My last post was about unlearning the gospel of 'efficiency' while remaining 'civilized'. This post is about unlearning the 'civilized' part itself because since then I have learned new insights about our global industrialized civilization that's imbued with colonialistic force against all life on earth.
Human activities in recent decades have egregiously disrupted the earth's life-supporting systems from which all forms of life—including human—had evolved. The rapid change we have caused drives hundreds of species to extinction every day, and at this rate, human species too. Everything used to exist in perfect harmony in their own niche within natural constraints until the invention of technology particularly agriculture which has led to the cycle of boom and bust of human civilizations.
From reading a book called 'The Short History of Progress', I learned that all ancient empires and civilizations collapsed under the weight of their own ingenuity, intractable complexity, desecrated surrounding environment, moral decay, and warring social classes. This predicament drove colonization to new territories, and history repeats again.
Then capitalist economy and morality emerged.
Capitalism led to the monetization of all life on earth, treating nature as 'resources' to be exploited and traded for human's interest. It led to the 'Enlightenment', 'rationality movement', 'scientific methods', which led to the mechanization of nature and human body in a reductionistic manner by which we can break and study in pieces in order to bend to our will.
We can see such hubris being flaunted in the rise of green energy, green technology, and green economic policies. We haven't realized that it was our sheer arrogance with respect to nature that got us in this predicament. We still believe we can invent and deploy new technologies to fix, do, and tinker things in order to perpetuate our current destructive social-economic paradigm that is all about infinite growth. But infinite growth is impossible in a finite world.
Building solar panels and electric cars at scale is not possible without burning even more fossil fuels, hence accelerate us to the ground off the cliff. The reason is that new technologies often necessitate new network of infrastructures to support them. For example, the introduction of automobiles accelerated burning fuels and led to the sprawling interstate highways and suburb, all of which require encroaching environment and non-human habitats, creating secondary consequences such as novel diseases that shouldn't be interpreted as an anomaly but a logical progression of a rapacious global industrial civilization.
Even if people sense that something is not quite right—civilization has gotten too big, too complex, too hard to manage—they may still not see that the problems are caused in large part by exponential growth, not in programs or technologies designed to allow it to continue. For if you remove one constraint, renewed growth quickly pushes the civilization up against the next one, and so on, until it buckles under the strain. - Excerpt from Immoderate Greatness book
It didn't used to be this way.
A book called 'Ancient futures' shows the lives of the Ladahk folks being turned upside down by the introduction of capitalism and its proselytizing of 'modern development'. Flourishing intimate relationship between the people, environment and animals that had been cultivated for thousands of years were written off as 'backward', 'inefficient', and 'unproductive' from the ethnocentric lens of a Western civilization. The consequences were all too familiar: the destruction of environment, population boom, income and social inequality, disintegrating of support network between families, urban migration of the youths leaving behind the elders fending for themselves, and uptick of psychological illness and identity crisis.
The Ladahk people didn't need western cultures and intervention. Until the onset of 'development', they were happier and well-balanced physically and psychologically than people in developed countries will ever be. They didn't need to be 'civilized' and 'educated'. They didn't need to purposely read 'self-help' books or watch TED talks like we do. They were respectful to all beings around them. They knew the limits and not to cross them. They already practiced 'precautionary principle' without having to learn about it. Because as a follower of Buddhism, they realized—as did other indigenous people—everything is interconnected. They didn't need science and opaque rationality to realize that as we have.
Modern history has shown that being 'civilized' means being subjected to western social, economic, and political hegemony. Those who didn't tow the line were considered 'savages' to be exterminated as happened to the Native Americans, and brutalized as in many parts of the world. (Read 'Who rules the world' by Noam Chomsky). Whereas, those who were on the 'right' side—subscribing to and producing the 'right' values—have benefited immensely.
I would like to think our predicament couldn't have been attributed to malice. But reading 'Caliban and the Witch' tells me there was a long history of struggles between, on one hand, the mercantilist, Church, noble class, and on the other, the poor, peasants, vagabond, slaves, and woman. Needless to say, the former group prevailed. Profits, financialization, individualism, competition, unscrupulous innovation, globalization, population growth, efficiency, productivity, mass media, advertising and consumption are aberrations exalted to grease this rapacious growth engine, while we forget that majority of human existence was communal, cooperative, localized and subsistence-based.
Was our current predicament inevitable? Perhaps any intelligent being like Homo sapiens inexorably end up in ruins and extinction. Perhaps that's the answer to the Fermi Paradox. Is it too late to imagine an alternative outcome? Alternative to capitalism(not socialism, which is just another way to exploit and distribute resources)?
Well, we know we are going to have an ice-free arctic with so much heat already baked in the system(read also 'The End of Ice'). And when that happens, this civilization is finished. Only then, unfortunately, will we rekindle our ancestral kinship with the earth and sky, again living harmoniously with all beings on this planet.
It may be that it's already too late to change the course of this titanic. But for those of us who are clearly looking at this from a big picture perspective: "Action is the antidote to despair". We can take right action and not be attached to the outcome. Or simply do nothing. Because it was all this doing that got us to the abyss. And now we want to do even more to geo-engineer the atmosphere to undo our doings so we can keep doing!
I know this is all quite a handful to unlearn. It's not easy for me. Like many others, I was born into this set of living arrangements and trained to its internal logic.
I am part of this culture and have benefited from the profits of this past and still live in the privilege of its actions and its relentless procession. source
The previous decade of my life has been dotted by unapologetic actions that were human-centric and arrogant—I fancy myself with entrepreneurship; I hustle; I hack my life and got on soylent-like diet; I learn everything I can about the universe; I strive to be rational and skeptical but ended up a cynic that's just all talks; I am a disappointed idealist; I pride myself for having the higher moral ground; I expect Singularity to save us from mortality and 'stupidity'; I learn all the cognitive 'biases'; I look up to western iconoclasts and read their books; The world is my oyster; I teach myself programming for one year because I wanted to be in one of the success stories that'd 'changed the world'; I work low-paid and long hours in local tech startups; In my free time, I continue learning to help them reach IPO sooner; Everything else is considered a waste of my time; I deal with my depression alone; I keep telling myself: "This is the way"; I forge on with my stringent exercise routine and time management; I measure and optimize everything; I only work in tech startups to 'hit the jackpot'; I quit them all the time; The salary increment and being a part of a new 'mission' again placate my ego, high identity and narrative on the world .
I believe we have gotten it all wrong.
Dance. Play. Love. You. Me. Us. Now. Here.
And that's it.
And that's enough. ●