Cooperation, Sharing and Efficiency: Deconstructing the Myths of Hyper-Individualism and Progress In the Waning Capitalist Age
Some things, and in fact, most things, are simply easier, and also more efficient, when done cooperatively. As the saying goes, “Many hands make light work,” and it is true. Cooperation and sharing make better use of resources and human energies, labour and talents than having isolated atomized individuals all struggling to do everything on their own.
This flies in the face of modern, and especially Western ideology and mythology; but then, the Copernican revolution flew in the face of received wisdom and the reigning orthodoxy which held that the earth is the centre of the universe. Sometimes, as the great scholar Joseph Campbell said, mythology helps us to better and more clearly understand the nature of life, reality, and the world around us – and sometimes, mythology confuses and beguiles, and distorts and clouds our perception of reality, such that we cannot see clearly, and are steeped in what are, in reality, merely commonly-held illusions. The myth of efficiency is one such illusion.
The myth of efficiency is one of the myths that people living in a capitalist society have been deeply indoctrinated to believe as an undisputed, and indisputable truth, from the time we are born. But the myth falls apart when confronted with reality, or examined in any depth. But let’s look at the myth of the efficiency of capitalist markets and hyper-individualism – two mythologies which are deeply intertwined – from a historical vantage point first, in order to gain some critical perspective and greater clarity on the matter.
Efficiency used to be a term that was thrown about everywhere in defense of capitalist systems and hyper-individualism, as a justification and rationalization for all kinds of irrationality and non-sense, or sheer lack of ethics; but recently, the recourse to the myth has to some degree fallen away, as its irrationality and its illusory basis have been increasingly pointed out and made clear.
The word “efficiency”, like the term “progress”, is beginning to drop out of common usage, and for similar reasons. For nearly twenty years, the word progress has been seldom heard – certainly heard and spoken far less than in earlier periods of the modern age.
Deconstructing the myth of progress
From the late 1700’s until the late 20th century, progress was the unchallenged, or at least, unrivaled, dominant philosophy or ideology of the Western world. We could say that the dominant ideology or philosophy was Christianity, or science, or the Enlightenment values of liberty, solidarity and equality, but in truth, the reigning ideology was, and is, the myth of progress, while all these other elements were secondary by comparison.
In the second half of the 20th century, the myth of progress and the ideology of progress became the ruling ideology, along with other elements, in most nations around the world. Then, in the last decades of the 20th century, a combination of increased anthropological and historical awareness, a growing ecological awareness, a renewed strengthening of critiques of life and society under industrial capitalism, and some increasingly undeniable simple economic facts, began to seriously erode the ideology of progress.
The peak of social, cultural and intellectual dominance by the ideology, philosophy, mythology or paradigm of progress came with the publishing of Francis Fukuyama’s ridiculously titled book, “The End of History,” which marked the jubilation of the Western elite at the demise of the Soviet Union, and the inevitable triumph of capitalist democracy.The fall of Communism was of course something to be jubilant about. But the Western elite were jubilant for all the wrong reasons. And the idea that this event, along with the new, unrivaled global supremacy of Western capitalism, marked the end of history, was utterly foolish, if not simply delusional.
We should say here, to make it perfectly clear, that, as Chomsky put it, the Soviet Union was “a dungeon.” We should be glad of its fall. But we should not be so naive as to take the Western power elite at their word, when they hand us a ready-made narrative of the meaning and significance of that fall.
The fall of Communism was not the defeat of socialism, since it had nothing to do with actual socialism; and nor did it have anything to do with the supposed inevitable triumph of capitalist democracy, although this was the narrative that was given by the Western powers and their intellectual courtesans.
The fall of Communism, or bureaucratic, authoritarian state-capitalism, as it should be called, came about as the final culmination of a long process of a deepening crisis of legitimacy, and a final rejection by the people of an authoritarian regime and an authoritarian system.The people rejected an authoritarian system of bureaucratic state-capitalism, and as a result, that system collapsed, and collapsed virtually overnight.
