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The greatest threat to the Western Way of Life is the Western Way of Life itself.

The Collapsing Western Way of Life
The greatest threat to the Western Way of Life is the Western Way of Life itself.

By John Kozy

Global Research, June 18, 2010

The Age of Enlightenment was born sometime around the beginning of the
eighteenth century. A mere three-quarters of a century later, industrialization
ushered in the Age of Endarkenment, and human life has grown more and more
perilous ever since. The Golden Age of capitalism cannot be recreated merely by
applying the right mixture of spending, subsidies, re-regulation, and
international agreements. Because the economic advantages of industrialization
rely on overproduction and profit, balanced trade is impossible if the advantage
is to be preserved; it entails no economic profit. Industrialism is a Hegelian
synthesis which embodies the forces for its own destruction. The greatest threat
to the Western Way of Life is the Western Way of Life itself.

That human beings seem unable to solve their most pressing problems is too
obvious and well known to deserve much mention; that most of the problems that
human beings seem unable to solve are caused by human beings themselves deserves
mention but rarely is.
Human beings act as though having to deal with problems whose causes are beyond
human control is not enough. Cyclones, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions,
droughts, floods are apparently not serious enough to command human attention.
These problems, apparently, have to be supplemented by self-made catastrophes to
keep our minds engaged. But most manmade problems could be avoided by careful
and complete analysis of the ideas that, when implemented, have dire results.
Time-tested and effective ways of analyzing problems have been known for
centuries. Rene Descartes published his Rules for the Direction of the Mind
around 1627 and the Discourse on Method in 1637. John Stuart Mill published his
Methods in his System of Logic in 1843. The mathematical method known as
reductio ad absurdum has been employed throughout the history of mathematics and
philosophy from classical antiquity onwards, as has the method known as
counterexample. And root cause analysis is a highly developed method often used
in information science and other places. Oddly enough, however, even most well
educated Americans seem to be unaware of any of these analytical techniques, and
when attempts are made to analyze ideas, these attempts are rarely carried out
logically or all the way to their ultimate ends. Americans rarely "follow the
argument wherever it leads;" even those good at analysis often stop when they
come across something that looks appealing.
John B. Judis recently published a piece in the New Republic in which he
summarized some claims made by Robert Brenner, a UCLA economic historian. Judis
"Brenner’s analysis of the current downturn can be boiled down to a fairly
simple point: that the underlying cause of the current downturn lies in the
“real” economy of private goods and service production rather than in the
financial sector, and that the current remedies­from government spending and tax
cuts to financial regulation­will not lead to the kind of robust growth and
employment that the United States enjoyed after World War II and fleetingly in
the late 1990s. These remedies won’t succeed because they won’t get at what has
caused the slowdown in the real economy: global overcapacity in tradeable (sic)
goods production. Global overcapacity means that the world’s industries are
capable of producing far more steel, shoes, cell phones, computer chips, and
automobiles (among other things) than the world’s consumers are able and willing
to consume."
Why this is worth mentioning is difficult to fathom. Overproduction has always
been associated with economic busts, and such busts have happened with such
regularity that economists have even incorporated them into theory by
euphemistically calling booms and busts the "business cycle." The question that
must be asked is, "What causes overproduction?" And the answer is industrialization.
The Industrial Revolution began in England around 1780. It transformed England
from a manual labour and draft-animal economy into a machine-based one. But this
change in the primary mode of economic activity was not merely economic; it
changed the entire culture, not clearly for the better. Almost every aspect of
life was changed in some way.
Many cite increased per capita GDP as evidence of the revolution's benefits, but
GDP is a poor measure of benefits. It merely measures the sum total of economic
transactions in terms of the culture's money, neglecting the effects of economic
activity on the quality of human life.
The Industrial Revolution is largely responsible for the rise of modern cities,
as large numbers of people migrated to them in search of jobs. These people were
mainly housed in slums where diseases, especially cholera, typhoid,
tuberculosis, and smallpox, were spread by contaminated water and other means.
Respiratory diseases contracted by miners became common. Accidents in factories
were regular. In 1788, two-thirds of the workers in cotton mills were children;
they were also employed in coal mines. Henry Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins
argue that the bulk of the population suffered severe reductions in their living
standards. Although life in pre-industrial England was not easy, for many it was
better than laboring in factories and coal mines.
Other consequences of the revolution are worse­craft workers lost their jobs.
The Industrial Revolution concentrated labour into mills, factories, and mines,
but industrial workers could never experience the sense of satisfaction and
pride that craftsmen derived from their creations. Working a craft is a mentally
stimulating and creative activity; operating a machine is not. The best
craftsmen were renowned as artists. Some are still renowned today: Thomas
Chippendale and George Hepplewhite, for example. The integral strength of
Windsor chairs has never been duplicated in a factory. Handmade textiles,
Persian rugs, even handcrafted toys are renowned for their artistry. Today that
pride and satisfaction accrues only to hobbyists, such as quilters, but never to
industrial workers. The Industrial Revolution degraded human life to the status
of coal. People became fuel for machines. Bought cheap, people are used until
unneeded and then discarded like slag. Individuality, talent, imagination,
originality­the best attributes of human beings­are suppressed to the point of
extinction. The Industrial Revolution sucked the humanity out of the human race;
people became things.
But the revolution gave England a temporary economic advantage as that is
measured by economists. Excess production, that is, production not consumed
domestically, could be exported, and England's wealth could be increased by
buying (importing) cheap and selling (exporting) dear. This worked­for a while,
but never smoothly.
The Industrial Revolution quickly spread to Belgium, France, the United States,
Japan, the Alpine countries, Italy, and other places. As it spread, the amount
of excess products that needed to be exported grew and grew, and the number
prospective foreign consumers shrank and shrank. Because there is little
