Agitate, America!: Collapse of Western civilization
By Nancy Churchill
A Progressive Visionary
This column’s title is also the title of a tiny book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway subtitled “A View From the Future.” It is a well-annotated fictional — yet factual — prophecy looking back on today from the year 2300 “in the spirit of George Orwell,” says one reviewer on the cover.
“As the devastating effects of the Great Collapse [their term for the catastrophic events about which the imaginary people are reporting] began to appear, the nation-states with democratic governments … were at first unwilling and then unable to deal with the unfolding crisis. As food shortages and disease … spread and sea level rose, these governments found themselves without the … ability to … relocate people.”
The book narrates what led to this “Great Collapse” and why democratic nation-states were unable to deal with the looming crisis, while, contrarily, China’s strong, centralized government was able to relocate 250 million people to higher ground while the crisis was still manageable.
“To the historian studying this tragic period of human history,” they wrote, “the most astounding fact is that the victims knew what was happening and why. Indeed, they chronicled it in detail precisely because they knew that fossil fuel combustion was to blame. Historical analysis also shows that Western civilization had the technological know-how and capability to effect an orderly transition to renewable energy, yet the available technologies were not implemented in time. As with all great historical events, there is no easy answer to the question of why this catastrophe occurred, but key factors stand out. The thesis of this analysis is that Western civilization became trapped in the grip of two inhibiting ideologies: positivism and market fundamentalism.”
It was the latter, “[m]arket fundamentalism — and its various strands and interpretations known as free market fundamentalism, neoliberalism, laissez-faire economics, and laissez-faire capitalism” that was the problem. This ideological system held “that societal needs were served most efficiently in a free market economic system,” a claim repeated endlessly by conservatives of today. “Guided by the ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace, individuals would freely respond to each other’s needs, establishing a net balance between solutions (‘supply’) and needs (‘demand’). The second prong of the philosophy maintained that free markets were not merely a good or even the best manner of satisfying material wants: they were the only manner of doing so that did not threaten personal freedom.”
It was this insistence that the free market is the only possible system capable of avoiding the creeping menace of socialist tyranny, and unwillingness to interfere with the guidance of the fabled “invisible hand,” that prevented the people of the 21st century (us) from acting in time to avert the looming disaster.
It’s not too late for us, but the future is closing fast. This fact-based, articulate work serves to warn us that denial-prone “free markets” are not the answer to climate change, they are the problem. I see it as required reading for anyone living on the planet today.
Nancy Churchill was raised in the D.R.C. (Congo), raced stock cars on short dirt tracks for 25 years, and is a proud, lifelong member of “We, the People.” She lives in Oregon, Ill.
From the Jan. 28-Feb. 3, 2015, issue