Capital, like all gods, believes itself to be immaterial, a purely formal, autonomous intelligence operating in accord with inexorable laws which which always and everywhere maximize accumulation, which terminates in a point at which it becomes infinitely productive and utterly independent of either material input or the need to realize surplus through the consumption of use values: that is as nearly divine as it is possible to conceive under a univocal metaphysics.
The laws which drive the accumulation of Capital are real. Their impact is evident in the neoliberal reconstruction of the “world” since 1978. But Capital’s claim to be immaterial and the relationships which govern it to be purely formal are just lies, the product of a profound delusion regrind the nature of reality. The materiality of Capital, and thus its contingent, conditioned nature, should already have been apparent as Capital pushed the planet ever closer to an ecological tipping point which threatens human civilization, long before it was prepared to replace humanity entirely with an army of robot thralls (which it would need in the first place only because, being material, even Capital depends on the dissipation of energy to create organization). The materiality of Capital should already have been apparent given the reality of underconsumption crises, which demonstrate that what workers actually produce are qualitatively distinct use-values, which must be sold and purchased in order for surplus to be realized as profit and accumulated as Capital. The materiality of Capital should already have been apparent because an immaterial Capital could not have had its logic disrupted by by a century of revolutionary insurrection and popular war and of an interimperialist world war set in motion by the residual territoriality which Capital can not shed, a territoriality which is now reasserting itself with rise of ethnonationalist strongmen imposing protectionist trade regimes which disrupt supply chains carefully globalized and rationalized over decades.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the materiality and the material vulnerability of Capital to light in a fundamentally new way. The virus disrupts Capital from the outside in ways that everyone on the planet has already experienced in inescapable ways, calling into question the inexorability of Capital’s power and opening up a portal to alternative futures.
This said, not all those futures are good. Capital, like all forms of organization, adapts to its changing environment, and we have already seen that many of those adaptations are quite vicious. And many of the futures envisioned by the progressive bloc —especially those which depend on continued progress along a broadly industrial and (alter)globalist trajectory— are also being called into question.
In what follows I will lay out some of the principal ways in which the pandemic alters the current situation and reshapes our strategic, operational, and tactical imperatives. I will begin by looking at the likely ecological, epidemiological, and demographic outcomes, then proceed to the impact on technological change and the global economy. I will then turn to the way in which various political and cultural actors have responded to the pandemic and how it will affect their strategic position. This leads, in turn, to an extended reflection on civilizational transitions and what a revised theory of transitions, together with our emerging understanding of the specificity of the current situation means for humanity at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.
The Impact of and Response to the Pandemic
It is by no means certain how profound a demographic impact the pandemic will have. As of 14 May 2020, there have been 4.31 million cases of COVID, with no real sign of a flattening of the curve, and the average global case mortality rate is 6.88% (Rosen et al 2020a, b). But we have no idea either how widely the virus will spread or how it will affect regions with a less developed health system than early hotspots. Some parts of the world, such as parts of Africa, have thus far seen very few infections and almost no deaths. But we really don’t know whether or not it is just a matter of time before essentially everyone contracts the disease, and that Africa and other parts of the Third World have been spared thus far largely because they are less integrated into the global economy, so that the virus is taking longer to arrive and spread, or if effective mitigation efforts, a possible vaccine, and effective treatments will more or less halt the spread long before we reach this point. The Spanish Influenza eventually infected 1/3 of the population worldwide and if COVID eventually matches this and the average case mortality rate holds, we are looking at roughly 179 million dead, or a total death rate of roughly 2.3% and if every one eventually became infected we would be looking at up to 537 million or nearly 7% of the world’s population dead. This is not on the scale of the Black Death in Europe in the fourteenth century or the Smallpox pandemic in the Americas after the European conquest. But it is larger than the population of most countries on the planet and enough to have will have a profound economic, political and cultural impact.
Even if the curve does flatten and the demographic impact turns out to be very limited, we know that climate change and globalization will make the emergence of new pathogens and the re-emergence of ancient ones increasingly likely. With COVID-19 we already have a pathogen to which human beings have no existing immunity. It may be simply a matter of time before an even more deadly pathogen emerges to which we also have no real immunity with a significant impact on human population levels. This is in addition to downward pressure on population from famines, floods, storms, and water shortages secondary to climate change.
We can, however, begin to assess the human response to the pandemic, across the technological, economic, political, and cultural spheres. First, the pandemic will likely spur further investment in the information technology and biotechnology sectors. Investment in information technology will be directed to reducing the dependence of Capital on physically present live human labor power, accelerating the move towards both the virtualization of the workplace and the automation of production —including the automation of services, precisely because Capital wants to be able to survive the next pandemic with less disruption to production. While some of these technologies may be deployed in environmentally or worker friendly ways, especially in the more advanced sectors of the global economy, such as the use of virtualization technology to reduce the need for travel and commuting, we should be aware that they will also accelerate the tendency towards the obsolescence of human labor power. Investment in biotechnology will, predictably, be focused initially on ways to cope with new and resurgent pathogens, especially those resistant to existing strategies of containment and treatment such as vaccination and antibiotics and antivirals. But we do need to be aware that this same research can also be used to support the weaponization of pathogens and the defeat of countermeasures. Whether or not the shift of Capital to the biotechnology sector, which in the United States, at least, has historically stood to the right of other sectors of high technology Capital, will be sufficient to alter the balance of power within the bourgeoisie is not clear.
Second, the pandemic will have a range of complex and contradictory economic implications. It will tend to further the project of deglobalization (Heokman 2015, Bordo 2017, Irwin 2020) initiated by the ethnonationalist right and especially by the shift in US trade policy towards protectionism. The disruption of supply chains will force a relocalization of at least some production and, in general, a decline in the global trade in food and manufactured goods, though not necessarily in services or in Capital. At the same time, the virtualization of work will continue to favor those with a high degree of connectivity and strong technological and intercultural communication and interaction skills, further marginalizing and radicalizing the “left behind” base of the ethnonationalist right. This may also intensify contradictions within the progressive bloc between relatively privileged petty bourgeois elements who can take advantage of the combination of remote work and the localization of certain forms of luxury production (locally grown and “artisanly” processed food, for example) to improve, if not their economic position, then at least their quality of life, while marginalized workers who are overwhelmingly find themselves concentrated in the in-person services sector find that the “new normal” makes their already difficult lives nearly impossible.