But this is an aside. The central point here is that the idea that we had reached the end of history was pure fantasy, as any sensible person should know.
Fukuyama was voicing the thoughts held by the Western elite that, with the fall of the Soviet Bloc, the world had now come to its final peak and had arrived at the last and greatest pinnacle of our cultural evlution. There would be no improvements and no real changes from here on, for with our present system of state-sponsored corporate capitalism and neo-feudal oligarchy, we had reached utopia, the promised land, the holy state of immaculate perfection on earth, and this was the end of our evolution and progress, and hence, the end of history.
When we step back and look objectively at such claims which were made by the Western power elite, we might think, “Well, that seems a little self-serving,” and of course, also completely insane, and quite self-delusional.
Anyone with a trace of intelligence or remaining sanity could immediately see that such claims were quite out of sync with reality; but nevertheless, such views ruled the minds, at least, of the Western elite, and a great many other, otherwise intelligent minds along with them – and such insanity still reigns among the elite and their loyal servants, despite the obvious denial of both common sense and historical evidence.
The end of history meant the end of progress – and we are clearly at the end of history, because we have reached the perfect system for human society, with the capitalist-democracy of the West which was now globally triumphant. The USSR had fallen, and even China was adopting our superior ways, and coming on board, albeit slowly. The giddy euphoria would be understandable, if it were not also plainly irrational, and a matter of simple delusion.
But twenty-five years have passed since the fall of the Communist bloc, and in that intervening short time, the ideology and mythology of progress, and more directly, the ideology of Western state-capitalism, which is what we have, have come under heavy attack, and have effectively crumbled as ideologies.
In the face of critiques made for reasons of the environment, human health and well-being, justice, freedom, democracy, human rights and civil liberties, peace, stability, and even economics, the Western model of state-sponsored corporate capitalism has met with a withering and devastating critique, and both the myth of progress and the mythology of capitalism have essentially fallen apart.
There are still a few, to be sure, a shrinking minority, and usually only the elite and their privileged servants, along with a few stubborn ideologues, who cling to the dying, or rather, dead ideologies of capitalism and its quite twisted version of “progress,” but the great majority have seen through the lies, and, as global polls show, have lost all faith and confidence in such systems, ideologies and modes of thought. The crisis of legitimacy has now hit home, and the tsunami is only now arising to its greatest heights and power.
The crumbling ideologies of capitalism and “progress”
Despite the grand rhetoric and lofty promises of our current global system of state-sponsored corporate capitalism, poverty continues to rise world-wide, and also in the “leading” richest nations. Inequality is soaring globally and within nations, and is now at a level never seen before in history, and a level which dwarfs the inequality of pre-revolutionary France of America, or the empires of ancient Rome, Babylon or Egypt.
Cancer rates and rates of other degenerative diseases continue to rise, and to soar, in fact, as our food, water, air, soil, bodies and children are systematically poisoned by pollution, toxic pesticides and GMOs. The scientific evidence is clear, no matter how hard and how loudly the corporate lobbies and PR machines scream in denial and outright lies, and governments repeat and bolster the lies and the systemic denial of the facts.
Meanwhile, we have a health care and medical system that is radically flawed, due to corruption by corporate interests, government bureaucracy, and a severely flawed medical model. Public, not-for-profit public health care, especially when it emphasizes primary care and preventative medicine, and takes an integrative and holistic approach, and is based at the community level, and not overly centralized or bureaucratically hampered, simply works the best, as all the evidence has shown. But that is not what the majority of the people in the world have – when they have any health care at all, which many do not.
(Public health care in more civilized nations, in Europe, Britain and Canada, not only provide universal health care for all, but do so at a fraction of the cost of private, for-profit health care in the US, it should be noted. But this is getting ahead of ourselves.)
Our animal husbandry has descended into appalling, cruel and barbaric levels of predatory expediency and greed, as animals are treated in the most horrific ways in factory farms, and the corporate mass-production of food becomes the new standard norm – or pathology. And as a result, not only are our ethics in disastrous decay, but so too our bodies and our environment, as we reap exactly what we have sown, and contaminated meat and dairy products flood our grocery stores and our gullets, and slowly poison and kill us, along with the world in which we live.
