Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

The Symptoms of Transition

ladyinwhite's picture

The Symptoms of Transition

The problem at hand is rooted in the way of seeing.

 Climate change, peak energy, food insecurity, and economic crisis—for the most part, these dilemmas are seen and studied in singularity. The true crisis is invisible when narrowing into a single one of these categories. It is of utmost importance that we understand our crises in their combined impact; it is when we see our crises holistically that sense emerges.

 The root of our self-destruction lies within the infrastructure that rules the Western hemisphere, and most of the world – the Neoliberal system. The free market ideology is a broken down system; it centralizes profits for a minority, and accelerates deprivation and debt in most places in the world. This structure of global economy compels us to go on a path of infinite growth, just to survive. We are told that the growth and wealth will trickle down to everybody, when this simply is not true (48). 

 What does is mean to move forward and to advance? As of now, we are forced to see this concept in material terms. The material condition of life is utilized as a tool to achieve important values – family, literacy, clean water—and this must change. To retain social progress yet reject the concept of unlimited material growth seems impossible to most—but this is what we need. We need to to define progress in terms of meeting peoples basic needs, as material progress means nothing if it doesn’t cater to fundamentals.

 Why is it so difficult to see that there is an alternative to the Neoliberal system?

 Samuel Huntington, the advisor to Lyndon B Johnson during the Vietnam War, wrote a book many years ago called “The Clash of Civilizations”. In this text, he predicts a future of international conflict between Islamic and Western world. Similarly, Francis Fukayama, the head of policy planning at State department, wrote a book called “The End of History”, which argues that with collapse of communism, there is no alternative to the neoliberal system. Both have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, fusing in culmination of our perception of Western society—that our current system is in fact the most optimal and advanced system ever for humanity (44). 

 When pondering this perspective in relation to terrorism and violence, it is clear that violence occurs because of conflicts with what the West deems ‘lesser civilizations’. Once one believes that the war on terror is a war on crazy barbarians that hate us because of our freedom (42), an understanding of the systemic cause cannot be attained. Terrorism is considered a problem that is either outside of Western civilization—international, or internal to communities that happen to be a part of Western civilization, but are not truly accepting of it. This construction of an enemy force is merely another ploy of the Neo-liberalist structure, which serves the wants of the benefited minority.

 The War on Terror fits snuggly into the converging crises in regards to the fossil fuel frenzy. The international system is maintained by hydrocarbon resources, needed even for agriculture and electricity. In rabid dependence on fossil fuels, the US decided to team up with repressive regimes, for example in Saudi Arabia—this is for cheap oil, oil course. These regimes are still supporting terrorist activity, and America knows that. In doing so, the US has knowingly become entangled in a relationship of terrorist networks, as certain terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda are financed by certain middle-eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia. Similarly, US maintenance of hegemony in Afghanistan is crucial to America’s prosperity. The War on Terror is the response to this all. America justified going into Afghanistan, though what most people think is about human rights, when it was really about access to resources. The main goal of US involvement with other countries is for self-interest—to destabilize certain regions, and to integrate them into the global economy and access their resources.

 Even in countries where US ‘aids’ the ‘lesser’ countries, America basically says, ‘if you’re going to receive our loans, you’re going to have to abide by our rules’-- and then these people have to restructure their societies on the basis of these ‘structural adjustment packages’ – private investors can then come in and do what they like, buy resources, and invest, which opens up these societies to the predatory exploits of transnational capital.

 The maximizing of state power will not work for much longer (51). This strategy deals only with the symptoms, and not the causes of the state of things’. What follows is up to us, though change does not mean that we must degrade from the high life to the Stone Age. This is not the end of the world – it is the end of a particular form of industrial civilization based around unrestrained growth and unrestricted interference with the environment. The change is inevitable—we can decide if we want to go out with a bang or mitigate our decline.


Anne Dalke's picture

you begin with such a strong statement about the ineffectiveness of viewing our current intersecting crises through the narrow lenses, and the imperative counter-need for seeing (and thinking) holistically.

your critique of contemporary valorization of the free market is echoed in Stephen Marglin's The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community.

do you know about some of the alternative rubrics that have been developed for measuring human well-being, such as Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index?

where your draft really, really grabs my attention, however, is 1/2-way through, when you turn to thinking about terrorism and violence, exploring the ways in which the "The War on Terror fits snuggly into the converging crises in regards to the fossil fuel frenzy," suggesting that "what most people think is about human rights" is "really about access to resources."

i spent some time this weekend reading responses to Hollande's declaration that "France will be merciless towards these barbarians”; you might find some of this of interest as well, since i think the orientation of these writers accords well with your own:

*Rene Girard's "The only way we will be able to meet the terrorist challenge is by radically changing the way we think …. The defensive thought by which  we oppose the phenomenon...reveals a desire to not understand"

* David Wong's "The reality ... is that your most automatic, unthinking reflex is always to hit back, and that growing up means resisting it ... It's the thinking part — the human part — that says to stop, resist the initial urge, and actually think about what action will make the world better."

* Mark LeVine's "let's be honest about how much all of our most cherished ideals, identities and ideologies have contributed to the death and destruction piling up around us."

your argument that "this is not the end of the world," but rather "the end of a particular form of industrial civilization based around unrestrained growth and unrestricted interference with the environment," is also precisely the argument that Naomi Klein develops in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs.The Climate, which says that we must stop deflecting our fear of what is happening, and offers instead the "wild idea" of challenging the fundamental logic of deregulated capitalism (in her review of the book, Elizabeth Kolbert says that Klein "ends up telling a fable she hopes will do some good"; that is, seeing the current climate crisis as a profound opportunity to rethink and redo "our" current ways of living).

okay, you've gotten me so engaged that I'm grabbing multiple texts from my shelves and flinging them your way. the more immediate question on the table is where you might go with this analysis, which is already quite profound and far-ranging. what are your thoughts about next steps?