…yet this is what the world needs if we are to survive our present multiple crises. Rudolf Steiner showed 100 years ago what an important role the overcoming of capitalism must play if we are to have any hope of finding our way to a future for the earth and all its species.
The anthropopper nevertheless tries to be positive and optimistic whenever possible, despite everything there is to worry us. We are undergoing not only what has been called “the sixth great extinction” but also an intense transformation of our society and what we thought were our certainties; and all this is happening at a speed which leaves us both breathless and disorientated. It is, of course, capitalism and globalisation that are forcing the pace, facilitated as they are by information technology and the omnipresent internet. These forces have brought with them economic liberalisation, falling trade barriers and tariffs, and the all-consuming imperatives of global corporations. The effect of these changes and the emphasis on the individual has led to the gradual dissolution of some of the traditional glues that have held society together, such as trade unions, religious organisations, political parties and voluntary associations. Hand in hand with this we have developed a scepticism, even a contempt, towards authority and the establishment. Our cynicism has only been encouraged by the way in which giant international corporations have been able to ignore borders and national loyalties and play off one country against another. They are beyond the effective control of national governments and can move their capital and profits around to wherever labour costs and regulatory requirements are lowest. We can all see that politicians have lost the plot, and despite their continuing pretence that they can control events and improve the situation for ordinary voters, we no longer believe them.
Corporations can now go wherever labour is cheapest and they can drive down workers’ pay with pernicious new forms of employment, such as zero hours contracts, which reduce their costs and responsibilities. While corporate profits soar through such devices, by the same process the job security and spending power of workers decline. This is not just making the working classes poorer, it is also affecting a growing number of the middle classes, who are less able to buy the products and services which these corporations are selling – so this is not only leading to the economic stagnation we have started to see all around us, it is also the start of a process by which global capitalism has started to eat itself. As Francis Bacon observed so wisely, “Money is like muck – not good unless it be spread.”
Middle-aged men who had expected to be breadwinners no longer feel in control of their fate, so they vote against a rich elite and for someone like Donald Trump, who despite being a billionaire, makes noises as though he understands their plight. I’ve decided that the key to understanding Trump is not to listen to what he says, but to look carefully at what he does. In my last post, I noted how the victory speech he gave after Clinton had conceded was a sign of his duplicitous style, going against everything he had said about her in the lead-up to the election. Similarly, during the election campaign, Trump said he would “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders and lobbyists. Instead of draining the swamp, the appointment by Trump of several billionaires and Goldman Sachs bankers to his administration shows that, in the words of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, he is bent on stocking it with alligators.
At the time of writing, Trump has appointed 12 multi-millionaires, billionaires, Goldman Sachs bankers etc. to his cabinet, presumably on the grounds that, as they have feathered their own nests so well, they may be able to look after the country’s interests too. Either you believe that Trump is appointing poachers who may turn into gamekeepers, or else all his anti-corporate rhetoric in the campaign was just a pack of lies. So in this extraordinary era of post-truth politics, let us remember to watch what Trump does and not be taken in by the words he says.
I said in my last post that this new era of politics, with Trump at its head, is likely to be ugly; and so it is proving. Looking at the appointments in more detail, some worrying trends emerge:
Steven Mnuchin, 53, a former Goldman Sachs banker with a net worth of $40 million, has been appointed Secretary of the Treasury, with a brief to cut corporate taxes.
Scott Pruitt, 48, who as Oklahoma’s Attorney General made his name by opposing climate change policies such as the Clean Power Act, has been appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He is on record as saying that the EPA has too much power.
Andrew F. Pudzer, 66, an anti-abortion lawyer turned fast food magnate, has been appointed Secretary of Labour. His experience includes opposing the raising of the minimum wage at his two fast food chains.
Jeff Sessions, 69, with a net worth of $15 million, and who was rejected for a post as judge during the 1980s amid claims of racism, has been appointed as Attorney General. His brief is that there should be less focus on investigating the deaths of black people in police hands.
Mike Pompeo, 52, a lawyer and former soldier who is now a congressman who sits on the intelligence committee, has been appointed as director of the CIA. He believes in the effectiveness of torture and his brief includes a loosening of the rules on “enhanced interrogation” and drone strikes.