And while poverty, food insecurity, droughts, crop failures, pesticide-resistant super-bugs and food prices all continue to rise, world hunger continues to rise, and as a result, of course, the on-going and unfolding, accelerating global public health disaster continues to grow.
At the same time, we are now faced with the striking paradox of global obesity out-pacing global hunger as the leading cause of death and disease – a direct result of modern diets and the corporate take-over of the food system, with millions, if not billions of people world-wide, stuffing their faces, not with food, but with what are increasingly, food-like substances, devoid of real nutrition, and laden with empty calories and unhealthy fats, along with a glut of toxic chemicals, cancer-causing pesticides and food additives, and refined sugar.
And when pharmaceutical drugs are needed – and it is true, they are obscenely and grotesquely over-prescribed, for reasons, primarily, of corporate profits on the one hand, and functional illiteracy on the part of medical personnel on the other – such drugs are frequently astronomically expensive, and again, for reasons of narrow corporate interests and profits over people, and millions if not billions of people are going without proper medication, and dying, due to a deeply flawed health care system which has been high-jacked by positively ghoulish and vampiric pharmaceutical companies.
Moreover, according to the US government’s own studies, 200,000 people die every year from taking prescription pharmaceutical drugs, in the US alone – when correctly prescribed and correctly taken. This is the equivalent of a fully loaded 747 jumbo crashing every single day. And yet, the focus is on terrorism, which kills 20,000 a year, or just one tenth of the death toll from the pharmaceutical industry. Big pharma is killing us, and bleeding us dry. And this is called advanced modern medicine.
(What happened to the Hippocratic Oath – “First, do no harm”?)
We have created a modern society where the people are so hurried, so rushed, so frantically busy, so under pressure, and facing such pervasive alienation, disintegration of family and community, status-seeking, narcissism, conformity, coldness, daily degradation and stress, that quality of life and human happiness have actually fallen, even while we are awash in a sea of material consumer goods and technological gizmos, entertainment, toys and distractions. It is a society that is so profoundly out of balance – psychologically, to say nothing of ecologically, socially, politically or economically – that if hunger, obesity, pollution or the pharmaceutical industry do not make you sick or kill you, stress surely will. And we call this progress.
Henry David Thoreau, among many others, recognized these central-most trends of modern society more than 150 years ago, and passionately warned against them; but so far, the great majority have failed to listen, or to hear. Yes, we are building the New Jerusalem. And we are building it with a bulldozer.
The net results of this constellation of trends and patterns in modern (state-)capitalist society, among others, is that overall public health globally is not rising, but declining, and declining sharply. We are failing. And there is no escaping the fact.
Worst of all, half of the world’s population are children under 15 years of age. We are not only failing humanity and our fellow human beings – we are failing the children of the world. This is a global public health disaster, and it is growing, not subsiding.
Food security is falling. Agricultural output is at its most precarious of any time over the past five hundred years, and probably since the dawn of agriculture, due to disastrous practices of petro-chemical, industrial mono-crop agricultural practices, combined with environmental degradation and global warming; and due to the droughts, severe storms, heat waves, torrential rains, floods, aquifer and ground water depletion, soil and water contamination, salinization, soil depletion and pesticide-resistant blights and super-bugs, all of which have been either created or greatly exacerbated by petro-chemical, industrial mono-crop agriculture and global warming.
Slums continue to explode all over the world. Gated communities are becoming more and more of a new norm, as the affluent and the rich withdraw behind securitized virtual bunkers, in islands of wealth that are increasingly coming to resemble the walled communities of the medieval era.
In the US, private security forces now out-number police, and continue to grow, while the police and other government agents are now militarized forces; and while the prison population explodes, and private, for-profit prisons and prison labour become the new norm. Welcome to police state America – the leader of the free world. Yes, bring your factories here – we have the gulags and labour camps to serve them.
