Chapter 3: A world to win

Submitted by Alias Recluse on March 31, 2014



“Lose science and, for a lack of light, you will return to the state of the gorillas, our ancestors. You will be obliged to retrace, for several thousand years, the entire road that has been traversed by humanity.”
Mikhail Bakunin, Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism1

In the civilizations that preserved their unitary consciousness, where this consciousness ruled the totality of individual and social conduct, man was not yet separated from his environment, or from his “fellow man”, nor did he know any insurmountable conflicts between his desires and his consciousness. This unity of the living subject with himself contributed to the stability of the societies to which he belonged; and the great Amerindian, Australian, Siberian and Central African civilizations remained outside of history for millennia until, arms in hand, the Europeans massacred their populations in order to convince them to finally take part in this modern felicity for which they were the in vivo example.

The material and social conditions of the unitary consciousness and its preservation can be easily recognized by observing the circumstances under which it was lost. In some parts of the world, the primitive civilizations must have undergone an almost identical development, which witnessed the first separation of humanity from its living universe, man from man, and each person with respect to his internal existence; that is, in different categories, the separation of the self from life. This tragic evolution began in the especially rich and opulent regions, in the deltas and fertile valleys, in the plains that were well-endowed with water and sun, but regions that were, for the most part, surrounded by arid and hostile territories: the “fertile crescent” of Egypt and Mesopotamia, the great silt-laden plains of the Yellow River, the Indian plain of the Ganges, the valleys of the Sierra and the Basin of Mexico. These privileged, although geographically limited, zones, were soon plagued by relative overpopulation and the covetous envy of the neighboring peoples. It was undoubtedly “ecological” factors that can be found to lie at the origin of the so-called “Neolithic revolution”.

In these fertile but geographically restricted zones, overpopulated and threatened by hostile incursions, the need to survive compelled the adoption of a new way of life that the primitive consciousness had up until then prohibited. Hunting and gathering proved to be insufficient to feed the population of these territories and it was necessary to intervene in the environment for the purpose of subjecting it to the new requirements. Settled agriculture, just like the domestication and breeding of cattle, were the results of these localized difficulties. They replaced the simple knowledge of the natural movements of life, with regard to plants as well as the wild herds and flocks. In order to survive in these conditions, it was necessary to modify the environment instead of moving around in it. The real history of humanity begins with this first separation of man from his living environment. The same was true of labor. The poetic symbolism related to the tree of knowledge as opposed to the tree of life, the need to work and the expulsion from “paradise” (from the “place of Being”): each recounts this tragedy in its own way.

This first agricultural revolution appeared with identical characteristics in various regions of the world but, we must recall, each of them was separated from the others by immense territories where men still lived in the unitary way, periodically threatening the existence of the sedentary civilizations. Behind their fortified defenses, the populations that had isolated themselves had to work the land and forge metals, tend to the flocks and herds, build houses, and fabricate every kind of tool necessary for their particular way of life. Alongside these new kinds of activities, the need arose for full-time warriors to protect them, men who were specialized in the use of arms, exempt from everyday labor and lavishly provided for. The people enslaved in work and always under threat experienced for the first time in history the fact that freedom (their freedom) was found outside of themselves, in that dangerous outside world from which they had withdrawn. It was there, outside, that the truth of life resided; that was where life was. The knowledge that they had previously obtained from their own efforts, now had to be sought in those distant and inaccessible locations where life flourished without constraints. From then on, dispossessed from their truth, they delivered themselves into the hands of the priests and the astrologers, to the mathematicians and the diviners, to interpret the signs of heaven, in order to know the movements of life that they had allowed to escape from within themselves. All science, all religion and all social organization in these settled civilizations were the result of their particular alienation, their separate entrenchment.

The initial separation of man from his universe was accompanied everywhere by an identical separation of men from each other and of each man from himself. In other words, the Neolithic revolution entailed an unprecedented social revolution and a collective mental disturbance of which religion was the most outstanding phenomenon. These social and mental consequences will be analyzed below.

Although this topic will be discussed at greater length later in our text, we must nonetheless point out that there were still things that were not allowed in the agricultural civilizations, things that were still subject to the unitary consciousness, or rather to its shadow projected into the heavens. With their settled lifestyle, men had imposed on the soil the cultivation they needed to survive. Some subdivided the land, others introduced the two-field system, and others the rotation of crops. But the totality of their environment largely preserved a living cohesion. The crops and the care of animals were still subject to the rhythm of the seasons, the solar and lunar cycles, the demands of the soil and the needs of the herds and flocks. Natural associations were understood and generally respected. It would never have occurred to anyone to destroy the “weeds” or eradicate the pests, much less to feed herbivorous cattle the corpses of other animals.

