Throughout this series, I have tried to draw attention to the overlooked fact that the many serious problems facing humanity are not simply products of the latest capitalist based mode of production. The bloated self opinions of the elite who manage and ‘mismanage’ capitalist social production for their own profitable ends, arise as the products of the hierarchical social system they are born into. The humanity of previous elites was no less distorted by their hierarchical systems. However, the speed and ferocity of the capitalist mode of production has outstripped by many times the speed and ferocity achieved by the ancient hierarchical empires of the middle East and medieval Europe. It has brought ‘life on earth’ perilously close to multiple extinctions of life’s foundations; ie., nurturing environments; complex webs of interdependent species; and the globalisation of air, water and soil pollution
This dangerous and inhumane trajectory of social production for elite wealth accumulation has merely been accelerated by the industrialisation of production achieved by the capitalist mode of production. However, its ‘essence’ of greed and avarice, has been there from the inception of hierarchical mass society formations. I have previously mentioned the ancient so-called civilisations of Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome as being one endless historical stream of destructive wars of possession and destruction between city states, regional empires and nations, yet this has not dented the commitment of the middle classes and the ruling classes to this form of hierarchical mass society living. .
It seems not to matter that the progress of ‘civilisation’ (sic) has involved regular episodes of conquest, genocide, enslavement and poverty within its own species, along with wholesale environmental and ecological destruction of habitat for most other species of life on earth. To the modern anthropocene obsessed middle class intellects, hierarchical mass societies, no matter how destructive they have been or become, never get a not-fit-for-purpose designation. Having, in its latest capitalist form, brought humanity and the rest of ‘life on earth’ to the brink of extinction, the best that the members of the ruling elites and the middle class want is merely to engineer a mythical ‘greenwashed’ civilisation.
This Part 7 article is much too short to detail a litany of past hierarchical mass societies actions and attitudes, but in researching for a much longer piece I came across the following two quotations. They both outline the effects these societies had upon their elite citizens. The first one is with reference to the upper and middle classes of Greece by, Thucydides, living roughly around 460 BCE. The second, also referencing the elite, is by a Roman Senator, Senaca four hundred years later. I was struck by the fact that each description – in a number of ways – could be applied to both and to the modern economic and political sections of the ruling elites and their media supporters, some 2,000 years later
“The common meaning of words was turned about at men’s pleasure; the most reckless bravo was deemed the most desirable friend; a man of prudence and moderation was styled a coward; a man who listened to reason was a good for nothing simpleton. People were trusted exactly in proportion to their violence and unscrupulousness, and no one was so popular as the successful conspirator, except perhaps one who had been clever enough to outwit him at his own trade, but anyone who honestly attempted to remove the cause of such treacheries was considered a traitor to his party. As for oaths no one imagined they were to be kept a moment longer than occasion required; it was, in fact, an added pleasure to destroy your enemy.” (Thucydides. quoted in ‘A Short History of Greek Philosophy.’ J. Marshall. Chapter Ten.)
“One man is possessed by an avarice which nothing can satisfy, another by a laborious diligence in doing what is totally useless: another is sodden by wine: another is benumbed by sloth: one man is exhausted by an ambition which makes him court the good will of others: another, through his eagerness as a merchant, is led to visit every land and sea by the hope of gain: some are plagued by the love of soldiering, and are always endangering other men’s lives or in trembling for their own: some wear away in that slavery, the unrequited service of great men: many are occupied either in laying claim to other men’s fortune or in complaining of their own….” (Seneca. To Pauline, ‘On the Shortness of Life.’)
We can only imagine what life must have felt for the 5th and 1st century working classes of slaves and semi-slaves attached to the land, mines and work benches of these hierarchical mass societies. We are left to guess, because working people’s experiences were rarely recorded two and three thousand years ago. However, we do not need to guess what life is like for the modern working classes of our current hierarchical mass societies. In the advanced capitalist countries with extensive super rich elites, there is homelessness, working and non-working poverty, deprivations in housing, food and fuel essentials, along with rising suicides among young people.