Social unrest and social instability are rising rapidly all over the world, as inequality, poverty and insecurity continue to climb. Violence, chaos and war plague the world and continue to grow, as tensions mount, and the powerful compete over dwindling resources, and access to markets and cheap labour. Meanwhile, nuclear or biochemical warfare, which could well be terminal for the human species if it erupts, remains a high risk, and a mounting danger. The world is not becoming safer, more peaceful or more stable, but precisely the opposite.
Economically, the world is increasingly unstable, as the financial elite continue to play a global game of high stakes casino betting and speculation, while manipulating the real world economy for their benefit and further gain, at the great cost and risk, and tremendous suffering of the overwhelming majority of the people. Meanwhile, the best and most lucid analysts continue to warn that the global economy is a house of cards, and is set to implode and collapse. (See Gerald Celente, Max Keiser, or Paul Craig Roberts.)
Unemployment is high and rising both globally and even in the richest nations. The rise of a “precariat” is once again here. Like the feudal peasants of earlier times, a rapidly growing majority of the people world-wide, and also in the major industrial nations, now live a precarious existence, with either insecure jobs, under-employment, unemployment, or aptly termed “McJobs” which offer neither security nor a decent, basic standard of living. The new feudal age has arrived, and the great majority of the people are not happy about it, nor do they benefit from it.
A full-scale global attack on democracy, civil liberties and freedom has been launched by the reigning international business and financial elite, while the major governments in the world play along with the game, and aid the ruling oligarchs in securing and consolidating their new imperial powers, silencing dissent and the great majority of the people, and creating the structures of what can only be described in honest terms as fascism – or corporatism, as Mussolini called it: the merger of business and the state.
Progress, you say?
Progress, or mass insanity?
The 20th century was the most violent and murderous period in all human history, and the 21st century may well supersede it, and set a new record for brutality and mass insanity. All other measures aside, this should be enough to make us seriously question they myth of progress.
And while human suffering, disease, stress, poverty, inequality, and effectual bondage continue to climb, and public health, peace, stability, the environment, food security and agricultural production, civil liberties, human rights, freedom and democracy, human dignity and equality continue to be undermined or destroyed, the culture of contemporary 21st century modern society has itself, unsurprisingly, gone off the rails, and has become quite mad, or at least, deeply schizoid, and dangerously so.
While a global renaissance begins to emerge, and a global awakening of humanity is underway, and accelerating rapidly, the great majority of the people around the world continue to sleep-walk into disaster, and behave as if they are more dead than alive, or at least more comatose than awake. They are like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, and the water is slowly heating up, and coming to a boil.
While a rapidly growing minority of people around the world are awakening to the political, economic, social and environmental realities which we are now facing, the great majority remain stubbornly in denial of the realities, and live as if in a bubble, or a dream-world of their own making – or at least their own purchasing.
Television remains the great opiate of the masses, and the network news in particular, and is joined by Hollywood, video games, pornography, the greater part of the internet – which is a wasteland, and by the greater part of social media as well – even while religion begins to shake off its long-held slumber, and become a force for the healing of this world, rather than a pawn of great powers and worldly empires, as it has been, more often than not, for the greater part of its history.
The love of the spectacle has taken over the minds of the majority, and they are content to live as spectators, rather than to truly live. “Reality TV” is all the rage, as people abandon any semblance of having a life of their own, and simply watch others live their lives. Vicarious living has become the greatest plague in the history of human life on earth – and it is destroying the minds and the souls of billions globally, while the earth races toward a global cataclysm, and humanity speeds toward a final, possibly terminal phase of profound self-mutilation and self-annihilation.
“Not with a bang, but a whimper” – maybe T. S. Eliot was right.
