Category: Collapse


Note: This is the REVISED version  (June 23, 2020) of an essay written for an international cyber-conference on the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

How To Destroy Civilization: COVID-19 and the Exploitation of Animals and the Earth

Steve Best

“Imagine the amazing good fortune of the generation that gets to see the end of the world. This is as marvelous as being there in the beginning.”  ― Jean Baudrillard

  1. Apocalypse

Many past cultures have thought that they lived in apocalyptic times and expressed a foreboding sense of doom and ending. From the Book of Revelations to cyberpunk, apocalyptic visions have been a mainstay of human culture. In contemporary 21st century conditions, the signs of apocalypse are everywhere, from collapsing ice shelves in the Arctic to wildfires raging in California, Australia, and Brazil; from superstorms pummeling coastal towns and island communities to millions of refugees fleeing the ravages of drought, poverty, famine, and conflict; from lingering specters of nuclear annihilation and (bio)terrorist attacks to species extinction and runaway climate change. And now, on the heels of numerous recent viral outbreaks, we are witness to the scourge of a global pandemic inflicting suffering and death around the globe, a massive economic meltdown, and cities turned into ghost towns or petri dishes when not in flames over systemic racism and police brutality. All the while, authoritarianism rises, democracy wanes, and power concentrates into ever fewer hands, as promising signs of resistance emerge.

Whereas all past apocalyptic visions were rooted in fear, paranoia, fantasy, and superstition, visions of chaos and collapse today find grounding in mathematical projections and scientific facts. In our current era, apocalypse is an immanently unfolding objective reality that we are accelerating toward at breakneck speed. For the last 50 years or so, postmodern forms of culture and theory have articulated pronounced feelings of exhaustion and endings. We have heard much about the death of metanarratives; the end of history; the disappearance of the social; the demise of truth, reality, and the subject; and of course, the passing of postmodernism itself.[1] Postmodernism arises amidst paradigm shifts that register across the disciplines. but these changes barely scratched the surface of seismic changes unfolding in society and the objective world that had allegedly disappeared into the text or impenetrable fog of hyperreality. For what we are witnessing is not the end of modernism or modernity, but rather the immanent collapse of the expansionistic, growth-oriented enterprise we call civilization — the dominant institutional structures and ideologies that human beings have built over the last 10,000 years during the Holocene epoch.

Our present moment is so radically novel and extreme we have to think of it in geological, not merely historical terms, for we have created a new geological epoch — we are transitioning from the Holocene to the Anthropocene.[2] Humans have expanded their technological and world-altering prowess to such an extent they have disrupted every living system on the planet – most evidently in the emergence of a sixth (human-caused) mass extinction (right now, 150 species go extinct every day) and with the rise of fossil capitalism and its causal effect in global warming and climate change, thus creating  a radical break in the history of humanity and the earth itself. Since the 1970s, in just the last half-century, humans have reduced wild animal populations 60%, and within the next few decades we will obliterate an additional million plant and animal species.[3] To indicate the extent to which one species has usurped the planet on its unending path of destruction, humans have hitherto destroyed 83% of all wild animals and half of all plant species, such that 96% of all mammals on earth are now humans and their cattle.[4] Only 15% of the planet’s forests remain intact, the rest have been cut down, fragmented, and degraded, as grasslands and wetlands suffer a similar fate. Continue reading

In recent years, I worked in close collaboration with my friend and colleague, Takis Fotopoulos, who without question is one of the leading anarchist theories today, and is the founder of Inclusive Democracy and the journal, The International Journal for Inclusive Democracy, in which I published numerous articles. About this radical project, Takis says:

“This is the project for direct political democracy, economic democracy (beyond the confines of the market economy and state planning), as well as democracy in the social realm and ecological democracy. In short, Inclusive Democracy is a form of social organisation which re-integrates society with economy, polity and nature.

The concept of Inclusive Democracy is derived from a synthesis of two major historical traditions: the classical democratic and the socialist. It also encompasses radical green, feminist, indigenous and liberation movements in the South.