The remnants of the unitary consciousness among the settled agricultural peoples can be recognized particularly in the way they perceived themselves, their illnesses and the way to remedy them. In China, India, or Hippocratic Greece, in the Arab-Moslem empire and even in late Christian Europe, human physiology was linked to the living world in its totality, just as it was linked to “heaven”. The disturbances of one corresponded to disturbances in the others. Even in the medicine of Theophrastus or Pliny, physiological disorders responded to the elements of the biosphere and to the universal dynamic, just as much as in Indian or Chinese medicine, or in the Hippocratic theory of the humors.

These sciences and these technologies, agricultural and medicinal, which appeared and developed in the settled civilizations, displayed important differences depending on the peoples who cultivated them and according to the geographical conditions of each. These civilizations also evolved progressively, they improved and became more profound in themselves in response to the difficulties they had to overcome. But they always preserved the characteristic traits mentioned above.

The civilizations that emerged from the Neolithic revolution lasted for thousands of years, from the Middle East to India and China, from Peru to Mexico, and even in Europe until the beginning of modern times, characterized internally both by their agricultural way of life as well as by the development of specialized crafts and original sciences, threatened externally by the raiding peoples and their military incursions that were constantly repeated (the Hittite attacks on the Egyptian empire; the Mongol invasions of China, India and the Arab-Moslem empire; the Vikings and the Magyars in Europe; the mountain peoples against the Amerindian empires). All of these empires developed for centuries, clashed with each other where they shared frontiers, some collapsed, annexed by their neighbors, but their basic characteristics remained the same and were afterwards expressed in the maintenance of a collective life that was possible within the conditions of a settled lifestyle and relative overpopulation that lay at the origin of their creation.

At the end of the Middle Ages in Europe various causes contributed to the overturn of the old social and ideological order. The European empire, which had never been very solidly united (the emperor, at that time, was a sovereign without money or capital, often in conflict with the papal power), was divided into multiple monarchies, each opposed to the other. There were no longer any external dangers that threatened Europe: the Magyar and Viking incursions were only a bad memory and the Arab-Moslem power had been expelled from Spain. Furthermore, the relative overpopulation of Europe soon reached such levels that famines reappeared, with increasing frequency. It was in these very particular political and economic conditions that a new social class, one that had long been held in contempt, imposed on the entire world an original ideology whose characteristics and basic features will be analyzed below.

The shadow of unitary consciousness, which still hovered in the uncertain heaven of the agricultural empires, was no longer perceived as a hindrance for the economic life of the group. Under the influence of this new social class, the external world ceased to be understood as a living dynamic in relation with the entire universe and had become nothing but an immense quarry of food products and useful materials for artisans and builders.

This was not the first time in history that such a misfortune had befallen an agricultural empire. Greece was divided from its Asian colonies, and Rome, which had initially been nothing but a colony of the weak Etruscan empire, had undergone similar revolutions. But they had collapsed a few centuries later under the pressure of external invaders and Europe, henceforth, returned to its traditional agricultural lifestyle.

Beginning with the Renaissance, however, a new kind of civilization appeared in Europe, one that would have been inconceivable a few centuries before and that would still remain alien to a large part of the world for a long time. The most heavily populated regions—Flanders, Brabant, and Northern Italy—were the starting points of this fundamental transformation that was manifested, first of all, by the abolition of the two-field system (in which half the land always lay fallow). With respect to this development, Marc Bloch wrote: “Without this unprecedented conquest, neither the development of big industry … nor, in general, the ‘nineteenth century’, with all its human effervescence and the sudden transformations that these words evoke, would have been conceivable.”

Everything that had restricted agricultural profitability would be discarded without any other consideration and, more precisely, every living element that limited the production of food and industrial development had to be destroyed without any consideration of its living nature or its place in the universal harmony. “Weed” plants and “pest” animals made their appearance. Technologies were modernized not in order to separate these species from the farmland or the pastures, but to exterminate them. Other technologies were developed and implemented to make the land produce more than its natural fertility would allow. Chemical treatments, fertilizers, and pesticides directed against “weeds and pests” would never have been conceived and manufactured without this new worldview in which the consciousness of the unity of life had been lost. The extraordinary technological and scientific development that appeared in Europe during this epoch resulted in this “liberation” of man from his ancient unitary consciousness with respect to life.

The truth of life, which was experienced directly and intimately by the old nomadic civilizations, and then projected into the heavens by the agricultural civilizations, was now reintegrated in the world, but as an alien element that one could observe, modify and even destroy.

This scientific upheaval was accompanied, as always, by a social revolution that we shall analyze below, a revolution that necessarily had to grant a preponderant role to a particular social class—which until that point had been subordinated to a different power—in order to enable its view of the world to lead to the exploitation of the entire human community as a simple instrument of labor.

