The ruling class devotes tremendous resources to mask this social murder. (Original illustration by Mr. Fish)
The two million deaths that have resulted from the ruling elites mishandling of the global pandemic will be dwarfed by what is to follow. The global catastrophe that awaits us, already baked into the ecosystem from the failure to curb the use of fossil fuels and animal agriculture, presage new, deadlier pandemics, mass migrations of billions of desperate people, plummeting crop yields, mass starvation and systems collapse.
The science that elucidates this social death is known to the ruling elites. The science that warned us of this pandemic, and others that will follow, is known to the ruling elites. The science that shows that a failure to halt carbon emissions will lead to a climate crisis and ultimately the extinction of the human species and most other species is known to the ruling elites. They cannot claim ignorance. Only indifference.
The facts are incontrovertible. Each of the last four decades have been hotter than the last. In 2018, the UN International Panel on Climate Change released a special report on the systemic effects of a 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in temperatures. It makes for very grim reading. Soaring temperature rises—we are already at a 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels — are already baked into the system, meaning that even if we stopped all carbon emission today, we still face catastrophe. Anything above a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius will render the earth unhabitable. The Arctic ice along with the Greenland ice sheet are now expected to melt regardless of how much we reduce carbon emissions. A seven-meter (23-foot) rise in sea level, which is what will take place once the ice is gone, means every town and city on a coast at sea level will have to be evacuated.
Roger Hallam, the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, whose nonviolent acts of mass civil disobedience offer the last, best chance to save ourselves, lays it out in this video:
As the climate crisis worsens, the political constrictions will tighten, making public resistance difficult. We do not live, yet, in the brutal Orwellian state that appears on the horizon, one where all dissidents will suffer the fate of Julian Assange. But this Orwellian state is not far away. This makes it imperative that we act now.
The ruling elites, despite the accelerating and tangible ecological collapse, mollify us, either by meaningless gestures or denial. They are the architects of social murder.
Social murder, as Friedrich Engels noted in his 1845 book “The Condition of the Working-Class in England,” one of the most important works of social history, is built into the capitalist system. The ruling elites, Engels writes, those that hold “social and political control,” were aware that the harsh working and living conditions during the industrial revolution doomed workers to “an early and unnatural death:”
“When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live — forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence — knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.”
— Friedrick Engels, “The Condition of the Working-Class in England”
The ruling class devotes tremendous resources to mask this social murder. They control the narrative in the press. They falsify science and data, as the fossil fuel industry has done for decades. They set up committees, commissions and international bodies, such as UN climate summits, to pretend to address the problem. Or they deny, despite the dramatically changing weather patterns, that the problem even exists.
It is murder because a conscious choice was made by the global ruling classes to extinguish life rather than protect it.
Scientists have long warned that as global temperatures rise, increasing precipitation and heat waves in many parts of the world, infectious diseases spread by animals will plague populations year-round and expand into northern regions. Pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, which has killed approximately 36 million people, the Asian flu, which killed between one and four million, and COVID-19, which has already killed over 2.5 million, will ripple across the globe in ever more virulent strains, often mutating beyond our control. The misuse of antibiotics in the meat industry, which accounts for 80 percent of all antibiotic use, has produced strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant and fatal. A modern version of the Black Death, which in the 14th century killed between 75 and 200 million people, wiping out perhaps half of Europe’s population, is probably inevitable as long as the pharmaceutical and medical industries are configured to make money rather than protect and save lives.
Even with vaccines, we lack the national infrastructure to distribute them efficiently because profit trumps health. And those in the global south are, as usual, abandoned, as if the diseases that kill them will never reach us. Israel’s decision to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to as many as 19 countries while refusing to vaccinate the 5 million Palestinians living under its occupation is emblematic of the ruling elite’s stunning myopia, not to mention immorality.
What is taking place is not neglect. It is not ineptitude. It is not policyfailure. It is murder. It is murder because it is premeditated. It is murder because a conscious choice was made by the global ruling classes to extinguish life rather than protect it. It is murder because profit, despite the hard statistics, the growing climate disruptions and the scientific modeling, is deemed more important than human life and human survival.
