Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Is Collapse of Our Civilization Unavoidable?

The question put above should not surprise anybody who is informed about the state of the world today. In the past, other civilizations have collapsed or withered away. So our civilization too may not be able to avoid that fate. Currently, this possibility is being associated with global warming,1 But even earlier, the end of the current civilization was speculated on in association with the discovery of limits to growth. With this essay, I am adding my two cents to the discussion.
    While millions are worried, some, called the denialists, do not accept that global warming is a man-made problem. I need not here go into their arguments, I simply accept the well-known view of the vast majority of climatologists that excessive emission of green-house gases by humans is the explanation of this phenomenon. If so, it is the duty of us humans to repair the damages and see to it that GHG emissions remain below the limit. Many optimists believe, the problem can be solved.

The Political-Economic Difficulties in Solving the Problem

But I have strong doubts. Our prevailing political-economic system, that today seems to be unalterable, is the big obstacle to solving the problem. The optimists say, we only need to have the will to do the necessary things. But that is only theory. The million Dollar question is: will humanity be able to develop the strong will to take the difficult and complex measures necessary for stopping warming in the given narrow timeframe, i.e. by 2030? We must delve a little deeper in the matter, in order to judge whether that, in reality, would also be possible.
    Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis,2 postulated in 1989 before the fall of the Berlin wall, was largely (though not fully) borne out by the developments that took place in the years immediately thereafter – viz. the systemic transformation that took place in the Soviet Union and the Eastern European communist states. If it proves to be an enduring truth, then we have to reckon with a long life for the political-economic system of liberal democracy plus free-market capitalism and Western lifestyle. Apparently, at present at least, this system has no rival as an ideal.
    This system has two parts: (1) It requires that, generally speaking, the incumbent rulers, an elected president or prime minister, and her party, which has a majority in the parliament, seek endorsement of the majority of the voters for another period of 4 or 5 years in office. Now human nature being what it is, politicians crave for (more) power (Fukuyama says: recognition) and power holders try to remain in power. (2) The majority of the voters, the ordinary people, on their part, crave for more prosperity, more comfort, and more enjoyment in life through consumption of more and more goods and services.
    The former can attain their objective by serving or promising to serve the immediate material interests of the majority of the voters – for instance, by promising to create more and better jobs, lower taxes, raise wages and welfare benefits, increase security etc. All that requires high rates of economic growth, for which borrowing money is made easier and cheaper for both private and public sectors. As a result, generally speaking, all economies of the world are today sitting on mountains of debt.
    These two fundamental aspects of human nature have been two of the main drivers of human history. They have given rise to capitalism and industrialism, from which we today cannot escape. They contributed strongly to continuous material and technological “progress”, but also caused much misery and destruction (at least ever since we left the putative state of primitive communism behind). Of course, throughout history, there have been exceptional humans who rejected these motives and followed lofty ones for their actions (Gandhi, Saint Francis of Assisi, Buddha e.g.). But they have been few and far between. These cravings have driven kings and emperors, but also other kinds of rulers, to conquer or dominate over more and more territories and peoples, which was their way of satisfying their own lust for power and the hunger of their own subjects for (more) prosperity. Neither the citizens’ democracies of the ancient Greek city states, nor the ancient Roman republic of the assembly of aristocrats (the Senate) has been much of an exception. In more recent times, neither the revolutionary democratic French republic founded with lofty ideals in 1779 nor the United States of America founded after a liberation struggle in 1776, with its ideal democratic constitution, could resist the temptation of conquering other countries and dominating over other peoples.
    Throughout history, these two drivers got ever more force from the continuous growth in human population, which caused a continuous growth in the volume of demand for goods and services that satisfy the consumption desires of people. A growing human population also enabled entrepreneurs to hire (or buy on the slave market) more and more cheap laborers (slaves) and rulers to recruit (or conscript) ever more soldiers for their wars.
    In our present context, the most problematic aspect of this system is that it has developed a growth dynamic that cannot be stopped, let alone reversed, anymore for any length of time without risking a serious political and economic crisis. But without reversing it, we cannot also stop our march along the slippery slope to an ecological collapse. The situation has been summarized in the well-known equation:

                                                       I = P x A x T

(Where I stands for total ecological Impact, of which climate change is only a major part, P for population, A for affluence, and T for technology). That means the more the population grows, the more affluence we achieve, and the more we use sophisticated technologies, the more we impact adversely on our environment.

The Gloomy Perspective

Against this background, is there any reason to be optimistic? The phylogenetic (i.e. innate) behavior patterns of us humans were formed (as those of all animals) by the processes of our biological evolution, the most important of which have been struggle for survival and survival of the fittest. There is not much room there for altruism. Yet, we are now being called upon to (decide to) do things that totally go against the grain of this genetic inheritance: As individuals, we should not act only in our own individual interest, not even only in the interest of our identity group (nation, tribe, ethnic group), but also and primarily in the interest of the whole humanity, and the rest of nature (other animal and plant species) to boot. And we should not even act only in the interest of the currently living generations of humanity, but also in the interest of the future generations thereof. Our politicians should not strive for power, but only desire to serve the people and the future generations. Our economic policies should no longer be oriented toward continuous economic growth, but, on the contrary, toward a contracting (degrowing) economy. We should no longer seek joie de vivre in more consumption of luxury goods and services, but in sacrificing standard of living we are used to. We should e.g. drastically reduce air travel and use, instead of cars, bicycles and boats for travel. In sum, we should drastically reduce use of scarce resources, especially of fossil fuels, the very basis of affluence in our current civilization. Is all that humanly possible at all? Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, a famous German author on the subject, wrote in 1989: “To tell Europeans, Americans, and Japanese that they should wear sackcloth and ashes and forgo prosperity, is a strategy condemned to failure.”2a
    If at all possible, it will, in any circumstance, be extremely difficult. Firstly, climate change is a global phenomenon. Though mainly caused by the industrial societies, in the recent decades, all countries have been contributing to it, more or less.  It is a typical “tragedy of the commons” situation,3 the commons being here the global atmosphere. We know how difficult it was to achieve the Paris Accord on climate change (2015). India, e.g., resisted accepting any cut in its CO2 emission and had to be pressured by other powers to do so.
    Secondly, no underdeveloped country is prepared to give up its ambition of catching up with the USA with regard to affluence. The accord finally signed was therefore very weak, some even called it a fraud.4 Even this weak accord has in the meantime been repudiated by the USA. Actually, global CO2 emission is still rising.
    The essential problem is that one cannot kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs. Fossil fuels are the very basic resource (the goose), the foundation on which the present-day industrial civilization has been built and continues to run. If you drastically reduce their use, your economy will most certainly take a nosedive. That has been well understood all over the world by both the majority of the voters and their leaders. The strong desire to continue to get the golden eggs remains unabated. That is why nothing serious is being done, can be done, to mitigate global warming.
    There is of course a minority of voters in almost every industrial country, the naïve environmentalists, who believe it is possible to run a highly industrialized economy/society without using any fossil fuels, and without substantially sacrificing prosperity. They are demanding since long that their governments embark on a quick 100% transition from fossil fuels to so-called renewable energies. But governments of the world are not doing anything more than giving some token support to the “renewable” power industry. Fact is, in the main, they are continuing to rely for the bulk of the energy needs of their country on the conventional sources, viz. fossil fuels, nuclear power, and hydroelectricity.
    Elsewhere,5 I have explained in detail why this dream of the naïve environmentalists appears to me, at least till now, to be unrealizable. In short, renewable energies are feasible but, energetically and economically, not viable – because the net energy that we can get from them (their EROEI) at the best sites is very low and at less than optimum sites often negative.

Summing up

Already since the mid1970s, it is clear to discerning people that there are limits to economic growth. Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen called the one-off availability of stocks of non-renewable energy sources and other minerals in low-entropy state “the limited dowry of mankind’s existence on earth”. He concluded in 1971:

“Even with a constant population and a constant flow per capita of mined resources, mankind's dowry will ultimately be exhausted if the career of the human species is not brought to an end earlier by other factors.”6 

But politicians and experts, like ostriches, refused to heed their warnings, even pushed back with caviling. Frustrated, Georgescu-Roegen wrote:

"Will mankind listen to any program that implies a constriction of its addiction to exosomatic comfort? Perhaps the destiny of man is to have a short, but fiery, exciting and extravagant life rather than a long, uneventful and vegetative existence. Let other species – the amoebas, for example, – which have no spiritual ambitions, inherit an earth still bathed in plenty of sunshine."7
    This pessimistic but realistic perspective of the 1970s was mainly based on the realization of the limitedness and exhaustibility of non-renewable resources, especially of energy resources. However, for the time being, the danger of sky-rocketing crude oil prices as a result of “peak oil” has been averted through the development of “fracking” technology that opened up shale oil deposits for exploitation. But even that would not save this civilization from the growing resource problems. Today, however, the greatest danger is coming from global warming.
    We can describe the situation today as a “pincer-grip crisis”. On the one hand, the resource scarcity is increasingly making itself felt while the world population is continuously growing. On the other hand, if and to the extent that we succeed in solving the resource scarcity problem and thus make continuous economic and population growth possible, we would be heating up the atmosphere and pollute the environment. There is no solution to this crisis within the current model of civilization.

Is there Any Hope? Can Something Still Be Done?

In the light of the analysis presented above, it seems that end of history in Fukuyama’s optimistic sense – worldwide proliferation of a quasi-steady-state liberal-democratic capitalism – will not materialize. What we are observing today is rather the impending end of history in the sense of collapse of our present civilization followed by centuries of chaos, wars, and destruction. But that does not mean that humans as a species would soon become extinct, as the movement Extinction Rebellion seems to suggest. Our present one is not the only possible civilization. No, humans are a tough and intelligent species. In its history, this species has survived some earlier climate changes. And, as for civilization, there have been several ever since humans transitioned from a nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life to a sedentary agricultural one. So, in the future too, after the collapse of the present one, a different civilization could be possible, which, hopefully, could be made more peaceful, more ecological and more social.
    Denialists, but also many who accept the view that climate change is man-made, see only one way of positively reacting to the unavoidable change, viz. progressive adaptation to the new situation: e.g. by withdrawing from the coastal plains and newly desertifying areas and resettling in still habitable areas. That would not be easy, also because resistance to foreigners/outsiders encroaching on one’s own territory is a strong element of human nature. Currently, we are witnessing this in the USA and Europe, but also in Assam (a province in India).
    Human nature would most certainly be a big obstacle to creating a new civilization. But there may still be some hope. Iräneus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, the great German human-ethologist wrote:

“We are not fully predetermined by our instincts. We are capable of controlling our nature through culture. … What is decisive is that we are the first creatures that can set goals for themselves, and thus give our life a meaning. By doing this, we, of course, do not free ourselves from [our] nature, but we actively enter into new situations, in which new conditions of [evolutionary-biological] selection act upon us.” 8

But Frans de Waal, famous primatologist and human-ethologist, claims that we do not have to wait for new conditions of selection to arise that would affect our behavior pattern and make it appropriate for a better and just society. Counter to the assumption that animals (so also humans)9 are inherently selfish, he has on several occasions observed in several animals of different species facets of altruism, viz. cooperativeness, empathy, helpfulness etc. He believes, contrary to the narrow understanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution, also these traits of behavior are innate in many mammalian species including humans, part of their phylogenetic inheritance. They have always been among the conditions of survival of these species. We can then also conclude that the phylogenetic foundations for an ecological and better, i.e. more humane, civilization already exist. We only have to set these goals for ourselves.
    For reasons described above, just setting these goals may be, in practical-political terms, very difficult. But, at least on paper, a part of them has already been set, long ago – e.g. in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN (1948) and in various constitutions of individual states.
    This part has also been realized to some extent in some countries, as evidenced e.g. by the compassionate or tolerating reception of political and war refugees as well as illegal migrants in some European countries such as Germany, Sweden etc. Such receptions have also been observed in poorer countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Kenya, Tanzania etc.
    But these examples also reveal the limit to such compassionate tolerance. As soon as the number of refugees and migrants swelled to a million and above, the host native peoples of the EU started fearing they “might lose their homeland”. Xenophobic views and slogans like “Germany for Germans, foreigners get out” started being expressed, and fascistic and right-extremist groups got new impetus. There is no doubt, there does exist a social-critical limit to tolerance toward foreigners.
    What can we conclude from all these facts for today’s honest policy-makers and eco-political activists? Of course, we must not give up our ultimate cause of building an ecological and social-human society, But, as Paul Ehrlich once wrote addressing leftist activists, ”whatever be your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth].” I fully agree. To make people control their greed and consumption desires is very difficult. It is much easier to make them accept population control.


1. For the most detailed account, see:
Wallace-Wells, David:
The Uninhabitable Earth

2. Fukuyama, Francis (1992) End of History and the Last Man. New Delhi etc.: Penguin.

2a. Weizsäcker, Ernst Ulrich von (1989: 14) Erdpolitik. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

3. Hardin, Garrett (1968) “The Tragedy of the Commons”

4. See my article “An Historic Event or a Fraud? – Critical Thoughts on the Paris Climate Accord”.

5. See my article “The Global Crisis and Role of So-called Renewable Energies in Solving It,”
See also chapter 4 of my book:

Sarkar, Saral (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? London: Zed Books.

6. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1971/1981: P. 296) The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge (USA), London: Harvard University Press.

7. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1972/1976: P.35.) Energy and Economic Myths. New York: Pergamon Press.

8. Eibl-Eibesfeld, Irenäus (1990: P. 81) "Glaube als Offenbarungswissen und Zuversicht", in Deschner (note 8a)

8a. Deschner, Karlheinz (ed.) (1990) Woran ich glaube, Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn.

9. de Waal, Frans (1996) Good Natured. The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
See also his book

de Waal, Frans (2010) The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Fascism's Recent Resurgence

I recently read an excellent essay on fascism in general and, in particular, on the recent resurgence of fascistic forces in some countries. In it, the author Luis Gonzalez Reyes describes eight factors that caused or, at least, favored fascism’s  resurgence. I largely agree with the analysis, but am unhappy about some omissions. I also have some criticism of his answer to the question as to what now needs to be or can be done. Here is the link to the essay:


    I request the readers to first read the essay of Reyes and then my critique.


Luis Reyes,

I read your essay “Fascism is Back to Stay” with great interest, not only because I want to understand the phenomenon, but also because I (a dark-brown Indian migrant in Germany, 83+ years old) am personally affected. As you surely know, since 2016, there is a steep rise of xenophobic/fascist forces in Germany, France, Holland etc.
    I appreciate your analysis of the post-WWII situation in Europe. I largely agree with it. I agree that our situation today is one of impending
collapse, But I am unhappy about the contents of the final section (Some Ideas for Standing up to Fascism). So pleaseFascism's allow me to make some constructive critical comments:
    (1) You have too much focused on Europe only. You have failed to see (or to mention) that collapse has already started (is taking place) at
the periphery of Europe. How else can you describe the situation in Somalia, Nigeria, DR of Congo, Central African Republic etc.?
    Europe is intimately connected with Africa, not only through colonial history, but also culturally (Christianity and language). A part of Spain even lies in Africa, and a large minority of whites (25%?) still lives in South Africa. It is therefore no surprise that the results of the collapse in Africa is spilling over into Europe in the form of a large and steady stream of illegal migrants and refugees. In the case of the Spanish exclaves and in the case of Greece, one can also speak of a full-blown storming of the gates of prosperity.
    Because in the meantime Europe too has lost (and is increasingly losing) its economic capacity to offer a satisfactory perspective to its own youth and to a large section of its own proletariat, the people, that once welcomed also non-European, non-Christian foreign workers with open arms, are increasingly becoming xenophobic. The xenophobic section of the population is still a minority. But who knows, it may soon become the majority.
    This development is not limited to Europe and Africa. Similar (though not in all respects identical) developments are taking (has taken) place between the UK and Eastern Europe (especially Christian and White Poland), India and Bangladesh, Bangladesh and Myanmar, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the USA and Central and South America. And since recently we are even observing a similar development between the relatively developed South African Republic and its northern neighbors (all blacks).
    Most, though not all, of these migrants are not refugees, but simply unwelcome migrants who are in search of a better life in a country where they hope to find one.
    (2) One factor, a very important one, that you have not considered in your essay is overpopulation and/or continued population growthcombined with poverty and/or violence in everyday life – in the countries from where the illegal migrants and refugees are coming (or are being forced to leave). It is a common feature of these countries.
    (3) What is also missing in your essay is an actionable idea to stand up to the danger, actionable today.
    In the said section, one can find many vague and idealistic concepts and expressions relating to a future ideal society and the movement to create such a society: “human liberation”, “encourage autonomy”, “allow the population to satisfy their needs”, “emancipated societies”, “Promoting a widespread empathy” etc. In Germany, I have taken part in dozens of conversations of activists, in which such expressions were thrown around. I was never sure that all understood the same thing under such expressions.
    Be that as it may, even if a person understands them or gets them explained by an activist, they actually are only relevant for the distant future. In our times, when we are facing the danger of ecological and societal collapse, there are more important concrete things waiting to be done,
today. In one word, it is to ensure bare survival. We have to accept that it is impossible to fulfill the continuously growing "needs", demands, wishes, aspirations and ambitions of a continuously growing world population while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing.
    Limiting myself to the subject of your essay, i.e. renewed rise of fascism in Europe, I would like to suggest the following:
    I think among all the factors you have mentioned, currently, “fear of the other” is the weightiest. Fascistic, xenophobic right radicals are afraid they are “losing their country”, that “Germany will soon cease to be the home of the Germans”, or “a great change (transfer) of population” is taking place in white and Christian Europe, that Europe will soon become Muslim Eurabia etc. I am sure you too have heard/read about this discourse. This fear comes from the deepest layer of our biological, i.e. genetic, makeup.
    You suggest we should all promote “a widespread empathy with people nearby and far afield, and with all other living creatures”. It is a crucial sentence in your essay. The phrase “with people nearby and far afield” would mean: people in Spain, and people from Morocco across the whole North and West Africa to Bangladesh. It is this empathy that prompted Angela Merkel to open the gates of Germany to one million refugees and illegal immigrants. This event also showed the limits to the human capacity to feel empathy for the others. And it is this event that marks the beginning of the recent rise of the until then dormant fascism in Germany (Europe?).
    Also the phrase “empathy with … all other living creatures” is fraught with significance. You have heard of the ongoing sixth extinction, you know that currently hundreds, if not thousands, of species are becoming extinct every year, that the number of insects (including bees) and plant species as well as of large animals is rapidly dwindling. The main cause of this ongoing extinction is the
growth of both the number of humans living on this planet and of their economic activities.
    In the light of this development, I would like to suggest that the most important thing to do
today is to stop both kinds of growth, that of our own numbers and that of our economies. Addressing people like us – leftist and ecological activists – Prof. Paul Ehrlich once wrote, Whatever [be] your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth]”. I share this exhortation. Controlling economic growth is at present too big a task for groups of people like us. But we can start a campaign for controlling the numbers of our own species in the known problem countries (of e.g. Africa). That is at present the most important actionable idea that we have been neglecting since long, because most of us have been too afraid to articulate them. But we can start the campaign now.


NB. I have elaborated these views and ideas in some of my blog articles. See

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Thunberg's Problem. A Problem Without A Solution?

For the last two or three months, I have been following the news on the school strike movement of teenagers, the purpose of which is to urge the grown-ups, particularly the politicians, to immediately do what is necessary to solve the problem of global warming, which is resulting in what has been summarized in the term “climate crisis”. As Greta Thunberg formulated it, they want the politicians to “panic”.
    For her initiative, courage and leadership role in the movement, the 16 years old Thunberg has been variously criticized and maligned by several grown-ups including politicians.1 She was thus compelled to publish an article in self-defense. I request my readers to read it in the original.2
    I was almost moved to tears while reading it. I remembered the time I was 15–18 years old. It was in the 1950s, when the state of the Indian society and of the Third World in general was utterly miserable. It was so not only in the material sense, i.e. in the sense of abject poverty, feudal and imperialistic exploitation and oppression, but also in regard to the level of education and political awareness of the people at large. And then, for the few politically aware people like us, there was the threat of a third world war with deployment of nuclear weapons. But we were in those days not as despairing as Thunberg and her age-mates sound these days, although a third world war followed by a nuclear winter with its consequences threatened to devastate the whole world with one big bang. As against that, the climate crisis and its already palpable negative effects are expected to worsen only incrementally.
    We were less despairing because in those days I and all my politicized age-mates believed we knew the solution: a socialist world society. And we were somewhat confident that the mighty Soviet Union and the global peace movement would be able to prevent a third world war. Today’s youth do not have a comparable confidence in regard to averting the climate catastrophes. When a journalist asked Greta, what, in her opinion, should be done for the purpose, she replied: why do you ask me? I am only a kid. Ask the grown-ups!3

Why This Difference?

I can explain this difference. In our youth, we had ideals, we believed in progress, we believed that in course of history, human society would become ever better, ever more prosperous, ever more egalitarian, i.e. socialistic, and ever more peaceful. We could believe in all that because we could see the rapid scientific and technological development taking place in front of our eyes. And we were aligned with our elder comrades. We all believed, as Erich Honecker, the former leader of the socialst GDR, used to say: “Den Sozialismus in seinem Lauf hält weder Ochs noch Esel auf."   (Neither an ox nor an ass can hold back the progress toward socialism.)
    Today, Thunberg and young people of that ilk do not have any ideal, nor this kind of confidence. Whereas we were fighting for an ideal human society, they are only fighting for bare survival of human society as they know it. And they, generally, hardly see any hope of succeeding, i.e. unless some miracle happens. On the contrary, at present, they are seeing that even rich Western societies (USA, France, Sweden e.g.) and emerging Third World societies (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, India e.g.) are in deep trouble. Young people of the poorest 3rd World countries (those of Africa and Central America e.g.) are turning their backs on their native countries and gate-crashing into the rich countries (USA, Europe, Australia, even the South African Republic). On the one hand, of course, more and more technological development is taking place, more and more wonderful goods and pleasure-things are flooding the markets. But, on the other hand, e.g. waterbodies are getting choked with plastic waste, air of big cities is becoming unbreathable. Although more and more goods and services are being produced, more and more people are being rendered unemployed, are being made to live without any perspective on a better life.

The Current Situation

In this situation, against the background of the ongoing global warming and climate crisis, and against the background of numerous negative scientific reports on the state of the world,4 UN climate scientists gave the warning that unless humanity does the necessary things by 2030 (i.e. 11 years from now) it would be too late. After this warning, all political leaders of the world should have got into a panic. But they are carrying on business as usual, paying only lip service to the goals they had set in Paris in 2015. Instead, it is today’s youth that are getting into a panic. That is understandable. The greater part of their life is still lying in front of them. It is their life, their future, that is being destroyed by the elders. They are not experts in the matter, but they do understand the danger.
    However, it would be better if they would understand the problem in some depth. Global warming of today is only the effect of some processes that have been taking place since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Of course, it is not just a symptom, it is itself causing damages in the biosphere. But neither the warming nor the climate crisis and their effects can be successfully tackled unless their real causes are recognized, namely our industrial mode of production and consumption, in other words, our current industrial civilization, which is absolutely dependent on burning fossil fuels.

But What is the Solution?

As we know, the school- striking teenagers are only demanding that the politicians finally do something decisively about the problem. They are not claiming that they know the solution, although one can also hear some of them glibly mouthing the same solutions as their radical elder brothers do: “shut down all coal mines immediately”, “let all fossil fuels remain in the ground”, “all energy supply must come from renewable sources” etc. As we also know, all ruling politicians are turning a deaf ear to such demands. Can the problem be solved at all? If yes, then somebody must come forward and say loudly how.
    Below Thunberg’s said article, I read a few usual comments. But one of them is bold. It reads: “
The greatest minds in the Western world are working on this. They have produced no solution because there is none.”
    In her article, as if in anticipation of this comment, Thunberg, the 16 years old, had written like a very wise person,

Yes, the climate crisis is the most complex issue that we have ever faced and it's going to take everything from our part to stop it. But the solution is black and white; we need to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases.
    Because either we limit the warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels, or we don't. Either we reach a tipping point where we start a chain reaction with events way beyond human control, or we don't.
Either we go on as a civilization, or we don't. There are no gray areas when it comes to survival.”

Very wise words, but they still do not offer a concrete proposal of a solution. She is reported to have said on another occasion: all the technologies needed for the solution are already there. They need only to be used. Her elder radical brothers and sisters have been saying this since long, adding the point that only capitalism and capitalists, aided by subservient politicians, are preventing their deployment to the necessary extent. Many politicians and engineers dispute the assertion.

The Right Answer to the Conundrum

At this point, I think I must intervene, because I think I have the answer to this conundrum. Read the last two sentences of the above quote carefully. Thunberg writes, “Either we go on as a civilization, or we don’t”. But who said we must go on with this civilization? With this present civilization of the Western world? If we drop this idea, then I think survival of the human species (not of the current Western civilization) is possible – with a different, yet to be fully described, kind of civilization
    The current civilization of the Western world is doomed – there is no doubt about that – because it is utterly dependent on burning huge quantities of fossil fuels. And that, as we know, is the main cause of the climate crisis. This civilization is doomed for another, parallel, reason: because of the certainty that sooner or later the fossil fuel supply, which is exhaustible, will become prohibitively costly – both in money terms and in terms of energy cost.5 We are caught, so to speak, in a pincer grip crisis. There are also some lesser causes of the crisis – capitalism, globalization, greed, human nature, anthropocentrism etc. etc. etc. The point I want to make here is that
any kind of industrial society, even the morally most perfect industrial socialist society would ultimately come to an end, because of the two parallel causes stated above. But they might also collapse for other reasons long before all the fossil fuels of the earth have been extracted and burnt. Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, father of ecological economics, who spoke of fossil fuels – the secret of all material progress of the last 200 years – as “the limited dowry of mankind’s existence on earth”, already wrote in 1970:

“Even with a constant population and a constant flow per capita of mined resources, mankind's dowry will ultimately be exhausted if the career of the human species is not brought to an end earlier by other factors.” 6

    This is not the place to go into details of this argumentation.7 It is however possible to indicate, in short, the existing doubts about the “solution” that many teenagers in the movement, also all grown-ups in it, so confidently suggest: energy transition, i.e. supplying, as soon as possible, all the energy that this civilization needs from renewable sources. I maintain that that is not possible. Because the EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) of all “renewable energy” technologies is too low or even negative. Moreover, all the equipment that are needed to produce “renewable energy” – solar panels, wind turbines, reinforced concrete towers and rotors, dams on rivers etc. –cannot be made without the use of fossil fuels, not yet, and will probably never be.

Are the Technologies for the Solution Already There?

If we limit ourselves to the current debates on the current situation, even then there really are two valid points in the arguments of the politicians who dare to openly oppose the teenagers’ school strike movement. In a German TV debate, a young, maybe 35 years old, liberal-democratic politician put forward arguments, which I think I can formulate more clearly and succinctly, because I agree with them. (1) Scientists till now have only done research on the crisis and formulated theoretical solutions. The point, however, is to develop the machines, equipment, and technologies to make the suggested solutions humanly and economically possible. And that is the task of engineers and technicians. The said politician maintained that these machines, equipment, and technologies are still not there. (2) All main participants in this debate and in all debates connected with the general ecological crisis take it for granted that all proposed concrete solutions are already, or must be, feasible and profitable within the general framework of capitalism. Nobody is saying that capitalism must be overthrown first. Thunberg and her demonstrating age-mates are no exception.
    As a must-be-clause, it is an essential condition. But it cannot be fulfilled by many of the machines, equipment, and technologies proposed by eco-activists, that have of course proved to be feasible, and were in the past also profitable, but are not profitable any more. Here are two examples: (a) In Germany, many railway lines and bus services that formerly connected small towns in the countryside have been closed down or their frequency have been sharply reduced because of competition from cars on autobahns. (b) Many materials – plastic packaging materials are just one example – are not being recycled, simply because that is not profitable.
    But it is also true that, even ignoring the profitability criterion (because the state is prepared to subsidize it), engineers could not yet realize some proposed technologies: for example, the carbon capture and sequestering (CCS) technology. Engineers have also failed to bring about the miracle of producing more and more goods with less and less expenditure of resources (decoupling).

Any Solution in Sight?

Frustrated, one may now ask: Is there any solution to the problem at all? Or must we now settle for just enjoying the good time we have left? Indeed, I have read about the existence of a stream of thought in the Western World that maintains that the human species would soon become extinct through its own acts of omission and commission, and hence there is no point in trying to stop the process. Instead, we should try to enjoy life now as much as possible.
    Of course, those who are today, say, 50 or more years old and are having a good income or have a lot of wealth, may say so. But they would continuously suffer from a bad conscience, because their own children and grandchildren, or at least their nephews and nieces, will in the near future suffer from all the crises that they are generating and intensifying. So we must not consider the possibility of imminent human extinction, and we must continue our search for a solution that might have a chance to be accepted because there is none other.
    If we are prepared to drop the conditions that (a) the searched for solution must be one to ensure that the current civilization of the Western world can go on, and (b) that the solution must remain within the parameters of capitalism, then we can think further and suggest a solution. But even that may not be enough. We must also absolutely realize that the number of us humans – 7.6 billion and growing – is already too high for the health of the biosphere.
    This solution, in my opinion, is to strive to transition to a sustainable steady state economy with a much lower level of production and a much lower human population than today’s. I do not at present want to speculate on the question: how much lower? Today, I can only say that the process of contraction must begin immediately. Although the level of material production must be going down, the level of knowledge must not. Knowledge would make up the superiority of the sustainable society of the future to any society of the previous centuries. And what is very important is that the envisioned future societies must be
egalitarian ones. Only then will humans and groups of humans be able to live in peace with each other and in peace with the rest of nature. I call this kind of a society an eco-socialist society. There are many others who are thinking in this direction: the advocates of de-growth, of a solidarity economy, of a steady state market economy etc.

Notes and References:

1. Among them even Angela Merkel and the General Secretary of her party the CDU.

3. I did not hear this as o-tone, but as reported by a TV-journalist.
4. The most detailed among all is:
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

However, in the end, Wallace-Wells only repeats the unfounded technological optimism of the scientists.
5. Energy cost of a thing is the amount of energy needed to produce it. If e.g. two units of energy needs to be spent to extract one unit of fossil fuel energy, then the project must be given up.
6. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1981) The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. P. 296.
7. I have published several essays on this issue in my blogsite
 www.eco-socialist.blogspot.com. I would here like to recommend only two:

“Saving the Planet, American Style -- A Critical Review, and Some Thoughts and Ideas”

“The Global Crisis and Role of So-called Renewable Energies in Solving It.”

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Caste Conflicts and Caste Politics in India -- What Can Be Done to Oppose Them?

Currently, we – progressive and leftist Indians – are appalled at the atrocities that are being committed against Dalits, Muslims and Christians. We are worried over the dominance of caste and communal considerations in Indian politics, over the fact that caste and communal conflicts are replacing class conflict and pushing socialist and progressive politics to the background. Today, the caste system not only continues to exist in the private life-praxis of Hindus, but also dominates the socio-political structure of India – think only of the caste-based parties and reservations of jobs. It even continues to exist in the way of thinking of the majority of Hindu Indians.
    In this short essay I shall only try to identify the basic factors that explain how in modern India the situation described above could come about in spite of the entry of modern education, Western type development, and successful practice of one-person-one-vote democracy for the last seven decades. In doing so, I shall focus mainly on the caste problematic. It would hopefully also help the reader understand why it has been so difficult for the past and present-day anti-caste reform movements to succeed.

Group Identity, Love of Tradition, and the Desire to Stand Out Among Many

Division of a society in castes (as distinct from classes) is not altogether unique to Indian Hindus. The system exists in some form or other in sub-Saharan Western African countries (Senegal e.g.), it existed in Spanish and Portuguese colonial societies in South America (sociedad de castas). Caste divisions de facto exist among Indian Muslims and Indian Christians. Among the former, there are said to be 3 castes: Ashrafs (nobles), middle caste Muslims called Ajlafs, and the lowest, the Arzals, are equivalents of the Hindu untouchables. Among the latter, there are some who identify themselves as “Brahmin Christians” and some whom others identify as Dalit Christians. This makes me think that there must be some general cause(s) for the origin of the caste system and its continuity up to our times.
    All presently living humans belong to the same species, and despite several genetic variations, throughout their social evolution, their basic behavioral characteristics remained for the greater part similar. Although, being social animals, we need to and want to feel belonging to a group (a family or a larger community), and although for almost every person one’s group identity is very important for both material-economic security and psychological stability, there is a very common characteristic among humans, namely the desire to stand out from and above the other members of the group – through wealth, power, prestige or achievements – and feel proud about it.
    Such identity groups can be large or small, and identities can be based on citizenship of a state (e.g. being Indian), a sub-nationality (e.g. being Maharashtrian), a language (e.g. being Bengali), a region within a state (e.g. being South Indian), a continent or part of it (e.g. being European, East Asian), a religion (e.g. being Muslim), a sect (e.g. being Vaishnavite), a city (e.g. being Hyderabadi or Calcuttan. And it can also be a caste or caste-group within the larger religious identity group, viz. Hindus (e.g. being Brahmin, or, in Bengal, Vaidya). Smaller identity groups within a larger one (e.g. expatriate Indians in the US or UK) may also desire to stand out and feel proud about it, e.g. when such Indians hold high positions in the host countries).
    Among Hindus, one way of standing out has been to make it known that one is not just a Hindu, but a Brahmin (or a Kshatriya). Kulin Brahmin, Deshasth or Chitpavan Brahmin are identities that enable (have enabled in the past) a person bearing this “stamp” to stand out even among Brahmins, among whom the Mandal Commission (MC, for short) has also identified some OBC Brahmins. Among Indian Christians, one can stand out by making it known that one is not just a Christian, but a Brahmin Christian.
    In other societies and in other contexts, one may stand out through a title that one gets bestowed upon by the monarch or the president of a state: Lord, Sir, Raja, Padmabhusan, Padmashree etc., In Europe, titles denoting nobility are often hereditary, making them comparable to our Brahmin family names. In academic contexts, one can stand out through a title such as Doctor and Professor. One can also stand out through and be proud of being able to claim to be a descendant of a once-rich or highly educated family or of a family famous for its accomplishments or contributions to the community or the nation.
    Recently, a strange manifestation of this desire came to the fore when the Mahars of Maharashtra (a Dalit caste-group) wanted to celebrate the 200th anniversary of “their victory” (albeit as mercenaries of the British) over the much larger army of the Peshwas in the battle of Koregaon. The point in this celebration has always been to highlight the valor of the Mahars as soldiers.

Economic and political Factors

Some additional identities (e.g. Brahmin among Hindus) bring not only social prestige, for which all humans have a weakness, but also very often, as we all know, directly or indirectly, concrete material-economic advantages and privileges. This alone is enough to explain why people who have somehow come to possess such additional “higher” identities mostly also want to preserve and flaunt them.
    It is also easy to understand the resentment of those who neither like the caste identity that others gave their forefathers, nor possess any additional higher identity, nor, for whatever reason, have a chance to attain some. For example, the resentment of Dalits, who, despite India’s progressive constitution and despite much progress in political consciousness that has been made, are, in many regions of the country and in many sections of the population, still looked down upon and often suffer violent oppression both individually and as a group. And all this in addition to the fact that they generally cannot, because of birth in poor and uneducated families, make equal use of the chances offered by the Indian economy and education system.
    The desire to stand out or to become rich and powerful or just to leave poverty behind is present in most humans, also among poor Dalit/OBC individuals and groups. Even before independence and particularly since then, the goal of Dalit and anti-caste movements have not been limited to just making untouchability and other sorts of caste-related discrimination vanish. Since then, average young Dalits, just like all young people, have been cherishing higher desires and ambitions. Often these are exorbitant and unrealistic, mere dreams. But they are there.
    I can give two examples from documentary film reportages: (1) A ten years old girl with proven high intelligence, whose poor working class parents from a Mumbai slum could send her only to the lowest quality primary school, was asked what she would like to become. She answered: astronaut. (2) A school boy from a similar background, replied to a similar question, he would like to be Bill Gates of India. Why shouldn’t they cherish such dreams? Why shouldn’t the government give them a chance? Why shouldn’t society allow it to happen? After all, “miracles” do sometimes take place!
    So Dalit and anti-caste movements always conflated in their goal what actually are two different things – (a) fighting against the discriminatory and oppressive caste system as such and (b) economic and educational advancement of the poor, which generally should be the task of any modern nation state. Thus the Satyashodhak Samaj (Truth-Seekers’ Society), founded in 1873 by Jyotirao Phule, pursued the goal to
liberate the less privileged in society – such as women, Shudra, and Dalitfrom exploitation and oppression, for which process education was thought to be of great importance. Under its later leaders, economic goals played a stronger part in the activities of the Samaj. In 1902, Shahu Maharaj, who was the ruler of the princely state of Kolhapur (Western India), reserved 50 percent of his state’s civil service jobs for all communities other than Brahmins, Prabhus and Parsis. This movement was later, not unreasonably, termed the Anti-Brahman Movement.
    Also in the report of the Mandal Commission (1979–83), which was mandated to "identify the socially or educationally backward classes " (popularly known as OBCs = other backward classes) of India, it is argued:

"It may appear the upliftment of Other Backward Classes is part of the larger national problem of removal of mass poverty. This is only partially correct. The deprivation of OBCs is a very special case of the larger national issue: here the basic question is that of social and educational backwardness, and poverty is only a direct consequence of these two crippling caste-based handicaps. As these handicaps are embedded in our social structure, their removal will require far-reaching structural changes. No less important will be changes in the perception of the problems of OBCs by the ruling classes of the country."

How to Explain the Durability of the Caste System

Because for a human’s material-economic security and mental health the feeling of belonging to an identity group (next only to a family) is important, one is obliged and expected to adhere to the rules, rituals, mores, ethical norms (e.g. of solidarity) and traditions of one’s identity group(s). This is comparable to the fact that for belonging to and remaining in a professional group – e.g. engineers, doctors, lawyers etc. – one has to follow its written and unwritten code of conduct.
    Now because, in Hindu society, caste has in the past been the most important among a person’s identities, it is no surprise that it still plays an important role in most caste Hindu’s private sphere – in daily rituals, in eating and drinking norms, in marriage, socializing etc. In backward rural areas, even matters of the private sphere of Hindus – such as (inter-caste) love affairs and marriage, a Dalit eating in an eatery or drinking water from a well or worshipping in a temple – often become a matter of the public sphere of the village. And in the larger economic and political spheres, generally speaking, decisions on personnel matters such as appointments and promotions are still to a large extent influenced by one’s caste.
    I can give two examples: In my extended family circle, a young (Kayastha) woman fell in love and married a Brahmin man. They were both communists, the young man even a member of the party. When their son became 12 years old, I got an invitation to his sacred thread ceremony. I was surprised. I could not imagine they would do this. Accosted by me, the man said, he could not offend his family. It is only them he can rely upon if he would someday need help. His wife said she could not oppose the wish of her husband. That was in the 1950s. The other example is from the 1970s. A highly educated leftist male friend of mine, a man from a rich Kamma family of Hyderabad, married and took a dowry. When his political friends criticized him, he said apologetically: what could he have done? It was his family that found a suitable bride and arranged the traditional style marriage for him; and, after all, it was thanks to his father’s connections that he had got a lecturer’s job. These were both microeconomic and micro-political decisions.
    That is also the case in election times. In large parts of India, among caste-conscious Hindu’s, voting and campaigning for a candidate from the same caste or the same larger cast-identity group (e.g. Dalits, OBCs) as the one to which the person belongs, is not only seen as one of the latter’s social obligations that overrides other considerations. It may also, in case this candidate wins, bring material benefits to her or her caste group. In this respect, it is not much different in other kinds of identity groups – e.g. religious, ethnic or language identity groups. In particular cases of candidates, it may be a justifiable or unjustifiable, a good or bad choice, and exceptions are always there. At the provincial level, there is also a big exception, namely West Bengal. But even here, if we look back to pre-partition Bengal, we see that Bengali Dalits (in those days called Namashudras) did pursue caste politics.1 The point here is only that this is largely how Indian politics functions.
    The points made till now explain why the caste system still remains entrenched in the conscious and subconscious thinking of Hindus and resists all reforms and efforts to eradicate it. They are also the reasons behind the rise of parties that are based on caste, religion, language, ethnicity, province or region (e.g. Samajwady Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Jamat-e- Islami parties, Shiv Sena, Telugu Desham Party etc.). The secular all-India parties (Congress and the ideology-based communist parties) are losing ground. The ruling all-India communal party, the BJP, is successful, because its communal base, the Hindus, constitute the 80% majority of India’s population.
    There are also macro-economic and macro-political factors that partly explain the continued strength of the caste system. The Mandal Commission (in the following, MC for short) argued for reservations for OBCs, inter alia, in the following words:

Assuming that a child from an advanced class family and that of a backward class family had the same intelligence at the time of their birth, it is obvious that owing to vast differences in social, cultural and environmental factors, the former will beat the latter by lengths in any competitive field. Even if an advanced class child's intelligence quotient was much lower compared to the child of backward class, chances are that the former will still beat the latter in any competition where selection is made on the basis of 'merit'.“

    This is a sound argument. Note, however, the key words in it, namely “competition” and “competitive field”. These relate MC’s argument more to the prevailing economic system than to the caste system. For people fighting for social justice, the only call that logically follows from this is: abolish the capitalist competitive system. The mandate of the MC was, however, only to "identify the socially or educationally backward classes (OBCs)” and to make recommendations for theirupliftment”, not to make recommendations for annihilating caste.
    To what extent the recommended reservations contributed toward uplifting the OBCs in general is difficult to answer. Many criticisms have been expressed against these. The sharpest and the most convincing among all has been made by Justice Iyer even before the MC was appointed (1975):

"The danger of 'reservation', …. , is three-fold. Its benefits, by and large, are snatched away by the top creamy layer of the 'backward' castes or classes, thus keeping the weakest among the weak always weak and leaving the fortunate layers to consume the whole cake".

    What we know for sure, however, is that they did not contribute anything toward annihilating caste. What is worse, today, those who really want to annihilate caste face a great structural difficulty: Thanks to the reservations, belonging to a lower or backward caste has become an advantage in the job market and in the matter of getting a scholarship or a place in higher and better institutions of learning. For this reason, the formerly underprivileged majority of the citizenry of India, i.e. members of SCs, STs, and OBCs taken together, themselves have no interest any more in annihilating caste. In truth, they have now strong economic interest in perpetuating the caste system, so that their children and grandchildren too may enjoy these advantages even if and when their families have risen to the “creamy lair”. All they want and demand is more compensation for their “unfortunate” birth in a Dalit or OBC family. This is why we saw some time ago that the Jaths, from whose ranks India even got a Prime Minister, and the Patidars staged huge, powerful, and even destructive demonstrations demanding reservations for their youth too. For the same reason, even many Muslim politicians are nowadays eager to define Muslims as a backward class.
    Implementation of the MC recommendations divided Indian society into two fighting groups: the beneficiaries (i.e. Dalits and OBCs) on the one side and the excluded rest (the upper castes, Muslims etc.) on the other. Soon after the acceptance and implementation (1990 onwards) of the MC recommendations, upper-caste young people, who henceforth imagined themselves to be the victims of the caste-based reservation system, started a protest campaign that included violent demonstrations, self-immolations etc.

Perspectives and Conclusions

Today, macroeconomic trends do not indicate that the competitive field, that the MC mentioned as an argument, would soon become any less competitive. Indeed, the opposite is likely to happen, what with continuously growing population (at the rate of 16 million a year) and number of college graduates, and with expanding mechanization, automation and digitalization. Moreover, the basic ecological and resource-related limits to growth are already having their feared impacts. These problems must be addressed very soon. If, however, in the meantime, also the present-day policies of reservation remain in place, the resulting upliftment of some poor Dalits and OBCs, that we would welcome so much, would come at the price of ever more caste hatred and conflicts – especially if we consider the growing belligerence of both caste groups. Such conflicts are not class conflicts. Also in future, they would not be directed against capitalism. There is nothing positive about fighting for one’s own caste interest.
    This short essay is not suitable for making detailed alternative recommendations. But a few half-baked ideas can be presented: (a) Against the background of facts mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is obvious that at least population growth must be stopped, if not also the growth of labor-saving technologies. (b) For uplifting the educational level of economically poor classes, the state and society should create and reserve for them more scholarships (i.e. only financial aid). These should also be available to children and youth of poor families among the upper castes and not to those of well-off families among the lower castes and OBCs. Let the state also pay for all sorts of extra coaching for such youth. (c) Government jobs and university places for students must be given only on the basis of merit. It is not a small matter. It harms the people as a whole, if unqualified and incompetent people are appointed in responsible positions as doctors, engineers, administrators, military commanders etc.
    The caste system is a social evil that defies laws and constitutional provisions. As we have seen, even conversion to another religion – to Islam in the past, then to Christianity, and more recently to Buddhism – did not help. The law-and-order authorities must do their duties, but the system can only be made to wither away by a strong social movement and a cultural revolution, in which enlightened members of the upper castes should play a leading role.
    It is my hunch that in ancient times, the economic-material basis of the caste system has been that dirty, hard and menial work with poor rewards were naturally detested and unwanted.2 They were therefore easily inherited by the children from the parents. The brutality of the Hindu caste system consisted in the fact that the ruling and/or powerful elites compelled the children of e.g. methors (removing excrements), chamars (tanners), chandals (cremating corpses) etc. to inherit such jobs by declaring them to be ritually dirty and the workers ritually untouchable for finer people. Refinements, rationalizations and sanctification of the system in the ancient canonical texts (Manusmriti et. al) came later. (d) It is therefore not enough for enlightened upper caste Indians to avow their rejection of this system. They must do more, e.g., following Gandhiji’s example, not only to clean their WCs at home, which is not a dirty work anymore, but also a public latrine in their own town – even if only for a day or two per month. I remember a scene in Attenborough’s film on Gandhiji, where the latter insisted that his wife must also clean the latrine of the Ashram. (e) Or, to give another example, let us make it impossible to guess a person’s caste (and, why not, religion) from his family name. Thus Dilip Chakrabarty’s son could be named David Bagh or Indra Mandal). There is no need for me to invent more possible actions and demands. If they have the will, upper caste activists can do it themselves.
    (f) In the recent past, some actions of some Dalit activists were provocative, hence counterproductive, e.g. celebrating the 200th anniversary of “the Mahars’ victory” mentioned above. Or, was anything gained, when some Adivasis lodged a court case trying to prevent a Durga-Puja celebration, a tradition that Bengalis love so much?3 It is better to think of constructive actions.

Notes and references

Almost all data used here including data and quotes from the Mandal Commission Report can be found in the internet.

1. “Caste vs Religion – Why Caste Politics Failed in Bengal”
by Ayan Guha


2. For general knowledge on references to the caste system in ancient texts I can recommend the following articles:

“Caste is the Cruelest Exclusion”
By GailOmvedt



“Doctoring History For Political Goals: Origin of Caste System in India”
By Ram Puniyani  


3. “Adivasis Dance Today: The First Ever FIR Filed Against Durga Puja