Chapter 6: A provisional balance sheet

Submitted by Alias Recluse on March 31, 2014



“To be sure, we can slow down the processes already underway, legislate reductions in fossil-fuel consumption, massively replant the devastated forests … all fine initiatives, but together they amount to the image of a ship sailing at twenty-five knots toward a rocky bar on which it will inevitably be smashed to pieces, and on whose bridge the officer of the watch advises the engine room to reduce speed by a tenth without changing direction.”
Michel Serres (The Natural Contract, 1989)

At the conclusion of this adventure that began several thousand years ago on certain fertile plains and has led us—from progress to progress, from revolution to revolution and from one collective madness to another—to the world in which we now live, we can no longer believe that such a history has delivered what it had always promised at every stage of its development: individual well being, social peace, consciousness and freedom.

The living environment that the nomadic peoples were able to preserve through their ways of life is today largely destroyed; and what remains of it is obviously in dire straits. The lush forests that covered immense territories up until quite recently have been considerably diminished in just a few decades. In the past they made it possible to retain the water of heavy rains, stabilize and enrich the soil, oxygenate the atmosphere and purify it of toxic gases. Not to mention the fact that they comprised the irreplaceable environment for numerous species of life.

The vast regions that used to be fertile have become arid, the land, without anything to protect it, has been scoured by the wind, and the desertification of the planet is now proceeding at the rate of several thousand hectares per day. The gases that the forests no longer absorb, and which industry is continuing to produce in ever greater quantities, are accumulating in the atmosphere and contributing to the warming of the climate, to the melting of the polar icecaps and, soon, to the inundation of vast areas along the coasts. As for the living species that need this natural environment, they are disappearing—they, too—at a constantly accelerating rate, just like their predators and the other species that live in symbiosis with them.

Furthermore, modern industry—whether agribusiness, petrochemical or nuclear—is everywhere releasing—into the atmosphere, the soil, the rivers and the oceans—incredible amounts of harmful and deadly substances. Millions of tons of petrochemical products, in various forms, are poisoning our living environment. Pesticide residues contaminate the entire food chain, in which we constitute the last link. Toxic heavy metals—such as mercury, lead, etc.—and also other chemical products, have rendered certain foods that we used to eat inedible. “Unmanageable” nuclear wastes, that will remain toxic for centuries, are being released into the air, into the rivers and into the sea, or are even buried in containers that cannot contain their contents, in most cases, for more than a few decades. All of these products, concerning which we never hear except when there is a nuclear accident, or an oil tanker breaks up, or a chemical plant goes up in flames, or when a tsunami engulfs an industrial zone, are accumulating everywhere and have spread to all living organisms—plants, animals, and humans—further exacerbating deforestation, and contributing to the extinction of numerous species and higher rates of illness in general. In addition, other industrial products destroy the ozone layer that protects our planet from carcinogenic and immunosuppressive solar rays.

Our conditions of survival have been severely compromised and mortality has increased at a dizzying rate in many countries. Famines and endemic malnutrition kill tens of millions of people each year. And while the main cause of this worldwide famine is the desertification of the soil by deforestation and water shortages, it is also caused in part by the destruction of ancient local traditional farming and its replacement with industrial monoculture (cotton, peanuts, sugarcane, etc.), imposed by the managers of our commercialized world. Furthermore, these trends have been amplified by local wars, provoked and logistically supplied by the same entities that impose these industrial monocultures, as well as by other industries that are also harmful to the living ecosphere.

Both endemic malnutrition and the dissemination in the atmosphere and in our food of numerous industrial toxins generate illnesses that today affect every population group in the world. Not only is the incidence of cancer undergoing an almost exponential increase in some populations, and for which pesticides and other industrial products that are ubiquitous in the environment are the least disputable causes, but the latter are also responsible for multiple epidemics of infectious diseases and parasitic disorders that were previously controlled and kept in check by the capacities of living matter to mount an immune response, capacities that are being progressively undermined with each passing year by malnutrition and modern pollution.

To these disastrous conditions we must add the increasingly more drastic alternation of droughts and floods, due to climate change and the unbridled deforestation of the last few decades (the catastrophic effects of the tsunami that struck Indonesia a few years ago were the result of the destruction of the mangroves that once protected the coastal areas). A UN report reveals that there are now twenty million “environmental” refugees and that “desertification, flooding, and storm damage related to climate change will displace fifty million people between now and 2010” (Libération, October 12, 2005). Another report, this one by the Pentagon, predicts that extreme climate disturbances due to industrial activities could affect the entire planet after 2010.1 Certain major European cities will be flooded and world conflicts will be inevitable because of famines, shortages of fresh water and also because of the unscrupulous use of nuclear weapons that such circumstances might produce.

