Thursday, March 19, 2020

3330. The Coronavirus Pandemic as the Crisis of Civilization

By Kamran Nayeri, March 19, 2020
Chinese made half a billion trips before the start of the Lunar New Year

1. Introduction
In this essay I will argue that the Coronavirus pandemic is a manifestation of the crisis of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization.  In Section 2 I will outline how fundamentally this view differs from those of socialists, including ecological socialists, who attribute the ecological and environmental crises to “capitalism,” and the environmentalist (Greens) who attribute them to the industrial society.  

Second, focusing on the ecological socialist currents influenced by Marx, in Section 3 I will discuss how the generally accepted materialist conception of history is based on his philosophical anthropology which Marxists have maintained to this day despite well over a century of accumulated scientific knowledge about who we are and where we come from.  

Third, in Section 4 I will outline an ecological theory of human nature, hence of society and history, that is supported by Marx’s and Engels’ own suggestions as well as advances in our knowledge, especially in archeology and anthropology since the middle of the twentieth century. 

In Section 5, I will conclude with an outline of what I call Ecocentric Socialism to suggest that to resolve the systemic crisis humanity must transcend the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization in the direction of a much smaller socialist society through a process of de-alienation from nature and in society by systematic undoing of all relations of domination and control. 

2. The anthropogenic causes of the Coronavirus pandemic
Virologists and other experts are not yet certain about the origins of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. However, there is little doubt among the experts that a confluence of anthropogenic factors is responsible for the present pandemic. 

Rob Wallace (2020), an evolutionary biologist and public health phylogeographer, and the author of Big Farm Makes Big Flu (2016), has highlighted factors that may have played a role in the emergence of novel pathogens in China. 

“… wet markets and exotic food are staples in China, as is now industrial production, juxtaposed alongside each other since economic liberalization post-Mao. Indeed, the two food modes may be integrated by way of land use.

"Expanding industrial production may push increasingly capitalized wild foods deeper into the last of the primary landscape, dredging out a wider variety of potentially protopandemic pathogens. Peri-urban loops of growing extent and population density may increase the interface (and spillover) between wild nonhuman populations and newly urbanized rurality.
“Worldwide, even the wildest subsistence species are being roped into ag value chains: among them ostrichesporcupinecrocodilesfruit bats, and the palm civet, whose partially digested berries now supply the world’s most expensive coffee bean. Some wild species are making it onto forks before they are even scientifically identified, including one new short-nosed dogfish found in a Taiwanese market.” (emphasis in original, Wallace, 2020) 

Thus, Wallace highlights the complex interaction of traditional Chinese culinary preferences, the newly emergent industrial capitalist economy, and the reshaping of the ecology of China’s hinterlands to suggest the ecological-social (hereon, eco-social) context of the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Wallace’s emphasis is on Chinese capitalist industrialization.  However, Tong et. al. (2017) highlights the interplay of economic growth, urbanization, globalization and the risk of emerging infectious diseases in China. 

“Three interrelated world trends may be exacerbating emerging zoonotic risks: income growth, urbanization, and globalization. (1) Income growth is associated with rising animal protein consumption in developing countries, which increases the conversion of wild lands to livestock production, and hence the probability of zoonotic emergence. (2) Urbanization implies the greater concentration and connectedness of people, which increases the speed at which new infections are spread. (3) Globalization—the closer integration of the world economy—has facilitated pathogen spread among countries through the growth of trade and travel. High-risk areas for the emergence and spread of infectious disease are where these three trends intersect with predisposing socioecological conditions including the presence of wild disease reservoirs, agricultural practices that increase contact between wildlife and livestock, and cultural practices that increase contact between humans, wildlife, and livestock. Such an intersection occurs in China, which has been a ‘cradle’ of zoonoses from the Black Death to avian influenza and SARS. Disease management in China is thus critical to the mitigation of global zoonotic risks.” (Tong, et. al. 2017; numerals inside parentheses are added to emphasize contributing factors) 

Key to capitalist development of any country is division of labor which depends in turn on the extent of the market, which it ultimately depends on population growth and rising per capita income.  Even the Chinese economy which has followed an export-led growth model capitalizing on international markets for developing its division of labor, hence industrialization, still has moved hundreds of millions of Chinese from the rural regions of the country into cities with increasing population density and it has lifted out of poverty hundreds of millions of Chinese creating an ever-larger domestic market.   According to a 2013 report by McKinsey & Company, a major international business consulting firm, by 2022, “more than 75 percent of China’s urban consumers will earn 60,000 to 229,000 renminbi ($9,000 to $34,000) a year.” In 2018, some 823 million Chinese, more than half the population, was urban.  China’s population grew from 551,960,000 people in 1950 (coinciding with the triumph of Chinese revolution in 1949-51) was 1,433,783,686 in 2018, almost three times as many despite the one-child policy introduced in 1979 and modified in the mid-1980s.   Population density in China increased from 57.98 persons per square kilometer in 1950 to 150.1 persons in 2019. (, China Population: 1950-2020, accessed March 17, 2020) Wuhan, the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak, had a population of slightly more than 1 million in 1950. In 2015, it had an estimated population of 10,607,700 people. Wuhan's built-up area constituted 8 out of 10 urban districts. Street-level population density in some central neighborhoods of Wuhan was 40,000 to 90,000 persons per square kilometer (Chuandong,, 2018)  

Yi-Zheng Lian (February 20, 2020) provides further insight into how Chinese cultural mores have contributed to the emergence of novel viruses in China.  He discusses "jinbumeaning roughly “filling a void,” which is the ancient Chinese beliefs about the powers of certain foods:

“I’ve seen snakes and the penises of bulls or horses — great for men, the theory goes — on offer at restaurants in many cities in southern China. Bats, which are thought to be the original source of both the current coronavirus and the SARS virus, are said to be good for restoring eyesight — especially the animals’ granular feces, called “sands of nocturnal shine” (夜明砂). Gallbladders and bile harvested from live bears are good for treating jaundice; tiger bone is for erections.
“More mundane yet no less popular is the palm civet (果子狸), a small, wild quadruped suspected of having passed on the SARS virus to humans. When stewed with snake meat, it is said to cure insomnia.”

Once the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 emerged, its spread in the population was facilitated by increasing world population density and human mobility.  Wallace cites the “connectivity” of the world population in his discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic and Tong, et. al. (2017) cite “globalization.” Last lunar year holiday in China, 500 million people travelled.   In 2018, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) there were 4.1 billion passengers on scheduled services, an increase of 7.3% over 2016.  Air travel is projected to reach 5.4 billion passengers by 2030.  Clearly, infectious diseases can and will spread across the globe like wildfire in the coming years and decades.   

It must be clear to the reader that the emergence and spread of the pandemic have included anthropogenic factors that include ancient Chinese traditional medicine and culinary taste as well as development of industrial capitalism and its attending population growth, per capita consumption, and urbanization, as well as capitalist globalization in the recent decades.  In China, like the rest of the world, such factors have resulted in the destruction of habitat for wildlife resulting in ecological crises. The set of factors associated with industrial capitalist development, particularly in the West since the onset of the Golden Age of Capitalism after World War II has been shown to be responsible for the Anthropocene (The Age of Humans) and regional and global  ecological crises.

