ecostory 103-2007

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A Trial of Explaining Societal Dysfunctioning

by Peter Salonius

The basis of societal dysfunction (capitalism), which began with the wealth accumulation made possible by the advent of agriculture, has become deep rooted in our culture.

However, if the capitalistic credo/philosophy/ belief structure/ intellectual operating system that has developed during our recent history (~10,000 years) had not been in tune with the mentality and the aggressive nature of most of the individuals in our species -- then the CAPITALIST modus operandi would not have developed in the first place and would have long since been rejected wherever it arose.

Pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer human societies, although responsible for massive extinctions of many large animal species, were comparatively ecologically benign (and relatively sustainable in the context of waxing and waning glaciations) when compared with the ecological devastation caused by human societies during the present interglacial period.

Early human societies were limited by the energy they could capture from the sun. The ability of slowly expanding human society to occupy and destroy entire ecosystems since the advent of agriculture, and the ability to expand exponentially since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution causing what many ecologists are calling the sixth extinction, is without historical precedent.

The increase in human numbers and the growing scale of the capitalist economic activity of modern human society has been open-ended because of access to seemingly unlimited amounts of stored geological energy.

Capitalism is the highly competitive intellectual operating system (game) that dominates modern human society. Capitalism is predicated on transforming seemingly limitless natural resources, or real wealth, into money, or representational wealth. The winners in the game are understood to be those who accumulate more money than others do.

- The first flaw in this modus operandi (game) is that neither renewable nor non renewable natural resources are unlimited.

- The second flaw is that unscrupulous players are able to cheat by creating representational, but artificial wealth, by printing money that is not backed by any physical good.

The ultimate, and I believe unintended, endpoint of this highly competitive, wealth-accumulating, intellectual operating system (game) is to have finally converted so much of the low entropy natural resource base, or real wealth, into high entropy waste and money, or artificial wealth ---that the game ends due to either the exhaustion of some critically important natural resource (like energy or soil nutrients) or real wealth, or due to the excessive buildup of polluting waste to a level that compromises the structural integrity of the arena (ecosphere) to the extent that that the game is unsustainable.
    -- Peter Salonius, Research Scientist, Canadian Wood Fibre Centre Natural Resources Canada - Canadian Forest Service
PS: On Population decline and hunter gatherers:

Hunter gatherers had no need for CULTURALLY DETERMINED Rapid Population Decline.

When hunter gatherers overshot the carrying capacity of their ecosystems they starved and their populations collapsed.

In order to avoid such Mathusian catastrophies, hunter gatherers suckled their children for very long periods (avoiding conception), used abortifactants (to preclude excess births, AND practiced infanticide when other methods of controlling family size failed.

Women who already had their hands full with fuel gathering, food preparation and child rearing (men hunted and attended important meetings) and were in control of their fertility - decided when they did not want any more children.

For thousands of years hunter gatherers did not use bird's beaks to pave roads (they had no need of roads) or use bird skins to build homes (their homes were assembled and disassembled as they moved nomadically over the landscape) or burn bird's feet to heat rocks to make metal (when they began to make metal they used wood).

The "oscillating about a limit as equilibrium" went on for innumerable cycles until the hunter gatherers commenced to grow crops (AND UNSUSTAINABLY MINE SOIL NUTRIENTS) to produce food stores (WEALTH) in excess of currrent requirements - so as to be able to allow populations to rise far above sustainable carrying capacity levels that had formerly been limited by soil formation and plant nutrient production rates.

The HUMAN population dynamics of hunter gatherers is driven by PRESENT availability of foodstuffs (both animals and plants) as very little of the STORAGE against scarcity that agriculture facilitates (grainaries etc) and very little TRADE with neighbours whose present availability of foodstuffs is still abundant is possible - so that when hunter gatherers overshoot the carrying capacity of their immediate surroundings THEY STARVE AND THEIR REPRODUCTION RATE DROPS UNTIL SUCH TIME AS THEIR DEMANDS ON LOCAL CARRYING CAPACITY ARE AGAIN BELOW THE PRODUCTION RATES OF THE FOODSTUFFS THEY REQUIRE.

    Peter Salonius
Also compare
  • Capitalism, fossil fuels and climate change
  • Capitalism - the dog or the tail? What would an economic system look like...

    Today, 2007, we are basically still hunters and gatherers. We hunt the fish in the oceans. We gather the ressources of all kinds, food and minerals. Then we transform our bounty into all sorts of goods, including many wasteful and harmful luxury products.

    In doing so we deplete the nonrenewable resources and destroy the living conditions for the renewables, nature and other living beings. The resource depletion is accompanied by pollution and toxification.

    Today, the whole planet is being plundered by an insatiable economic and political system which has lost reason.

    When modern hunter-gatherer society collapses because of lack of resources, the ensuing resource wars will destroy and pollute what is left and a rebuilding on a lower and sustainable level will possibly be impossible. That could be the end of human history.

    Therefore, given the facts that
  • humanity is overburdening the Earth's carrying capacity tremendously, in numbers and by per capita consumption
  • every dollar, pound, euro, renminbi, rubel of economic growth represents an increase in the rate of resource depletion

    we have no other choice than
  • to stop economic growth and aim at economic contraction, to which all other societal goals must be made subserviant

    For this popuse our societal elites must
  • redirect their efforts on designing suitable ways to restructure society accordingly,
  • for example by speed reduction, relocalisation of working and living, reduction of transportation to the absolute minimum, increase longivety of all goods, outlaw wasteful and societally harmful products and services, ...

  • The resulting de-industrialisation will automatically create full employment because labour-saving mechanisation will be strongly reduced.
  • A restructured soiety will probably only become possible if people regain local control over their work and resources, which means the end of international ownership and control.

    The new frugality of life will be rewarded by higher personal satisfaction and most importantly the renewed feeling that there is indeed a future for our children.

    Helmut Lubbers, 9 November 2007
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