Such a disaster, such imminent threats that affect us all, cannot be a matter of indifference to those who still claim to govern this dump. After all, wouldn’t they also be victims? Or at least their children? But these alleged “leaders”, as well as those who aspire to replace them, are nothing but intermediaries between a population on the chopping block and the financial powers that allowed these rulers to rise to their positions and which can dismiss them like valets for the slightest false step. They are condemned to be answerable to their great captains, they are afraid of Robbers, false Witnesses, Assassins, etc., and dependest upon an infinity of Persons situated above them.

As for those who manage the interests of the financial groups—and who are still considered, erroneously, to be a ruling class—they are forced to obey economic imperatives independent of their will and regardless of any personal opinions they may have. Otherwise, they, too, would disappear, swept aside by the same process that once placed them in power. Despite their resemblance to masters and great captains, they are only simple journeymen, valets, servants, and slaves of the laws of the market.

Thus, the only response to the current disaster is the one offered by the economy itself, and it is the economy that will pilot our ghost ship to the end of this civilization. Of course, it is necessary to conceal these trivial matters from those who might feel tempted to abolish, the sooner the better, a social organization that is exclusively subordinated to economic imperatives. The public must be pacified, often lied to, the most alarming information must be kept secret, and the excuse of alleged miraculous remedies must be brandished. And, above all, the fact that this ship does not have a captain must be concealed; indeed, that it never had a captain, and that it moves solely at the mercy of the winds and storms of the world market. Here is the real secret of this world, the one that contains all the others: all the lies of the media, all the political manipulations, and all the crimes of state.

To discover the answers that might be provided for the current disaster by the economic laws that have led us to this point, we must first recall the following fact: the mercantile system has been based, since its origins, on desire and deprivation. It grows, it survives and it thrives where human communities do not enjoy self-sufficiency. Who would buy food where you can hunt and gather it to your heart’s content? Who would engage in disagreeable activities in exchange for goods that you possess in abundance? The nemesis of the mercantile system is the ability to satisfy, in a free and autonomous manner, one’s basic needs, whereas the mercantile system’s fruits are poverty and frustration. This poverty permits the managers of the system to employ those who have been deprived of their autonomy in the production of commodities that they will then sell to others who are in need. It is in the articulation of these two moments—manufacture and distribution—that the mercantile surplus value is accumulated; and it obviously constitutes the power of the system itself. This power enables it to self-reproduce by the same method, yet further reducing human autonomy in order to increase its advantages. The poverty of needs is undoubtedly the raw material of the mercantile system, and those who manage it must always continuously erode what remains of human freedom in order to impose their monopoly over the satisfaction of vital needs.

That is why the new miseries—whether famines, planetary pollution, new epidemics, privation of freedom, and even insecurity—contribute to the reinforcement of the mercantile organization. Despite their proclamations to the contrary, the managers of our world can only celebrate a situation that is even more advantageous for the system they serve. Far from disrupting the mercantile mode of production, the ongoing disasters augment its power by aggravating privation and suffering. Some examples will serve as illustrations of this fact.

Global famine, provoked by the destruction of traditional economies and food crops—replaced by industrial crops that cause the sterilization of the soil, which is further exacerbated by intensive deforestation and the desertification of immense territories—serves the interests of our mercantile organization quite well. It supplies the starving, under the guise of “humanitarian aid”, with the surpluses of the foods produced elsewhere, in exchange for submission to industrial crops and to the corporations that are pillaging their natural wealth. In this way, servile masses are “liberated” and employed in situ to industrialize the predatory activities of their industrial masters, or are deported in order to perform the most oppressive and disdained work in other parts of the world. Our mercantile organization therefore does not have any interest in putting an end to a situation that is so advantageous for it, by allowing the restoration, for example, of family farms and food self-sufficiency among those peoples who today suffer from hunger.

The vulnerability of food crops, due to the depletion of the soil—for which industrial farming is solely responsible—also proves to be advantageous for them. Why attempt to reconstitute agricultural practices that are more in accordance with the natural dynamic of life, when the invention of GMOs (whose seeds are sterile) assures to the agribusiness corporations the preservation of the absolute monopoly in seeds that, in the past, the farmer would indecorously obtain without providing any surplus value to the managerial class? The mercantile system has every interest in generalizing such procedures. Nor is there any question of trying to prevent the contamination of traditional crops by GMOs; to the contrary, such contamination is favored by every means in order to put an end to an autonomous mode of production.