The elites thrive in this system, as long as they serve the dictates of what Lewis Mumford called the “megamachine,” the convergence of science, economy, technics and political power unified into an integrated, bureaucratic structure whose sole goal is to perpetuate itself. This structure, Mumford noted, is antithetical to “life-enhancing values.” But to challenge the megamachine, to name and condemn its death wish, is to be expelled from its inner sanctum. There are, no doubt, some within the megamachine who fear the future, who are perhaps even appalled by the social murder, but they do not want to lose their jobs and their social status to become pariahs.
The massive resources allocated to the military, which when the costs of the Veterans Administration are added to the Department of Defense budget come to $826 billion a year, are the most glaring example of our suicidal folly, symptomatic of all decaying civilizations that squander diminishing resources in institutions and projects that accelerate their decline.
The American military—which accounts for 38 percent of military spending worldwide—is incapable of combating the real existential crisis. The fighter jets, satellites, aircraft carriers, fleets of warships, nuclear submarines, missiles, tanks and vast arsenals of weaponry are useless against pandemics and the climate crisis. The war machine does nothing to mitigate the human suffering caused by degraded environments that sicken and poison populations or make life unsustainable. Air pollution already kills an estimated 200,000 Americans a year while children in decayed cities such as Flint, Michigan are damaged for life with lead contamination from drinking water.
The prosecution of endless and futile wars, costing anywhere from $5 to $7 trillion, the maintenance of some 800 military bases in over 70 countries, along with the endemic fraud, waste and mismanagement by the Pentagon at a time when the survival of the species is at stake is self-destructive. The Pentagon has spent more than $67 billion alone on a ballistic missile defense system that few believe will actually work and billions more on a series of dud weapons systems, including the $22 billion Zumwalt destroyer. And, on top of all this, the U.S. military emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions between 2001 and 2017, twice the annual output of the nation’s passenger vehicles.
A decade from now we will look back at the current global ruling class as the most criminal in human history, willfully dooming millions upon millions of people to die, including those from this pandemic, which dwarf the murderous excesses of the killers of the past including the Europeans that carried out the genocide of the indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Nazis that exterminated some 12 million people, the Stalinists or Mao’s Cultural Revolution. This is the largest crime against humanity ever committed. It is being committed in front of us. And, with few exceptions, we are willfully being herded like sheep to the slaughter.
It is not that most people have faith in the ruling elites. They know they are being betrayed. They feel vulnerable and afraid. They understand that their misery is unacknowledged and unimportant to the global elites, who have concentrated staggering amounts of wealth and power into the hands of a tiny cabal of rapacious oligarchs.
The rage many feel at being abandoned often expresses itself in a poisoned solidarity. This poisoned solidarity unites the disenfranchised around hate crimes, racism, inchoate acts of vengeance against scapegoats, religious and ethnic chauvinism and nihilistic violence. It fosters crisis cults, such as those built by the Christian fascists, and elevates demagogues such as Donald Trump.
Social divisions benefit the ruling class, which has built media silos that feed packaged hate to competing demographics. The greater the social antagonisms, the less the elites have to fear. If those gripped by poisoned solidarity become numerically superior—nearly half of the American electorate rejects the traditional ruling class and embraces conspiracy theories and a demagogue—the elites will accommodate the new power configuration, which will accelerate the social murder.
The Biden administration will not carry out the economic, political, social or environmental reforms that will save us. The fossil fuel industry will continue to extract oil. The wars will not end. Social inequality will grow. Government control, with its militarized police forces of internal occupation, wholesale surveillance and loss of civil liberties, will expand. New pandemics, along with droughts, wildfires, monster hurricanes, crippling heat waves and flooding, will lay waste to the country as well as a population burdened by a for-profit health care system that is not designed or equipped to deal with a national health crisis.
