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The Fall of Industrialism and the Return of Humanity


In the spectacle that is American presidential politics, it’s simple enough to view the choices and check the box of the candidate that seems best, or at least the least threatening.  Of course, this time around and in the two-person pool of viable candidates, that candidate–for anybody with a shred of humanity and an ounce of brain–is Barack Obama.  And given the alternative of Armegeddon McCain, I will be casting my vote for Obama in November.

Yet Obama does not represent me or my deep-seated opposition to corporate capitalism, empire, and meaningless commodity economics.  Let me draw your attention to Paul Street’s consistent, if disheartening, work in demystifying Barack Obama and his phenomenal presidential campaign.

The endemic problems that America faces and that the corporate-military-entertainment complex of American faux-culture poses to the world will not be stopped by voting in any election; that much should be obvious to anyone with a view of history and American politics.  What presidential elections seem to consistently offer us is a choice between rash, unabashed, rabid, even celebratory imperialism, and a watered-down, deceptive, cunning version of that same imperialism.  Bill Clinton may have made us all feel more comfortable after the excesses of Reagan and Bush–and in the same way, Barack Obama may ease our collective American stress and liberal consciences after the horrors of the Dubya administration–but the election of these watery Democrats to the office of president will never be a solution.

Actually, if you think about the inordinate weight of the multiple crises that we face–and the imperialism and racism which Street writes about are only facets of the whole–you may begin to entertain the notion that massively-scaled industrial society is at the root of these crises.  The kind of characterless, centralized, vague, and cut-throat politics represented by the American presidential politics could be seen as one large symptom of this greater ill of industrial society, as well as a large tool in maintaining its necessarily imperial character.

This is a large accusation, and radical.  I am not interested at the moment of drawing the associations between the impersonal mechanics of industrial society and the impersonal mechanics of empire and presidential politics, which should be fairly obvious.  I am concerned with the monumental problems that we and the entire Earth with us face because of the hubris of industrial civilization, those problems being political and economic imperialism, massive pollution, and the cheapening of life in all its forms, just to make three sweeping generalizations.  We must ask the question: "How should we live on the Earth in order to restore and maintain ecological balance?"  I think that if we approach and address the current crisis of civilization in this way, and act accordingly and sensibly, we will fare far better than we have fared by placing our faith in leaders, ideologies, economic plans, markets, and other compartmentalized aspects of our modern crisis.

The problems we face are overwhelming and will continue to evade our political schemes and ideologies, whether Marxist or Capitalist or Anarchist; they will continue to proliferate until we recognize that the scale in which we have been approaching the world is as monumental and overwhelming as our problems.  In his classic book Small is Beautiful, EF Schumacher advocates for what he calls "intermediate," but what I like to think of as "human-scale" technology.  It seems to me that a shift to human-scale technology has the capacity to begin to address our myriad problems of pollution, unemployment, political disempowerment, neo-colonialism, military oppression, and many of the rest.  By human-scale technology I mean gardens and small farms instead of agribusiness, rainwater collection and erosion control instead of hydroelectric dams, candles instead of fluorescent lights, bicycles instead of buses and SUVs.  This scaling back to the human level provides many benefits: opportunities for meaningful employment; reduction of waste and overall energy consumption; the restoration of natural beauty and community to everyday life; and investing energy, people, and funds into community and public projects rather than into corporate and military projects that are destructive of every aspect of life and community.

We have not and will not find any presidential candidate in the current political landscape who is ready to divest capital from the bloated corporate operations that have become emblematic of both American politics and culture; who is willing to entertain the idea that the solutions to our problems lay along lines that are constructive to human life and creativity instead of along the jagged crevices of destructive military solutions and the suppression of true community-centered democracies.  Hell, we may not even find many among our own citizenry who are willing or even able to push their minds, wills, and bodies along these frontiers. Yet we must proceed along these lines, because the solutions to the global holocaust to which massive, unchecked industrialization has led and continues to lead us, will not come from the same over-developed tool box that has been draining the world of fossil, human, animal, and plant energy since the steam engine began its mechanical, scientific, dehumanizing work.

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