The excess of pollution by petrochemicals as well as the radical changes in the climate caused by that pollution are also in the interests of those who have to buy petroleum at very high prices. For them it is unthinkable, and entirely out of the question, to re-appropriate the ancient forces of energy, or even to promote new ones (except for domestic uses like lighting and heating) that could be accessible to such autonomous communities. Nuclear power, however, can be monopolized by states or by supranational organizations. This energy source is therefore very profitable for the current system and will continue to be developed despite the health risks that it entails, and despite the “unmanageable” nuclear wastes and the threat of terrifying accidents that looms over all the inhabitants of the planet.

Of course, these inhabitants are becoming a little more ill every day. The epidemics of cancer and the new deadly infections—not to mention anxiety and depression that lead to suicide—afflict more and more people. This new morbidity, however, this new misery, like all the other privations, is quite convenient for our mercantile economy. Why attenuate the causes of such a catastrophe—poor nutrition, chemical and radioactive pollution, and the immunosuppressants or endocrine disruptors that are ubiquitous in our environment—if the flourishing pharmaceutical industry (whose leading investors are the banks and the insurance companies) can produce in abundance, thanks to their wage workers, a multitude of blue, red, white and bi-color pills, which they will then sell to the entire world, precisely for the purpose of temporarily masking the most immediate effects of this health disaster? Thanks to this universal morbidity, health, which used to be something natural, has become a monopolized product from which our mercantile economy derives a constant flow of surplus value.

As for the risk of nuclear, chemical or biological accidents—accidents that mysterious terrorists can intentionally provoke—we must admit that they offer special advantages. There is no question, of course, of abolishing the causes of such accidents by renouncing nuclear energy, the most dangerous chemical industries, or genetic engineering. It would be preferable to bolster the police forces around these installations, which is to say everywhere, in order to impose more controls on the discontented population in its most intimate refuges. In this respect, even terrorism is beneficial for our mercantile organization in order to protect its global empire, and one can only be stupefied by the clumsy efforts that are being deployed to neutralize it.

Even wars and hurricanes are profitable. An entire economy of reconstruction, rehabilitation, security and “humanitarian aid” contractors flourishes in the necropolises of Baghdad, Jakarta, and New Orleans. It actually reached the point where, before the first shot was fired in Iraq, the multinational corporations were already fighting over the market for rebuilding the country before their government leaders had even decided to destroy its infrastructure.

Who would have thought that the shortage of fresh water that is beginning to affect entire continents and which is contributing to millions of deaths each year is also favorable for our mercantile civilization? The most powerful political-financial groups can monopolize water, which used to be abundant and free. They can sell it to those who do not have it in exchange for other products, obtaining surplus value from both ends of the business. Maybe some day they will even be in a position, by the utilization of desalination or synthesis, to obtain the exclusive patent on water, which is so necessary for life, and thus acquire the absolute monopoly over its manufacture.

In any event, whenever a choice is presented concerning any particular technical problem, today’s economy always selects the solution that it can patent and monopolize, while it makes arrangements to prohibit the ones that are not susceptible to such treatment. The example of leaded gasoline, which poisoned tens of millions of people for many years, is a case in point.2 And the toxic lead additive was only prohibited because it ruined catalytic converters and other costly and patented automotive parts. If you could get a bird’s eye view of this episodic history of patents and monopolies, you would see that the trend towards the acquisition of patents on life itself, something that alarmed certain people and provoked virtuous protests, is the masterwork of our mercantile civilization. All of its choices, from its very beginnings, converge towards this final result.

The most modern privations, of course, those that result from the loss of the ego in the mercantile system of wage labor—the confiscation of the worker’s personal creativity, of his living individuality, of his humanity and his freedom—are the ones that are most advantageous for our mercantile organization. It sells to these new paupers the images of freedom, personality, autonomy and natural life, in the form of gadgets that are the bearers, according to the advertisers’ claims, of those magical qualities, gadgets that were manufactured by other wage workers. Furthermore, this circumstance is favorable for the rise to power of “saviors” who promise to put an end to all miseries and all injustices, but who are condemned to follow orders or disappear, swallowed up by an adverse election, a civil war, or a brutal and inexplicable death.

The mercantile system, which produces these new ecological and social miseries, and which everywhere promotes the return of the most archaic poverty, is reinforced by its own destructive course, and its power grows exponentially. Today, the managers of this power are no longer prepared to help any power but their own, even in the most modest and relative fashion, nor will they assist other states besides those that have submitted to their requirements without the least resistance. We thus behold the dismantling of the old organizations of the state, which were still too dependent on their capricious populations, as in other times regional particularities and the tariffs and customs duties imposed by the municipalities were abolished. And these demolition operations are organized and executed in conformance with methods pioneered by the Mafia.