What has been most remarkable, however, has been the political and ideological response to the pandemic. On the one hand, the pandemic has already created calls for a strengthened social safety net in the US and for strong supplementary stimulus and social support measures in places such as Europe which already have a strong safety net (Tharor 2020). Unlike the crisis of 2008, in which the Obama administration called for a global stimulus effort only to find Europe still committed to neoliberal austerity, European countries are now responding much more strongly with support measures for their own populations, though they are still resisting calls for income transfers and aid for the European South. More broadly, there have been significant calls to take advantage of the “pause” required by the pandemic to build on advances in reducing carbon emissions, restoring work/life balance, and even pulling back from unsustainable consumption levels. Utopian socialists whose strategy is centered on building intentional communities which develop new ways of relating to the ecosystem, new hortic technologies, and new economies of sharing have been strengthened politically by the pandemic and are leveraging it to build financial and political political support.
These political developments are fed by what can only be called a spontaneous mass resistance to the Protestant Ethic and alienated labor. As people have been forced to work from home, they have discovered just how much of what they do at the office is actually unnecessary, and are beginning to question the extent to which their lives and identities have become defined by what can only be described as alienated labor (Marx 1844/1993). Even those who, feeling obliged to try to replicate at home a bizarrely and unnecessarily regimented school environment —and not surprisingly burned out as a result— cannot help but realize how wrong it feels that teaching their children should be experienced as a burden rather than as an opportunity to share in one of the greatest joys human life has to offer. And those who have been more relaxed with their children and who have seen how much more quickly their children grow cannot but ask for what sort of dystopian hell our schools have been preparing them.
These reactions are not confined to the Left and resistance to the Protestant Ethic and alienated labor has long helped fuel the survivalist libertarian right, the Benedict Option (Dreher 2017) embraced by many traditionalist and green conservatives, and the communitarian center represented by thinkers such as Amitai Etzioni, Robert Bellah, Michael Walzer, Alisdair McIntyre and much of of the Radical Orthodoxy movement (McIntyre 1981, Walzer 1983, Bellah 1985, Millbank 1990, Etzioni 1996) as well as the libertarian socialist, anarchoprimitivist, indigenist, ecofeminist, and “Pirate” Left (Huetlin 2016).
One possible outcome of the strengthening of these tendencies is a shift in the way in which the Left understands and defines itself. Currently, the favored term for the broad Left is “progressive,” a term bound up, if not explicitly with the Protestant Ethic and industrialism, then at least with the idea that the principal aim of human is the creation of an increasingly complex civilization, as well as with the idea that measured against this moral standard, there really is progress. The experience of the pandemic and the strengthening of the currents noted above which, if they do not explicitly reject the concept of progress (and some do) at least relativize it and aim to situate it in a broader spiritual context. As a result, if it hopes to leverage the rise of these tendencies, the broad Left may need to call itself not “progressive” but rather biophilic and humanistic.
The question, however, is the effective political weight of either the social liberal/social democratic or the libertarian socialist/decentralist response to the pandemic. The fact is that actually acting on an interest in decentralist alternatives is very difficult. It requires significant resources at at least the petty bourgeoise level as well as a willingness to sink those resources into highly speculative survivalist or communitarian investments. Most of the people who have been doing this successfully without being independently wealthy already have family members who continue to be employed within the formal market economy. It is, furthermore, one thing to hedge one’s investments —social and psychological as well as financial— in the existing system with off grid investments in everything from homesteading through community gardening to deschooling and urban cooperatives. It is quite another to divest not only financially but also socially and psychologically from the dominant system. Too much not only of our retirement savings but also our self-esteem are invested in the dominant system for most to make a decisive break.
Furthermore, with a few exceptions (the Zapatistas and what is left of the democratic confederalist movement in Rojava), most decentralists pay no real attention to power realities. This is true not only of libertarian socialists and indigenists on the left who imagine that they will be allowed to build a new world in the ruins of the old without effective resistance from Capital, but also libertarian survivalists on the Right who imagine that their home arsenals, ridiculously large from the vantage point of the needs of hunting or home protection, will amount to anything against the military apparatus which Capital has at its disposal. And even Rojava has not fared well, as the US abandoned its alliance with the the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and allowed Turkey, Syria, and Russia to invade and occupy much of the region Ocalan 2017, Allsopp 2019).
This does not mean that decentralist alternatives should not form part of the strategic portfolio of the Left in the coming period. On the contrary, with the proviso that they are not narrowly limited to rural, back to the land initiatives but also include ecologically sustainable, decentralized urban economies as well, decentralist initiatives will play a very large, and in the event of a transition by collapse or decadence, a preponderant role in creating our future. What is needed is, precisely, a retheorization of political strategy in the light of the growing likelihood of such a transition.
Finally, we should note that there should be a very strong neoliberal/globalist response to the pandemic centered in the more advanced sectors of capital (finance, information, technology) and driven by a more or less fully technocratic secular vision of humanity’s future. The pandemic has documented the obvious inadequacy of nation state structures and existing international organizations. But thus far we have not seen such a response, and even within stronger transnational structures such as the EU international cooperation has not strengthened but declined as governments have moved not only to protect but to politically pacify their own populations. This mirrors the very weak neoliberal/globalist response to the rise of ethnonationalism since 2016. Far from eliciting a swift and decisive “deep state” and or globalist response, the election of Trump, Brexit, and other ethnonationalist victories have been met with resistance which is feeble and amateur at best.
There are (at least) two possible explanations for this, and they are not mutually exclusive. First, it may that the adversary is unlike any that the principal instruments of the neoliberal/globalist elite (especially the intelligence community and law enforcement) have ever met in the past, and that they are unprepared to combat it. What we have witnessed in the US and to a lesser extent in the UK since 2015 is not simply an electoral fluke assisted by opportunistic state and nonstate actors, but the seizure of power by agents of a foreign organized crime/intelligence state (Russia) (Olear 2020.04.21). The United States Intelligence Community, largely to safeguard us from the danger that it might become hegemonic, operates in a compartmentalized fashion, with not only different agencies but different intelligence and law enforcement disciplines responsible for different sorts of actors. As Eric Garland (Garland 2020.04.21) has argued, this enders them incapable of responding effectively and protecting the liberal order from what may be an even greater threat than historic fascism.
This threat is, furthermore, deeply rooted in the Russian geopolitical situation. Richly endowed with mineral resources, but situated too far north to make food self-sufficiency ever secure, lacking the sort of river network enjoyed by Europe and North America to facilitate movement of resources and products, and open to invasion across the broad, flat Northeast Eurasian plain and also from China, Russia’s situation inclines it toward development as an extractive resource exporter (something which always favors the Right) and renders it permanently insecure militarily. While certain Russian leaders have attempted more progressive economic development and geopolitical strategies (indeed the whole Soviet experience can be seen as a failed attempt to do just that, centered on development of its scientific and cultural apparatus), the principal legacy of these attempts has been a massive nuclear arsenal with very limited strategic value and a comparative advantage in training intelligence operatives. The default setting for any Russian leader is going to be to attempt to destabilize adversaries.
