The entire edifice of today’s system of predatory extractive capitalism rests on a foundation of not mere sand but a major destabilizing false premise. Economics in denial seems to be driving the world economy to a terminal collapse. The most fateful and flawed fiction of modern life is the idea of Man pitted against Nature, wresting control over the material world. But Nature bites back.
To the extent that environmentalists and progressives attempt to succeed in “changing the system” without overthrowing this fatal fiction and its consequences, they will fail. Reducing the negative effects of the system is not nearly enough. For most of the course of the industrial era, the entire culture has been shaped around the presumptive necessity for Man [gender intended] to control nature through science and technology. This has been achieved through the imposition of a failed theory of the role of capital in driving economic “innovation” and production in the world. Some innovations are better than others – for the whole system.
Science, by understanding the world, facilitates the invention of technologies to control it. But the analytical models of technology provide little understanding of the larger systems in which they operate. Capital invested in technical control of some elements in a system can cause imbalances in the whole system. The industrial sub-system of human endeavor operates within the confines of the whole interconnected complex of systems in Nature, but only as long as it does not “mess with Mother Nature.”
War on Nature
War has been a convenient means used by kings, emperors, and presidents to dominate political-economic environments and all who would challenge that dominion. After all, war is the ultimate means used to control the conditions that determine one’s dominion over the natural and social worlds. But it all plays out in the biosphere. By extracting materials from the earth and forging them into the most effective tools of control, one can exercise dominion over man and parts of Nature – for a time, always just for a time. The ability to cause death and destruction is the ultimate gauge of that control…up to a point.
Business is the application of the fruits of science – invention and technology – to control some sector of the world. In late capitalist nations of the 21st century, war and its industrial preparations have become the most profitable business of all, aside from fossil fuel production, which of course drives the engine of the war machine. The sale and expenditure of munitions has become more important than “winning” any particular conflict. War, in this context, might be considered the extension of business from economics to physical force. But even more important, war is the extreme extension of an economy that must grow to survive. That very growth has engendered a process of destruction of the environment it needs to continue. End Game approaches.
The fundamental hubris of “modern man” has resulted from the illusion that Nature is something that is separate from us and has to be controlled. This is also an illusion of independence. Technology is mis-perceived as giving us independence from Nature. But it is actually a kind of dependency on nature. The power of funding aside, curiosity drives much of science, but technology is driven by the need to control some aspect of the world we live in and sustain that illusion. However, the law of unintended consequences speaks.
Social systems contain within themselves a momentum that propels them forward. They are not closed systems, so they need continual re-supply of all the material and organizational means to continue. Those, of course, must come from the environment that sustains the system. It is now abundantly clear that the world system of predatory extractive capitalism is reaching an end. It needs ever increasing supplies of the means for the expansion that its foundational illusion requires but cannot perpetuate. But both materials and ecosystem are approaching their limits. As those limits are reached, the ecological stability that sustains it all is failing. Something’s gotta give, and it won’t be Mother Nature.
Capital could be organized differently, of course. But it is not. We have to deal with what is, and what is cannot be sustained. It must be changed, but the dominant economic ideology has left little room for new ideas. Because of the great power and ubiquity of this failing system, a great transformation is inevitable and a “hard landing” very likely. The danger, of course, is that the result may very well be collapse into chaos. That is not necessary or inevitable, but without massive human intervention overriding the failing system, it is increasingly likely. Such intervention will require huge mostly unanticipated cultural and structural change.
The Ecological Hack
The progress of industrial society – until recently – has been nothing short of amazing. In a world of unlimited resources, lots of lands and peoples to conquer, and imperturbable ecologies, it could go on indefinitely. But in the real world we are now at an impasse. The fundamental flaw underpinning the teetering system must be addressed and surmounted. The trajectory of endless economic growth through extracting endless supplies of resources for endlessly expanding technological innovation is quickly ending. The knowledge of that path had limited scope but developed as if there were no limits. Survival requires a vastly different paradigm. We must hack into industrial era culture and reprogram it to be ecologically effective.
Earth Ecology – the whole system – has within it vastly more knowledge than all that has been compounded throughout the history of humanity. Indigenous cultures have foundational knowledge we need to tap into (before it is destroyed) in order to survive as a species. Only then can we re-balance our complex relations with the Earth so that we can reset the ecological harmonies we have already severely disrupted.
The Ecological Hack of industrial culture is being worked on by numerous hackers of the culture and biosphere in a variety of ways. Most of the work is yet to be done. A successful Great Transition to an ecological economy will require many cultural-ecological hackers and “open-source everything.” It won’t come from “the top.”
 Robert David Steele, The Open Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth & Trust. Berkeley, CA: Evolver Editions, 2012.