From the Inclusive Democracy perspective the world is in a multidimensional crisis, caused by the concentration of power in the hands of various elites, as a result of the establishment of the system of market/growth economy, representative democracy and the related forms of hierarchical structures. Inclusive Democracy is therefore not seen as a utopia but as probably the only way out of the present crisis.”

My most significant work with Takis and associates was assembling a collection of essays on the nature and application of the Inclusive Democracy perspective, which was published in both Greek and English in, respectively, 2008 and 2009. The book, which I edited and introduced, is entitled Global Capitalism and the Demise of the Left: Renewing Radicalism Through Inclusive Democracy.

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I include here the link to the entire manuscript, which offers much to anyone interested in direct democracy, anarchism, social ecology, education, and capitalist crisis theories. Hard copies of the book are available here.

I also enthusiastically recommend other books by Takis, including Towards an Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need for a New Liberatory Project (1998), and The New World Order in Action: Globalization, The Brexit Revolution, and the “Left” (2016).

 

Attached is the complete manuscript to the groundbreaking anthology I co-edited and introduced, Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (AK Press: 2006). Read and disseminate widely. Hardcopies are available here.

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My most recent book, “The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century,” hitherto available only in German, is now available in English for purchase (PDF download or hardcopy book), on the Palgrave Macmillan site, and other sites such as Amazon.com.

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I am honored that celebrated animal rights author, Norm Phelps, wrote the Foreword to the book, and here is the critical praise on the back cover:

“This is an extraordinary book that shatters all safe spaces found among the debris, torture, genocide, and despair scattered throughout history by the so-called march towards progress.” –Peter McLaren, Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Chapman University, USA, Author of Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution

“For at least the last half century, a biocentric revolution has been unfolding against the destructive tyranny of anthropocentrism — a revolution guided by the natural laws of ecology against the unnatural diminishment of nature at the hands of “civilized” man. In this bold and timely book, Steven Best writes from, and has documented, the evolution of this universal revolution, as he gives us a glimpse into the catastrophic consequences should this revolution fail.” –Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

“The Politics of Total Liberation is groundbreaking with an innovative new approach to understanding the ills of our society. Best makes is clear that we are losing the battle to save the environment and animals because of greed, domination, control, and war mongering created by humans. Best obviously did not write this to be popular, safe, or political; rather, he wrote because his conscience told him that it is right.” –Chris DeRose, President, Last Chance for Animals

“Steven Best gets it: if we are to stop destructive human conditions and habits, we will need `the most uncompromising, militant form of politics we can muster.’” –Jim Mason, author of An Unnatural Order: The Roots of Our Destruction of Nature.

“I have no argument with Norm Phelps when he states that `this may be the most important book of the 21st century’.” –Ronnie Lee, founder of the Animal Liberation Front

I recently sat down with Sybelle Foxcroft of Cee4Life to talk about my forthcoming book, The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century. Here is that video interview:

 

 

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century. This concise, jargon-free, and highly readable work is soon to be published in three different languages: first, next month, in German, by Echo Verlag publishers; second, by mid-year, in Italian, by Ortica Editrice; and third, in English toward the end of 2014, by the major American academic press, Palgrave-MacMillan.

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Below is the Table of Contents and the Introduction to the work. Please look for the book soon in German, Italian, or English versions and I will post additional details regarding these and possibly other translated editions of the book as they become available.

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Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century

By

Steven Best

Table of Contents

Introduction: Crisis and the Crossroads of History

 Chapter 1: The Animal Standpoint

Chapter 2: The New Abolitionism: Capitalism, Slavery, and Animal Liberation

Chapter 3: The Paralysis of Pacifism: In Defense of Militant Direct Action

Chapter 4: Rethinking Revolution: Veganism, Animal Liberation, Ecology, and the Left

Chapter 5: Minding the Animals: Cognitive Ethology and the Obsolescence of Left Humanism

Chapter 6: Moral Progress and the Struggle for Human Evolution

Conclusion: Reflections on Activism and Hope in a Dying World and Suicidal Culture

 

Introduction: Crisis and the Crossroads of History

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu, sixth century BCE philosopher

In dystopian and apocalyptic times such as ours, one of accelerating global social and ecological crisis, these essays attempt to articulate a revolutionary politics of total liberation for the 21st century.