This is a strategic aim that Putin has embraced with a vengeance, informed by the Gerrasimov Doctrine, which argues for an integrated a approach to warfare in which economic, political-diplomatic, and information operations together with asymmetrical warfare are no longer regarded as supplemental, but rather as the principal instruments of foreign policy. Mark Galleotti (Galleotti 2018a, 2018b), who created the term, argue that the Gerasimov Doctrine is more a spontaneous political formation than an official doctrine. But if this is true it is rooted in the merger of Russian organized crime, the Russian intelligence apparatus, and the Russian state we noted above, which has embraced it as its operational and tactical doctrine.
Whether or not Putin and the organized crime/intelligence state (which are, at least in principle, distinct) have moved beyond simply destabilizing adversaries and undermining the liberal order, or have embraced a more ambitious aim, such as creating a global neofascist/national conservative bloc remains unclear, and is likely undecided. But either way the threat is extremely powerful.
This is the principal reason why the neoliberal/globalist response to Trump generally and to his exploitation of the pandemic has been so feeble. This said, there may well be darker forces at work. We know the while nearly all of the information sector and most of the higher technology sectors of the bourgeoisie, together with roughly half of financial capital, tend to support the progressive bloc, this orientation is by no means universal. There have long been elements in the information technology sector which have been drawn towards libertarianism and many of these —Peter Thiel is the most important example— have migrated from there to the right, into the territory of the Dark Enlightenment. It is also possible that some elements in the neoliberal/globalist elite believe that the enthnonationalist interregnum and even the pandemic may be useful to them in the long run. This could be true in two senses. First, the experience of four years of rule by global criminals and neofascists ending in mass deaths could well make the people generally, and the progressive bloc in particular more amenable to the technocratic and meritocratic form of governance that even the progressive sectors of the bourgeoisie clearly prefer. Second, the pandemic has required the Left to support restrictions on mobility and assembly and augmented surveillance as necessary and in service to the common good. But these restriction also limit severely the ability to organize effectively. It is, indeed, increasingly difficulty to imagine what organizing will look like in the post pandemic world, something which strengthens the position of Capital and weakens further any potential challenge.
This brings us to the response to the pandemic on the Right. The Right is clearly alarmed by calls for a strengthened social safety net and int he United States at least fought off calls for even a temporary Universal Basic Income. Since then it has been doubling down on its insistence that without the threat of starvation people simply won’t work and has begun arguing that those who are old, disabled, or unproductive should be denied care where there are shortages as a result of the pandemic. These positions are being staked out by formerly mainstream conservatives is represent a major step forward in Capital’s embrace of an anihilationist agenda, i.e. a program of gradually eliminating the planet’s surplus (i.e. unproductive or insufficiently product) population.
We have, furthermore, seen the Right leverage the pandemic to strengthen its anti-immigrant, xenophobic agenda, attempting to blame the pandemic on China and encouraging attacks on immigrants and ethnic minorities everywhere.
Finally, the Reopen America movement has taken an aggressive, often armed form which is giving the paramilitary right an opportunity to engage in what amount to war games and active training exercises in preparation for what it hopes will be a neofascist coup. When people of color stage comparable protests they are simply shot down. Neofascists are, in many states, not arrested or even dispersed.
Given this analysis, what is the larger meaning of the pandemic and what are the implications of this situation for our understanding of the next steps in the human civilizational project? The pandemic is, fundamentally, a manifestation of profound changes in the ecosystem which have been brought about by human activity. When we talk about anthropogenic ecological change it is usually assumed that we are talking about climate change. But while it is expected that climate change, by melting the permafrost and releasing pathogens trapped in the soil, will lead to widespread pandemics in the future, COVID-19 is likely the result of a dynamic which have been underway for for at leas the past 5000 years, and perhaps longer: the growing interconnectedness of the planet as a result of trade and migration. This nonetheless situates the pandemic in the context of the same general phenomenon as anthropogenic climate change —the tension, if not, perhaps, an outright contradiction, between the human civilizational project and the larger ecosystem on which it depends. This in turn raises questions about the historical materialist understanding of the transition as originally formulated in the Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels 1848/1993) and the Introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Marx 1859/1993)
According to historical materialism human civilizational progress is driven fundamentally by scientific and technological innovation leading to economic contradictions and ultimately to class struggle and social revolution. New technological developments render old ways of organizing society obsolete, generating economic crises and other contradictions and ultimately mass, revolutionary movements which reorganize the society, once again unleashing the development of the productive forces. Later developments in historical materialism (Lenin 1902/1971, Gramsci 1949) suggested that by seizing state power and/or achieving cultural hegemony the working classes, acting through the Communist Party could accelerate this process. But the assumption remained that technological progress and the growing interconnectedness of the planet which it made possible were unambiguously supportive of, and in fact a precondition, for human liberation and development. And it takes for granted that any transition towards communism will take the form of reform (in the case of social democracy) or revolution (in the case of communism).
A systematic inventory of major civilizational transitions suggests a rather different and much more complex pattern. Let us consider each transition in turn. The emergence of humanity itself was largely the result of biological evolution and technological innovation resulting in the development of language, which enhanced hominid cooperative capacities and allowed the development of stone tools. The causes of the Neolithic Revolution remain disputed (Childe 1936, Wright 1972, Harlan 1992, Schmidt 2000, Diamond 2002, Curry 2008a,b) but a number of different factors were likely involved, including:
- nonanthropogenic ecological changes leading to either a dryer or a more stable climate,
- ecological changes which may have been either nonanthropogenic (or anthropogenic (overhunting leading to extinction of the megafauna),
- the development of new relationships between human beings and other organisms through neotenization, and
- the creation of ritual centers such as that at Gobelki Tepe which intensified social interactions and thus catalyzed the emergence of permanent settlements or feasting behaviors generally.
It has even been suggested that a reluctance to leave behind the elderly and disabled on the part of an increasingly social humanity was a critical factor in catalyzing the transition to settled life, which in many ways involved a number of sacrifices. It is reasonably well established that horticulture developed independently in at least 10 different geographical locations, and then spread by migration, imitation, and competition.
