Ignorance of the bio-chemical details of the human bodies multi-cellular composition, interdependence and environmental interactions, has allowed health-advising quacks to prescribe miracle remedies for various symptoms. The same general lack of knowledge in sufferers has tempted them to obtain and swallow or apply such remedies, in the hope of a cure for whatever ailment afflicted them. Interestingly, a similar phenomena has occurred within the realms of climate change and ecological loss. Here also, ignorance of the integrated and interdependent relationship between human individuals within their hierarchical mass societies and with the natural world, has seen a number of quack remedies recommended.
Over a number of decades, technological and pseudo scientific cures for pollution and climate change have being recommended and a few clueless economic and political elites have occasionally discussed implementing some of them, but to some people’s amazement failed to do so. Yet once the actual form and relationships existing within mass societies are understood, the reason why so little has been done becomes obvious. The barriers or restrictive conditions standing in the way of solving humanities current and future existential problems whether, ecological, climate or humane do not lie in the absence of adequate ideas – fantastical or otherwise. The barriers to solving them are primarily practical, social and thus material, not ideological. The restricting conditions for radical change broadly fall into the following four categories A to D;
A: A key set of restrictive barriers or constraints are the existing historical divisions of labour into classes and occupations now based upon the industrial mode of production – as it has actually developed. During the 20th and 21st centuries, the overwhelming number of jobs essential to the securing of food, clothing and shelter for mass society individuals and families became linked directly or indirectly to carbon-coal or petro-chemical driven forms of production, distribution, consumption, disposal and profit realisation. The global socio-economic system is at least 90 percent dependent upon coal, oil or gas. To end this climate-changing dependency upon such energy sources requires a thoroughgoing practical revolution, not just in energy technology but in skills training, job organisation and transitional employment security. Ideas, no matter how good or detailed they are will not alter that mass society practical reality. Indeed, quite the opposite is needed. It will require the radical alteration of that mass occupational reality to allow even the best eco-friendly ideas to be fully or properly implemented.
B: Some other ‘real’ restrictive barriers to radical change flow from the above set. These are the physical and intellectual skill levels achieved by the different classes within these hierarchical mass society modes of production. Most classes of citizens, could not effectively do anything other than the existing group of tasks they have already been physically and mentally trained to do. The 24/7 dull repetition of hierarchically structured intensive daily tasks has also negatively restricted the average physical and mental skills of everyone into one-dimensional repetitions of hand and eye coordination and require workers to follow exact instructions. Very little, if any, individual or collegiate initiative is expected or desired. Indeed it is mostly frowned upon and often punished.
The above realities are so integrated into the above divisions of labour that the resulting life-long habit, opinion and current social preferences will be almost impossible to alter in the short term. Plus the me, me, self-indulgent attitude of ‘I deserve what I can grab’ now infects whole classes of our mass societies. These latter, Pavlovian type automatic (salivating) responses are currently stimulated by every successful advert, even whilst the danger of extreme poverty, savage oppression, huge pandemics, massive forest fires, devastating floods, severe weather events and obscene wars of genocide continue routinely all around those living self-indulgently in these societies. Nothing over the past several decades or since Covid has made more than a tiny dent or surface scratch to the idea of ‘growth‘ and to the fetish of consumerism – in all its current manifold forms. Consequently, the problems facing large sections of humanity or the planet are still increasing not decreasing.
C: Yet another set of restrictive conditions are due to the existing elite class based social relationships within hierarchical mass societies. Particularly the conservative conditions and expectations of those who exercise direct control or substantial influence upon the main means of profit-based production. Capital of enormous concentrations has been invested in exactly the production, distribution, consumption and disposal of commodities and services which are the causal effect of climate change, ecological damage and pollution in the first place. These elite citizens will not expect or desire to obtain anything less than what they have obtained before – nor will they do anything to forfeit their expectation of present and future capital accumulation. In addition, those in the media, sport, entertainment, government, commerce and industry, who perhaps should know better, are still urging people to consume more stuff and jet across the world and are profusely doing so themselves. Pollution, ecological loss and climate change are the heavily dispersed waves of relative affluence these people are currently surfing around on.
D: The fourth set of restrictive conditions or barriers to re-balancing the relationships between nature and humanity are the repressive state powers wielded by those ruling political elites who effectively control much of the entire social structure. We can see from many current examples as well as recent history (and ancient history) that a single powerful representative of a hierarchical mass society (or an oligarchical coterie among them) can inflict on any form of progress which does not allow them to govern exactly as they see fit. However, even so, the armed forces of the state are not the restrictive barrier even though per capita the latter use far more petrochemical based materials than any comparative group of individuals. Nor, I should add, are armed forces the cause or basis of mass society formations, they are merely a consequence of them.