Consumerism and materialism have gripped the majority of the people, and while these psychological, sociological, cultural and behavioural patterns are ravaging and destroying and systematically degrading the earth and all life on it, and also sowing inequality, exploitation, oppression, social strife, turmoil, instability, conflict, violence and war, and further, are feeding the new global empire of the neo-feudal corporate oligarchy which is systematically destroying their freedom and turning them into slaves, it also leaves them, not only dead to the world, to their fellow human beings and other living beings on earth, and largely dead to themselves, but also shackled and chained, because it makes them into the slaves of their own desires, wage-slaves in bondage to their corporate masters, and also debt slaves, as they race perpetually to keep pace with their ever-increasing consumer demands. It is a race to the bottom, and a race into the darkness of an oblivion of their own making, but they see it not.
Meanwhile, although spirituality and reflective thought are rising, and even soaring, at least among a growing minority, spiritual life and inner life, or even reflective life, is all but dead for the majority, who are possessed by the mere surface of things, and as Thoreau said, “live lives of quiet desperation” as a result.
And of course, the answer to a gnawing sense of inner lack, poverty, hunger, emptiness, loneliness and discontent, is to go out and consume more, or alternatively, to escape more and more into the fantasy worlds of television, media distractions and infotainment, vicarious living, voyeurism, amusing ourselves to death, and into a stupor of self-numbing hollowness.
Typically, it is a flight into both: insatiable consumer hunger, combined with a desperate drive for escapism and fantasy. And the combination is deadly, at least to the senses, the mind, the spirit and the moral capacity of human beings, if not to the body as well.
“Normal only exists in relation to a profoundly abnormal norm.”
– Erich Fromm
So for many, and probably for the majority, the cultural, psychological and spiritual-intellectual trajectory or direction is definitely a downward spiral into a vacuous state of zombie-like stupor, torpor and malaise, hollowness, alienation, withdrawal from real life, woodenness, loss of thought, feeling, reflectivity and awareness, and a virtual lobotomy, or waking coma. They have become, or are quickly becoming, the walking dead.
“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar”
Trivial things arouse great passions, like bells ringing for Pavlov’s dogs, but great and pressing issues, or the sight of a homeless person passed by on the street, or bombs raining on people and children in other countries far away, barely register in the consciousness at all, and are passed over with scarcely a flicker of thought, if that.
Maybe it is a case of pervasive illusions of powerlessness, driving people into apathy and despair, like so many cattle into a cattle chute – and I believe it is; or maybe it is a pervasive epidemic of Stockholm Syndrome – and I believe that is also the case. But whatever the cause, or causes, the reality is this: what seems to be a majority of the people are becoming wooden, and behave like T.S. Eliot’s, The Hollow Men; and if that is a profound disaster for them, and it is, it is certainly an even greater disaster for humanity, and for all life on the planet.
The hearts and minds are being slowly and steadily destroyed in what seems to be a majority of the people, but even this does not strike them as a tragedy, or even a concern, and they plod wearily along, as the light within dies to a mere flicker of its former glory, and slowly fades to black.
“This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.”
The horror is not our true nature, but our second nature. We are eclipsing the heart and the mind, or a great many are, and probably the majority. Nothing can speak of, or describe, the tragedy of this.
Our second nature, our social conditioning or indoctrination, is making us sick, driving us from our senses, hardening our hearts, and is killing both ourselves and the planet we live on. We must awaken before we drown, and take out the great majority of species and life forms on earth with us when we go.
But the masses are so numbed and inured, that it is true, they will fight against their awakening, and will shower contempt, if not hatred and loathing, on any who try in vain to free them from their chains, or “the mind-forged manacles”, as William Blake called them.
“The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars”
No wonder such movies and TV shows portraying a zombie apocalypse are so popular. It is a metaphor, a parable for our times. It is our post-modern mythology, which in the best sense, as Joseph Campbell said, reconnects the people with their reality, and informs them of it.
“When the people become wooden, a great calamity will befall them.”
– Hopi Prophecy
But maybe that is giving it too much credit, for the people are not interpreting the mythology properly, or understanding it at all. The zombie apocalypse is the death of thinking, feeling, compassion, reflectivity and awareness, which is taking over the minds of the majority of the people today. But the people who most need to understand this, are precisely the ones who are most possessed by the new norm of robotic, wooden, atomaton people, and dehumanized, semi-conscious robotic atomaton living.