The third great transition in the history of humanity, the Urban Revolution, was also the result of technological innovations, and specifically of the development of metal (bronze) technology, which opened up conquest and exploitation as an economic development strategy, and the invention of the plow and of irrigation, which allowed the cultivation of land which was not previously arable (Childe 1936). These innovations led to new economic structures, what we call the tributary mode of production in which warlords exact rents, taxes, and forced labor from dependent peasant communities, and a new civilizational ideal, sacral monarchy, which ordered the entire of human society towards the deification of the king by means of conquest and of sacrificial rituals adapted from the pastoral societies which in many cases emerged as the new conquerors (Amin 1978/1980). This said, there may also have been an alternative pathway, which we call archaic, where urbanization was driven by religious monumentalization and the voluntary contribution of surplus in exchange for specialist knowledge (such as the ability to create calendars to regulate the agricultural cycle), coordination and planning, and teaching and ritual leadership. This is pattern which is suggested by megalithic sites such as Stonehenge in England and by sites such as Chaco and Cahokia in the Americas.
The fourth great transition —the Late Bronze Age Collapse (Cline 2014) and the Axial Age Transformations (Jaspers 1953, Mansueto 2016) which followed shortly thereafter— illustrates extraordinarily well the way in which diverse factors interact in a complex way to lead to the emergence of fundamentally new ways of being human. The Late Bronze Age Collapse was a generalized collapse of urban civilization and especially of sacral monarchic organization across the entire Eastern Mediterranean during the period between 1200 and 1100 BCE. An earlier period of decline and deurbanization affected the Indus Valley civilization between 1900 and 1700 BCE, with the population dispersing and moving into smaller settlements further east through the beginning of the Iron Age in India around 1300 BCE. The period also marks the Zhou Revolution in China around 1046 BCE. The Axial Age transformations were the period of religious problematization, rationalization, and democratization which led to the emergence of Judaism, Hellenism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, and Mohism, all in the years between 800-200 BCE and very largely in the middle centuries of this period. This same period also witnessed the development of specialized agriculture (wine, oil, spices, fibers, tea), the coincident emergence of petty commodity production (economies centered on production of luxury goods for trade) and a second wave of urbanization.
There are a number of factors attested for the Late Bronze Age collapse (Tainter 1976, Dickenson 2007, Cline 2014 including radical cooling due to volcanic eruptions, serious droughts, a major pandemic, which apparently resembled influenza, centered in Central, Western, and South Asia (Mouritz 1921), the emergence of iron technology and the development of massed infantry (. The development of iron technology made it possible to terrance and cultivate hillsides which were impenetrable to the horses and chariots on which most states of the period relied, making possible the emergence of “liberated zones” in places such as the hill country of Judea and Samaria (Gottwald 1979). But it also led to the emergence of heavy armored infantry, which reopened these areas to conquest and exploitation but groups such as the Philistines and the other Sea Peoples. And it altered the previous balance of power between the large landed aristocracy, which alone had the resources to support mounted warriors, and the urban middle strata, who were often able to outfit themselves as heavy infantry (Anderson 1974, de Ste Croix 1982). This, in turn, made possible urban insurrections such as those which affected many cities in Greece, and later in Rome, and which led to radical land reform and democratization. The emergence of the Zhou dynasty in China seems to have been catalyzed by a revolt against the Shang, who practiced human sacrifice. The wave of urbanization which took place in the Indo-Gangetic plain and the Himalayan foothills during this same “Later Vedic” period, however, seems to reflect an eastward movement of refugees from the increasingly arid conditions of the Indus Valley, probably including both the earlier Dravidian and later Indo-Aryan peoples, who then form a network of chiefdoms (primarily in the Indo-Gangetic Plain) and oligarchic republics (ganapadas) (primarily in the Himalayan foothills.
In all these cases, however, the direction of future social development was significantly shaped by the emergence of specialized agriculture and crafts production, (wine and oil, pottery and wool cloth in the Mediterranean, spices in India, and tea and eventually porcelain in China) which in turn led to the emergence of petty commodity production, and by the closely related Axial Age Transformations. Production for trade contributed to weakening the warlord class and strengthening new urban, mercantile elites and those landowners involved in newer forms of agriculture, something which reinforced the changes due to the emergence of iron production and of heavy infantry, leading to democratization. Petty commodity production also produced a world of quantitative relationships which led to the emergence of an abstract mathematics and eventually of philosophy, which used concepts and arguments as well as images and stories to engage questions of meaning and value. And petty commodity production brought peoples into contact with each other and with differing pantheons and mythic cycles, and required a new set of mercantile skills, both of which called the old myths into question, problematizing questions of meaning and value.
We can already see in this context the emergence of a well defined pattern governing social change. Human societies grow up on a definite material base, but contrary to Marx, who saw this material base as defined largely by technology (the forces of production), it is, in fact, defined first and foremost by the physical and biological environment. What kind of terrain is available and what resources it contains, the nature of the climate and what kinds of ecosystems and biomes it supports plays an enormous role in shaping the course of human history. And as we will see, while technological progress alters which environmental factors are most important, it does not diminish their significance. We should also note that the first major recorded pandemic occurs at the roughly the time of the Late Bronze Age Collapse, suggesting that civilizational progress, by intensifying the exploitation of the ecosystem, raising human population densities, and increasing the interconnectedness of the planet creates the conditions for such pandemics, which are also significant part of the material conditions of human civilization.
But human societies also seek definite ends and because we are rational we understand that behind the immediate aim of survival and reproduction is the aim of Being as such. Different material conditions give rise to diverse structures (technological, economic, political, and cultural) by means of which we pursue this end, and these in turn shape, but are also shaped by, the way in which the end of Being as such is understood: what we call the “civilizational ideal.”
Up until this point we have mentioned only one pandemic. It may be that up until the Axial Age population density and trade were not sufficient for these to become a major factor. Or it may be that we simply lack historical records. But beginning in this period pandemics become one of the major drivers of social change. Consider the list of pandemics which accompanied and followed the development of the Silk Road trade networks:
|Date||Common Name||Geospatial Reach||Likely Pathogens||Death Toll||Sociohistorical Impact|
|429-426 BCE||Plague of Athens||Greece, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia||Typhoid, Typhus, or a Viral Hemmoragic Fever||75-100K||Weakened Athens in struggle with Sparta, hastened end of polis based, quasi democratic phase of Hellenism|
|412 BCE||?||Northern Greece, Roman Republic||Influenza||?||?|
|165-180 CE||Antonine Plague||Roman Empire, Eastern Han||Smallpox?||5-10M||Undercut trade between Rome, India, China; depopulated parts of Italy and the rest of Europe, weakened Empires eastern defenses|
|250-266 CE||Plague of Cyprian||Roman Empire||Smallpox or Ebola?||1 M||Set off Decian persecution as Christians, suspected of being responsible, were required to take an oath to the Emperor|
|541-542 CE, recurring periodically until 8th Century||Plague of Justinian||Europe and West Asia||Plague (Yersinia pestis)||25-100 M, 40-50% of the population of Europe||Undercuts Justinian’s effort to restore Roman Empire, strengthens Goths, sets stage for advent and triumph of Islam|
|1331-1353 CE, recurring periodically unto 1860||Black Death||Europe, Asia, North Africa||Plague (Yersinia pestis)||75-200 M, 10-60% of European population.||Decline in population creates labor shortage, leading peasant revolts which end feudalism in some areas, result in enclosures and shift to sheep raising in others.|
It should be noted that this was is an abbreviated list and that the “recurrences” noted for pandemics of Yersenia pestis, in particular, while not as severe as the original outbreaks, sometimes had death tolls into the tens of millions.