One of the typical activities of the historical Mafia was, by way of various measures of intimidation—financial or terrorist—to ruin certain businesses that competed with its own enterprises and then to buy them at bargain prices, for the exclusive purpose of destroying them or integrating some of their elements into its own patrimony. Today, this process takes place on the scale of entire countries, economically weakened by ad hoc political-economic machinations and overwhelmed by indebtedness to international organizations, and then redeemed by means of a “liberal” program and by the subsequent privatizations, before they are definitively ruined by being subjected to the repayment of the borrowed capital. On the pretext of an alleged “debt” or “penalties”, which are disturbingly reminiscent of the procedures and even the terminology of the Mafia and pimps, a population without jobs, starving and surrounded by an army of police armed to the teeth, is forced to accept national and international directives that are profitable for those who, behind the scenes, control the operation as a whole.

After destroying most of the African countries in this way, along with numerous Asian and South American countries, then it was the turn of the industrial countries to become the victims of these maneuvers. The case of Argentina was a model for the rapidity with which they were put into effect. But the implementation of this program has only just begun and, if one notes the construction of the so-called “liberal” Europe and the privatizations that are following in its wake, one can only conclude that the whole continent is now the target of these Mafia-style strategies.

This program, which consists in “liberalizing” the economies of these nations, in ruining them, in buying up their patrimonies at bargain prices, as well as in depriving their populations of their means of subsistence, starving them and forcing them to their knees in total submission, has already resulted in the fact that almost two billion people live in subhuman conditions in impoverished and overcrowded shantytowns. And the “chiefs of state” are nothing but the high-paid valets and footmen working for those who pursue the path of the highest profits.

Sometimes, however, it turns out that these maneuvers alone are inadequate or insufficient, due to the existence of rebellious populations or simply due to the ill will of reticent or too-demanding chiefs of state, and then military operations are necessary. Then one sees, here and there, brutal mercenaries sent to provoke wars that will be called “civil wars”, or allegedly “ethnic”, “religious” or “inter-communal” conflicts, wars and confrontations that allow their organizers to take the political reins of a state and reorganize it, in accordance with their interests, as a “liberal democracy”. In other places, and especially in the countries that are most capable of resisting these maneuvers, strange terrorist organizations opportunely arise that, thanks to the active participation of the media, scare the population and legitimize the implementation of police and military controls, searches and armed raids in disobedient territories, and the close surveillance of those sectors of the population said to be “at risk”; all of which allow the reinforcement of the power of those who are organizing these Mafia-style operations.

All of these successes and victorious offensive operations of the modern economy considerably exacerbate social misery and ecological disaster. The mercantile system is careening forward at an insane speed in the middle of the night. It does not know what to do with millions of tons of chemical and radioactive wastes, which it dumps in the oceans, releases into the air, or buries in the earth. It disseminates the products of genetic and nanotechnological tinkering everywhere, absolutely ignorant of the possible consequences. It has no apparatus to counteract the hurricanes, floods or tsunamis that are continually provoked by deforestation and radical climate change. As for the disaster of increasing morbidity and the new epidemics that are expected to break out, how do the managers of this system think they can protect their armies, their personnel and their own lives? For the time being, they are cheered up by the prospect of discovering other habitable planets beyond the solar system, to which they can flee from the one they have destroyed. They dream of launching lifeboats into which the crew can jump when they abandon ship. But the clock is ticking, and they will not have time to save themselves.

In order to keep the populations that are the victims of this disaster anesthetized, as well as to successfully carry out the various Mafia-style operations that are currently underway—economic, political, police or military—the system possesses certain instantaneous and universal means of communication, with multiple networks of transmitters, thanks to which it can constantly disseminate the required information. But this involves, above all, the circulation of the deceitful image and conferring credibility on a model of society that promises each individual that he can escape from the ruin of society, on the condition that he assimilates and adopts certain types of behavior whose merits are praised by the system. Each individual must, from now on, feel responsible for the system, free and proud to participate in it, happy and the master of his own fate. How can such a discourse convince individuals whose present reality contradicts these cynical claims—individuals who are irresponsible, servile and humiliated, wretched and excluded from all decisions that affect their own lives?