“The best lack all conviction,
while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity.”
“We are the hollow men,
we are the stuffed men….
This is the way that the world ends,
this is the way that the world ends,
this is the way that the world ends,
not with a bang, but a whimper.”
In light of all of these trends, all of which are becoming more and more obvious, and more and more undeniable, the myth of progress has become harder and harder to sustain, to put it in the mildest of terms.
And in light of all of these trends, the ruling system and ideology of global neo-feudal, state-sponsored corporate capitalism, is rapidly losing – and in fact has already lost – the last traces of its legitimacy in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the world’s people.
Something has to change, and will. A great transformation is coming, and the breaking point is close at hand.
While a majority of people seem to be sleep-walking toward disaster, and remain locked in a paralyzed state of denial, or shock, the majority are, at the same time, highly discontent with the current state of things, and with the current structures of power and systems in the world.
It is becoming obvious to a growing majority that globalization, neoliberalism, corporate capitalism, hyper-individualism, and the mythology of progress which supports and rationalizes and justifies all of these inter-twined abberations of human history (see The Chalice and the Blade, The Ecology of Freedom, and Mutual Aid) have not served us well, and are in fact, undermining if not positively destroying all that is truly valuable in the world: such as a clean and vibrant, sustainable environment, human health and well-being, peace, justice, democracy, human rights, civil liberties, equality and freedom. If we wish for real progress, therefore we will have to jettison, or at least radically re-examine and redress these patterns and systems of thought, human behaviour and institutions in human society.
We will either make a fundamental re-examination of our current ways and norms, social systems and institutions, or we will, in all likelihood, perish from this earth. The writing is on the wall. The in-coming messages from reality and the world around us could not be more clear.
Progress, or self-annihilation?
To state clearly and succinctly what should by now be obvious to all: time does not move in a nice, neat straight line, and progress is by no means inevitable. Sometimes the last is best, and the latest development is better than all that came before, but sometimes, the last is worst, and the latest development is a regression, and a descent into darkness.
Sometimes we make genuine progress in certain regards, and sometimes we take several steps backwards, and degenerate, rather than evolve. Often the two opposite trends of progress and regression coincide in a given time and society, and we can clearly identify trends in both directions. And sometimes we find that we have simply wandered into a cul de sac, a dead end, and have to re-trace our steps, and take a different direction and a different path.
Progress, in any meaningful sense of the word, can and does happen, and we have seen a great deal of it. But it is not guaranteed, and certainly, our present society is both better and also worse than what we have experienced in previous periods of human history.
We cannot afford to be too one-sided about it. A more balanced view is required if we are to be at all clear-minded. In some ways, this society has made tremendous progress, and in others, it is a dark age. But the idea that we cannot do more and do better, surely must be seen as a form of simple delusion, if not sheer insanity.
We can do better, and we will. There are serious problems to be addressed, and we can and will address and resolve them – if we have the courage to face them, and if we can dispense with this disastrous and widely-pervasive illusion of powerlessness.
And as to the notion that our present order of things, which is most accurately described as a global neo-feudal state-sponsored corporate capitalism, represents the end of history and the highest pinnacle of cultural evolution, and there is no alternative to it, and nothing better than can ever be achieved or even imagined, this, surely, must be seen by all thoughtful people as simply ludicrous and absurd. And if we do not envision and create something better than this current order of things, then we will see the real end of history, as the human species is terminated, and we are no more.
Let us begin to dream once more. We have everything that we need to build a better world. Let us begin again. As Thomas Paine said, “It is within our power to begin the world anew.” And there is no time left to lose.
In some five thousand words and ten pages, we have just begun to clarify the issues facing the world, (the world is a big place, after all) and to outline in broad strokes, the problems we are facing, and make an introduction to our core subject here: which is to present some answers and solutions to the problems and the challenges we face at the beginning of the 21st century. Clearly, this is not Fox news or CNN, and this is not sound-bite analysis. The problems that we face will require a better and more thoughtful approach than that.
(Stay tuned – more to come.)