All political approaches and social movements to date have been fragmentary, weak, and non-inclusive, and regressive in their views toward nonhuman animals. In the last three decades, there have been initial and tentative alliances between social justice and environmental causes, with growing recognition that the assault on people and the environment have common roots in a growth-oriented capitalist system. But, due to neglect on all sides, these alliances did not include vegan and animal rights/liberation movements, which overflow with potential for advancing progressive values (such as peace, justice, rights, equality, and community), creating ecological societies, and overcoming human alienation from other animal species and the earth as a whole.

Alliance politics generally is a challenging issue, as people prefer to focus on their own causes rather than supporting other movements, especially ones they disdain out of ignorance. This has to change and new political ideologies, tactics, and groupings must be formulated, for everything else has failed and the stakes could not be higher. At risk is nothing less than the future of life on a planet that has been pushed beyond all limits to adapt to human existence and is prepared to shake us off entirely and allow the evolutionary process to continue without us. This century, the next decades or even the next years, is decisive, for what we do or fail to do now will determine the fate of species, our own fates, and evolutionary history on this planet for millennia to come. The urgency could not be greater, there is no time to waste, it is now do-or-die.

Although diverse in theme, the essays collected in this book form a coherent whole and address my core concerns as they relate to current crisis conditions. The most promising and relevant politics for this century, I believe, will not focus on class struggle or the fragmented identity politics pursued along single-issue lines concerning race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth. It will be, rather, a politics of total liberation that grasps commonalities among various forms of oppression, that recognizes the interdependence and common goals of various liberation movements, and that forges appropriate political alliances.

By “total liberation” I do not mean a metaphysical utopia to be realized in perfect form. I refer, rather, to the process of understanding human, animal, and earth liberation movements in relation to one another and forming alliances around interrelated issues such as democracy and ecology, sustainability and veganism, and social justice and animal rights. To be sure, total liberation is an ideal, a vision, and a goal to strive for, invoking visions of freedom and harmony. But the struggle ahead is a continuous one, conducted within the constraints of human nature and the limits imposed by ecology. Human, animal, and earth liberation movements are different components of one inseparable struggle — against hierarchy, domination, and unsustainable social forms — none of which is possible without the others.

Through predatory behaviors, systems of exploitation, and growth-oriented societies, we have lived in contradiction to one another, other species, and the planet for so long, that we have brought about a new geologic epoch – the Anthropocene Era – whose name recognizes our global dominance and severe impact of Homo sapiens on the planet. In this era of runaway climate change, the sixth great extinction crisis in earth’s history, increasing centralization of power, aggressive neoliberalism, global capitalism, rampant militarism, resource scarcity, chronic warfare, economic crashes, and suffering and struggle everywhere, we have come to a historical crossroads where momentous choices have to be made and implemented into action.

The omnicidal regimes of “civilization” and global capitalism have reached their zenith and will end — whether through an ascendant global resistance stronger than this dying world system, or through the cataclysmic adjustments the planet already has initiated, such as ensure its evolution for billions of years to come but create conditions utterly hostile to supporting humans and countless other species.

Anything short of a radical, systemic, and comprehensive change, of a formidable revolutionary movement against global capitalism and hierarchical domination of all kinds will yield useless reforms, pseudo-solutions, false hopes, and protracted suffering. The time for partial visions, separate struggles, and fragmented resistance is over, and the hour of total liberation and revolutionary alliance politics has arrived.

Yet, alarmingly, we have not yet as a species or critical mass awoken to the true gravity of the situation and the magnitude of the challenges we face. The big picture proves elusive, antiquated paradigms prevail, and dogmatism and complacency strangle possibilities from all angles and quarters. Although few realize it, the human, animal, and earth liberation movements desperately need one another, and the weaknesses and limitations of each can only be overcome through the strengths and contributions of the others.

