November 18, 2008 
For the Earth to live, capitalism must die
By Juan Santos

This is the Day of Reckoning. This is the Time of Purification. This is the end 
of the "world", the end of the city-state, the end of city life, of 
"Civilization." The early Christians called it the "apocalypse," the unveiling. 

Now, at last, the truth of what we have been presents itself unclothed. There 
is nowhere to hide. It is upon us. Like a cancer, capitalism, industrialism -- 
truly the most advanced stage of civilization -- "advanced" the way that a 
cancer is called "advanced" -- has ravaged the body of the Earth. Life on Earth 
is disappearing. Nothing that can be done -- or that will be done -- under the 
system of global death called capitalism will save Life on Earth. The 
capitalist, as Karl Marx rightly noted, is "the soul of capital personified." 
-- a soul unable to see beyond the limits of its own immediate perception of 
"gain." The capitalists as a whole -- as a white imperial world-ruling class -- 
understand the depth of the emerging crisis as well as we do. But they advance 
nothing more than schemes to sustain markets and profits, while life itself is 
allowed to perish in a holocaust in the making, one whose end is as certain as 
a nuclear winter. 

There are no words to convey the depth of criminal horror and illness of the 
rulers of a system that would create the conditions not only for genocide on an 
unimaginable, all but limitless scale, but that would commit the murder of all 
life -- ecocide, biocide and geocide -- in order to shield themselves from 
change and protect and maintain their ability to produce "profit." 

But the holocaust we are entering is not made of a single criminal act -- it is 
not the pushing of a button by a lone madman in a fit of religious mania or 
suicidal despair, it is, rather, the accumulation of a billion little deaths, 
the reaching of a critical threshold of death, until death itself boils over, 
the way that water, when it reaches its threshold of heat, roils over the edges 
of a pot, waging war on the fire that feeds it. It is the final explosion, the 
river of blood from the slaughterhouse spilling over its banks, no longer to be 
contained. It is the millions of children beaten, molested, raped, enslaved and 
"schooled." It is the billions who live on less than a dollar a day. It is the 
slow soul murder of television and of going to "work." It is a Quarter Pounder 
with Cheese. It is the homeless and the mad left hungry and frozen in the 
street. In the U.S., it is the millions of red, black and brown men locked 
behind prison bars, the mass terror of a racist system whose aim is to brutally 
reduce whole peoples to a state of utter subjugation, degradation isolation and 
immobility. Like the Nazi holocaust or the conquest of the Americas and Africa, 
it is not a single event, it is an historical process and an all -- permeating 
"way of 'life.'" It is the "supreme" way of life; the "non-negotiable" way, as 
George W. Bush put it; the "American Way." The capitalist way. 

Marx and Engels had this much wrong. Civilization, slavery-based economies and 
more efficient forms of production like industrialist capitalism and socialism 
have not led to "progress," unless "progress" can be counted as progress toward 
mass death and destruction, toward the enslavement and grave endangerment of 
human beings -- all of us -- and of every living plant, animal, fish and 
insect. Fundamentally, Marx and Engels believed in "profit" at the expense of 
the living Earth as much as any industrial capitalist -- they just wanted to 
share the profit more broadly in a different money-system. The fundamental 
alienation of people from their connection with all life -- and the most 
fundamental exploitation of life --would ultimately remain intact. 

The Marxist project has failed, just as capitalism has failed. The state didn't 
gradually "wither away" over a protracted period of change called "socialism." 
Under the conditions prescribed by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao, the state can't 
wither away. The state and the city are a single dialectical identity, a unity 
of opposites -- they're two faces of a single process, and the state can't 
"wither away" unless the fundamental process of domination, control, 
exploitation, ecocide and genocide called the city -- "civilization" -- also 
withers away. The city necessitated the state and the state enabled the city. 
The city and the state arose together and they will die together. No one has 
remained free anywhere the city-state has arisen or in any area it's conquered. 
No one has been free. Not the rulers. Not the ruled. 

But that's all over. 

There's a capitalist maxim: "Grow or die." The maxim holds true within the 
limited sphere of the circulation of money and the accumulation of capital in a 
particular economic system; each individual capitalist project must compete -- 
grow -- or be swallowed by other capitalist ventures; in other words, it must 

The system's true believers never thought they'd reach the limits of growth, 
but that is just what has happened. They've reached the limits of their 
"resource" base -- the ecological and geological limits of what can be 
destroyed to produce more profit. The game is over. They broke the bank. They 
were warned. They didn't listen. They're still not listening. For them, and for 
most of us who've not shaken our entrainment in the ways of seeing the world 
they stewed us in as children, we have come to an unimaginable passage. Call it 
the end of the world as we know it. That's the deal. The inescapable deal. It's 
over. One way or another. Either this "non-negotiable" way of "life" ends, or 
the capacity of Earth to sustain life ends. This is not to say that some 
solutions can't be found. It is, rather, to say that any "solution" that 
doesn't undo the fundamental theft and imbalance inherent in the system of 
profit is not really a solution at all. The problem is global -- total. The 
magnitude of the solution must equate with the magnitude of the problem. The 
system of theft and imbalance called profit is simply not sustainable, not on 
the whole, not in part. Life that can't be sustained dies. The capitalist 
equation is now turned right-side up: "Stop 'growth' or die." And it's not just 
the capitalist mode of exploitation that must end. We've got to eradicate the 
cancer at its root, and, of course, capitalism, and modern industrialism more 
broadly, are built on the foundations of earlier, less "efficient" systems of 
exploitation and destruction. 

While the psychological and biological functions or dysfunctions -- the 
emotional splits and repressions that lie at the very core of the origins of 
our cultural dysfunction -- have yet to be fully articulated and formulated 
into a coherent picture that explains their intersections with cultural 
suppression, economic exploitation, and political oppression, this much is 
clear. The first and fundamental practical expression of these dynamics in 
terms of their impact on the life of the Earth lies in this: The acquisition of 
land title by force and the enshrinement of "property" as social law. 

That's how "civilization" started: a city cannot exist without seizing the land 
around it. A city is all-but by definition a concentration of people too large 
to be supported by the land within its own boundaries -- it must seize control 
of nearby lands or its population will starve. 

The seizure of land by force -- both for agricultural and herding purposes and 
for mineral extraction -- continues as a key link in the survival and expansion 
of a global human population whose numbers are rapidly outstripping the 
capacities of the territories it already dominates to sustain any further 
population increase. The result is the rapidly escalating destruction of the 
world's forests (and the concomitant eradication of a huge and increasing 
number of plant and animal species), along with the bottom trawling of the 
oceans for fish to feed the spiraling human numbers, with the concomitant 
eradication of 90% of the world's large fish populations. Other clear examples 
include the seizure of the territory of the nation of Iraq for its oil and the 
seizure of a significant portion of Navajo Nation land and the forced removal 
of its population for access to the 18 billion tons of coal that lie beneath 
its surface -- basically the same thing that is happening to the indigenous 
peoples of the Amazon region as their land is seized for farming, ranching and 
oil interests. "Growth" means an increase in exploitable "resources," whether 
those resources are oil, coal, the fertility of the soil itself, or the 
"resources" for a "green" economy, like the ores to make the steel to build 
"environmentally friendly" hybrid cars (auto production creates, to cite just 
one example, 7 billion pounds of un-recycled scrap and waste annually.) The end 
result of this orientation toward economic "growth" is death for the land base, 
for the indigenous cultures that care for it, and for the life the land and 
native peoples support. It is a cancerous growth. Same as it ever was. 

A capitalist -- or socialist -- "green" economy is little more than another 
step in the evolution of a millennia long series of more "efficient" systems of 
exploitation and destruction. The fundamental premise behind the concept of a 
"green" economy and "green" growth is that the exploitation and destruction of 
life is somehow ultimately sustainable. "He is blind," as one Hopi elder put 
it, "So he destroys himself when he tries to save himself." 

No matter what we call the mode of production and destruction, and no matter 
how we distribute the "profit" -- the "wealth" extorted from life and living 
systems -- continued growth in production and destruction for the sake of human 
consumption can lead to only one end. Sooner or later -- really sooner than 
later -- we are going to crash full bore into the limits of growth -- into the 
absolute limits of the "carrying capacity" of the Earth -- the end of its 
ability to feed one more human, the end of the capacity of ecosystems to endure 
the disappearance of one more species without a complete and perhaps 
irreversible collapse. 

There is, if we are honest with ourselves about it, only one possible result 
that offers hope. It's not, I am sorry to say, social revolution. Nor is it the 
process of "bringing down civilization" advocated by some anarchist greens and 
anarcho-primitivists. The simple fact is that there is no evidence whatsoever 
that revolutionary movements aimed at an overthrow of the state or at the 
literal, immediate, physical dismantling of the machinery of death can be 
developed on a sufficient scale with a sufficient understanding to undo what 
must be undone -- nor could the seizure and wielding of state power do the 
trick. Not only is the state itself based on the seizure and maintenance of 
land title by force, but the existence of the state requires the existence of 
the city -- it requires that the fundamental dynamics of empire, "resource" 
exploitation and "profit" remain intact. 

Marx's postulation notwithstanding, for the state to "wither away" the City 
must also "wither away". 

It is only the accumulation of wealth at the expense of other forms of life 
that makes the concentration of power in a state apparatus possible. Only an 
increasingly radical imbalance in the energy flows of the planet, an imbalance 
skewed toward humans at the expense of all life, makes for such an 
accumulation, and the imbalance must grow in concert with the human 
population's growth until it reaches the very crossroads we have reached today. 
The seizing of state power in no way changes the fundamental equation. An 
ecologist might say that the equations of the solar budget are the only 
equations -- the only bottom lines -- that count. 

The only way out -- which is to say the natural way out -- is a population 
crash. No human --invented scheme can overrule the way -- the natural 
consequences or "laws" of nature. And what happens to any and every population 
in overshoot in nature is a population crash. It's nature's way. 

It can't be improved upon. It can't be subverted. It can't be avoided, 
although, perhaps, the severity of the collapse can be softened. Blame is 
irrelevant, except to the extent that in identifying causes, we are able to 
learn and avoid their repetition. But, a human population crash will do nothing 
more than delay even worse results -- like utter extinction -- unless it is 
accompanied by a profound process of identifying and learning from what went 
awry in what has gone before. 

Under the best of circumstances the global economy and the global system of 
dominance that rests on it will run into limits it cannot transform -- so that 
it cannot continue until the point that the global ecosystem -- life itself -- 
collapses all around us and within us. In the best case scenario, peak oil will 
prove just such a limit, a limit that sinks the system of production and 
destruction to such a degree that it prevents it from resurrecting itself. 

This formulation can, of course, be denounced as Malthusian. It can also be 
denounced by revolutionaries of all kinds. But here's the simple fact. All we 
can do is hope, and to the best of our ability, align ourselves spiritually and 
strategically with the forces of life. Yes, as Derrick Jensen suggests, hope is 
what you do when you have no agency, no power, no control. But then, it is 
precisely our drive to control and reorder nature that has brought us to this 
point, and it is that drive for control, and the pain that drives it, that must 
be healed, transformed and left behind. But, while we may not be able to 
control outcomes, make a revolution or "bring down" civilization, we can align 
ourselves spiritually and strategically with the forces of Life. 

By the same token and the same logic, the key tasks before us lie not in saving 
the global economy, not in creating a "green" economy, not in inventing new 
ways to exploit new energies in order to continue to mine the life of the 
Earth, nor in any other activity that would seek to preserve this system in any 
form whatsoever. 

The key tasks before conscious people today are the forging of a profound 
understanding of what has gone wrong -- a sweeping and utter re-evaluation of 
all values that will be tantamount to a new renaissance, a conscious 
re-creation and co-creation of culture. Much of that work began to be 
undertaken in the 1960s, and has borne important fruit, like William Kotke's 
work, The Final Empire. It is ours to forge an authentically sustainable 
culture, even in the midst of this civilization's fast approaching end -- by 
relying on and integrating the deepest, clearest and most coherent teachings of 
traditional indigenous cultures, of students of the ecology, and of the 
multivalent healing practices of both indigenous cultures and of the new 
therapies that have arisen in the last 50 years. Such a movement -- one that is 
intent on restoring the Earth and fostering social justice and renewing our 
cultures by incorporating the values and vision of indigenous peoples -- is 
already underway on a global scale. Paul Hawkens, in his important book Blessed 
Unrest, calls it an "unstoppable movement to re-imagine our relationship to the 
environment and one another." His research shows that it is the largest 
movement in human history, involving some 2-3 million organizations worldwide 
and some 200 -- 300 million people whose cultural, ethical, political and 
ecological creativity are already impacting billions. That the processes of 
renewal -- of healing, rectifying and relearning -- will best be fostered among 
those in living in direct contact with, and in a caretaking relationship with 
the Earth and other, non-human living beings should, I hope, be self evident. 

Juan Santos is a Los Angeles based writer and editor. His essays can be found 
at: He can be reached at: [EMAIL 

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