The development of human civilization, in other words, and especially the increasing density of the human population growing interconnectedness of the planet’s principal civilizational centers, created a fundamentally new challenge: pandemics which did not merely stress existing social structures, but which periodically annihilated a significant part of the population of the planet, and in some cases more than half of the population of a particular region (Diamond 1997).
This should not lead us to simply displace other theories of social change with a “plague” thesis, but it does suggest an important refinement to the “standard model” which, in both its technocratic and humanistic, capitalist and socialist variants tends to put scientific, technological and economic progress, and/or conscious political activity and ideological innovation at the forefront. Climate change, resource depletion, and disease —underlying material factors at least partly outside human control— do not diminish but rather increase their importance as human civilization develops.
This pattern continues with the advent of capitalism. Capitalist development depends on two principal factors: mass proletarianization, which forces the vast majority to sell their labor power in order to survive, and the primitive accumulation of Capital, which allows the emerging bourgeoisie to purchase labor power in order to set tools and raw materials into motion. On both accounts, pandemics played a major role. The Black Death of 1331-1353, by killing off a large part of the peasantry, created a labor shortage which initially strengthened the hand of the working classes, setting off a series of peasant revolts across Europe. In some areas —England, the Low Countries, and parts of Northern Italy— the peasantry won these battles, effectively ending feudalism. But in England the landed elites, especially the gentry (the lower part of the aristocracy which in England included the younger sons of peers, those with hereditary titles, as well as the untitled nobility of knights, esquires, and “gentlemen,” found a way to fight back, enclosing commons which the peasants had formerly used for forage and hunting and eventually forcing the peasants off the land entirely, which was converted from labor intensive grain cultivation to sheep raising. This pushed the peasants into the cities, where strict laws against almsgiving forced them to seek work in the textile mills, which the gentry now provided with the necessary raw material: wool. Elsewhere, in most of Southern and Eastern Europe, the peasants lost and the regions in question were subjected to a “seigneurial reaction,” which made them economic backwaters, exporting grain to more advanced regions or, where the landed elites were more economical, mobilized dependent peasants for labor intensive forms of commercial agriculture —e.g. the development of advanced viniculture in France and parts of Italy. Only in Northern Italy and the Low Countries did the peasant victories stick, leading to the relatively mild “Renaissance” form of early modernity, a form which, however, precisely because it less effectively exploited the working classes, ended up being an economic and thus political dead end (Anderson 1974).
On the side of primitive accumulation, of course, disease played a constitutive and possibly determinative role. It was, above all, the vulnerability of the indigenous populations of the Americas to smallpox and other diseases brought by Europeans that made the European Conquest of the Americas so easy. Smallpox wiped out 5-8 million people in Mexico in 1520, roughly 40% of the population. Salmonella to another 5-15 million, roughly 80% of the population between 1545 and 1548 and 2-2.5 million in 1576-1580, another 50% of the population. Another series of plagues, including leptospirosis and smallpox wiped out 30-90% of the population of Southern New England between 1616-1620. And so it continued. European accounts of the conquest of the Americas, even when they recognize that these continents were far from “empty,” tend to emphasize European technological and thus military superiority. But much of the heavy lifting was apparently done by viruses and bacteria, which, as Europeans became aware of their impact were, furthermore, employed as biological weapons (Nunn 2010, Zinn 1995).
It has been our assumption that, even if new pathogens emerge or old ones reappear as the climate changes, the population becomes increasingly more dense, and the planet ever more interconnected, that our superior medical technology will provide a ready fix which will prevent any of these pathogens from constituting a threat to the current world order. Serious epidemiologists have been warning that this is not the case for some time. But our experience with COVID has brought their warnings home. First, it has shown that a pathogen with a long incubation period can spread far and wide, infecting possibly the majority of the planet, long before symptoms become visible, much less vaccines and treatments available. Second, it is not entirely clear that antibodies to COVID-19 actually prevent infection and death, making the development of a vaccine more problematic. Many pathogens, in fact, do not lead to the production of protective antibodies. And many viruses, in particular remain impossible to treat. While the mortality rate of COVID-19 is probably low enough (< 5%?) that it is unlikely to have an impact on the population level comparable to that of the Plague of Justinian, the Black Death, or the Columbian Exchange, even 2-5%, coupled with the technological, economic, and political impacts we cited above, would contribute significantly to shaking the current world order. Imagine a pathogen as contagious as measles, with the incubation period of COVID, and the lethality of rabies or Ebola … (Ebert and Bull 2003).
There is, furthermore, the danger that pathogens will be weaponized. Much of the current thinking around this centers on the pathogens intentionally engineered in order to wipe out targeted populations, either by hostile state actors or by terrorist groups. And both scenarios are, of course, possible. But we are in the process of witnessing a comparable and only slightly more subtle weaponization of COVID-19 which has nothing to do with its origin. Specifically, the Right has unleashed a vigorous campaign in support of the idea that economic growth is more important than human life and that people who are not “productive,” i.e. who cannot be instrumentalized by Capital should be allowed to die. This may well lead to hasty “reopenings” of the economy which contribute to the annihilation of a significant part of the “surplus,” “unproductive” population, but even if it does not, it advances the annihilationist agenda which defines the Dark Enlightenment, and weakens humanity in future struggles.
None of this means, of course, that it is inevitable that half our population will be wiped out by this or later pandemics, or even that civilizational collapse or decadence are inevitable. But it does mean that stresses at the level of the material base (climate change, pollution, resource depletion, pandemics, etc.) which could easily lead to collapse or decadence are possible or even likely. And there is good evidence that such events will be mobilized by oppressive anticivilizational and antihuman forces.
