or colluded with the capitalist criminals (something already in process) or have assumed a symbolic role (this is also already in process). This scenario, which sadly lacks the apple orchards and ponchos, has of course happened already multiple times in human history. Economic collapse fosters corruption, black markets and illegal trade, militias and violence as people resort to more and more desperate solutions in order to feed themselves and secure their safety. It’s all about survival.
Collapsing into the arms of a Green New Deal?
Of course we can save ourselves, if we crank up food production and energy generation with an ambitious green, olive-green, grey-green or dirty Green New Deal gone wrong, which is likely to bring more natural destruction and more CO2. As Nature is unable to pay the full price this time, humanity keeps telling itself it has done its due diligence. Hypernormalisation of climate change as the “new norm” of the Anthropocene allows the system to continue as a Fake Green Industry that looks great on paper and crap on NASA’s monthly CO2 report. Wait..this sounds kind of like the present. Which brings me to this point:
The “breaking point” may be an illusion
The word “collapse” is misleading. It is overused, underexplained, overdramatized. It almost implies a single event, like a building collapsing in a few seconds. And by this naive and narrow definition, it implies that our flawed economic system will immediately “die” at some point, and what is left of humanity will continue under new rules, new societies, new beginnings, learning from its mistakes. As much as this is an apocalyptic scenario, it is actually a very optimistic one. The clean slate will never come. Because there is a possibility of even worse: a perpetual drawn-out collapse, an apocalypse that never ends, and just gets worse and worse. With a new capitalist system that is more dystopian than ever: making an economy out of trading toxic water, precious healthcare services catering to a humanity where cancer is the norm for everyone, and turning human rights into a luxury as exploitation and racism leap out of the third world and the sweatshops in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and become the mainstream currency, the lifeblood of the new economy. New forms of slavery we cannot even imagine yet are invented to help this new world “run”. Because it has to run on something.
Capitalism is more adaptable than we think. Like a virus, it either finds a new host, or it mutates.
Our economic system is not based on circular models and does not care about regenerating the resources it uses. Instead, when it runs out of resources, it finds new ways to operate. It even invents new types of resources: when we ate all the animals and cut down all the trees to make boats and light fires, we had no food to eat. But we had new wooden boats to invade other people’s food resources, and we discovered colonisation and farming. When we ate all their food too, we enslaved them and discovered the wonderful resource called free labor, and slave agriculture. When slavery was abolished, we discovered debt as a new commodity, that acts both as a resource and as a form of modern slavery. When the debt crisis ended, we discovered smartphones, as a way to exploit the resource called time, and imprisoning people within their own minds: monopolising peoples’ time online where we hypnotise them and microtarget them with fake news and products, which are then monetised in the real economy, as well as the political one.
to be continued..