Thursday, 6 May 2010

A Different Sort of Pessimism?

Adam responds.

Adam is disagreeing with my broadly drawn conclusions, and has outlined his own thoughts.  Having read through them, I agree with every point he makes about the evolution of society and the capitalism we have embraced.

At this point I am somewhat perplexed over the exact point that we disagree on.  It may well be that with his honed rapier trained mind he is having trouble with my sledgehammer type logic.  Perhaps we are talking past each other using similar, yet a different language.

But I want to hone in on the evolutionary based theory that Adam has laid out.  The conclusion I'm drawing from the conversation we've had in the comments to my post and from what he has written at his site is that the evolutionary process that (what I have broadly defined as capitalism) what our society is going through will achieve a higher or purer purpose.  That's awkwardly worded, I'm trying to describe "better than what we have now."  My sledgehammer is preventing me from clearly explaining myself.

Moving on...  There is biological evidence that ties in neatly to Adam's theme.  Specifically the "kick-ass" pufferfish.  This fish has apparently achieved genetic purity, "The tiger puffer is also one of the growing band of species that has had its genome sequenced. It proved to be much "cleaner" than the human one, lacking most of the junk DNA that clutters our chromosomes: this fish is so kick-ass that it has ruthlessly cleared out its own genome."

In one of the recent science magazines I was reading (I think it was Discover), an article described how latent viruses, or diseases are programmed into our genome.  Part of the "junk" DNA that we carry that the tiger puffer does not.  Through our human evolutionary journey several hundred(?) retroviruses have hitched a ride and have incorporated themselves into our DNA.  We have mostly fought these off by disabling these genetic sequences.  But these blocks can fail and the virus can be released and wreck havoc in our bodies.  The tiger puffer has dealt with the problem by purging these threats.

So back to capitalist theory.  Our desire for self improvement (I simply called it greed) fuels capitalism.  The desire to get ahead, to improve ourselves focuses our competitive nature.  On a more nuanced level, our greedy nature is the retrovirus that has entwined itself into capitalism's genetic code.  When it lets loose, economies crumble, job losses mount, and deprivation ensues.

So now does that mean the end of capitalism? Is it doomed to failure?  Am i being overly dramatic claiming an inevitable doom?  The Great Depression was the single greatest catastrophic event to hit the western world.  Was it the end of society?  No.  Did capitalism recover? Yes.  Did we learn any lessons?  Debatable.

If we look at it in pure socio-economic terms I would agree with Adam (or what I think Adam is saying) that given enough time our society may progress towards a more gentler form of capitalism that has managed to curb the excesses that plague us.  A more socialist society still based on free market principles.  But the extra factor we now face is environmental degradation.  The pressures on our oceans, our climate, species diversification, etc. are all coming to a head.  Have we consumed too much?  Yes.  Can we turn back before it is too late?

I'm going out on the limb to say no.  It's a very short limb.

Will whatever society that survives still retain a capitalist ethos ensuring the continued survival of that system?

Maybe.  But if so I would hesitate to call that a victory for capitalism.  Merely surviving massive catastrophe is not enough of a marker for me.  We will have to have learned our lessons and achieved a more sustainable model.

History will be the judge of that.  And I am not that hopeful.


ADHR said...

Mm, not so much that capitalism will work itself gentler, but it will work itself purer. To be gentler will require direct intervention into the process (the social equivalent of genetic engineering or selective breeding). As is, if we just let the system run, we're going to get more and more ruthless capitalists who are better and better at ensuring their own control.

Which, I tend to think, is the relevant lesson of history.

Anonymous said...

Quite honnestly I think the higher goal is to get off this shit hole we call Earth and seed the Universe with..with..I'm not sure with what... I think we want to go places simply out of curiosity...Clearly if we stay here the Earth will be swallowed by the sun in 3 billion years or so... but the way things are going we have to figure out something fast because the way our energy useage is trending vs availabitily we'll be right back to donkeys and carts in no time.

But to leave the planet we have to get over our dependance on air and water and up on transhumanism.. not only is it plausible, it would also be the basis for a new economy and something to strive for as species. We need a narrative beyond living to be blown away by James Cameron's next 3d Epic.

Catelli said...

It may well be plausible, but it ain't achievable. Yet.

How much time do we have? Not enough.

Anonymous said...

Then the future is cyberpunk... I think computers and networks will always be with us but in a very decentralized way as Globalization's days are limited... We're going back to a form of Feudalism... Have you read Neil Stephenson's "Snow Crash"? That kind of thing...

Check out "After The Money"...pretty interesting post