In the less advanced countries things are even worse and in all countries the working classes are continuing to face the worst effects of climate change, air and land pollution, along with extreme weather effects. In countries facing the armed interventions of any of the advanced militarised countries the recent example of the mass bombardment of Ukraine illustrates what it has been like this century for ordinary people in Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Lybia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Palestine. Consequently, as part of the 21st century challenge facing people with a humanitarian concern for the welfare of ‘life on earth’ in general and the planets ecological balance in particular, I suggested in Part 3 of this series, we should do three things.
FIRST, describe modern societies as they actually are, economically, socially, environmentally and ecologically without any elite friendly gloss or spin. SECOND, a campaign should be launched in which instead, of indifference and hostility to working class struggles, we should collectively begin to actively help, support and defend all citizens both economically and socially. More of us need to begin to function in accordance with our real world inter-dependent reality. A first stage for such a historical behavioral correction would be for those already aware of the above inter-dependence and the massive scale of the problems humanity faces to begin to openly advocate this and act in accordance with that reality themselves.
THIRD, the pattern of continuing in sectarian isolation from other like minded individuals and groups, needs to replaced by communication and cooperation. A further stage would be for increasing numbers of citizens to begin to demand of governments the modern equivalent of the 20th century ‘inclusive’ peasant demand for ‘peace, bread and land’. In other words a potentially revolutionary demand that not just our own particular sector of mass society be delivered from existential hardship, but that – as a priority – everyone in all mass societies, should have adequate food, clothing, housing and education – as a right!
Such a campaign would – at the same time – be a practical counter to elite attempts to divide the masses along the current (short-sighted) sectional interests. I now further suggest that in addition to those three suggestions above, the following should also be included:
FOURTH, to publicly accuse the elites of all shades in; politics, finance, media, commerce, entertainment, sport, and academia of disproportionately benefiting from the essential services and products which supply their water, power, transport, food, education, health, social care, sewage disposal, and mortuary services by the low paid working classes during each annual cycle of social production.
FIFTH, to publicly expose and shame, the middle – classes, who also benefit from the provision of essential services and products supplied by the low paid. These activities are the 24/7 efforts which keep the mass society systems afloat and functioning. However, this middle-class group keep quiet about their share of the social product and do nothing about the unfairness of the system to those workers they absolutely rely upon. If these groups actively threw their support onto the side of the low paid, their low pay salary and conditions campaigns would succeed. This would remove the need for essential workers to inconvenience anyone by striking when they are faced with their own increasingly inconvenient job losses, house repossessions or food and fuel deprivations.
Alongside such a campaign of exposure and shaming, the alienating harm caused by the divisions of society into classes, and endlessly repetitive 24/7 job occupations should be constantly highlighted. Human societies will not become humane societies as long as the divisions between ‘owners’ of the means of production and those who are compelled to slave away at them continues. Better salaries and wages for workers would still leave the majority at the mercy of alienating working conditions and the economic decisions made by those with ownership or control of the means of production. The productive forces and forms of social relationships have become over-developed to such a degree that in the control of a relative few motivated by greed, they have become overwhelmingly destructive.
For at least a generation now, global climate, ecological balance and all integrated forms of life on earth have been disrupted, distorted and devastated on the orders of a rich and powerful few. A single person or an oligarchical coterie can order space itself to be littered by toxic debris the near obliteration of forests; the extensive pollution of savanna’s and entire ecosystems. They can even order entire cities and regions to be blasted into nothing but massive piles of rubble.To save the planet and its life forms, the extensive socialised forms of mass society production require genuine socialised forms of ownership and control. In the absence of genuine social control, totalitarian tendencies, fueled by greed and rooted in the private ownership of land and resources, will continue to surface to the detriment of all life on earth.
Roy Ratcliffe (January 2023)