The evil that makes this social murder possible is collective. It is perpetrated by the colorless bureaucrats and technocrats churned out of business schools, law schools, management programs and elite universities. These systems managers carry out the incremental tasks that make vast, complicated systems of exploitation and death work. They collect, store and manipulate our personal data for digital monopolies and the security and surveillance state. They grease the wheels for ExxonMobil, BP and Goldman Sachs. They write the laws passed by the bought-and-paid-for political class. They pilot the aerial drones that terrorize the poor in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. They profit from the endless wars. They are the corporate advertisers, public relations specialists and television pundits that flood the airwaves with lies. They run the banks. They oversee the prisons. They issue the forms. They process the papers. They deny food stamps and medical coverage to some and unemployment benefits to others. They carry out the evictions. They enforce the laws and the regulations. They do not ask questions. They live in an intellectual vacuum, a world of stultifying minutia. They are T.S. Eliot’s “the hollow men,” “the stuffed men.” “Shape without form, shade without color,” the poet writes. “Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.”
These systems managers made possible the genocides of the past, from the extermination of Native Americans to the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians to the Nazi Holocaust to Stalin’s liquidations. They kept the trains running. They filled out the paperwork. They seized the property and confiscated the bank accounts. They did the processing. They rationed the food. They administered the concentration camps and the gas chambers. They enforced the law. They did their jobs.
These systems managers, uneducated in all but their tiny technical specialty, lack the language and moral autonomy to question the reigning assumptions or structures.
Hannah Arendt in “Eichmann in Jerusalem” writes that Adolf Eichmann was motivated by “an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement.” He joined the Nazi Party because it was a good career move. Arendt continued:
“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.
The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.”
-Hannah Arendt, “Eichmann in Jerusalem”
The Russian novelist Vasily Grossman in his book “Forever Flowing” observed that “the new state did not require holy apostles, fanatic, inspired builders, faithful, devout disciples. The new state did not even require servants — just clerks.” This metaphysical ignorance fuels social murder.
We cannot emotionally absorb the magnitude of the looming catastrophe and therefore do not act.
In Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust documentary “Shoah,” he interviews Filip Müller, a Czech Jew who survived the liquidations in Auschwitz as a member of the “special detail,”
“One day in 1943 when I was already in Crematorium 5, a train from Bialystok arrived. A prisoner on the ‘special detail’ saw a woman in the ‘undressing room’ who was the wife of a friend of his. He came right out and told her: ‘You are going to be exterminated. In three hours, you’ll be ashes.’ The woman believed him because she knew him. She ran all over and warned to the other women. ‘We’re going to be killed. We’re going to be gassed.’ Mothers carrying their children on their shoulders didn’t want to hear that. They decided the woman was crazy. They chased her away. So, she went to the men. To no avail. Not that they didn’t believe her. They’d heard rumors in the Bialystok ghetto, or in Grodno, and elsewhere. But who wanted to hear that? When she saw that no one would listen, she scratched her whole face. Out of despair. In shock. And she started to scream. How do we resist? Why, if this social murder is inevitable, as I believe it is, do we even fight back? Why not give in to cynicism and despair? Why not withdraw and spend our lives attempting to satiate our private needs and desires? We are all complicit, paralyzed by the overwhelming force of the megamachine and bound to its destructive energy by our allotted slots within its massive machinery.”
-Filip Müller to Claude Lanzmann, “Shoah”
Yet, to fail to act, and this means carrying out mass, sustained acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in an attempt to smash the megamachine, is spiritual death. It is to succumb to the cynicism, hedonism and numbness that has turned the systems managers and technocrats that orchestrate this social murder into human cogs. It is to surrender our humanity. It is to become an accomplice.
Albert Camus writes that “one of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”
“A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object,” Camus warns. “But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object.”
The capacity to exercise moral autonomy, to refuse to cooperate, to wreck the megamachine, offers us the only possibility left to personal freedom and a life of meaning. Rebellion is its own justification. It erodes, however imperceptibly, the structures of oppression. It sustains the embers of empathy and compassion, as well as justice. These embers are not insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human. They keep alive the possibility, however dim, that the forces that are orchestrating our social murder can be stopped. Rebellion must be embraced, finally, not only for what it will achieve, but for what it will allow us to become. In that becoming we find hope.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. His most recent book is "America: The Farewell Tour" (2019).
Copyright Robert Scheer, 2020.