For well over a century, self-described Marxists have relied on theories of capitalist crisis analyzed by Marx in volume 3 (the tendency of the average rate of profit to fall) and volume 2 (disproportionality crisis) of Capital to explain systemic crises of “capitalism.”  In recent decades ecological socialists influenced by Marx have tried to extend his theory of capital accumulation and crisis to account for ecological crisis.  However, it must be clear that the crisis caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 cannot be explained by the Marxian theories outlined in Capital or mainstream theories of “capitalism” (neoclassical and Keynesian theories) or other such theories such as underconsumption/overproduction theories, or stagnation theories most elegantly argued for by Josef Steindl (1952).  In all these theories “natural events” are considered external shock to the capitalist economy which is the focus of these theories. Any theoretical framework that hopes to address the emergence and crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic as a systemic crisis must place human society and economy in its ecological context.  

3. Philosophical and methodological issues
It is important to recall the philosophical and methodological underpinning of the mainstream and the Marxist economic theory and how “natural events” fall outside their scope by design (Nayeri, 2013A).  The mainstream (bourgeois) theories are rooted in the liberal social philosophies of the nineteenth century that view society as an aggregate of individual human action driven by human nature — expressed as Homo economicus — assumed to be most fully expressed in a capitalist market economy. 

Marx’s labor theory of value as developed in his Capital: A Critique of Political Economy is a specific application of his materialist conception of history. To understand why “natural events” fall outside of its scope it is necessary to recall the underlying philosophical anthropology of Marx who by the mid-1845 held the view that human nature is the sum total of social relations shaped by the prevailing mode of production. 
In Theses on Feuerbach Marx (1845) writes: “ [T]he human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.” He also distinguishes his own materialist philosophy by privileging “social humanity”: “The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.” (The tenth thesis). 

In The German Ideology (1845), Marx and Engels expand on these ideas:

“This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the production of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production.” (Marx and Engels, 1945)

From here it is easy to see how a class analysis of class societies, hence, class struggle as the prime mover of history is arrived at and becomes the focus of theirThe Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848). It follows that class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat would lead to socialism. The primary purpose of Marx’s critique of political economy was to lay bare the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production that invariably leads to systemic crisis, hence class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. 

Thus, neither bourgeois economic theories nor the Marxist theory require the inclusion of ecology in the workings of the capitalist economy, except in limited cases such as the theory of ground rent, where soil fertility or other qualities such a mineral deposit or location of land matters. But even then, this is mostly treated as a given.

Marx and ecology
In the last two decades, John Bellamy Foster and his colleagues at Monthly Review have provided important insight into what they call the ecological insights in Karl Marx’s writings, from which they derive the notion of “metabolic rift.” To put this characterization in historical perspective, the term oekologie (ecology) was coined in 1866 by German zoologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), a passionate disciple of Charles Darwin whose On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection appeared in 1859.  Also, if Marx’s insights are to be characterized as ecological, then we must acknowledge ecological insights in the Western tradition going back to the ancient Greeks, particularly Theophrastus (c. 372 BC—c. 287 BC) who first described the interrelationships between organisms and between organisms and their nonliving environment. And the host of writers with “ecological insight” would even include for some scholars Thomas Malthus who is credited with inventing “population ecology.” 

Michael Friedman, a biologist writing in Monthly Review edited by John Bellamy Foster, summarizes “metabolic rift” as follows:

“‘Metabolic rift’ is the concept popularized by environmental sociologist John Bellamy Foster, following Marx and others, to describe the disruption of ecological processes and the tendency to sever the connection between ecological and social realms. Foster attributes the metabolic rift to the intrinsic dynamic of capitalist production, with its private ownership of the means of production, drive for profits, ever-expanding markets, and continuous growth. Marx employed this idea to describe the effects of capitalist agriculture on the degradation of soil fertility. Foster and his co-thinkers have employed the concept in analyses of climate change, biodiversity, agriculture, fisheries, and many other aspects of human interaction with our biosphere.” (Friedman, 2018, emphasis added) 

Thus, in this rendition of “metabolic rift” the ecological crisis is seen as the outcome of the process of capital accumulation.   This raises a number of questions.

First, how does the discovery of Marx’s ecological concerns influences the makeup of ecological socialist theories that also build on capitalist accumulation as the root cause for the eco-social crisis, say for example, Joel Kovel’s The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? (2007)?  Kovel and others have also made critical assessments of Marx’s work.  But in terms of what is causing the ecological crisis, it would be hard to argue that Kovel and Foster hold uncompromisingly different views. 

Second, while the scholarly work of Foster and his colleagues is a commendable enrichment of our understanding of Marx, it offers no innovations as to the root cause of the ecological crisis. In fact, decades before the uncovering of Marx’s ecological insights by Foster and his colleagues, Marxist theoreticians argued exactly the same point of view: that the process of capital accumulation undermines the “ecological balance.”(see, for example, Mandel, 1977, p. 178) 

To put it differently, the task of a scientifically based study of the ecological crisis and the task of discovering what Marx thought about the ecological damages done by the process of capitalist accumulation are not one and the same thing. It is perhaps no accident that the entire scientific effort to understand climate change and the Sixth Extinction is carried by scientists in the related scientific disciplines, not by Marxists generally or by those who subscribe to metabolic rift conception in particular.

Third, the attempt to pack all knowledge and understanding about various ecological crises into Marxist political economy categories has blinded its practitioners to some factors so obviously related as the problem at hand. One example would suffice: exponential population growth since 1800 is closely related to the rise, dominance, and global expansion of the industrial capitalist civilization.  Is it lost on anyone that the emergence and spread of the Coronavirus and the danger it poses to humanity is closely related to high population density? Yet, the “metabolic rift” advocates like most other socialists have consistently ignored or even labeled as “Malthusian” or “populationist” anyone who argued that the exponential rise in human numbers is a contributing factor to the ecological crisis such as species extinction.

But human population pressure, especially when linked to the rising per capita consumption, has been a concern for biodiversity and conservation biologists who have shown the adverse impact of human population growth historically and in modern times (Nayeri, 2017). One recent example from a 2017 review essay in Science should suffice. The authors conclude their survey: 

“Research suggests that the scale of human population and the current pace of its growth contribute substantially to the loss of biological diversity. Although technological change and unequal consumption inextricably mingle with demographic impacts on the environment, the needs of all human beings—especially for food—imply that projected population growth will undermine protection of the natural world.” (Crist, Mora, and Engelman, 2017)

The authors propose: 

“An important approach to sustaining biodiversity and human well-being is through actions that can slow and eventually reverse population growth: investing in universal access to reproductive health services and contraceptive technologies, advancing women’s education, and achieving gender equality.” (ibid.)

Finally, and importantly, the focus of the capitalistically driven “metabolic rift” leaves out non-economic and pre-capitalist factors and in effect ignores the fact that ecological crises have been endemic to human society since the dawn of civilization. 

4. The Ecocentric Socialist approach
For about a decade, I have proposed another approach to rethinking the theoretical heritage of Marx and Engels that takes a very long view of natural and social history (For the most recent statement, see Nayeri, 2018; also, see, Nayeri, 2013B). Central to my reconsideration is the recognition of the scientific understanding of who are and where we come from so that we can better understand where we are going.  

An ecological theory of human nature
We are literally the product of our natural and social history and the sum total of our eco-social relations in any given social formation.  Marx would have reconsidered his own philosophical anthropology as from the 1840s he progressively replaced philosophy in favor of scientific inquiry. Even in The German Ideology (1845), Marx and Engels wrote: “The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organization of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature.” (Marx and Engels, 1845, emphasis added)

They went on: 

“Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man, or into the natural conditions in which man finds himself – geological, hydrographical, climatic and so on. The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.” (emphasis added, ibid.)