What does this say at the level of global theory about the process of civilizational transitions? At the most general level, it suggests more attention to material factors not only as the basis for and as constraints on human civilizational progress, but also as a catalyst for decadence or collapse. This does not mean, however, structural and teleological factors —-ways of producing, of organizing resources for production, of building and exercising power, and of organizing our experience of the world on the one hand, and the spiritual and civilizational ideals, the ways of being we pursue, on the other hand, are simply overridden when ecological catastrophe, anthropogenic or not, strikes. There are, to be sure, catastrophes which overwhelm the human capacity for response, such as the pandemics introduced by the Europeans into the Americas. But how we respond matters. Specifically, without negating the idea of “progress” entirely we need to understand it in a far more nuanced way and recognize that some pathways of development are unsustainable and others may be closed off by contingent material factors beyond our control. Scientific, technological, and economic progress shape our environment, but in ultimately relatively minor ways. They do not bring it under human control. Exploration, expansion, and increasingly intensive cultivation of the latent potential of our ecosystems (including the humans that inhabit them) are goods, but they are relative and not absolute goods both in the sense that every way of producing, every way of organizing resources for production, every way of building and exercising power, every way of organizing our experience of the world —and ultimately every way of being— is marked by internal contradictions and by contradictions with the material basis of being and of its structural forms. Because of this, nothing is permanent except the desire for Being as such. And since impermanence is a fundamental feature of reality, it must be factored into the way we understand both our spiritual and civilizational ideals and the structures and strategies by means of which we pursue them. The more flexible we are not just with respect to means, but also with respect to ends, the more likely we are survive and grow and develop, even if it is along very different pathways than we previously envisioned.
This said, our analysis suggests a well defined dominating contradiction which defines
the current situation. This is the contradiction between the natural ordering of matter to Being and a spiritual and civilizational ideal with its associated structural instrumentalities which attempts to negate matter and its real process of development, and thus threatens not just the process of human growth and development but the growth and development of material beings in general. Specifically, matter tends to increasing degrees of complexity and organization, but it gets there by expending and dissipating energy. Every material system therefore requires a continuous input of energy in order to simply maintain itself before it can grow and become more complex or contribute to the growth and development of something larger and more complex than itself.
The technocratic secular ideal, which derives directly from Reformed Christianity as analyzed by Weber (Weber 1920/1968) in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism aims at transcending finitude by means of scientific, technological and economic progress (Mansueto 2010, 2016). More specifically it aims at constructing the Calvinist God who produces without consuming and imposes this aim on humanity, as the —literal— apotheosis of the very ordinary and mundane standard of efficiency. The various structures which have developed to realize this ideal illustrate the dynamic. Industrial technology and capitalist development (including, with some mitigation but also with distinctive additional contradictions, historic state socialism) breaks down existing forms of organization by means of combustion, proletarianization, and the technical division of labor in order to release energy and do work. In the process it not only pollutes the planet, depletes resources, and leads to anthropogenic warming which threatens the habitability of the planet but deprives human beings of the nurturing social fabric and creative capacities which we need for our growth and development —in fact to be of any real use at all, even to Capital. And to the extent that it realizes its aim of infinite efficiency, it drives the need for human labor power, and thus the value of human labor power, to zero, impoverishing and ultimately starving humanity. The emergence of Capital as an autonomous intelligence increasingly renders even the bourgeoisie powerless and the bourgeois state impotent, while the hegemony of the Protestant Ethic in its secular form leaves everyone feeling utterly worthless, sinners in the hands of the one and only angry God: Capital.
We are, furthermore, at a very specific point in the unfolding of this complex of contradictions. Our planet is as the tipping point both in terms of anthropogenic climate change and in terms of what will likely be a series of increasingly devastating pandemics. While Capital is still very far from having rendered all human labor obsolete, it is at the point where ever larger segments of the population are insufficiently productive to warrant employment and thus constitute surplus population. While the liberal bourgeoisie struggles feebly to put into place reforms such as a Universal Basic Income, and where they do not already exist universal free or affordable housing, health care, public transportation, and education, the Right, acting on behalf of Capital itself and of the more backward sectors of the bourgeoisie (the extractive, agricultural, and lower technology industrial sectors of capital as well as part of financial capital) is putting into place the first tentative pieces of its strategy for annihilation and doubling down ideologically on the claim, central to the Protestant Ethic, that in order to merit existence, we must produce surplus for Capital.
Capital, like all of the asura, is ultimately foolish, and can never succeed, as its ideal is impossible. But it can destroy entire civilizations, entire species, and even entire planets in the process.
What does political strategy looks like once we leave behind the assumption of linear progress along a single trajectory towards a given end, with all future transitions by means of reform or revolution? Here three points are in order. First, the aspiration of secular revolutionary strategy to organize and direct the whole course of human history —an aspiration which is constitutive of the communist variant of the humanistic ideal of creating a political subject which can make humanity the master of its own destiny and thus effectively divine— is impossible. It is, in fact, utterly in contradiction with anything like a dialectical or historical materialism and thus with its own theoretical foundations. Indeed, it would not be too much to say —not surprisingly for an aspiration that developed under capitalism— that it is deformed by the same aspiration to escape materiality which afflicts Capital. Human history, and the larger cosmohistorical process of which it is a part, while not random or unintelligible (everything has a cause, and all causes are in principle intelligible) is a material system, and matter, while it makes complex organization possible, also constrains possibilities. Human history is also a complex system, in which events and actions have consequences which, while they obey certain laws which are, once again, in principle intelligible, can be utterly unpredictable, and even when they are predictable are so distant from the current state of the system as to render meaningful control impossible. Second, because of this, strategic thinking must operate over a much larger time-frame, making very long term investments which, even if they seem highly speculative at the time, will eventually pay off because they invest in the most deeply rooted tendencies of matter —-to seek Being— and of human nature —to seek meaning, to create, and to form deep, enduring, an nurturing bonds with others. Third, our strategic portfolio must be extremely —even infinitely— diversified. With the single qualification that they help realize matter’s yearning for Being, and more specifically the human search for meaning, creativity, and relationality, we must be open to all trajectories of development. We must remain open to all four modalities of transition: reform, revolution, decadence, and collapse. And we must be adept —we must excel even— in all methods of struggle.
This said, our analysis of the current situation suggests certain key tasks which we must undertake if we are to avoid fascism and transcend capitalism. Precisely because the pandemic has demonstrated the intensity of the contradictions between Capital on the one hand and the requirements of complex organization, life, and sapience (and thus of humanity) on the other, strengthening rather than weakening calls for a Universal Basic Income, for example and turning the planet’s longest (indeed suspiciously long) capitalist expansion into the deepest economic crisis since at least the Great Depression in a matter of a few months, the Right has intensified its efforts to destroy the liberal order and such democratic institutions as exist, intensifying its propaganda on behalf of the Protestant Ethic and moving forward even more rapidly on its agenda of containing, demobilizing, demoralizing, and ultimately annihilating the planet’s surplus population.