If revolt can mature into revolution, the starting point for social transformation is to join hands across the barricades; to engage in respectful critical dialogue; to communicate, educate, and learn as equals; to overcome partial histories, critiques, and battles for a systemic struggle. A politics of total liberation could forge alliances more powerful than anything yet created. It seeks to emancipate not just one class, interest group, or even the entire human species from the grip of a nihilistic power elite, but also animal communities everywhere, ecosystems worldwide, and the dynamic energies of evolution and speciation currently strangled.

Listening and learning, working united not divided, a unity in difference and a differentiated unity, forging a plurality of critiques and tactics that attack at all points and mobilize resistance from all social quarters – through a politics of total revolution, a politics for the 21st century, a flank of militant groups and positions can drive a battering ram into the structures of domination, unlock every cell and cage, and open the doors to a myriad of possible futures.

But humans will awake, if ever, late in the process of advanced crisis and decay. Nothing guarantees we will succeed rather than fail. But pessimism is suicide, despair is surrender, the stakes are too high, and our responsibilities are too great. Despite our violent history as a predatory and colonizing species, what humanity can and cannot achieve is still unknown. Our capacities and limits are still being worked out in the laboratory of history and political struggle, as this evolutionary experiment nonetheless might soon end in extinction. Let us not only hope, but also struggle, for a different outcome.

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“For at least the last half century, a biocentric revolution has been unfolding against the destructive tyranny of anthropocentrism — a revolution guided by the natural laws of ecology against the unnatural diminishment of nature at the hands of “civilized” man. In this bold, brilliant, and timely book, Steven Best writes from, and has documented, the evolution of this universal revolution, as he gives us a glimpse into the catastrophic consequences should this revolution fail.”  —  Captain Paul Watson

This is the first of two talks I gave at the International Conference for Animal Rights in Luxembourg, on September 12 2013, and the first of seven talks I gave on my Fall 2013 speaking tour in Luxembourg, Germany, and Italy.

Wow, I knew if I lived long enough I would agree with Prince Charles on something, and it seems we agree that there is an implacable war against animals, a world war on a global scale, starkly evident in the high-tech poaching industry that is wiping out species such as rhinos and elephants before our eyes (see, for instance, my posts here and here). It seems we also agree that the human assault on other animals ought to be viewed as and treated as a war in which we defend animals from attack by any means necessary on this dying planet (see, for instance, my posts here and here). 

Nice to be in agreement with you on these points, Prince Charles. Now how about putting the UK’s armed forces in the service of wildlife under attack?

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The Guardian, May 21, 2013

Princes Charles and Prince William

Prince Charles and Prince William examine confiscated items made from endangered animals at the conference.

Prince Charles has warned that criminal gangs are turning to animal poaching, an unprecedented slaughter of species that can only be stopped by waging war on the perpetrators, in the latest of a series of increasingly outspoken speeches about the environment.

Addressing a conference of conservationists at St James’s Palace in London, the Prince of Wales announced a meeting of heads of state to take place this autumn in London under government auspices to combat what he described as an emerging, militarised crisis.

“We face one of the most serious threats to wildlife ever, and we must treat it as a battle – because it is precisely that,” said Charles. “Organised bands of criminals are stealing and slaughtering elephants, rhinoceros and tigers, as well as large numbers of other species, in a way that has never been seen before. They are taking these animals, sometimes in unimaginably high numbers, using the weapons of war – assault rifles, silencers, night-vision equipment and helicopters.”

It is the second outspoken speech that Charles has made this month, at a time when he is taking on an increasing number of monarchical duties, after he told a group of forest scientists also at St James’s Palace that corporate lobbyists and climate change sceptics were turning the Earth into a “dying patient”. The Prince of Wales warned that iconic species – which could include rhinoceros, tigers, orangutans and others – could be extinct in the wild within a decade if efforts to protect them were not stepped up. “By urgent, I mean urgent,” he told the dignitaries, who included governmental and United Nations officials as well as NGOs and grassroots activists.