Thus, the founders of the materialist conception of history themselves believed our “consequent relation to the rest of nature” and “natural bases of their modifications in the course of history through the action of men” would matter to historical investigation even as they clearly and consciously set aside the “actual physical nature of man” and his/her “natural conditions” of which they named the “geological, hydrographical, climatic” as being outside of their present purpose. Notice also that they unabashedly talk about “actions of men” to alter our natural bases, not just social classes. 

However, given their philosophical anthropology and the humanist focus of the European Enlightenment which they shared, Marx’s and Engels’s materialism is anthropocentric by design. Let’s recall that in their view the human essence is “the ensemble of the social relations” and the standpoint of their materialism “is human society, or social humanity.”  

In contrast in scientific materialism life itself emerged out of inanimate objects and humanity’s lineage is from mammals and in particular primates that eventually led to the emergence of the Homo genus and subsequently Homo sapiens who emerged at least about 300,000 years ago.  That is, society has emerged out of biology which itself emerged out of physical and chemical properties of inanimate objects. It follows that we are not just the sum total of our social relations but instead the sum total of our ecological and social relations. Therefore, to advance the Marxian theory of history (not just written history) we must revise and update the materialist conception of history in light of 150 years of accumulated scientific knowledge.

Humans as “collective organisms”
We are even more embedded in the web of life than we could have imagined only two decades ago. In recent decades, the study of the human microbiome, the collection of all the microorganisms living in association with human cells and organs, has advanced greatly, although our knowledge of their relationships is still in infancy. 

“These communities consist of a variety of microorganisms including eukaryotes, archaea, bacteria and viruses. Bacteria in an average human body number ten times more than human cells, for a total of about 1000 more genes than are present in the human genome. Because of their small size, however, microorganisms make up only about 1 to 3 percent of our body mass (that's 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria in a 200-pound adult).” (National Institute of Health Human Microbiome Project, accessed March 17, 2020)

Although most biologists treat the microbiome as separate from the human body, they also acknowledge its essential role in human health:

“These microbes are generally not harmful to us, in fact they are essential for maintaining health. For example, they produce some vitamins that we do not have the genes to make, break down our food to extract nutrients we need to survive, teach our immune systems how to recognize dangerous invaders and even produce helpful anti-inflammatory compounds that fight off other disease-causing microbes. An ever-growing number of studies have demonstrated that changes in the composition of our microbiomes correlate with numerous disease states, raising the possibility that manipulation of these communities could be used to treat disease.”  (ibid. Emphasis added)

In his essay entitled “Metabolic Rift and the Human Microbiome” cited earlier, Michael Friedman notes that:

“Some biologists conceive of our microbiota as a hitherto unrecognized organ or organs fulfilling important physiological functions and networking with other organ systems, while many microbial ecologists propose that we are not ‘individuals,’ but collective organisms comprised of the person (mammal) and its entire microbiome. Many other species are also collective organisms, termed holobionts, tightly bound by evolution ever since the earliest eukaryotic cells arose from fusions of independent prokaryotes (non-nucleated cells, such as bacteria).”  (Friedman, 2018)

Lynn Margulis, biologist and evolutionary theorist, with her co-author, Dorion Sagan (Margulis and Sagan, 2002), have argued for a theory of symbiosis which refer to mutual interaction involving physical association of between “differently names organisms.” In the “Forward” to their book, the prominent evolutionary biologist Ernest Mayr writes: “At first considered quite exceptional, symbiosis was eventually discovered to be almost universal.”   Donna J. Haraway, ecofeminist and a philosopher of the interaction between science, society, and nature, has made symbiosis a foundation of her view of social life (e.g., Haraway 2016).

Thus, in a scientific sense, a human is a “collective organisms,” an organic whole that is greater than the sum of its multiple constituent parts. I suspect this view of humanity is much closer to the holistic view that Hegel (1817) promoted and Marx held, that "the truth is in the whole."  Indeed, recent research has found a correlation between gut microbiota and personality in adults (Han-Na Kim, 2018). If microorganisms in humans can affect even our personality, how could they not have an impact on our history as a species?  

On historical agency
This view of the ecological nature of humans, as the interpenetration of multiple kinds of beings over the very long period of natural and social history, validates yet another reconsideration of Marx’s philosophical anthropology.  In the first thesis on Feuerbach, Marx writes: “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively.”  Thus, Marx’s materialism views humans as the subject, the active agency, in our interaction with natural or social reality.  As revolutionary this innovation was at the time, in light of what we know today it was an anthropocentric view of natural and social history. What we must consider in light of 150 years of scientific advance is an ecocentric view of history which weaves together active participation of multiple agencies.

We now know that other organisms and species play a decisive role in history. As I will outline in a moment, infectious diseases caused by various pathogens have been particularly crucial at certain moments throughout the history of civilization. But let me first cite one example of how the application of the materialist conception of history to explain the successful occupation of the Americas by the European colonists fell short of the historical truth.  As a young socialist, one of my teachers was George Novack, an American Marxist philosopher.  In 1975, I translated his essay “The Long View of History” (1974) into Farsi; it was published in Iran after the 1979 revolution when freedom of the press was achieved after 25 years of dictatorship. Novack used the interpretation of the materialist conception of history that privileges forces of production to explain how the colonists overcame the Native American population.  In a nutshell, Novack attributed this to the superior firearms of the Europeans who overwhelmed the Native population armed with bow and arrow.  However, in the decades since, historical research has shown that aside from their superior arms and genocidal brutality the European colonists also exposed the Native Americans to new infectious diseases for which they lacked immunity. These communicable diseases, including smallpox and measles, devastated entire Native American populations which numbered in millions. Smallpox was one of the most feared because of the high mortality rates in infected Native Americans.  The role of pathogen-caused infectious diseases in history falls outside the purview of the materialist conception of history as it also falls outside Marx’s theory of capitalist crisis. (for a discussion of nature and history in the materialist conception of history, see, Anderson, 1983, chapter 3) In such epidemics, the primary subject is a pathogen not any group of humans. 

Of course, as  humanity lives in ecological niches, the role all other beings contributing to the enrichment of such niches as well as their relationship with human society matter to how history unfolds.  

Marx’s human exceptionalism view was invalidated even in his own time with the publication of Darwin’s researches.  As Darwin clearly stated “the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, is certainly one of degree and not of kind.” He went on: 

We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals. (Darwin, 1871/1981, p. 105)

The philosopher James Rachel adds:

“In thinking about non-humans, Darwin said, we have always under-estimated the richness of their mental lives.  We tend to think of ourselves as mentally complex, while assuming that ‘mere animals’ lack any very interesting intellectual capacities. But this is incorrect. Non-humans experience not only pleasure and pain, but terror, suspicion, and fear.  They sulk. They love their children. They can be kind, jealous, self-complacent, and proud.  They know wonder and curiosity.  In short, they are much more like us, mentally and emotionally, than we want to admit.” (Rachels, 1990: 57) 

To summarize, I suggest we must define human nature as the sum total of our eco-social relations shaped by the dynamic interrelation of three trends: (1) The transhistorical trend which recognizes and celebrates our continuity with the rest of nature, especially other animals, in particular the primates. We are an animal, a mammal, an evolutionary cousin of the chimpanzee. Therefore, we share certain traits with them. (2) The historical trend of our species, Homo sapiens, that goes back at least 300,000 years, including cultural heritage from earlier Homo genera: We inherited the knowledge to use fire from Homo erectus who domesticated it 400,000 years ago.  And, (3) the mode of production influences trend, e.g. capitalistically developed global culture today. 

This dynamic mixture of nature and culture makes us who we are and is key to understanding how history unfolds. 

