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Rated: E · Essay · Business · #1850462
A new version of this title is now part of my new book, 'The Secular Fundamentalist'.
This was written in 2001-2...

After over 200 years of successful technological advancement, the industrial drivers have every reason to feel confident.  Their critics have so far always over-estimated present constraints and under-estimated capacity for future innovation.  Entrepreneurial vision, a sense of destiny and nerve have carried them far.  Like their early twentieth century counterparts, they too see the future as a lot more of the same.

Drunk with hubris, the industrial drivers have planted the accelerators flat to the floor.  For them, speed, growth ambition and exuberant risk appetite are only modified by the possibility of temporary suspension into bankruptcy.  Even the worst depression is just a temporary negative growth pile up, every few laps or so.  While their vehicle takes a heavy battering from time to time, no matter how high the stakes are raised or the speed increased, it has always proved to be crash proof.  So they tackle the course as if their system were immortal. 

Modernity may be the most formidable economic, technological and cultural mechanism ever to have evolved from our species, but as has already been noted, nothing is immortal.  What that means is that if this high velocity and accelerating system does eventually crash out, its end may well prove to be the most precipitant, spectacular and catastrophic ever.

Over time, finance capital kept outgrowing the traded goods and services sector.  Debt increasingly dominated equity.  The value of the former became so many multiples of that of the latter that it gradually ceased to be rooted in a physical reality.  This tended to make the whole system progressively more unstable.  Debt leveraging came to be seen as the fastest and smartest way to acquire wealth.  This in itself fed into asset inflation.  Because this trend was so universal and protracted, the additional risk this entailed gradually ceased to register.  90-100% leveraging against increasingly extravagant asset values no longer seemed hazardous.    Speculation came to be seen as economic wisdom. 

There were warnings against this trend by way of quite severe recessions, but by this time the investment community had become such a debtaholic, it just couldn’t stop increasingly frequent bingeing; bingeing that was increasingly accompanied by the unscrupulous greed and rapaciousness of elites that had completely lost real life perspective.  Really traumatic disaster was only a matter of time, accident and a convenient place to happen. 

Of course, if economic folly were the only peccadillo of modern systems, no doubt even such a catastrophe could have been eventually absorbed and overcome in the same way as it was in the late 1930s.  However, mountains of accumulated ecological abuse, unexpectedly spirited external resistance from third world traditionalists and internal cultural deconstruction ensured the possibility of utterly unprecedented and unmanageable crisis. 

In the mean time, isolated in their shiny corporate towers, expensive restaurants and leafy suburbs, the besuited industrial drivers and their courtiers bask in a lustrous sense of their self-importance. This is reflected in their increasingly exotic remuneration packages that represent ever more galactic earning multiples of those of the ordinary populariat. 

More importantly, while the hours of work are long, the performance pressures great, the intra and inter organisational competition aggressive and the capacity of boardroom members to assassinate each other or execute their subordinates in large numbers, legendary, they all share the glowingly optimistic belief that at last, they, the corporate aparachiks, have won the final and permanent verdict of history. 

For the first time, they see almost no impediment to remoulding the world in their own image, totally.

This does not mean that they are one and uniform in their goals, interests and modus operandi.  It does not mean that individuals, corporations or industries always get what they want.  Rather, the collective effect of their combined operations delivers them a milieu that overwhelmingly maximises their leverage in comparison with other groupings, such as the nation state and its instrumentalities, unions and ‘non economic’ communities.  What is more, to ensure that dominance, rather like the samurai ethos of the Japanese Imperial army, they are just as pitilessly ruthless with each other as outsiders and simply will not tolerate anyone who cannot compete hard enough or who shows any sort of weakness or marginality.

Such is the colossal size of their collective ego, it has never occurred to the industrial drivers that the capacity for their system to keep expanding has much less to do with their fabulous talent and innovative ability, than nature’s and human society’s capacity to absorb ever more pressure and damage. In effect, they are mining the biosphere and calling the result prosperity.  Thus what properly ought to be regarded as a record of catastrophe, only serves to further inflate their arrogance and aggression.

In effect, the rational irrationality that this brings to the foundations of corporate thinking infects everything it touches.  Megalomaniac excess becomes the dominant paradigm and society is turned into a highly rationalized and elaborately run asylum in which everybody becomes an actor, in a collective fantasy that bears almost no relationship to what the patients are going to find when the insane theatrical scenario has to stop.

"Alice no longer has to wander through a domestic magic looking glass anymore to check out the characters that are off with the Red Queen, who are all now living on the top of looking glass towers in any city where one happens to reside.  The mad hatter is still having elaborate tea parties in the mid-floors marketing department, but now whimsy has given way to science. 