Trump’s attitude to the environment is of course a disaster and perhaps it is the impending ecological catastrophe that should worry us most of all. Species extinction is the clearest indicator of what’s happening to ecology, and is the factor that will precipitate its collapse unless we stop it. We are currently losing around 100 species per day. When species loss, soil erosion and climate change turn countries into deserts, as is happening, then the scale of recent migrations into Europe will be dwarfed by what is heading towards us. As the global population heads towards 10 billion, while at the same time, desertification and ecological collapse are reducing the earth’s ability to feed us, many millions of people are going to be on the move in coming decades, and there is also likely to be a drastic population crash. It’s now conceivable that humanity as a whole may not survive into the 22nd century.
Now one could be very pessimistic about all of this and much else, just as George Monbiot is in this article, but as I say, the anthropopper likes to look for the tiniest hints of a silver lining; and in my view it’s just possible that a Trump presidency might wipe out the complacency that would have accompanied a Clinton-led administration, and the belief that if only Hillary were in the White House, we’d be slowly moving in the right direction and everything will eventually get back to normal. Everything is not going to get back to normal. Ecological damage is accelerating, which means that we’re on the path to extinction; and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of people takes away the ability of the rest of us to do anything about it. This would not have been changed in the slightest with Clinton as president or Britain voting to remain in the European Union. Could the sheer unfolding horror of the Trump presidency be part of the shock we need to realise that we’re looking at an existential crisis for the human race; and that business as usual, including the Democratic Party, the European Union and other corporate-controlled institutions, is never going to solve it?
It is impossible to get to grips with our current ecological crisis as long as we have an unfettered capitalist economy. The present day extinctions cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of capitalism, because the constant emphasis on growth, growth, growth is destroying ecology.
Economic growth always results in an increase in spending power and it is of course impossible to ring-fence this increase in spending power so that it’s not spent on material things. Therefore, economic growth has to stop, because it always produces material growth, and we’re already past the limits of the material human economy that can be sustained without damaging ecology. Our economic system is destroying our life support system, and as we can’t afford to lose our life support system, we have to replace our economic system or suffer the consequences. This is simple logic but as the title of this post indicates, for most people it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.
As mentioned above, Rudolf Steiner stated these things 100 years ago. Since then, conditions – not only in big cities – have become much worse. An ever growing inner emptiness can be observed, especially among young people, many of whom, to my eye at least, seem to be aging prematurely. What future do they have, these young people of my daughter’s generation? Some of those I meet are talking of moving from the UK to Berlin, where they might stand some chance of buying their own home one day; they are in despair over Brexit, which seems likely to deprive them of the opportunity to live and work in other European countries; but the real source of the emptiness in their lives lies elsewhere.
In this Age of the Consciousness Soul, it appears to us human beings that we are no longer linked to the world in the same way that people were in earlier ages. This has been an essential preliminary condition for the achievement of our freedom and egohood but as Stewart C. Easton has pointed out in his Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, it has meant that our attitude to the world has become necessarily a cold one. It is our urgent task today to overcome this coldness, to change our cold, dead, materialistic thinking into the spirit-infused warmth of living thinking that connects us once again with the earth and all living things. The philosophical basis of this has been set out by Rudolf Steiner in his book, The Philosophy of Freedom, but in essence all that we humans need to overcome our present dilemmas is to have a loving heart and a sense of connection with all of life – and then to act on our knowing.
There is something about the capitalist system which drives out of people’s minds any sense that there are realities other than economic reality. Anything which is not based in economics is dismissed as airy-fairy or unreal. This has led to our present situation in which the human personality, together with the spiritual-soul nature of the human being, is separated from the economic process. We cannot expect this to change until capitalism is changed. Humankind does not willingly prepare for crises. It’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. The only way I know of in which capitalism can be overcome in a healthy way is through what Rudolf Steiner calls the threefolding of the social organism. After the failure of his efforts to persuade politicians to introduce this at the end of the First World War, he was asked whether another opportunity to do so would occur. He replied that it would take 100 years before a new chance would arise. We are now approaching that point and I’ve no doubt that I shall have more to say about this in 2017.