In this struggle we need to adopt a classical popular front strategy enriched by a struggle for cultural hegemony. At the center of the popular front strategy should be electoral struggle to deprive the Right of the control of state institutions. The long term damage being done by the leaders of the Right, including Putin, Trump, Modi, and Erdogan is sufficient to prioritize removing them from power over organizing for the more fundamental economic reforms demanded by the Left. Indeed, it means working even with what is left of the liberal conservative and neoconservative trends and those religious and social conservatives and traditionalists who have not been co-opted by the Dark Enlightenment. (i.e. the never-Trumpers). We must articulate our struggle as a defense of the liberal order which, despite all of its limitations, provides fundamental and irreplaceable protections for human dignity and for the basic freedoms on which organizing for more profound change (including the freedom required by the decentralist, intentional community strategy advocated by the extreme Left) depends, and for a defense of humanity and of life in general against what can only be called a fascist cult of Death. We are a Popular Front Against Thanos.
But electoral struggle will not be enough, even at the level of the popular front. We must match and best the dispersed intelligence/information operations apparatus which has emerged in Russia and which has interpenetrated with the Right in the US and around the world. At one level, this is an expression at the operational level of the cultural hegemonic dimension of the popular front strategy, though creating it is a major strategic, capacity building task. While it may seem daunting, it actually speaks to the comparative advantage of the Left with its base in the humanistic intelligentsia, which specializes in just precisely these kinds of activities. And to the extent that we are able to offer our services to the Intelligence Community, it will allow us to create the same kind of presence that the Left had there going into the Second World War and the creation of the OSS, a presence which was destroyed by McCarthyism.
The aim of a popular front, however, is never just to defeat fascism. It establishes the political and ideological conditions for the struggle to transcend capitalism. This is because, in addition to preserving a liberal and at least partly democratic order in which the struggle to transcend socialism can proceed more easily, it 1) allows the Left to demonstrate its superior organizing ability and strategic, operational, and tactical judgment, winning the confidence of the people, and 2) lays the groundwork for a new counter hegemonic civilizational ideal centered on tapping into and nurturing the underly potential of human beings —and matter in general— for growth and development.
This means, however, that in addition to building and leading the Popular Front Against Thanos we must undertake certain key tasks which build on the groundwork created by the popular front and actually create the conditions for transcending capitalism.
First, it is vitally important that we develop a new technological regime which, rather than engaging in combustion in order to release energy and do work, taps into the self-organizing dynamic of matter, and its natural ordering to Being as such, directly. There is, to be sure, progress on this front, particularly in the area of energy sources, with the development of solar, wind, oceanic, and geothermal energy, but we need to go much further, so that we approach the whole problem of production differently, not as matter of using raw material, tools, and labor power, but rather as an act of ripening being.
Second, we must develop a new economy of sharing which gradually liberates people from the need to sell their labor power in order to survive and provides them with the resources and nurture they need in order to grow as creatively, politically, and spiritually. This task is inseparable from that of repairing a social fabric which has quite literally been shredded by centuries of industrial production and capitalist exploitation. We must let go of the illusion that we can have communities of care which are not also economies of sharing, and also of the illusion that economies of sharing are possible apart from rich, complex, and diverse relationships in the context of which we challenge and nurture each other, build and exercise power in service to the common good, and hold each other accountable for our contributions and our mistakes.
Here especially, our portfolio of tactics must be exceedingly diversified. Especially in times when a transition by decadence or collapse seems more and more likely, intentional communities are extremely attractive. And they have an historic record of making real contributions to such transitions: witness the role of monasticism in Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, in India from the advent of Buddhism, the Jaina tradition, and Upanishadic Hinduism on, and in China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia as Buddhism entered and shaped these civilization. Monasticism has often been the site of the development of new —and especially more sustainable— technologies, of less intensive exploitation of peasantries, and of alternative power centers, military, political, and ideological, which have helped keep empires in check. Monastic establishments can, however, become extremely burdensome and expensive, something which was probably behind the collapse of Mahayana Buddhism in Southeast Asia and its displacement by an impoverished Theravada establishment under royal patronage and control, the repression of Buddhism generally (also Mahayana) in China during the late Tang Dynasty, and the wave of secularizations which were, in many ways, constitutive of the Reformation and the liberal and democratic revolutions in Europe and Latin America. We have not yet solved the problem of how to delink monasticism and celibacy, something most contemporary intentional communities, for good reason, take for granted but which has not yet been shown to be possible over the long duree. Monasticism has also tended not to be especially effective in struggles for cultural hegemony, where mendicant orders, clerks regular, secular institutes, secular revolutionary organizations, and even unorganized movements of intellectuals living in secular society (whether themselves ideologically religious or secular and humanistic), have done much better. And intentional communities tend to leave behind the vast majority of people who cannot afford the substantial entry costs, or who have family or other social responsibilities which make monastic withdrawal unattractive or unrealistic.
Thus the importance of “secular” initiatives in the historic sense of the term —initiatives which operate fully within the “world” of the existing social structure, and which repair the social fabric and transform our way of life from within. In this category we would put “sharing economies” of any kind from traditional cooperative housing, gardening, grocery, health, transportation, and educational initiatives, to informal forms of sharing which emerge across the more dispersed networks of cyberspace, but which nonetheless supply real support both material, through crowdfunding, social, through virtual interactions, and ideological and cultural, by providing fora for dialogue, debate, and deliberation linked explicitly to the practice of care. Such sharing economies can emerge both outside existing institutions, among those who lack access to material and social necessities, and inside such institutions, by those who work to create parallel economies of sharing, parallel authority structures, and a counter hegemonic vision of the the purpose of the institutions in question.
This whole work of liberating people from the need to sell their labor power in order to survive and of creating economies of care and nurture is, furthermore, facilitated by a substantial increase in the “social wage” paid to individuals regardless of their work. The centerpiece of such a social wage is, first of all, the establishment of a Universal Basic Income and its gradual increase to the point that people can live on it modestly without having to sell their labor power. But other aspects of the social wage, such as free or significantly subsidized health care, housing, public transportation, and education, where these do not exist are also important.
Third, we must create alternative and parallel structures of power which, without prematurely threatening the bourgeois state gradually overshadow it in their ability to get things done. This dual power should arise out of 1) the emerging networks of intentional/monastic communities, 2) the networks of organizers transforming existing institutions from within by struggling for a counter hegemonic civilizational ideal, and 3) the various intermediate forms of organization, virtual and territorial, which grow up between them.