Alice eventually stayed on and is now doing Enormously Important Work for the white rabbit down the labyrinthine corridors at Wonderland Inc, designing reality algorithms for the spades in suits."

Corporateland constantly accelerates demand as consumers are driven to ever faster cycles of inventory replacement and producers are driven into production extremism to meet them.

“My workers at the plant outside Shanghai are mostly from the country.  We provide boarding accommodation for them inside the factory compound.  We pay them around thirty dollars a month and to earn that they need to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week.  If we can’t keep the work up to them and they have to have a day off, they get pretty upset.  They are losing money!”

Even they have a snapping point.  There are factories in China where nets are put under the windows of upper floors to stop employees from committing suicide on the job, especially after a 30 hour shift to cover an emergency order from a big customer who needs more units and needs them yesterday.

“I used to be a fisherman.  I had one of the best long line boats in the business, with all the technology necessary to find fish.  But as the years went by, there were fewer fish to find and ever more boats like mine or better trying to find them.  I could see the resource was being depleted and that other species dependent on getting a feed out of the sea were doing it hard too, but the debts and other costs of keeping and running a boat don’t get lower just because the fish are getting more difficult to find. 

So I bought better nets and detection equipment. I upgraded the engines to go faster and further afield. I switched target species. I poached fisheries from other nationals, raided protected zones and ignored catch and season limits. 

It may sound callous, but I did whatever was necessary to protect my assets and profitability.  All the while, I was doing the research and study to secure my future.  Once I had amortised my existing capital sufficiently and made enough to get out of fishing before the resource collapsed, I was able to get into the new opportunities to be had out of fish; farming them. I am doing well now because I have always seen myself as being in the fish business, not just fishing.

If I hadn’t been prepared to take the tough decisions, break a few rules, stay in front of the competition and jump into the next opportunity at the right moment, I would have ended up like most of my competitors, with nothing, and someone a bit smarter and quicker on his feet than me would be the one with the prosperous fish farm today.”

He helped to create a marine desert so that he could live well off an oasis.  All the resources for this oasis have to be imported at vast ecological cost, where once nature had created them for nothing.  And now that he has helped decimate the natural resource, we must eat short supplied, at the new suppliers’ price, for no amount of sea farming can replace the bounty of nature; of oceanic plant photosynthesis and the vast feeding chains that once could have supplied us forever.

One day, global populations will find that only the rich can afford to eat fish, as with so many other fundamental resources that come out of the eco-systems that sustain the web of life, and us.

I received the following feedback 2nd April 2012:

"The article is quite good, I had to re-read most of the paragraphs several times to get my pragmatic understanding through the layers of corporate jargon and my own ignorance maybe, and no doubt I will again read [several times] in the future. Personally, coming from a clerical background, among others, I can confidently relate to some of the practices while I was observing the “bosses”. But from a human point of view, everyone out there was simply to make a buck the best way they could given the resources at their disposal, and if they paid me low wages and overworked me and made me listen to their anecdotes [fantasyland stories] to get more spending power in their own pockets[or some other stakeholders’], I can happily attest that I did not have to take risks like they did, or have the sheer concentration to study and successfully pass the examinations, or could bear the kitchen heat. Maybe I was unlucky too, that I wasn’t in the right place at the right time , study just the right material among a sea of knowledge, be the right height, sex [etc] or my calculated risk did not pay dividends. Good article again – you have a snapshot of a corner of society that is from here, there, and every where, and whenever."

I replied in the following vein:

Thanks for the feedback.

"I note that you come from a clerical background, so you will appreciate the work I am doing is a desperate search for salvation and redemption in a world that is crumbling under the pressure that is being applied to it.  Unless we can somehow get the modern industrial apparatus to not just slow down, but retreat into sustainable and defensible ground, much of it will be destroyed and so will many of its servants.  And what will be left after it has deconstructed itself is a shattered environment and human remnants living off the worst of themselves.

We have to recover something of not just the basics about what life is supposed to be about, but a vision of what we can yet become and the wealth that we can generate that will make it happen.  Wealth is not just stuff.  We do not live on bread alone.  In the terrible affluence that we have created, the city of the imagination is becoming a slum without boundaries or moral compass.

We have to become soldiers of righteousness in the same way as our reformationary forefathers, for reformation is surely the only way forward that is left.  And if that sounds biblical, it is because there is a new testament waiting to be written into the history of our species, and we are the ones who must make that journey....now.

You will find my writing site full of such imaginings.  We cannot even start without them, for visions of the future are what ultimately drive us to greateness in the face of unimaginable adversity."

© Copyright 2012 Christopher Eastman-Nagle (kiffit at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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