The actual material basis of mass society formations is the above noted division of labour which is an internal and dynamic ‘system’ restriction. State formations with armed bodies are only required by elites in order to keep control of any social unrest and any attempts at unauthorised wealth distribution. This is why they are only brought into action during civil disturbances. During the periods in between such emergences, ‘normal’ economic and social activity goes on 24/7 because, (as yet,) there is no other way of feeding, clothing and housing oneself and family. Nevertheless, Asad, Erdogan, Putin, Sisi, Iranian elites, the Taliban, the Military in Myanmar all provide totalitarian examples of how far elites will go when people begin to ask for change which is not actually in the elites own interests.
All the above four (A to D) social and intellectual restrictions stand as human barriers to a transition from a petrol-headed humanity to some Guro’s imaginary dream-future of green and pleasant peaceful lands around the world. In contrast, saving the planet and the best of our humanity will require a revolutionary transformation, not only in the technology used (or not used), but of internal human relations and external relationships with the rest of ‘life on earth’ or ‘nature’ if you prefer. The historical record over the last few millenia have indicated that ruling elites will not give up control of the hierarchical mass societies they have become accustomed to exploit no matter how damaging it has become. On present showing this is therefore likely to be the case for present generation of 21st century pro-capitalist global elites.
Therefore, this has become an additional reason why the relatively comfortable chit-chat talking heads and the urging of reforms compatible with capitalism as discussed at Cop meetings (23 and counting) by heads of governments and by demonstrations (whether peaceful or not) will not succeed. These impotent token gestures of complacency on the one hand or frustration on the other, will not bring about the hoped for radical changes many people would like to see, precisely because they ignore the above noted restricting socio-economic realities.
Even if everyone on the planet was convinced of the need for radical measures to save what remains of ‘life on earth’ (and we are very far from that) it would take a revolutionary level of commitment for a decade or so to turn the global economic direction around. In other words it would require a world war two type holistic effort of socio-economic re-organisation and social unity. It would in fact reqire a new mode of production. It would take no less to reverse the the present trends, stabilise the global eco-system and replace the dwindling essential species which are necessary to sustainably support mass society nutrition.
Since the above is an unlikely scenario then the possibility (or perhaps the probability) will be that through a series of huge future economic, ecological or climate collapses, civil strife and disorder will be created and lead to the atrophe of many current hierarchical mass societies. The ruins of former mass society cities and settlements buried under sand, rubble or jungle vines such as those in Mediterranean Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and Aztec and Maya in South and Central America, testify that even the most numerous and confident periods of past hierarchical mass society monument building came to an ignominious end. Creating the seven wonders of the world, did not save these hierarchical mass societies from being engulfed by terminal disasters – often largely of their own making. This current empire of capital is every bit as fragile and unbalanced as previous ones and it cannot be ruled out that since it is already in severe socio-economic turbulence, that it is not already in the process of its own decline and fall, as Gibbon catalogued in the case of the Roman Empire.
Either way a basic knowledge of the last several thousand years needs to passed on to future generations so that those who survive are able to make better choices – if they get the chance to make any. Despite the mass of information currently available concerning hierarchical mass societies the majority of it has been partial, one-sided and euphorically optimistic. What contradictions these ancient and modern hierarchical mass societies were/are based upon; what sustained violence they conducted during their existence; what devastation they wrought upon the broad spectrum of life on earth which sustained them; and how little they exercised their advanced brain power to maintain and retain all the benefits the evolution of life on earth bestowed upon them, has not been widely acknowledged.
Only two people in the whole of recorded history (Adam Smith and Karl Marx) have undertaken a full and forensic critical analysis, of the capitalist economic system. The latter repeatedly drawing attention to the crucial role the mode of production plays in every other aspect of life on earth and at every stage of its development. Only a handful of people (James Lovelock and Lyn Margulis in particular) have drawn attention to the fact that life on earth for billions of years, has been overwhelmingly based upon biological and sociological cooperation and symbiosis, not aggression. It turns out that ‘nature’ – even amongst the few predatory species – has never emulated the whole-sale militarily aggressive, elite-led human behaviour. Behaviour which incidentally only became a feature of life on earth around six or seven thousand years ago with the development of hierarchical mass societies.
Indeed, life on earth survived in the form of millions of species evolving over billions and millions of years and could not have done so if it had been engaged in an all out war against its own and all other species of life on earth. For millions of years, prior to mass societies, humanity and our hominid forerunners had neither the numbers or technical means to eliminate anything in substantial numbers. All previous generations of organisms have died, but only the relatively few predator species have actually deliberately ended the life of other organisms on a lare scale. The valuable insights pioneered and recorded by the above and other serious critics of hierarchical mass societies need to be protected and transmitted to future generations. Otherwise this knowledge will become lost among the sheer volume of pro – hierarchical mass society material which has been churned out since writing was invented.
Roy Ratcliffe (January 2023)