A dog starved at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
– William Blake
In 2010 we saw human civilization take further steps towards it own destruction. We saw the rapid destruction of democratic rights: from the persecution of Wikileaks to the use of military law to stop strikes in Spain and Greece, from the abolition of free speech in Hungary to the worldwide attack on the living standards of the people, we saw the achievements of the past 100 years stripped away in the name of increased profit.
This is not hyperbole.
The threat of global war becomes greater by the day. In 2010, we saw intensifying conflicts between the European states. We saw tensions between the United States and China, between Europe and Russia. We learned of secret wars, and of already drawn-up plans for conflicts that would almost certainly result in the end of human civilization. We have learned that the lunatics in power consider these wars an option.
This is also not hyperbole. The facts are right there. So are the bombs.
We are reenacting the fall of Rome, this time as farce. Don’t make the mistake of believing that everything will go back to how it was before, that our civilization cannot possibly fall. That’s what the Romans thought too, as the gap between the rich and the poor grew larger and larger, as their public infrastructure slowly degraded, as the arts collapsed… “No,” they said, “our empire has been around for a thousand years! It is technologically more advanced than any other empire, it is organized, it is powerful, and it’s always been there. Are you seriously trying to tell us all this, all this that we know and are used to, all this that is our everyday life, will be gone? That’s absurd. Get this doomsayer out of here!”
And Rome fell.
But we haven’t fallen yet.
If we continue this way, there are only two possible futures: complete self-destruction or bloody revolution. Neither option gives me hope, and neither option is unrealistic. We have the weapons to destroy this planet several times over, and people will eventually rebel against the system that exploits them – but if the revolution only comes when the knife has hit the bone, it will not be a revolution of enlightenment. It will be chaos and anarchy with completely unpredictable results; it may well result in dictatorship and nationalism.
You may believe all of this will not happen, that things will continue, or look up. But the assault on living standards that is happening everywhere will not cease. The complete destruction of the educational system will not cease. Greece was only the first step, and already others are being taken. A point will come soon when people will not be able to live like this anymore. But by then it may be too late to channel their anger in a constructive way.
We’re not there yet.
Yes, we are closer than ever before. It’s no longer a matter of centuries or decades. Look at Greece, or Ireland, or even England. Look at what’s happening to the universities. Look at how many people are homeless. Look at the kinds of jobs people have to work, and for what kind of money. Look at the police firing at protesters; when will people start firing back? The last civil war in Europe wasn’t that long ago. Global war is not a futuristic or archaic concept; the last one was only 65 years ago. And back then we didn’t have the weapons we do know. We did have a very similar economic crisis just before it, though.
Still. We’re here. We’re alive. There’s millions – no, billions – of us who know that what’s happening is not just morally wrong, it’s the path to a catastrophe worse than any humankind has yet endured. And we can prevent it.
Let me say it one more time: this is not hyperbole. On this generation, the generation walking the Earth right now, lies the heaviest responsibility since the Pleistocene. We can destroy everything, or reach for the stars. If we do nothing, destruction is inevitable. There are times when humanity seems to just putter along; for good or ill, this is not one of them.
It’s popular to claim that everyone thinks they’re living in the end times because it makes them feel important, or that history is just a discourse while life goes on unchanged. But that sort of complacency is just another way in which injustice and stupidity perpetuate themselves. I’m sure that someone once said “We really don’t need to move into a cave. You’re overreacting! Our ancestors have lived on this plain forever. Just because it’s been getting colder doesn’t mean we have to be so radical. It’s not like life will become impossible out here! It’s always been this way.” If we had listened to that individual, the human species might well not exist right now.
Individualism won’t get us anywhere, neither in the form of terrorism nor in the form of individual protest. Changing yourself isn’t going to change the world, either; it’s a first step, but it’s not enough. Not matter how much it might scare Ayn Rand, we are part of society, part of the world, and we will always be connected to one another. It is these connections that must be improved, the resulting structures that need to be altered. The enemy is not other people, or technology, or society. The enemy is the system, not its components.
In 2011, we need to organize. We need to fight back not with despair or with hatred, but with vision. We need to abandon the groups that have betrayed us too many times, need to see through the old clichés and the new sophistry. We need to stop dividing ourselves in arbitrary ways and start thinking about real, meaningful change.
Time is running out.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
– Karl Marx