The crisis of civilization
Although Marx’s critique of political economy would remain essential for an understanding of systemic crisis of the capitalist mode of production, social and ecological crises we face today are better understood as the crisis of capitalist social formations. There has never been a purely capitalist country and there will never be one.  By “capitalism,” a term Marx did not use, we mean any social formation in which the capitalist mode of production is dominant. But no two “capitalisms” are the same as each has emerged out of specific historical processes with its own ecological, cultural, social, political, and economic specificities. Thus, the crisis of the capitalist mode of production plays out differently in different countries and its may be even initiated by extra-economic events such as the current pandemic crisis. I have suggested that we characterize the world today as the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization with it various constituent parts that need to be investigated from the same perspective using the same methodology. 

Once we admit that ecological crises have been with us since the dawn of civilization, the  following question arises: Are there any shared features that have contributed to the systemic crisis of civilizations.  To raise this question does not deny the mode of production specific causal factors.  What would be needed is to understand how common causal factors contributing to crisis of all civilizations are articulated within the mode of production specific “laws of motion.”  

A key contributing factor is anthropocentrism: All civilizations are anthropocentric, that is, they all give moral standing to humans whether by religious decree or secular doctrine to justify domination and control of nature and non-human species for human purpose. All civilizations are social formation in which the laboring masses are exploited by the ruling classes and elites to extract wealth from nature.  Humanity today faces the crisis of anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization.  I will discuss these in the next several sections. 

What is civilization?
The word “civilization” is a derivative of the Latin civis, a citizen, and civilis, pertaining to a citizen, and etymologically speaking, defined it as “the entire period of human progress since mankind attained sufficient intelligence and social unity to develop a system of government.” (Encyclopedia Britannica,  volume 4 of the 1911 edition).  Wikipedia defines civilization as “any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification imposed by a cultural elite, symbolic systems of communication (for example, writing systems), and a perceived separation from and domination over the natural environment.” (accessed March 17, 2020)

Thus, all civilization share social complexity, urbanization, social stratification, a socio-cultural elite, a developed means of symbolic communication, and a drive to domination and control over nature. Civilization is also identified with the concept of progress, itself rooted in the European civilization (Nisbet, 1980). 

After the 1960s, historians have expanded their focus from the European civilization to encompass other world civilizations.  In the last two decades, David Christian (2004) has introduced the new field of Big History which aims to place human history in the context of life on Earth and the history of the universe.  

Still, the overwhelmingly predominant view was and still is even among socialists and ecosocialists that civilization whether Western, Chinese or African, has been a positive development and a sign of human progress. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels speak of civilized nations and backward countries.   Even Big Historians consider civilization as the apex of complexity which they see as the logic of the unfolding universe. 

Critique of civilization
Yet, increasingly archeologists, anthropologists, paleontologists, paleoanthropologists, some historians, and others have questioned this assumption as we have learned more about the so-called “prehistory” and uncivilized people such as hunter-gatherers and Barbarians. Today, the so-called “prehistory” of our species is at least 290,000 years old while the history of civilization is at most 5,000 years old, that is just 1.7%, of our species existence and the history of the capitalist civilization is a mere 0.08%, a negligible time span yet a decisive part of our journey as humanity increasingly confronts existential threats including the increasing emergence of novel pathogens and spread of infectious diseases. 

In his book Against the Grain: The Deep History of Early States (2017), the Yale University anthropologist and political scientists James C. Scott provides a well-documented critique of civilization based on a review of the recent multidisciplinary literature about the transition from hunter-gatherers (foragers) to first farmers, regional farming settlements, and early states. This literature disputes the idea of the early agrarian civilizations as progressive. Scott writes:

“Contrary to earlier assumptions, hunters and gatherers—even today in the margin of refugia they inhabit—are nothing like the famine-stricken, one-day-away-from-starvation desperados of folklore.  Hunters and gathers, in fact, never looked so good—in terms of diet, their health, and their leisure.  Agriculturalists, on the contrary, have never looked so bad—in terms of their diet, their health, their leisure.” (ibid, p. 9-10) 

He adds:

“The state and early civilizations were often seen as attractive magnets, drawing people in by virtue of their luxury, culture, and opportunities.  In fact, early states had to capture and hold much of their population by forms of bondage and were plagued by the epidemics of overcrowding. …[T]here is a strong case to be made that the life outside the state—life as a ‘barbarian’—may often have been materially easier, freer, and healthier than the life at least for non-elite inside civilization.”  (ibid. p. xii

Scott concludes: “The wounds the standard narrative has suffered at the hands of recent research are, I believe, life-threatening.” (ibid. p. 10) 

As ancient civilizations were built on bondage and fell apart due to social and environmental crises, in Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries the so-called “Dark Ages” arrived with the institution of serfdom.  And when it disintegrated making room for the transition to capitalism, we have, as some aptly have called, a dominant system of wage-slavery. In a nutshell, this is the history of all civilization. 

Unintended consequences of civilization
Now, the reader may protest that not everything in civilization has been bad and point to the development of such things as science, medicine, and culture.  

No doubt all social development is a dialectical movement with unintended consequences some useful for human development. But all civilizations have been essentially social formations for the extraction of wealth from nature using subordinated, oppressed, and exploited people.  Let’s remember that our forager ancestors like all other species lived by various modes of subsistence, that is, they appropriate from nature what they needed for their livelihood and reproduction.  As Scott notes, our forager ancestors depended on the ecosystems they were part of and sometimes even engaged in “low-level production” such as planting seeds and tubers of desirable plants.  However, first farmers elevated “low-level production” to their core activity by systematic domestication of plants and animals. Still, they lived as subsistence farmers for thousands of years and in conditions less desirable than that of their hunter-gatherer cousins.  When the farmer settlements began to turn a consistent economic surplus, social stratification became possible and gradually happened with institutionalization of private property, patriarchy, and early city states. Thus, emerged the first civilizations.  Therefore, it must be crystal clear that all modes of production have aimed at extraction of wealth from nature either by subsistence producers or in class societies by subordination, oppression, and exploitation of the non-elite people.  All the while, domestication of plants and animals remained key for all agrarian societies and the present-day capitalist civilization also crucially depends on it. 

Thus, development of forces of production, science, medicine, and culture all have been conditions by the requirements of the dominant mode of production which served the interests of the existing ruling classes.  An example may be helpful.  Scott open’s his book with the following epigraph about the function of writing in civilization from the French anthropologist and ethnologist Lévi Strauss:

“Writing appears to be necessary for the centralized, stratified state to reproduce itself…Writing is a strange thing…The one phenomenon which has invariably accompanied it is the formation of cities and empires: the integration into a political system, that is to say, of a considerable number of individuals…into a hierarchy of castes and classes…It seems to favor rather the exploitation than the enlightenment of mankind.”

The origin of alienation from nature and its world-historic significance  
But how did we get here? 

As Mészáros (1970, p.39) remind us, from a philosophical point of view the question of the human nature is both an ontological and historical question.  To be alienated, one must be alienated from a certain state of being and as a result of some causes. 
We know the crisis of civilization is rooted in its foundation: alienation from nature as the basis for systematic domestication of plants and animals for human purpose and systematic attempt to dominate and control nature.  And, once a sustainable economic surplus emerged, social alienation in the form of stratification of society into a subordinated, oppressed, and exploited social classes and strata, and a ruling class presiding over the state as an alien force to dominate and control the laboring masses to appropriate wealth from nature appeared. 

We also know that for 98.3% of our existence as a species our forager ancestor lived in egalitarian small groups in relative harmony with the rest of nature.  

Let me elaborate what I mean by “relative harmony.”  Humans are similar to other animals, in particular mammals, in “niche construction,” changing parts of the ecosystem in ways more useful for our purpose.  After Homo Erectus managed to make and keep fire some 400,000 years ago, they also discovered “slash-and-burn” of landscape as a way to change it favorable to species of plants and animals they considered food.  Slash-and-burn as niche construction was adopted by our forager ancestors and is still used in parts of the world.  The use of fire also made it possible to consume a wider range of plants and animals for food by cooking them which provided foragers with more calories and the possibility of population growth in a given range. These, in turn, helped enable the migration out of Africa and dispersal of humanity across the continents.  

But human population growth and dispersal to all corners of the world had some ecologically undesirable effects: extinction of other species. Over the last 100,000 years, the mean body mass of mammals in Eurasia dropped by 50% and by an order of magnitude in Australia. More recently, there was a tenfold drop in the average size of mammals in the Americas. Felisa Smith (2018) and her co-authors have published a groundbreaking study in Nature that correlate these species extinction events with the migration patterns of humans. 

There is also evidence of early semi-domestication of some wolves who developed a symbiotic relationship with hunter-gatherers (some scientists hypothesize due to a mutant gene in some wolves) and we have firm evidence of domestication of dogs about 15,000 years in Asia.  

First farmers
But then came the full-scale, systematic domestication, agrarian “niche construction” and the rest that made us into a civilization. Sheep were domesticated (10,000 years ago in what is now the Middle East), pigs (8,000 years ago in the Middle East and possibly in what is now China), cattle (8,000 years ago in the Middle East), zebu cattle (6,000 years ago in what is now Pakistan), horse (6,000 years ago in Central Asia), lama (4,500 years ago in what is now Peru), and so on. 

Today, the capitalist civilization rests mostly on a dozen crops (banana, barley, maize, manioc, potato, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugar beet, sugar cane, sweet potato, and wheat) and only five large (over 100 lb.) domesticated animals (cow, sheep, goat, pig, and horse) (Barker, 2006, p. 1).

But what is domestication and what does it entail for the domesticated species and for us? Domestication is “the evolutionary process whereby humans, modify, either intentionally or unintentionally, the genetic makeup of a population of plants or animals to the extent that individuals within the population lose their ability to survive and produce offsprings in the wild.” (Blumler and Byrane,1991, p. 24; cited in Barker, 2006, p. 2)  Scott writes about the effects of a more sedentary lifestyle, confinement, crowding that resulted in the spread diseases of domesticated animals, and even radical changes to their morphology and physiology.

“Compared with their wild ancestors, sheep have undergone a reduction in brain size of 24 percent over the ten-thousand-year history of their domestication; ferrets (domesticated far more recently) have brains 30 percent smaller than those of wild polecats; and pigs (sus scrofa) have brains more than a third smaller than their ancestors.” (Scott, 2017, pp. 80-81)

Scott discusses at some length the adverse effects of domestication on humans, including becoming more of a herd animal than our forager ancestors, effects of overcrowding and spread of infectious diseases, including zoonotic diseases, and even morphological and physiological consequences (Scott, 2017, pp. 83-92) 

The rise of infectious diseases
 If we wish to speak in the language of the metabolic rift in discussing infectious diseases, we must trace it all the way back to the dawn of farming in Mesopotamia. The farm itself is an entirely human-made ecosystem, which, in combination with the sedentary and crowded lifestyle of early farmers, also attracted a host of species from ticks and flees to rats and cats, sparrows and pigeons. These brought with them a host of infectious diseases.  Scott argues infectious diseases had been a major contributing factor in the collapse of many early civilizations. In a chapter entitled “Zoonoses: A Perfect Epidemiological Storm” he details the confluence of factors that gave rise to the early chronic and infectious diseases. 

“[V]irtually all infectious diseases due to microorganisms especially adapted to Homo sapiens came into existence only in the past ten thousand years, many of them perhaps only in the past five thousand.  They were, in a strong sense, a ‘civilizational effect.’ These historically novel diseases—cholera, smallpox, mumps, measles, influenza, chicken pox, and perhaps malaria—arose only as a result of the beginning of urbanism and, as we shall see, agriculture.”  (ibid., p. 101)

A key role in the rise and spread of infectious diseases was played by livestock, commensals, cultivated grain and legumes, where the key principle of crowding again is operative. 

“The Neolithic was not only an unprecedented gathering of people but, at the same time, a wholly unprecedented gathering of sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, dogs, cats, chicken, ducks, geese. To the degree that they were already ‘herd’ or ‘flock’ animals, they would have carried some species-specific pathogens of crowding. assembled for the first time to share a wide range of infective organisms. Estimates vary, but of the fourteen hundred known human pathogenic organisms, between eight hundred and nine hundred are zoonotic diseases, originating in non-human hosts. For most of these pathogens, Homo sapiens is a final ‘dead-end’ host: humans do not transmit it further to another host.” (ibid. p. 103)

Thus, there is an unmistakable similarity between the conditions that gave rise to infectious diseases thousands of years ago and what we find happening in the twenty-first century, including the current pandemic.  

Impact of civilization on wildlife
Furthermore, domestication and the march of civilization has had an even more terrible impact on wildlife as evidenced by the ongoing anthropogenic Sixth Extinction. There are at least 7.7 million Eukarya, which include plants, algae, fungi, and many kinds of eukaryotic microorganisms, give or take a million (Wilson, 2016, pp. 22-23), plus perhaps another one trillion species of bacteria (Locey,, 2016)  

Recent research concludes that current extinction rates are 1,000 times higher than natural background rates of extinction and future rates are likely to be 10,000 times higher. (De Vos, et. al., 2015)

Humans have literally taken much of the “fuel of life” from other species.  Today per capita energy use of humans is 12,000 times more than what it was at the dawn of agriculture (Vitousek et al, 1986).  In the twentieth century, global human appropriation of Net Primary Productivity (NPP) doubled to at least 25% of  NPP. Ultimately, all species live off energy that arrives on Earth via sunshine.  Through photosynthesis, green plants (primary producers) convert two to three present of the solar energy that arrives on Earth into sugars. They consume about half of it for their own livelihood. What remains is called Net Primary Productivity (NPP).  The NPP is the basis for all animal life. Herbivores eat plants to gain energy for their own livelihood (primary consumers). Some carnivores (secondary consumers) live off herbivores.  Some omnivores (tertiary consumers) eat secondary consumers.  The final link in the food chain is the decomposers that live off the organic matter of plants, herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores.  In each step in the food chain, about 90% of the energy is lost. 

The question of what species will live to serve us and which ones to die because they seem not useful to us has become part of our culture since the dawn of civilization. It is so much part of the normal life that we simply pretend it does not exist.  On November 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously voted in favor of the landowners in Harrison County, Mississippi, in an opinion that dealt a blow to the Endangered Species Act to protect the Dusky Gopher Frog. Historically inhabiting the southern United States, today the Dusky Gopher Frog exists in less than 100 square kilometer and its Area of Occupancy is less than 10 square kilometers in Harrison County, Mississipi, all individuals are in a single location, and there is a continuing decline in the extent and quality of their habitat, and in the number of mature individuals.  Because its population size is estimated to number fewer than 250 mature individuals, with all individuals in a single sub-population, it is experiencing a continuing decline.

Here is another example.  In 2017, there were 88 unconfirmed reported shark attacks and five fatalities.  But 100 million sharks were killed mostly for their fins as shark fin soup which is considered a delicacy in southeast Asia, and especially China. Of course, all the alleged shark attacks and fatalities were reported in the media. But how many of us know about the gruesome death of 100 million sharks by humans (the practice of shark finning entails capturing sharks, cutting their fin alive and throw them back into the sea to die a painful death).  

The anthropocentric detour 
Graeme Baker, a prominent archeologist and a scholar of the Agricultural Revolution, calls the emergence of farming “domestication of the mind.” (Barker, 2006, pp. 38-39) Let’s explore this idea for a moment.

Our forger ancestors saw themselves deeply embedded in the world around them. We know that from anthropological studies of the contemporary forager populations. Most modern-day foragers are characterized by animistic or less commonly totemic belief systems. In the former, non-human animals are not just like humans, they are persons.  Their environment is a treasure house of personage, each with language, reason, intellect, moral conscience, and knowledge, regardless of whether the outer shape is human, bird, reptile, or plant. Thus, the Jivaro people of eastern Ecuador and Peru consider humans, other animals, and plants as persons (aents), linked by blood ties and common ancestry (Descola, 1996). Animistic belief systems commonly do not have words for distinguishing between people, animals, and plants as separate categories, using instead classification systems based on terms of equality rather than the hierarchies of our modern-day Linnaean taxonomies. (Howell, 1996)  The totemic systems of Australian Aborigines are ceremonies and rituals that stress an abstract linear continuity between the human and non-human communities.  Animals are the most common totems, signifying a person’s or group’s identity or distinctiveness, but though they may be good to eat or food for thought, they are not considered social partners as in the animistic belief systems. 

The forager world is animated with moral, mystical, and mythical significance. (Carmichael et al., 1994) It is constructed and reconstructed through the telling of myths, which commonly include all kinds of animals as humans, changing shape between one and the other.  In addition to the present world inhabited by humans and non-human-beings, there is a supernatural world. In many forager societies, shamans mediate between the lived and supernatural worlds, entering and conceptualizing the latter, commonly through ecstatic experiences. (C.L. Martin, 1993, p. 14) (citations are taken from Barker, 2006, p. 59)

I call these worldviews ecocentric. The transition from ecocentrism of the hunter-gatherers to anthropocentrism of civilization probably has been the most crucial cultural change in our species as anthropocentrism, also known as homo-centrism, human supremacism, and speciesism, holds humans as the central or most significant species on Earth giving us moral superiority over all other beings in the same sense that racism gives moral superiority to whites and sexism gives moral superiority to men.   A key concept in environmental philosophy and ethics, anthropocentrism is culturally the foundation of all civilizations. It has been central to both religious and secular worldview.  Ancient Greek gods were imagined as human-like.  In Abrahamic religions, humans are God’s agent on Earth. In the Old Testament, God creates Adam and Eve in his own image and creates other species for them.  A similar anthropocentric worldview has dominated Western philosophy from Aristotle and the Stoics to Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas to Descartes and Kant (Steiner, 2005).  

Most critical theories of society are actually based on a small recent subset of the human history currently known to be at least 300,000 years. Theories of capitalism tell us about 0.003% of our history and theories of class societies about 0.6% of it.  Clearly, as informative as these theories could be about how history unfolds, they exclude the long period of ecocentrism before the world-historic transition to agrarian societies and civilization.  Could ecological socialism ignore this vast portion of our history?  

Yet critical theories of the current crisis whether socialist, ecological socialist or Green ignore this world-historic transition hence the root-cause of the crisis of all civilizations and downfall of many.  Even so if the argument of this essay is valid human emancipation, which is the focus of all emancipatory theories, including Marx’s theory of socialism, would require a fundamental break with anthropocentrism.  We know anthropocentrism is a foundational ideology of civilization while ecocentrism is consistent with what we know to be true about our forager ancestors from  the accumulation of scientific knowledge.  Humanity cannot be emancipated if it is in a constant war against the rest of nature for its domination and control even if it is would be done in an imagined “ecological civilization” where “balance of nature” suppose to be a primary goal. Even in these conceptualization, it is humans who are tasked to decide what is the “correct balance of nature,” an anthropocentric fantasy.  As Marx explains, human emancipation requires elimination of social alienation which as I have argued is only consistent with the ecocentric worldview that holds we are deeply embedded in the rest of nature. There is not society outside of nature and no social harmony without harmony with the rest of nature. But harmony with nature cannot become a technological tasks of managing ecosystems. Rather, it will require in a true sense of the word loving Mother Nature and Mother Earth. That is all social and individual human decisions must be based on such love of nature as we cannot save the world and emancipate ourselves without it.

5. Transcending civilization as a de-alienation process
This reformulation of the materialist conception of history, organically integrated with the materialist conception of life and ecologically conditioned human nature, places human history squarely in the midst of the evolution of the ecosphere.  I would call this, in agreement with Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Donna J. Haraway, animistic materialism. It will then become easy to see how the ecologically constituted human agency contributes to the enrichment of the ecosphere or impoverishes it by our way of life.  

This reformulation also elevates, as we should, the historical standing of our forager ancestors and contemporaries, the “barbarians” who have lived outside of civilization for five thousand years and resisted becoming part of any state, and aboriginal and indigenous people and their resistance to the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization.  

It also elevates, as we should, that part of humanity that has defended the present day foragers, “barbarians,” and aboriginals, indigenous people, and the rest of the ecosphere against the capitalist civilization’s onslaught.  These include, but by no means is limited to, the indigenous people, the so-called tree-huggers, animal liberation activists, eco-feminists, Deep Ecologists (Naess and Sessions, 1984), and those who are fighting for the rights of Mother Earth.  They are not simply allies of the working class but co-equals.  In fact, politically aware working people would see their fights as their own as social and ecological issues are organically interconnected by life itself. Thus, the so-called Reds and Greens are actually co-equal fighters against the anthropocentric capitalist civilization except they have focused on different aspects of the same monster.

Of course, the class struggle still matters and centrally so.  Given the preponderance of the capitalist civilization and the marginalization of the resistance by those who live outside of it, the working class is decisive for the movement to transcend it in the direction of Ecocentric Socialism.  In fact, in countries that constitute the core of capitalist civilization the working class constitutes the great majority of the population and placed socially as the key agency to fight capitalist domination and exploitation of humans and the rest of nature.  But just as defending the rights of the subordinated and oppressed sections of the population and universalization of human rights is key for working-class unity and the transition to an ecocentric socialist future, so is the fight to extend equal moral standing to those who live outside of capitalist civilization and to all other species and the Mother Earth in the face of the onslaught of the anthropocentric capitalist civilization.  

It is no secret that the working class as theorized by Marx as the universal class who will emancipate humanity by emancipating itself has theoretically and historically been much less uniform than anticipated.  Marx and Engels recognized the problem of aristocracy of labor in their own time and the Bolsheviks attribute that opportunism of the large section of the Second International to support “their own bourgeoisie” in World War I to the influence of aristocracy and bureaucracy of labor.  Trotsky identified the social base for Stalinism in Soviet Russia in the rising bureaucracy in the party and the state.  Marxists have attributed the conservatism in the trade union movement to the influence of the aristocracy of labor and union bureaucracy.  If, as Marx and Engels argued, the material conditions of production, what is produced and how, contribute to who we are, then we must scrutinize modes of subsistence and production accordingly. It follows workers engaged in work to dominate, control, and exploit nature is deeply alienating work.  And, the problem is not limited to the capitalist production.  Home gardeners are also afflicted with them as is the general population under the sway of the anthropocentric culture (Nayeri, 2014). This problem is relatively well-understood in anthropocentric terms.  Few socialists would disagree that the wage-earning torturers, security guards, police, spies and assassins, etc. are not part of the working class that has the potential to emancipate itself and humanity. But the same socialists and ecosocialists may have difficulty accepting that workers in the industries that destroy nature may be similarly compromised in their ability to serve as part of the revolutionary working class in de-alienation from nature process that is necessary for human emancipation. They would at least initially serve as a conservative force. 

As mentioned earlier, with making and managing of fire 400,000 years ago by Homo erectus slash-and-burn was invented as a form of niche construction.  In essence, our forager ancestors destroyed plant and animal species they did not find useful to them to encourage the growth of others they found useful.  In contrast, hunter-gatherers also planted tubers and seeds of preferred plants for food or medicinal use.  There is two important distinctions in these activities. Slash-and-burn if carried out on larger scale by much larger groups of humans can undermine the wild landscape in favor of a human made landscape.  This is the anthropocentric logic of the Agricultural Revolution roughly 10,000 years ago. 

In contrast, planting seeds and tubers in the wild landscape by our forager ancestors provides an alternative model which is in recent decades rediscovered as permaculture (permanent culture, or a resilient culture).  

Thus, human subsistence methods that work with the existing landscape are preferable to those that replace the wild landscape with a human constructed ones.  Second, the very activities of working with the wild landscape as opposed to aiming to dominate and control the landscape, hence nature, create different types of human societies, and ecological society as opposed to a anthropocentric technological society. (for a hint about how to think about “means of production” please see, Nayeri, April 4, 2018)

Ecocentric ecological socialist politics is the wisdom and the art of undoing power relations that have been thrown up during the past 10,000 years, relations of subordination, oppression, and exploitation of humans and between humans and the rest of nature.  Thus, class relations and class struggle that Marx and Engels placed at the center of their theoretical and practical concerns must be supplemented with non-class struggles against the subordination of various strata of people and with a cultural revolution that aims to end anthropocentrism in all its manifestations.  Some of these, like the struggle for equality based gender, racial, sexual orientation, and national origin must be seen as essential for fostering the unity of the working people. Others like the fight to stop and reverse climate crisis, the ongoing Sixth Extinction, and the sharpening threat of nuclear war and now the emergence and spread of infectious diseases involve existential struggles. But the struggle against all manifestations of anthropocentrism must be seen as the core struggle because it is anthropocentrism that helped to create the material basis of social alienation and has served as the ideological basis for the Anthropocene.  The fight for ecocentrism, like the fight for human emancipation, is a fight for universal values.  Without ecocentrism, that is not just an intellectual point of view but a genuine love for nature and for life on Earth, there will be no humanity and no human emancipation. They are one and the same fight, the fight to overcome human alienation.

Dedication: I would like to dedicate this essay to Panther and Siah (means black, in Farsi). They are two male black tomcats whose names taken together mean "black panther," who live with me in La Casa de Los Gatos. Their friendship enriches my life in ways few humans ever have. 

Acknowledgment: I am deeply grateful to Fred Murphy who read a number of my earlier essays in draft form and an early draft of this essay and made valuable suggestions for the improvement of the text as well as corrected my grammar. 

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1. John Stuart Mill is credited to originate the notion in "On the Definition of Political Economy, and on the Method of Investigation Proper to It," London and Westminster Review, October 1836. Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy, 2nd ed. London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer, 1874, essay 5, paragraphs 38 and 48.
2. Before developing his materialist conception of history, Marx held Feuerbachian notion of human essence in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. There has been controversy about whether and how Marx’s views changed after his criticism of Feuerbach in “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845) and developing his materialist conception of history with Engels in The German Ideology (1845). For a detailed discussion see Mandel (1971: chapters 10-11) and Mészáros (1970). Here I used Marx and Engels view they held throughout their post 1845 writings. 
3. Thus, Mandel writes: “Only the revolutionary and conscious action of the proletariat can guarantee the triumph of socialism. Otherwise the enormous productive potential of contemporary science and technology will assume a progressively more destructive for as regards civilization, culture, humanity, nature, and, quite simply, life on planet.” (Mandel, 1977, p. 178) 
4.  For example, Angus and Butler in their book Too Many People? (2011), answer their own rhetorical question in a chapter entitled "Is the World Full?” They write: “One day, when we have broad agreement on the answers to all of Joel Cohen’s questions, and when we have eliminated the gross waste, destruction, and inequities of capitalism, we may be able to measure the earth’s carrying capacity scientifically. If so, humanity may then decide to consciously limit its numbers.” (Angus and Butler, 2011, p. 61 on Kindle edition) 

There are several problems with their conclusion.  First, their discussion of the Earth’s carrying capacity, essentially an anthroponcetric modeling exercise, is uncritical of the very concept of "carrying capacity" and is based on just one demographer work at one particular year sixteen years before the publication of their book! The researcher is Joel Cohen, who characterizes his own research as focusing “on human relations with the species we eat (agriculture) and on human relations with the species that eat us (infectious diseases).” Thus, Angus and Butler elevate Cohen's 1995 writing to what should decide how many people can inhibit the planet without setting off ecological crises!  However, in 2011 when Angus and Butler published their book there was a general awareness of the Sixth Extinction which biodiversity and conservation biologists have documented as being caused in part by human population pressures.  This cherry picking may have served Angus’s and Butler’s polemical purpose but it is the exact opposite of what is needed in terms of ecological socialists discussion of the exponential population growth since 1800. The authors's total indifferent to the extinction crisis of many species while labeling all concerns with the population question as "populationist" is merely another case of anthropocentrism widespread in society and among socialists and ecological socialists.  Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic has among other things falsified note only Angus and Butler’s book and but also Cohen 1995 modeling of human carrying capacity as he himself says his researches focus on infectious diseases.  Cohen in 1995 failed to warn his readers, including Angus and Butler of the impending rise of infectious diseases in part due to human population growth, population density, and population mobility. The truth is that human population growth particularly with the rising per capita concumption have undermined biodiveristy and have contributed to the ecological crisis.  This should be an elementary to any one who understand that exponential rise of any species, particularly the top predator megafuna is bound to have adrverse impact on the rest of the ecosystem. Only those blinded by anthropocentrism may fail to see this truth. 


Kamran Nayeri said...

A reader, the mathematician Chandler Davis, shared the following comment with me by email:

"The Permian Mass Extinction wiped out the trilobites and more; but there
remained a number of other arthropods and vertebrates to repopulate the
planet. The Cretaceous Mass Extinction wiped out the pterosaurs and many other
reptiles; but there were still some other reptiles and birds and mammals who
carried on. The new Mass Extinction that the Koch brothers and their
confederates have planned for us threatens to be more thorough. A real runaway
greenhouse effect could leave the Earth unfit as habitat for much beyond a few
cyanobacteria. Well, maybe some tardigrades too: they’re so tough.

"Too bad we can’t check-in after a few hundred million years to see what they
made of the place. Maybe left to themselves the tardigrades can do a better job
of evolving an intelligent species than the vertebrates did."

davidbyrnemcdonaldiii said...

Hi Kamran, I've been meaning to get back to you following your vacation. You may remember that we talked a bit about Marxist currents and their various relations to the climate change movement, and you kindly referred me to your article on Jason W Moore, which I found very agreeable since it mirrored my irritation with all the dialectical
trimmings which I found added nothing.

I did read your manifesto and I have some questions.

1. If alienation from nature began with agriculture and we are to overcome this alienation, what will replace agriculture to produce (make, gather) food? If we become hunter-gatherers what level of human population could the earth sustain, in your view? It also seems that you would advocate abandoning the hunter part of hunter gatherers so we would be gatherers only.

2. Would all knowledge be passed down verbally, or would there be production of books or other artifacts containing accumulated human wisdom? If knowledge is written down, what is it written down upon if not animal skins or paper made from farming (i.e. agriculture) for papyrus or other plants, or do you imagine we can simply gather enough papyrus (or whatever) to sustain our needs? How would knowledge remain the common heritage of all humans if no one specialized in knowledge?

3. Georgescu-Roegen situates bureaucracy and state institutions as arising from what he calls the irreducible human desire to reduce the drudgery of labor, so therefore since people seek not to drudge about the division of labor inevitably reduces labor for some while increasing it for others. As a lazy mofo I am moved by this argument.

I have many more questions but this will give you a sense of what I'm after. Cheers!

davidbyrnemcdonaldiii said...

Wow I just had a long comment deleted when I clicked "publish".

Kamran Nayeri said...

Dear David,

Thanks for your comments and questions. My response follows:

1. In a couple of essays, I suggest my own thinking about what must follow the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization. Please take a look at the concluding section of "The Crisis of Civilization and How to Resolve It: An Introduction to Ecocentric Socialism" (2018) where I discuss this. As you will see, what is needed is a radical restructuring and repurposing of the existing productive structure in lockstep with democratically and drastically reducing the human population through the empowerment of women. Here is what I wrote about the food system: "In the new economy, plant-based food production would be the goal of the food system which will become localized using organic farming, permaculture and agroecology methods. Every able-bodied person will contribute at least through home or community food gardens. Thus, the new economy will employ many more people in these socially useful and ecologically sound economic activities."

Of course, this is just the beginning of the conversation which will be enriched with ideas from those who know much more about me about permaculture and non-animal using agroecology.

Please note that nowhere I have suggested going back to becoming hunter-gatherers although we must support and reinforce such cultures that still exist in small regions of the globe. Anyone who wants to become hunter-gatherers who be also supported by the rest of humanity. In fact, we must admire the resilience of such communities and help them transition back to their full-ecocentric culture which has been undermined by civilization. Hunting by hunter-gatherers is not a problem as long as it is limited to small numbers of humanity and poses no danger to other species. Hunting for recreation or for commercial purposes would be banned. In general, humanity must reclaim the ecocentric values system which gave moral standing to all beings.

2. Again, I am not advocating giving up unintended but beneficial gains of civilization such as writing, literature, etc. Those will be preserved and culture becomes everyone's preoccupation. Again, please read the relevant section of the essay cite above.

3. What Georgescu-Rogen calls "irreducible human desire to reduce the drudgery of labor" must be qualified. In the essay above, I cite James C. Scott's notion of what "drudgery" is and how it arose in history. In his account, drudgery arose with early farming where a repetition of the same tasks became necessary. In Scott's view, the rugged lives of hunter-gatherers did not include drudgery as gathering and hunting were limited to about 6 hours a day in most cases and there were no hard lines between work and play. In the modern capitalist society, even though office work is not drudgery in a normal sense of the word it is alienated labor and tedious. It is not the physical effort that is a problem it is alienated work.

Please write to me or call me with your other questions. I would be happy to discuss them.

Again, whatever I suggest is really just that: one person's suggestion and I freely admit not to be knowledgeable in many areas where others know so much more than I do. A world-historic transition to post-civilization Ecocentric Socialism is no one person's figment of imagination but the result of the collective effort of billions of working people.

I hope this helps.

Thank you again.


Kamran Nayeri said...

The following comment was sent to me by email by Thomas Piazza, a UB Berkeley statistician who specializes in sampling, who has been closely involved in research effort of earlier epidemics beginning with the AIDS epidemic.

"Hi Kamran,

I read your paper, and I agree with your analysis. The way I look at the issues, I see 3 phases in our recent history of the last few thousand years or so:

1. Religious phase: Causality attributed to some kind of spirit world.

2. Anthropocentric phase: Rationality replaces dogma, and “Man is the measure of all things.”

3. Ecocentric phase: Realization that we are part of, and dependent on, the whole web of life on this planet and in the whole universe.

Different groups of people pass from one phase to another at different rates. Getting to this 3rd phase is just beginning, and that is our challenge these days.

So you can see why your analysis makes sense to me. Also I think you are right to question Marxists who try to retrofit Marx with ecological awareness. He lived in a different time, and it is only in the light of recent science that we are aware of the “universe story.”

RSmith said...

I came to this post through the SoCoCan link. Here are my basic and crude thoughts:
1. There are many interesting aspects to your writing here, but it is far too much for the average reader to parse.
2. I suggest breaking such a post down into several separate entries, or editing down to your core message.
3. It comes across as purely an academic discussion. Interesting to a minority, but detached from most readers, even in high-brow Sonoma County circles.
4. I suspect I am full agreement with your thoughts and assessments. However, I fear we have already moved beyond the question of political theory, and are now on the course of crisis management. We are likely looking at a span of mere decades before a global collapse in complex civilization, and it seems we should be focusing on triage.
5. As an animal farmer, I will include the necessity of (quickly) re-learning the utility of livestock-integrated farming as a robust method of maintaining food production during increasing climate instability. Veganism has no future even with full return of human manure to the fields; livestock are key to maintaining soil fertility purely for continued crop harvest.
Thank you for your work. We need more such deep thinking.
- Roy Smith. Green Goose Farm

collectivist said...

"Ecocentric ecological socialist politics is the wisdom and the art of undoing power relations that have been thrown up during the past 10,000 years, relations of subordination, oppression, and exploitation of humans and between humans and the rest of nature. Thus, the class relations and class struggle that Marx and Engels correctly placed at the center of their theoretical and practical concerns must be supplemented with non-class struggles against the subordination of various strata of people and with a cultural revolution that aims to end anthropocentrism in all its manifestations. Some of these, like the struggle for gender, racial, sexual orientation, and national origin equality must be seen as essential for fostering the unity of the working people. Others like the fight to stop and reverse climate crisis, the ongoing Sixth Extinction, and the sharpening threat of nuclear war involve existential struggles. But struggle against all manifestations of anthropocentrism must be seen as the core struggle because it is anthropocentrism that helped to create the material basis of social alienation and has served as the ideological basis for the Anthropocene. The fight for ecocentrism, like the fight for human emancipation, is a fight for universal values. Without ecocentrism, that is not just an intellectual point of view but a genuine love for nature and for life on Earth, there will be no humanity and no human emancipation. They are one and the same fight, the fight to overcome human alienation."

ALL ecosocialism should seriously discuss this.

"Ecocentric Socialism argues that the root cause of social alienation, hence all forms of exploitation since the dawn of civilization, is alienation from nature. Human emancipation, even human survival, demands a process of de-alienation from nature."

I first came across this perspective from Erich Fromm's writings. It made sense to me at the time until I read a collection of essays entitled, Marxism and the Native Americans. Most of the latter - N.A(s) - essayists said, among other thought-provoking things, alienation from nature is mostly a Euro- capitalist phenomenon and that land-based people are generally not alienated from the natural world.

"Thus, there is no doubt in my mind that infectious disease must be seen as the fourth existential crisis humanity faces. Again, the other three are: catastrophic climate change, the Sixth Extinction, and nuclear holocaust. "

Totally agree here.

Population control as a CENTRAL tenet of ecological socialism?

I'm sceptical. . .