His son, the Duke of Cambridge, added to the plea: “My fear is that one of two things will stop the illegal trade: either we take action to stem the trade, or we will run out of the animals. There is no other outcome possible.”

Charles also stressed the need to deal with the demand for exotic species. In the past, much of the market for tiger parts, rhino horns and ivory was said to be driven by beliefs in traditional Chinese medicine, in which the rare animal parts were believed to have curative or aphrodisiac properties. But the prince dismissed such ideas, saying the trade was in fact about status symbols rather than belief systems. “The bulk of the intended use is no longer for products that can be classified as traditional medicines. Instead, many more people in rapidly growing economies are seeking exotic products that reflect their economic prosperity and status.”

The conference called for celebrities to publicise their outrage and opposition to the trade, and for young people in countries such as China to be educated to reject the demands of their parents for such status-fuelled goods.

I have blogged often against fatuous “Vegan Victory” celebrations and parades to remind everyone that while meat consumption is temporarily down in the US, it is growing at staggering rates on a global level (see, for instance here and here). Particularly, I have tried to warn people that the world’s most populous and rapidly modernizing nations — such as China, India, and Indonesia — continue to expand their economies, develop Western-capitalist social-economic models, enlarge their populations, and dramatically increase their production and consumption of meat.

China continues to lead the way in posing grave ecological threats to the world and slaughter ever-more animals for consumption. I have emphasized the ambiguity of China, which is that as animal advocacy grows, so too does meat consumption.

In a major new and foreboding development, on May 29, meat producer Shuanghui International bought Virginia-based Smithfield Foods for nearly $5 billion dollars, in what many consider to be the largest Chinese acquisition of a US corporation in history.

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Smithfield Foods, founded in 1936, was a major meat producing corporation particularly of pork. The transaction was beneficial to both parties, for while pork consumption has declined in the US, it is steadily rising in China. The US slaughters 100 million hogs for food consumption annually, whereas China butchers 470 million hogs per year. Thus, in a classic case of demand stimulating supply, Smithfield Foods is now part of Shuanghui International. China — with a population of 1.6 billion compared to 300 million people living in the US — is the world’s leading producer and consumer of pork.

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As if US meat production methods were ever safe, or there is a thing as safe pork or healthy meat, some members of Congress are voicing hypocritical health concerns voiced. “I have deep doubts, said  Representative Rose DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, “about whether this merger best serves American consumers and urge federal regulators to put their concerns first.” But this is China, after all, and such “safety” concerns are not without merit: “Demand for U.S. meat in China has risen tenfold over the past decade, fueled in part by a series of embarrassing food safety scandals, from rat meat passed off as pork to thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river.Demand for U.S. meat in China has risen tenfold over the past decade, fueled in part by a series of embarrassing food safety scandals, from rat meat passed off as pork to thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river.”

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China produces nearly six times as much pork per person as the rest of the world

Apart from underscoring the oxymoron of “safe” or “healthy” meat of any kind, the more important issues are not sickened consumers foolish enough to consume animal “products,” but rather the ethical issue of a growing global animal holocaust and the catastrophic environmental impact of factory farming and the global rise of agribusiness and appetites for flesh, especially in the large, rapidly modernizing nations such as China.

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Chinese Pork Industry

Despite foreign ownership, USA Today notes:

“Shuanghui has 13 facilities that produce more than 2.7 million tons of meat per year. Under the agreement, there will be no closures at Smithfield’s facilities and locations, including its Smithfield, Va., headquarters in the historic southeastern Virginia town of about 8,100 where it was founded in 1936, the companies said.

Smithfield’s existing management team will remain in place, and Shuanghui also will honor the collective bargaining agreements with Smithfield workers. The company has about 46,000 employees.