economic advantage (as economists measure it) in trading exports for imports of
equal value, the international economy necessarily divides into net exporting
nations who are enriched and net importing countries who are impoverished and
less and less able to afford imports. The system has to be patched or the
machines would grind to a halt. Most of the work of economists since the middle
of the nineteenth century consists of developing patches for this collapsing
system. Comparative advantage, creative destruction, free trade, Keynesian
stimuli, and even social programs (which would be unnecessary if the economy
provided for the needs of people) are merely attempts to patch the system, to
keep the machines running.
Industrialists soon realized that if they reduced the quality of their products,
their life cycles would be shortened which would require people to replace them
more often thereby increasing consumption. Manufacturers have been steadily
reducing the quality of products ever since. An essential part in a device is
made of an inferior material so the device fails far before its time and becomes
junk, batteries in devices are soldered to their circuit boards so that when the
batteries die, the products becomes junk, one fewer olive in every jar means
more jars are sold, and the jars become junk. Economists like to claim that the
system produces the best products at the lowest cost, but in reality it produces
the exact opposite. As more and more products must be discarded and replaced,
the discarded junk is hauled to landfills or dumped in oceans. But as landfills
grow larger and larger, another patch is required­recycling. But it too is
ineffective. Batteries soldered to circuit boards cannot be recycled, every
half-filled can of paint cannot be taken to a recycling center, separating
useful elements from the useless ones is often a hazardous task. The system
produces junk! Humans originated about 200,000 years ago. The Soviet Union
launched the first Sputnik into space in 1957. In less than 60 years, less than
a mere three tenths of one percent of the time people have inhabited the Earth,
the industrial nations have put so much junk into near outer space that the junk
now endangers the functionality of operational satellites. Abandoned industrial
sites are often highly toxic which often require cleanup­another patch. Often
complete cleanup is impossible. Toxic residues are a species of junk. Keeping
the machines running necessitates the production of it.
Global industrial capitalism will continue on the gradual downward descent to
collapse. The Golden Age of industrial capitalism that lasted from 1945 to 1970
cannot be recreated merely by applying the right mixture of spending, subsidies,
re-regulation, and international agreements. Because the economic advantages of
industrialization rely on the two ingredients mentioned above, overproduction
and profit, balanced trade is impossible if the advantage is to be preserved; it
entails no economic profit. Ultimately too many nations will be too poor to be
importers, and the machines in the exporting countries will cease to function.
Industrialism is a Hegelian synthesis which embodies the forces for its own
destruction. The greatest threat to the Western Way of Life is the Western Way
of Life itself. Patches may prolong it, but they cannot remove its contradictions.
Chandran Nair writes ,
The 20th century’s triumph of consumption-based capitalism has created the
crisis of the 21st century: looming catastrophic climate change, massive
environmental damage and significant depletion of natural resources. . . . The
western economic model, which defines success as consumption-driven growth, must
be challenged. . . . Advocates of the western model tend to play down its
dramatic effects on natural resources and the environment. They refuse to
acknowledge that their advice runs counter to scientific consensus about limits
and the need for stringent rules on resource management. Instead, they argue
that human ingenuity aided by innovations in the markets will find solutions.
This is rooted in an irrational belief that we can have everything: ever-growing
material wealth and a healthy natural environment. The stark evidence . . .
should be proof enough that this is not possible.
No, it's not possible, but the impossibility lies in the system's logic, not in
its effects. To use the preferred diction of economists, the system is
unsustainable. Since the collapse of the industrial system is inevitable, a
fundamental rethinking of the way the economy works is the only alternative. It
has always been the only alternative. But even that leaves humanity soaking in
the pickle. When the economic advantages of industrialization have dissipated,
humanity will still be stuck in a world filled with bioundegradable junk,
hazardous sites, raped environments, the unending consequences of the often
accidental importation of alien species, polluted air and water, and numerous
other consequences, the costs of which economists have never taken into
consideration. And the progeny of both the rich and the poor alike will have to
live with them. The pockets full of money that the rich have won't prevent their
children and grandchildren from breathing bad air or drinking bad water or
dealing with environmental degradation. These children and grandchildren may
someday curse the days their fathers and grandfathers were born. Capitalism, as
we know it, is reaching its endgame. The meek who inherit the earth will find it
to be worthless.
The human brain has enabled mankind to discover and create wondrous things; it
has also been used to inflict horrendous suffering and destruction. In fact, it
would be difficult to design an economic system more destructive, wasteful, and
dehumanizing than the industrial, and much of the destruction it has wrought may
be irreparable. Industrialization does not efficiently allocate resources; it
squanders them.
So, is mankind smart? Of course, but that is not the question. The ultimate
question is, Is mankind smart enough to keep from outsmarting itself? The answer
appears to be no!
The Age of Enlightenment was born sometime around the beginning of the
eighteenth century. A mere three-quarters of a century later, industrialization
ushered in the Age of Endarkenment, and human life has grown more and more
perilous ever since. Natural disasters can be catastrophic, but their
destructiveness is usually limited, and the really horrendous ones are rare.
Manmade disasters are ubiquitous, very extensive, and difficult, perhaps
impossible, to repair. Had mankind been wise rather than merely smart, most
manmade calamities could have been avoided. Que Sera Sera! Whatever will be will
be will be. The future is plain to see, and it's not pretty.

John Kozy is a retired professor of philosophy and logic who blogs on social,
political, and economic issues. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean
War, he spent 20 years as a university professor and another 20 years working as
a writer. He has published a textbook in formal logic commercially, in academic
journals and a small number of commercial magazines, and has written a number of
guest editorials for newspapers. His on-line pieces can be found on
http://www.jkozy.com/ and he can be emailed from that site's homepage.

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