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Response to The Myth of Human Progress


A friend of mine, Martin Millican (a partner in fast-growth IT company Envoke.com), wrote a letter in response to my post last week on an article from TruthDig.com I reproduce his letter here, with some comments of my own inside square brackets below. Enjoy.
Martin Millican wrote:
I agree with much of Chris Hedges column, “The Myth of Human Progress” from your last blog column, reproduced from TruthDig.com
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_myth_of_human_progress_20130113/
The “progress trap” is real and we are in the later stages of the cycle if nothing changes.
Entrenched interests and a failure of imagination are our two biggest obstacles to change.
The best case scenario is probably a major catastrophe big enough to wake us up but not wipe us out. If we fail in this great experiment the planet will merely shrug and move on.
Where I disagree is embedded in the following line: “We lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism.”
The implicit action recommended here is to apply a force that is equal (or greater) and opposite to “global capitalism.” This approach is wrong-headed and doomed to failure.
A hammer is a simple physical tool both for building homes and crushing skulls. Global capitalism is a complex economic tool for developing vaccines and producing weapons. We will not succeed in shutting down global capitalism. Our only hope is the redirection of this powerful tool. And redirection requires less force than opposition.
There was a looming horse manure crisis in late 19th century London where extrapolations on growth trends in traffic meant the entire city would be imminently knee deep in transportation waste. One approach to solving the problem might have have been to simply oppose the use of horses. What came to the rescue were new technologies where the waste went into the air instead of onto the streets.
Opposing the use of fossil fuels today is analogous to opposing the use of horses in 19th century London. We will only end the use of fossil fuels and begin to reverse global warming when there is a non-polluting alternative that’s cheaper and/or better — the market will take care of the rest. Getting to a new energy source will require the application of powerful tools and one of these is some version of global capitalism.
Martin
[GUY WRITES: I agree with you entirely. There’s nothing inherently wrong with “capitalism” — economies that attempted to do away with it (socialism) were really just experiments in “state capitalism.” In other words, the belief was that governments would do a better job of meeting human needs and attaining social justice, etc. than “private capital.”
Ever since I took a course on Marxism in university (to learn, not to be indoctrinated) I’ve felt that no society has quite got it right. The explicitly socialist/communist experiments were mostly abject failures. The United States deploys capital and creativity well, but is far behind Canada and Europe in social equity issues, and seems to lurch between excessive boom and bust cycles, perhaps from overproduction, that most recently elevated a new plutocracy into the stratosphere while harming the middle class (ergo the many people living in tents, trailers and cars in many American urban and suburban areas from home foreclosures).
I’ve often thought that Canada and some of the Scandinavian countries actually represent the closest thing to the just and equitable sharing of wealth and capital that Marx dreamt about, not realizing how badly Lenin would screw things up by trying to impose Marx’s ideas on an agrarian country (Russia) ruled by an aristocracy, that had not yet passed through the necessary industrialization and democratization phase. Marx’s revolution might have gone off in the United Kingdom, except the New World opened up and siphoned away the people and explosive energy such a revolution would have required.
So, I like your idea of redirecting capital(ism), not simply opposing it, as if it is intrinsically “the problem.” Thanks again for your letter
.]


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