In the past, when the dominant form of madness was completely different from the one that prevails today, an educated Chinese Mandarin, a Spanish Grandee or a Member of Parliament was not unaware of the fact that his style of dress and his elegance were the privileges of his Estate. It was not the symbols that conferred his function upon him, but the other way around. And only a court jester would have tried to amuse his audience by pretending that it was otherwise.

Today, however, anyone can surround himself with the signs that are supposed to represent illusory qualities, signs offered up in abundance by a fashion industry whose production is oriented for just such a purpose. Mythomania and hypnotic suggestion, characteristics of the modern hysterical socio-neurosis, also allow each individual to magically acquire a fake personality in a social theater accepted by the entire collective. And this brand of shoes, that manner of speech, this soft drink, by way of a chain of mediations in which particular values are inscribed—youth, responsibility, seduction, courage, talent or success—authorize one to occupy an outstanding place on the stage of this imaginary theater.

This stage set is the real basis of these particular roles and every modern play-actor, by way of his behavior, justifies it and reinforces it. The social basis of today’s collective hysteria is constituted by this fantastic organization of interpersonal relations, fictitious values, and illusory meanings. And it is within this framework, within its limits and according to the lines of force of its composition, that all modern beliefs, judgments, and fragments of pseudo-knowledge are forged today.

The contemporaries of Demosthenes would never have allowed themselves to be gulled by the discourses of such politicians, or of such business leaders, who would have been thrown into prison in those days by the courts for fraud or for abuse of society’s goods, and whose crimes are so obvious today that no one even dreams of calling them into question. Today, however, such gallows-fodder is listened to and manages to convince an indulgent public with its deceitful promises. This is not made possible merely by the power of the media, just as it was not only the stage machinery of a Stalin or a Goebbels that made it possible for immense crowds to be dragged along to the adventures with which we are so familiar. It is, above all, the thirst for illusions, the gluttony for this kind of representation, where each individual can assign himself a favored place and inscribe himself in the purely imaginary collective model that is offered to him by the lying candidate, the social con man, or the political criminal. The modern, essentially hysterical, public, avidly feeds on these images because it has permanently lost its own reality, because it has forgotten its truth as a social subject, because it was first expelled—“alienated”—from itself.

Could anyone imagine, for example, that in the Europe of the 17th century, a gang of masked individuals could commit a random massacre in a village and that a greedy despot would manage to convince the multitude that the organizers of the massacre were precisely those whose wealth he coveted and that he was taking advantage of the situation by confiscating it? Except for Nero’s Rome, where hysteria had become so widespread prior to the fall of the Empire, could anyone imagine anything like this taking place in any other era besides our modern times, in which it has become generalized? Belief in such childish absurdities is not possible unless it coincides with a social stage-management that is accepted with delight, like any other, by a mythomaniacal public.

Today’s collective hysteria, with its amnesia with regard to the self, its tendency to succumb to the power of suggestion, its thirst for images and representations, was formed over the course of the last few centuries in mercantile social relations. In this kind of social relation, where the subject is deprived of his creation at the very moment that he produces it, where the created object presents itself as autonomous and as the primum movens of social relations, the loss of self naturally leads to hysteria. Thus, it is not the “society of the spectacle” that generates today’s mythomania. This neurosis was first forged in the old mercantile “alienation”; and it became generalized with the globalization of this alienation.

Hysteria then became almost universal in the modern social organization. This is what permitted the Mafia managers to fabricate a kind of empire and lead the world to its present state. The mythomaniacal multitudes eager for fairy tales now sustain the destruction of the planet, their own decline in urban fringes that are like concentration camps or immense refugee internment camps and, finally, their own deaths in worldwide famines, the poisoning of the environment, and the new epidemics, as long as they are still offered implausible stories about “humanitarian aid”, the “Zionist conspiracy”, ongoing “democratic reforms”, the “global debt crisis”, the threats posed by “Al Qaeda” or, in other territories whose collapse is less visible, stories about the new Internet sites, the latest fashion in clothing, or the most recent advances in the treatment of cancer.

A minority fraction of the population, however, does not doubt that such a disaster will provoke, over the course of its unfolding, such significant social reactions that they will seriously disturb this organization in its entirety, its mode of production, its social relations and its generalized madness. Some are even attempting, at this very moment, not to propose reforms of the current system, but to provoke a really subversive social movement, for the purpose of establishing another kind of society that is less suicidal. These other models of society, intended to succeed our dominant civilization, now deserve to be examined without any illusions.

  • 1 Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for United States National Security, 2003. Available online in March 2014 at:
  • 2 See Jamie Lincoln Kitman, “The Secret History of Lead”, The Nation, March 20, 2000. Available online in March 2014 at: