“A Government of Death”
Globalisation. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It was always a lie — a propagandistic slogan only — from the outset, for even its proponents described it in terms of “creative destruction”. There would be “winners” and “losers”. But in public, they overplayed the “creative” and downplayed the “destruction” bit, and they did so in the context of an “age of diminishing expectations” as Christopher Lasch called the period.
“Neo-liberal globalisation” isn’t, actually, the most accurate term for this process. “Globalised neo-liberalism” is the more accurate term. “Globalisation” is actually the creative aspect of this process. Neo-liberalism is the destructive aspect. But these two processes — one creative and integrative, one destructive and nihilistic — have become conflated as the meaning of “globalism” itself.
I was reminded of this after reading, in today’s Guardian, an appeal to the world issued by the Munduruku people of the Brazilian Amazon — “A government of death is plundering our ancient Mundruku lands. Help us stop it.” But “the government of death” isn’t actually even the main culprit here, for even government has, everywhere, become merely the auxilliary and handmaiden of Lewis Mumford’s Megamachine, for which “globalised neo-liberalism” is simply the standard-bearer. What Mumford (or Roszak equally) referred to as the “Anti-Life” characteristics of the Megamachine is what is precisely involved in this struggle for the Amazon.
If the Megamachine destroys peoples, vital habitats, and older ways of life…. well, that’s tragic and a pity, but, after all, “you can’t stop progress” and, besides, “a rising tide lifts all boats” and these last outposts of “savagery” have to join the modern age, even though nobody really knows what “modern age” really means any longer. (“We have never been modern” writes the Frenchman Bruno Latour — plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Wrong says Zigmunt Bauman, we’re simply now in “Liquid Modernity“. Wrong on both counts, say the post-modernists. It’s “the End of the Grand Narrative” and the onset of “post-everything”. Is the Modern Age a solid, a liquid, or a gas? That seems to be the contested issue here).
The Megamachine, though, is treated as though it were a force of nature itself — like the shark that must keep swimming and eating, or die. Certainly for the Munduruku the Megamachine has the face of death and not of life. And as much as the minions of the Megamachine might regret the destruction of older peoples and habitats… well, all this talk about spirits and gods of the land, rivers, and forests was all just superstitious and irrational anyway. A mightier god is our Megamachine, who wields the sword of Inevitability. None can stand against him. No one has stood against him. After all, we’re “doing God’s work”, as the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, famously insisted (and he’s not the only one who really believes that). That “God”, however, is clearly the Megamachine and is just as clearly Blake’s “Urizen”.
The struggle of the Amazon and the Amazonians with the Megmachine is an object lesson in the merits of Mumford’s analysis of the “miscarriages of megatechnics”. as well as an object lesson in the merits of Gebser’s history of the conflict of consciousness structures.
But, as Rumi puts it, “the cure for the disease is in the disease”. Globalism is the cure for globalisation, which might seem a bit paradoxical, but the Munduruku are evidently quite adept at using the instruments of globalisation — the network — to appeal to the rest of humanity for aid and allies against the Megamachine. Their tragedy — perhaps also ours — is not seeing that “the government of death” is the face of the global megamachine, and not that of Brazil’s alone. All governments have become subservient to “the Global Minotaur“, as former Greek finance minster Yanis Varoufakis called Mumford’s Megamachine. Varoufakis should know. The Greek Syriza government he represented, elected to defy and resist the Megamachine and the Global Minotaur, finally surrendered to it and now does the beasts bidding in Greece.
The fact is, no one knows really how to stop the Minotaur, the Megamachine, from devouring all life on Earth and turning the Earth and everything in it into an image of itself — an automaton. That’s behind Heidegger’s exasperation, too, in his confessing, not long after struggling with the question of the relation of the human to technics in The Question Concerning Technology, that “only a god can save us now”.
Amazon Watch is a group that documents the struggles of the Amazonians, works with the Amazonians, and campaigns globally on their behalf. It’s risky business since assassination of those who resist the Megamachine is pretty common in the Amazon, and even outside the Amazon, since there are plenty of minions of the Megamachine who work to have conservationists, ecologists, environmentalists, or even indigenous peoples branded as “terrorists” and “threats to civilisation”.
Gebser, of course, placed his hopes in the “integral consciousness” to defeat, subdue, or master the Megamachine. Heidegger’s “god” is Gebser’s “diaphainon“, so in an ironic sense Heidegger was right that “only a god can save us now”. And I really do think also that William Blake, in his mythology of the four Zoas, provided us with a map for how to subdue Urizen — the god of the Megamachine.