The technological development of the settled agricultural civilizations made it possible for them to victoriously confront the nomadic hunters who coveted their wealth. The tools that were forged by the new Europe also allowed it to take over the rest of the world, shatter the old empires of South America, and everywhere impose its own technology, social organization and ideology.

As in all the preceding civilizations, we must point out that not everything was permitted in this European civilization until the advent of the 20th century; and that the worst had yet to come. The so-called moral scruples that, due to a lack of restraints on the mandates of a moribund conscience, were attributed to the imperatives of the old religions or to their temporary substitute, humanism, still debarred people’s minds from engaging in the realization of the technical feats that we have since witnessed.

During the first half of the twentieth century humans had not yet engaged in the exploitation of a source of energy that produces millions of tons of “unmanageable” radioactive wastes, wastes capable of destroying every form of animal and human life, whose deadly effects will last for millions of years. Nor had they yet transplanted the hearts of baboons in human beings, nor had they created organ “banks”, nor had they purchased bodily organs from the poor. Nor had they dared to create living artificial organisms, alien to the equilibrium of the biosphere, without any specific biotope, and, most importantly, such organisms had not yet been disseminated all over the surface of the planet without any understanding of the long-term effects of such a disjuncture. It is possible that they would not have dared to manufacture soap or fabrics from the corpses of prisoners after gassing them. And even if the idea of “cloning” had ever arisen in the unbalanced mind of some lunatic novelist, such an idea would never have acquired its citizenship papers in the scientific community. All these things, which we have seen take place in the second half of the 20th century, marked a fundamental rupture and the absolute disappearance of what still remained of the human conscience of the 19th century.

The appearance of the latest new technologies in the last few decades was not based on certain geographical particularities, or even on any political particularities, in a world that is now unified. It was the result of the demands created by the appearance of the first living resistance to the industrial development of the preceding centuries, that is, by a totality of reactions that threatened to annul the temporary advantages that this development had conferred. The new technologies clashed, in turn, with other kinds of resistance, more widespread and more complex, and it was necessary to devote new efforts exclusively to new procedures in order to persevere on the same road. The monstrous acceleration of contemporary technological development is simply the effect of this tragic war against nature, that is, against us. The price that will have to be paid in the end, at the inevitable moment of defeat, increases with each stage of this flight forward.

The case of genetically modified organisms is an excellent example. The suppression of the two-field system, and then of crop rotations and planting crops with mutually reinforcing traits, made certain crop species more vulnerable to attack from parasites and other diseases. And this morbidity annulled the advantages that the new agricultural regime had made possible. Pesticides and fertilizers made it possible, for a certain time, to maintain and even to increase agricultural yields under artificial conditions. This was the case until these new technologies triggered their own negative reactions: the resistance of “pest” species to these pesticides, which required an intensification of their use and resulted in the greater toxicity of these chemical agents, not only with regard to the targeted pest species, but with regard to plants in general. The ineffectiveness of the quantities of pesticides currently being used and the impossibility of indefinitely increasing them, favored the development of GMOs: in order to maintain agricultural yields, an attempt was made to modify not only a fragile living environment, but life itself, regardless of the consequences that might result from the consumption of plants that are totally alien to the homeostasis of the biosphere.

These forms of intervention, unimaginable only a century ago, need not be limited to plants. The multiple outbreaks of disorders, affecting animals and humans, as a result of an increasingly more toxic and harmful environment (as well as the increasing resistance on the part of pest species to the treatments directed against them) have now led to the promotion of research to deal with this problem in the same way. And, unless this mad campaign against life rapidly leads us to an implosion point, as many indicators, fortunately, allow us to foresee, every one of us can count on having to undergo compulsory artificial genetic modifications in the name of medical progress and public health, in the form of new “vaccines”, for example.

Furthermore, with regard to the medical technologies that have appeared over the last fifty years, it may be observed that all of them are designed to disable natural reactions to a harmful environment or to other toxic therapies: antibiotics aimed at destroying the microbial agents that have become dangerous due to the new fragility of the “unhealthy terrain”; anti-inflammatories designed to block natural defensive reactions to diverse toxic intermediaries or medications; multiple tissue transplants that replace organs prematurely aged or destroyed by living conditions without any precedents; immunosuppressants that inhibit the rejection of these monstrous transplants; antidepressants and anti-anxiogenic drugs for the intensive raising of chickens and humans, etc. (in this connection, we should recall that all observers of primitive peoples were deeply impressed by their physical vigor and their lack of illness). As for the mediocre attempts at animal or human cloning, undertaken with diverse genetic manipulations, they might be very useful to select and multiply individuals adapted to survival in environmental, psychochemical and general conditions that are becoming worse with each passing day.

Other techniques, recently perfected, seek to control the collective reactions of human communities to actions conducted against them. Each new intervention intended to subject them to living conditions imposed on them from the outside entails as a consequence reactions on their part (reactions that can be neutralized by means of antidotes or decoys), but whose inhibition in turn provokes more generalized reactions that involve many more people. And these new reactions affect, in turn, other systems that depend on them.

Whether these interventions are directed against particular individuals or against human collectives, their further progress requires increasingly more capacity for control, for planning, for coordination. In this modern war against life, computer science is the instrument that permits the control of these increasingly more complex reactions. At first military and rendered necessary because of the existence of more and more vast, and more convoluted and uncertain, battlefronts, its use has rapidly spread to the totality of technical-scientific operations. Without straying too far from our topic, we can add that the initially military concept of the Internet is the original sin that is subjected to unrelenting efforts to relegate to oblivion. This instrument is used to survey the totality of available information on a mass of diverse themes (and also, at the price of a maneuver of saturation easy to implement, to transmit a “genetically modified” image of this information).

The mass of parameters that must be accounted for to register and control increasingly more confused, interdependent and generalized reactions entails an exponential increase of the volume of appropriate information systems. And the recent debut of nanotechnologies has the purpose of delaying the implosion of the system of control.

As for the conquest of space—with its telecommunications and spy satellites, linked with information technologies and nanotechnologies—it allows for the surveillance and control of our entire inhabited world and the acquisition of data that are useful for instantaneous interventions against any reaction—social, military or any other kind—directed against the current organization of the world. At the same time, this “conquest” serves to locate new spaces considered, with good reason, to be hostile, barbarous or uninhabited and to make them accessible to the modes of organization imposed today on our entire planet.

All these new technologies and new enterprises require enormous amounts of energy, both to develop them as well as to implement and operate them. The recent discovery and utilization of nuclear energy, which allows for the obtaining of considerable quantities of energy from insignificant amounts of material, should facilitate the prosecution of this flight towards the future, far beyond the predicted exhaustion of fossil fuels.

To conclude our discussion of this topic and to confirm that the technologies developed during the second half of the 20th century are the offensive weapons of a war that dares not speak its name, we must call attention to the following fact: all these technologies—computer science, nanotechnologies, nuclear power and the aerospace industry—were initially conceived for military uses before they were used, in a more general way, for that other war, the one fought against life itself, a war whose purpose is to force life to submit to laws that are alien to it.

As any unitary consciousness, and even any simply dialectical consciousness, would have suspected, the last stages of this development have provoked new and more serious forms of resistance, precisely because certain problems associated with the resistance of life have been resolved. There can be no doubt about it—all these new technologies are threats to the survival of humanity. Whether we are talking about the “unmanageable” nuclear wastes, which were at first thought to be disposable by launching them into space, but which have now been relegated to burial in the ground; or the nanotechnologies whose capacities for self-reproduction can destroy the entire balance of life; or the many industries implicated in global warming or the deterioration of the ozone layer; or even genetically modified organisms, in view of our complete ignorance regarding their ecological and biological effects in the medium term; all these factors serve to confirm the increasingly greater likelihood that life on Earth might disappear.

It would therefore appear to be the case that we find ourselves at the end of this adventure of technology that has been underway for thousands of years, which started in widely-scattered territories, and which has prosecuted a war of resistance against the natural dynamics of life that is becoming increasingly more violent and catastrophic. This adventure has witnessed the appearance throughout its history of implacable plagues, misfortunes and devastations of the living world. Nor have these been the only damages that we have suffered in the course of this history. In order to prevent the emergence of any effective resistance against this historical process, it was necessary for the latter to be controlled by social minorities that discovered advantages for themselves in this process. It was also necessary for a collective madness to allow men to tolerate, and even consider beneficial, such organizations and such devastations.

The technological development that led from settled agriculture to genetic manipulation, from human traction to nuclear energy, was accompanied, in each one of its stages, by formidable social upheavals, and the collective organization of human groups became progressively more removed from the social consciousness of the nomadic peoples, until it reached the juxtaposition of individuals isolated from one another and deprived of all social consciousness that we see today. This history is also the history of the dissolution of individual consciousness; and the stages of this madness have been the same ones that were presented in the changes mentioned above. For it is always the same historical movement that implies the disaggregation of the individual subject, that of the social subject and that of the universal subject.

  • 1 This quotation was translated from the Spanish translation; the English-language editions of this book by Bakunin that I was able to consult, which appear to contain only selections from the original text, do not contain this particular passage—American Translator’s Note.