There are two types of ‘human being’ on the planet, but only one type can truly call itself human.
The ‘human beings’ who cannot truly call themselves human include myself and all the others who are products and functions – not of the earth from which we originate – but of the economy we know as capitalism… whether they reap the benefits of the demented ‘wealth’ that capitalism generates, or whether they struggle to survive in the depths of the madness that is the flipside of the madness of progress and technological advance. These so-called humans (you and I) are fictions, or creations – or the hollowed-out drones – of an uncontrollable and autonomous economy that has severed all their links – beyond romantic fancies and false claims – to other animals and the earth itself.
The other type is the one that still lives in the forests, in the hills, or on the plains, avoiding the advances of civilization. But their existence is precarious and is becoming more fragile with each passing day. These peoples are the last humans.
Many of us – I used to be one – nurture the dream of a worldwide revolution during which capitalism is overthrown and people are suddenly able to live together as equals in a society where there is no systematic hierarchy and no exploitation, where we can decide ourselves what to do and when to do it, where commonality and community is the bond that ties us together instead of money.
These dreams exist on paper but when they have appeared to come close to realization – for example, in 1649, 1789, and 1917 – they have ended in a totalitarianism even worse than previously experienced. Were these events ‘failures’ or were they inevitable?
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose book, ‘The Social Contract,’ was used by Robespierre to justify the Terror in the French Revolution, would have opposed both Robespierre and his millenarian leanings. As David Wootton writes in his introduction to Rousseau’s ‘Basic Political Writings’: “Robespierre and the Jacobins admired him greatly, but they misunderstood him profoundly (their Rousseau was invented to serve their own purposes).” But we now also know that the French Revolution was the inevitable result of the change in the economy that preceded it. The new entrepreneurs, the industrialists, and the bureaucrats had become the real power prior to 1789 and it was inevitable that that power had to become recognised in the social structure. It was the children of the new economic masters who were the revolutionaries who gave voice to this inevitable institutional change of power – and their promise of democracy and freedom chimed with lower class discontent and anger. The same thing happened in England in 1649 and in Russia in 1917.
After their respective revolutions, things in France and England were dictatorial and messy. The French solved the problem with Napoleon and embarked on an Enlightenment crusade to conquer Europe, this lasted a long time but eventually things got back to some kind of ‘normal.’ The English got Oliver Cromwell and conquered the Irish, the new regime did not last too long and after a while things got back to normal. In Russia the dictatorship lasted a long time and things are still getting back to ‘normal.’ In Cuba – which may well be, as many people suggest, a better place in which to live than the USA – the transition to ‘normal’ is still in its early stages.
In each case there was only a change in the ruling class and capitalism won.
In England the change of rulers forever altered the political power structure and paved the way for Industrialization. In France the same thing happened, which is why the French Revolution is identified as a Bourgeois Revolution. In Russia capitalism won big time: after 1917 Russia implemented the fastest and most brutal introduction of Industrialization the world would ever see. In Cuba the economy has not seen the rapid transformation that the nationalist Cuban business leaders who initially supported Fidel Castro had hoped for, and progress has been slow for various reasons, but current leaders are now allowing the concept of private property to enter the political dialogue. In China capitalism also won big. Their Industrial transformation has imitated Russia, and the country remains under full dictatorship. North Korea suffers the same kind of economic difficulties and slowness as Cuba… but is not as good a holiday destination as Cuba.
The story of the Garden of Eden is an interesting example of our fate as humans once we allowed hierarchy and exploitation – the State – to rule our lives. But this story, and similar ones from other cultures, insisted that ‘the golden age’ could not be recreated on earth, it could only be found after death… in heaven. From the time of the first State, when the first Garden of Eden story emerged, everything was about the economy and making the rulers increasingly wealthy… it was all about the treasure, the opulence for some, and the money… and the sinful poor were meant to accept that this was basically all their fault.
The Garden of Eden story is known as the story of the fall from ‘grace,’ but it is easy to see that the ‘grace’ was the time before drudgery and exploitation. The religions that told the story were informing the subjects of the new civilizations that things were such – Rousseau said it was because everyone was now dependent on everyone else – that there was no going back to some golden age, they had to get on with toiling for their betters in the name of God, so they could secure a place in heaven. Civilization is a hamster wheel that promises new worlds, but ends where it began, in a cage.
But the image of the Garden of Eden also served those who hated the new conditions as an inspiration to indeed do the apparently impossible and not wait for death but recreate ‘the golden age’ on earth. Rousseau recognised this impulse in himself and others, but he warned that it should ever only be an idle fancy.
Civilised people – us hollowed-out drones of the capitalist economy, us non-humans – are stuck in a situation from which there is no way out. Ecofascist types, who want to remove Indigenous peoples from ‘nature’ in order to preserve it – just like the National Park Service did for native peoples in the US a hundred years or so ago, and Modi is doing in India right now – are as misguided as that other kind of ecofascist who thinks drastically reducing the number of people on the planet will lead to some kind of utopia.
What kind of planet would it be for the remaining people if those few people were guided by the kind of monsters who actively wanted to reduce the number of people on the planet? Many people have mistaken the economic systems that are necessary for the organization of large and mass societies for what appeared to be a mass of colonizing cockroaches engulfing the world from their nest in Northern Europe. William Burroughs, for example, if I remember correctly, viewed ‘the white man’ as a plague on the planet, and the hilarious Spike Milligan said that the global population was in desperate need of a radical reduction. But say the population was reduced and William Burroughs and Spike Milligan were, for those of us left, our new guiding lights… do we think anything but the re-establishment of hierarchy and exploitation would happen?
We can’t suddenly change who we are. We are slaves to capitalism who only know how to live a capitalistic life. We would tell people what to do and we would punish those who didn’t do what we said – because this is embedded in our pedagogical culture. This is exactly what happened in the Russian Revolution. The new capitalist visionaries – I mean, of course, the Bolsheviks – took over and did exactly what capitalism wanted, which was not at all what the promise of communism was supposed to be. Despite Lenin’s great intellect he never realized that he was not the harbinger of ‘communism’ – he never realized that he was never anything more than a function of capitalism. As were all the revolutionaries in Russia at that time, as are all the revolutionaries today… as we all are, of course.
So, to carry on living in this world, if that is even an option allowed us by the impending ecological catastrophe, we non-humans – we no-longer-humans, we products and functions of the economy – have to keep trying to make the best of a bad job.
But there is one single thing we can do that would help to save our ‘reputation’ in the vast balance-sheet of ‘human’ history – and that is to completely seal off those areas of the world that contain the tribespeoples and the ‘uncontacted tribes’ who somehow seem to have always known the evils of civilization, and so have avoided it for millennia.
These peoples are the last humans. They are the revolution that has always been here. They have had no ‘fall from grace’ in the way we have. They do not live in drudgery and empty despair; they have not had their spirit and humanity hollowed out of them.
But we cannot join with them. We must leave them alone. The revolution has always been with us. We must let it live.