The Crisis of Capital

A revolution that leaves our conceptualization of self and world intact cannot bring other than temporary, superficial change. Only a much deeper revolution, a reconceiving of who we are, can reverse the crises of our age. Fortunately, to use the language of Marx, this deepest of all possible revolutions is inevitable, and it is inevitable for precisely the reasons Marx foresaw. The conversion of all other capital into money is unsustainable. Someday it will run out. As it does, our impoverishment will deepen. Misery and desperation will overcome whatever measures can be invented to suppress or narcotize them. When at last the futility of controlling reality becomes apparent, when at last the burden of maintaining an artificial self separate from nature becomes too heavy to bear any longer, when at last we realize that our wealth has bankrupted us of life, then a million tiny revolutions will converge into a vast planetary shift, a rapid phase-transition into a new mode of being.

It will happen—must happen—perhaps sooner than we think. Indeed it is already happening. Our social, natural, cultural and spiritual capital is almost exhausted. Their depletion is generating crises in all realms of modern life, crises which are seemingly unconnected except that they all arise from the monetization of life or, underneath that, from our fundamental confusion as to who we are, our separation from nature, ourselves, and each other. This is the link that connects such disparate phenomena as peak oil,[49] the autoimmune disease epidemic, global warming, forest death, fishery depletion, the crisis in education, and the impending food crisis. Both monetization and separation are nearing their maxima, their greatest possible extremes. The former is in the completion of the conversion of common wealth into private wealth that I have described in this chapter; the latter is in the complete sense of isolation and alienation implicit in the world of Darwin and Descartes: the naked material self in a world forged by chance and determinism, where purpose, meaning, and God are, by the nature of reality, nothing more than self-delusory figments of the imagination.

Paradoxically, it is in the fulfillment of these extremes (each of which is a cause and an aspect of the other) that their opposites are born. Yang, having reached its extreme, gives birth to Yin. The depletion of social capital launches the revolution that will reclaim it. The agony of separation births the surrender that opens us to a larger version of the self, to nature and to life. But the extremum must be reached.

As any environmental scientist knows, it is certain that things will get much much worse for the bulk of humanity before they get any better. Certain forces must play themselves out. The momentous rise in spiritual, humanitarian, and ecological awareness will not save us, not because it is too late (though it is), but because the course of separation has not yet reached its finale.

Like an alcoholic whose resources of goodwill, money, pawnable assets, friends, and credibility are almost exhausted, our way of life is on the verge of collapse. We continue to scramble, applying new technological fixes at greater and greater cost to alleviate the problems caused by the last fix. The addict will keep on using until life becomes completely unmanageable. Ecological awareness, localism, green design, herbalism, community currencies, ecology-based economics are all like the drunk’s moments of clarity on the way down. They will not so much save us as serve as the seeds for a new way of living and being that we will adopt after the collapse. Indeed they will all come naturally, as a matter of course—if there is anything left at all.

The Winners and The Losers

Under the sway of dualism, we have essentially sought to divide the world into two parts, one infinite and the other finite, and then to live wholly in the latter which, because it is finite, is amenable to control. We are like the frog who jumped into a well and, unable to see anything else or remember the vast world beyond, declared himself suzerain of all the universe. Our lordship over nature is at heart an egregious self-deception, because its first step is to attempt nature’s precipitous reduction, which is equally a reduction of life, a reduction of experience, a reduction of feeling, and a reduction of being: a true Faustian exchange of the infinite for the finite.

This reduction comes in many guises and goes by many names. It is the domestication of the wild; it is the measuring and quantification of nature; it is the conversion of cultural, natural, social, and spiritual wealth into money. Because it is a reduction of life, violence is its inevitable accompaniment (actually I can think of no better definition of violence than the reduction of life); hence the rising crescendo of violence that has bled our civilization for thousands of years and approaches its feverish apogee as we conclude the present wholesale destruction of entire species, oceans, ecosystems, languages, cultures, and peoples.

Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity.
Read the whole book here.


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