“This transaction preserves the same old Smithfield, only with more opportunities and new markets and new frontiers,” Smithfield CEO Larry Pope said in a conference call. “This is not a strategy to import Chinese pork into the United States … this is exporting America to the world.”

Sadly, this statement is true, and when US carnivorous culture influences global markets and massively populated nations such as China, it is the perfect storm for ecological collapse.

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Also see: “14 Facts About The Staggeringly Huge Chinese Pork Industry”

 Steven Best

(This piece was originally written for my good friend Adam, and earlier published on his blog, OccupyEssays)

“I’d like to share with you a revelation I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you aren’t actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague.” Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999)

This essay tells a story. It is more than a little story, it is one of the biggest stories of all — the story of how humans evolved from one of the weakest to the most dangerous animal on the planet, from hunted to hunter, from vulnerable prey to top predator. This is the amazing saga of how one species became the first and only global species and in a very short time built a vast empire that has colonized the planet for need and greed, has created a new geological epoch – the human-dominated Anthropocene Era — and is threatening to bring down the planetary house.

Like all empires, the human empire rose, had glorious triumphs, but ultimately was a decadent and unsustainable colossus; and thus it also dies, ebbs, declines, and falls like the rest. But much more is at stake in this drama than an imperialist state and its colonies, for here we are talking about the entire species of Homo sapiens and its impact on biodiversity and the ecological dynamics of the planet as a whole.

 There is no scientific consensus to this story; there are, rather, a thousand narratives of the origins of Homo sapiens and the proper taxonomical tables and nomenclature. The prevailing cacophony of dispute arises partly for the empirical reasons (the science is uncertain and always changing), and also for political reasons (scientists, researchers, and historians have vested interests in challenging competing narratives and validating their own discoveries and narratives). Uncertainties aside, grasping the outlines of the human past are critical for understanding what kind of animal we are, illuminating the causes of current social and ecological crises, and creating viable future societies — if indeed such a project is still possible in a significant sense.

 Out of Africa and Out of Control

Our earliest ancestors evolved from an independent branch of the primate tree some 5-7 million years ago. Pressured by climate changes, they moved out of the Eastern and Southern forests of Africa and into the savannas where for various reasons they stood up on two legs and evolved into bipedal animals. These Australopithecines were 3 feet tall, hairy, ape-men — like apes in their relatively small brain size, and like humans in walking upright. After 2-3 million years, various australopithecine types evolved into diverse variations of the Homo genus, including species such as Homo habilis, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens, and Homo sapiens sapiens (behaviorally modern, language-speaking humans). Along this dynamic, variegated evolutionary path, hominid brains grew increasingly large; their technologies and cultures became ever more sophisticated; and their populations continuously expanded in size and geographical reach as their ecological impact became more and more severe.

 There is no consensus on key questions, such as: What is the proper taxonomical language to characterize humans in relation to other primates? What alleged Homo types were true species rather than sub-species? What Homo species co-existed, and when? Did they evolve as one species in a linear fashion, as the “Out of Africa” thesis argues, or did various Homo types co-evolve and leave Africa at different times and in many migrations, as the “Multiregional” theory claims?[1]

 Whatever the diversity of human types and subsequent migration patterns, about 100,000 years ago (there is no consensus on this date either) Homo sapiens left the African continent to explore a vast, unknown world in which continents were conjoined by ice sheets. They migrated to Europe, Asia, Australia, Siberia, Indonesia, and into the Americas, establishing their empire throughout the globe. All the time multiplying, diversifying, and scattering across the continents, humans wasted no time in colonizing the world from north to south and from east to west.

Just one among tens of millions of existing animal species – many already dispatched to oblivion, thousands currently poised on the end, and thousands yet on the brink of extinction and some yet to be discovered – Homo sapiens has risen from humble mammalian and primate origins to become the most dominant, violent, predatory, and destructive animal on the planet. Nearly everywhere it journeyed and lived, Homo sapiens wrought social and ecological devastation, extinction crises, and chronic warfare.  Continue reading

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