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Author’s Note: The text of this article has been drawn from an online debate at Science for Peace, Department of Physics, University of Toronto, September 2018
There is a popular explanation for the world chaos now upon us, and many scientists and philosophers advocate it. The form of this argument is that the rising global crisis we face traces back to human nature and genes to explain it.
The now widespread scientific category of anthropocene to locate the global crisis expresses the same idea and manages the same diversion from the common cause.
In fact, none can remotely explain the ongoing global system collapse nor the extreme climate destabilization which is the major known symptom of it.
The all-fronts planetary life crisis is confined to a much more specific causal mechanism: the cumulative, mounting and unregulated assaults of private industrial destruction, pollution, exhaustion and consumer waste in one relatively short span of the anthro-era.
But the ‘human-nature’ aka ’genetic’ argument obscures this fundamental fact. It does not come from stupid people, but it is a stupid explanation.
The Ancient Fallacy of ‘Human Nature’ to Explain Life-Blind Institutions
More exactly, it is an enduring preconception which has been dominant from ancient times. It has been often disproved, but its return expresses in another way the instituted life-blindness of the neo-capitalist era.
At this dangerous juncture of human evolution and history, it is one more ideological mind-lock to derail examination of the social-structural problem.
We need to bear in mind that the same ‘human nature’ argument was long in place to explain slavery as a natural phenomenon. Socrates, Plato and, most trenchantly, Aristotle, all conceived slavery as natural to human beings, and so unchangeable. They were very intelligent men, but assumed this as a given fact of the human condition.
Since first studying these philosophers, I have observed the argument reappearing in evil times to block people’s understanding of the actual social-structural cause of soluble problems.
For example, the acceptance of both war and slavery over millennia has been based on a ‘human nature argument’. It is natural for some to rule and others to serve them – and wars decide which group is the more fit to rule.
In fact, both institutions are not at all expressions of human nature, but pervasively enforced totalitarian institutions of mass murder and enslavement in particular social formations which serve the rich, non-working minority ruling them.
Capitalism is not Natural or Gene-Determined
Money-sequence capitalism is an historical extension of these institutions which still rules. Its difference is that a de-regulated and hyper-aggressive financialized form has brought mass-killing trends which have been one-way pathogenic since the Reagan-Thatcher turn against life-protective public law and non-partisan government.
It still rampages on today. But the long-ignored cumulative damages have caught up. Planetary life organization is paying the price in degeneration and collapse at every level while still further enriching those leading the global catastrophe.
They have dark reason to select for and quietly fund the argument of ‘genes’, ‘human nature’ and ‘anthropocene’ as the reason for the mounting chaos.
Yet this clinically insane rule is absurdly attributed to ‘human nature’ and ‘genes’ by even those not benefitting from it. After all, far more numerous victims are ‘human nature’ too with ‘human genes’ in ‘the anthropocene’, and only a minority agree with the policies, and ever more abhor the leaders and system they steer which together produce such inhuman character and eco-genocidal misrule.
Yet still you will have the most eminent thinkers – even the inventor of the ecological footprint – argue that our current ecocidal system is based on a genetic character formed in our distant past. He thinks it is indicated by the massive disappearance of large animals by human hand, but this has since been expertly attributed to selection by altered environmental conditions.
The ‘gene’ argument is very appealing, however, for its simplification into fixed one-cause ‘outcomes’. This is the theoretical essence of ‘sociobiology’ in general. It has been dominant in the academy and the legacy media as a seemingly scientific rationalization of a clear social disorder.
Yet as long as its cover story lasts, the rising crisis of life-blind private money-rule destroying the shared planetary life-ground need not be faced or solved.
The Solution of Nicer People
One of the enfeebling consequences of human-nature-gene diversions from the reigning system disorder is that it puts the onus on individual human beings to solve the problem by being “nicer” to and “kinder” to each other.
This certainly sounds good. Yet it track-switches critical attention from the life-blind corporate-market disorder to the personalities of individuals who normally have as such little or nothing to do with it, and are usually victims of its systematic stripping of public institutions, life-protective regulations and income bases.
Indeed this system disorder has invaded so many levels of society’s evolution that citizen life insecurity has been normalized in all phases of work, environment, and future however nice we are to each other as individuals (which I for one love).
Yet it is not individual choices that are responsible for the system oppressing the majority’s livelihoods, their life conditions and their futures, including that of their children. To focus on them is an implicit form of blaming the victim. Their being nicer people is essentially beside the point of the problem.
In logical terms, this is a fallacy of division. It falsely infers from the properties of a collective entity the properties of the individuals members of it, thereby making them responsible for its getting worse or better. “We are all responsible, each and every one of us for this human crisis” is a boring choral expression of this fallacy.
Because it makes those saying this seem so, well, nice and kind, they can bask in virtuous-self reflection. Those in fact leading the crisis as its planners and executives, with obscenely high financial pay-offs and privileges for doing so, are meanwhile left blameless and off the hook.
The cui bono question – who benefits and profits from this life-insane system? – is nullified a-priori.
Those who argue this way are not so nice as they seem. They present as good people to others, ingratiate themselves to those in control, and avoid having to face the real problem. This is all certainly easier and safer. In fact, it may bring top-down favor to the pacifiers and their ‘peace activism’ for side-tracking from the real evil and its lead agents.
The Cover-Up Culture of the Omnicidal System
Self-centering avoidance of the omnicidal system also lies in perfect line with the atomic-agency metaphysics of ‘free-market choice’. It is the individual consumer who chooses the system.
Again we revert to the individual human character as responsible for the system disorder – although, in fact, the consumer’s desires are operantly conditioned into prefernces (why far more money is spent on pervasive advertisements than on research or health); the conditions of production are ruled out of trade regulations and rights (why ‘race to the bottom’ worker and environmental standards occur); and almost consumer or citizen remotely chooses that societies must compete to lower taxes to the rich, abolish public scrutiny and enforcement of environment and consumer thazards, and have their elected representatives decided by invisible corporate lobbies and money manipulators.
Human nature? Genes? Consumer choice? The cover-up culture has many levels.
All the argument forms analysed above share one feature. They locate responsibility in individual agency. This is the dominant metaphysics of Western civilization, and why we have such a problem today recognizing the collective system derangement.
In fact, we are continuously misled from understanding and knowing the collective causal mechanism of the Great Disorder as a central function of it – to divert blame, responsibility and social action from the inherited but cumulatively pathological misrule from the top which threatens life on Earth itself.
Only one diagnostic model fits all of the depredatory phenomena across organic, social and ecological life hosts. It is not ‘human nature’ or ‘genes’ or ‘the anthropocene’, or too few ‘nice/kind’ individuals, or ‘consumer choice’.
The true causal mechanism of all the one-way degenerate trends of this cumulatively omnicidal disorder is a highly invasive private financial cancer metastasizing across societies and global life organization.
Prof. John McMurtry is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and author of the three-volume study, Philosophy and World Problems of UNESCO’s Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS). His works are translated across continents, and his last book is The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: from Crisis to Cure.