Finally, we need the counter hegemonic civilizational ideal itself —or perhaps it would be better to say a cluster of ideals— focused on tapping into the latent potential of matter in order to cultivate it but also respectful of the limits that matter imposes, and thus detached from any single trajectory of civilizational progress. In this sense it must stand between the primarily spiritual ideals which emerged out of the axial era and the secular ideals which have dominated the past 500 years. We must remain committed to inner worldly civilizational progress, but be open to progress meaning many different things, and not just technological progress which pushes back the limits of finitude or political progress which creates a political subject which imagines it can make humanity the master of its own destiny, and thus understanding civilizational progress as a means to ultimately spiritual ends.
All of these initiatives require a greatly expanded organized mass base. This in turn requires that we develop entirely new ways of organizing. Clearly the pandemic itself presents some very specific challenges, given the impossibility of face to face social interaction. This will push us to test and perhaps the limits of virtual means of social interaction. And if and when the pandemic recedes our “return” will not be to the old normal, as both formal restrictions and significant spontaneous caution is likely to remain for some time. If HIV forced us to become more intentional regarding our sexual relationships, COVID-19 will force us to become more intentional about all of our social interactions.
From the vantage point of the organizer, however, this is not a bad thing, since organizing, fundamentally, is intentionality regarding relationships. And given the kind of transformation we envision, this means intentionality in essentially all relationships.
One of the principles of organizing is the distinction made between public and private relationships. Private relationships are spontaneous, formed with people we like, exist for the purpose of affection, and are based on trust; public relationships are intentional, formed with people we respect, are formed with the aim of building power and thus accomplishing something, and are governed by accountability. This is an important distinction to introduce to emerging leaders, who often have no relationships devoted to building and exercising power, and who have great difficulty acting in relation to the political allies and adversaries in ways that they that they have been taught are not “nice.” But the distinction is merely heuristic. It fails to take into account 1) the challenge, advanced most especially by feminism, to recognize that the personal is the political, and that we must transform all relationships if we are to transcend patriarchy, and 2) the fact that higher forms of friendship, as Aristotle among others pointed out, aim not just at just pleasure but at the happiness, i.e. the good of both parties, and since happiness consists in habitual excellence in the exercise of our distinctly human capacities, higher friendship aims at mutual growth and development, i.e. at realizing the general aims of human life. Thus, while we may have relationships which are purely public in the sense that they are with people we do not like, for the purpose either of some higher good which is a means to ripening being, e.g. a transformation in social structures or civilizational ideas, or even for some lower, purely instrumental purpose, anyone who lives an examined, intentional, mindful life will approach all of their relationships intentionally, even those with people they like and where part of what is shared is pleasure of whatever kind.
What this means is that we need to be constantly engaged in the process of identifying people who can contribute in any way to the realization of the aims of human life or, more properly, asking how everyone we encounter can best be engaged in supporting these aims. For many, perhaps the vast majority, this may not entail very much political activity in the narrower sense, or very much engagement in the struggle for cultural hegemony, but everyone can and must be engaged in hortic ways of producing, in emerging sharing economies, in (geographically or virtually) local community organizations which simultaneously care for their members and engage in action around the most basic needs, in the most elementary forms of civic responsibility such as informed voting and service on juries, and in the very broadest communities of meaning and value, whether traditional congregations or the diverse forms of ideological, cultural, and spiritual community which are emerging in their place. Human being is social being, and relating to others intentionally means, at the most basic level, connecting them to the networks, communities, and institutions they need to survive and to grow and develop. This itself is revolutionary. This itself is Tikkun Olam, mending the torn fabric of the cosmos.
At the higher level, however, organizing is fundamentally about identifying, cultivating, mentoring, positioning, and deploying emerging, established and high value leaders. The foregoing analysis, furthermore, suggests a new way of defining leadership: leaders are those who are capable of intentionality with respect to their relationships, especially in a way that orders those relationships toward the higher ends of human life: seeking wisdom, doing justice, and ripening being or, to put the matter differently, helping individuals and communities realize their spiritual and civilizational ideals or to challenging those ideals and proposing new ones —or both. Established and high value leaders will, furthermore, see this activity as their calling in life, and not just as an secondary or supplemental activity, and will be intentional about they way in which they relate to themselves, i.e. the way in which they organize their lives, which are consciously ordered to political and spiritual ends. Especially in an environment in which historic ways of organizing leaders, such as religious orders and revolutionary vanguards no longer seem effective, and in which a great deal of the work of leading and organizing is likely to take place through dispersed networks, it is important to be able to identify clearly who is a leader and who is not.
Within this context, of course, there are a wide range of different sorts of leaders we need, corresponding to the principal operational tasks of our global strategy. We need scientists who can help us understand the underlying ordering of matter to Being and technologists who can create new, hortic technologies which cultivate that ordering. We need community builders who can create economies of sharing while rebuilding the torn fabric of our society. We need electoral operatives who can win elections contributing to the defeat of the of rising ethnonationalist/neofascist bloc but we also need people who can lead popular wars and urban insurrections, not because these are likely to be globally victorious but because they may be required at certain times and places, and this means that we need special operations officers and operators who can organize these campaigns as well as more targeted political-military operations. As noted above we especially need people who can counter the Russian led intelligence/information operations/unconventional warfare apparatus. And we need people who can do the hard work of forging a new spiritual and civilizational ideal and then building communities which embody it and helping individuals in the struggle to realize it.
Humanity is at a difficult crossroads —at least at the level of the decline of the Roman Empire which, paradoxically, unleashed the complex process which lead historically backward Europe to global domination, and perhaps at the level of the Late Bronze Age Collapse. This crossroads also suggests a fundamentally different reading of the broad arc of human history. As our analysis suggests, human history is dialectical in more senses than Marx recognized. The challenges we face now from climate change, pollution, resource depletion, and pandemics are products not simply impediments to progress. Industrial capitalism in particular, but the broader arc of civilizational progress, based as it is on extraction, extensive cultivation, centralized accumulation, and global trade generates serious contradictions. This does not mean that we need to revert to some sort of deep ecological/anarcho-primitivist utopia (or rather dystopia, given the likely impact on human population levels). It does mean that we need to find some way to cultivate human creative capacity which does not involve the combustion, literal and figurative, of existing forms of organization, but instead taps into and nurtures the latent potential not only of each and every human being but of everything that exists. The outcome is by no means certain. Extinctions happen. But I am confident that our species will rise to the challenge, engage our capacity for nurture as well as discovery, and resume, albeit in a very different way, our journey to the stars.
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