2010s >> 2019 >> no-1373-january-2019

Our Future on Earth

The workers of the world are yet to unite to accomplish their over-a-century-long pending task of overcoming what Thorstein Veblen called ‘the predatory phase’ of human development. They have yet to move on to the phase of ‘an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’ (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels), by transforming human society into ‘a planetary community of production and consumption’ (Albert Einstein). With the disappearance of classes from within liberated humanity, humans will leave behind their prehistory and enter into the realm of free history, as Marx envisaged.

Material abundance has been knocking at our door since about the beginning of the past century waiting for us to accept it and create a fulfilling life for the whole of humanity. What is still lacking is the working class’s will, unity, and action country-wise and worldwide. Their social consciousness remains crippled by glorification of power and success and all-pervading competition. This ongoing alienated cultural constitution, ‘crippling of the social consciousness of individuals’ (Albert Einstein), has kept us arrested in a devastating ‘Escape from freedom’ or ‘Fear of Freedom’ (Erich Fromm). In the name of freedom we are preoccupied with ‘freedom from’ (‘negative freedom’) – bourgeois freedom, vulgar freedom – while what we need is ‘freedom to’ (‘positive freedom’) – socialist freedom, real freedom – a freedom to lead a harmonious and humane life.

Progress in science and technology has given rise to Artificial Intelligence and robotics which is making this freedom more and more viable.

Marx’s long-term prediction

Marx and Engels didn’t live to see the precise future course of scientific and technological developments and their specific forms of manifestation (ie artificial intelligence, robotics) which would emerge from the hectic pursuit of profit. They were dealing mainly with capital’s fledgling period. So in capital’s ascending phase when the productive forces were developing within the womb of an expanding and globe-conquering capitalist mode and relations of production, they could only anticipate the forthcoming historical trends. Marx’s materialist conception of history had imbued him with penetrating insight and profound predictive power whereby he foresaw the impending state of affairs with their far-reaching consequences. As he observed in 1858:

‘Invention then becomes a business, and the application of science to direct production itself becomes a prospect which determines and solicits it. But this is not the road along which machinery, by and large, arose, and even less the road on which it progresses in detail. This road is, rather, dissection– through the division of labour, which gradually transforms the workers’ operations into more and more mechanical ones, so that at a certain point a mechanism can step into their places. … Thus, the specific mode of working here appears directly as becoming transferred from the worker to capital in the form of machine, and its own labour capacity devalued thereby. Hence the workers’ struggle against machinery. What was the living worker’s activity becomes the activity of the machine … the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production … Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself. (What holds for machinery holds likewise for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.)’ (Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin Books in association with New Left Review, 1981, pp. 704-709).

Horrific catastrophe – only 12 years to go?

Now that automation, artificial intelligence and robots are quite capable of performing much of the world’s necessary and useful laborious work, humanity is on the brink of a forthcoming leisure society, Marx’s all-encompassing scientific society. Once we enter its knowledgeable domain, having emancipated humankind from its perilously degenerating slavery of capital, it will be indispensable for us to counter as far as we can the threat of extinction, especially in view of the catastrophic survival warning about having just 12 years in hand to deal with global warming, as reported by the Guardian, London: ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN – Urgent changes needed to cut risk of extreme heat, draught, floods and poverty, says IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. Overwhelmed by climate change? Here’s what you can do… The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of draught, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. … The authors of the landmark report by the UN IPCC released on Monday say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C. The half-degree difference could also prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic, according to the 1.5C study, which was launched after approval at a final plenary of all 195 countries in Incheon in South Korea that saw delegates hugging one another with some in tears’ (8 October).

Save Earth’s environment

First, we are required to reduce and reverse the currently devastating emission levels of the greenhouse gases – water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), ozone (O3), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (incl. HCFCs and HFCs) – in order to avoid the threatening trends of ongoing global overwarming. The hostile climate catastrophe has to be dealt with by discontinuing uses of fossil fuels – coal, petrol, diesel, kerosene etc. and substituting solar and other forms of renewable energy. We have also to get rid of the perilous plastic pollution that exists. We have to discontinue the destruction of forests together with their flora and fauna by substituting all the various uses of timber logs with fibreglass and conserving and restore our lost forests to create an eco-friendly atmosphere which will absorb and retard the swollen carbon emissions. This done, we will overcome the hazards over our present homeland – the planet Earth; we will be free from the fear of our species going the same way as the dinosaurs of extinction from the Earth’s environment. Not that global warming to levels, even well above the IPCC’s threshold of a 1.5C addition to the current average global temperature compared to pre-industrial times, would threaten the human species with complete extinction. If high enough it would cause many millions of deaths but some humans would survive even if in very difficult conditions.

As necessity is the mother of invention, even if we remove the current threat from global overwarming, circumstances – the exhaustion of the Sun – will eventually prompt us to realise that we need to get out of the periphery of Earth to explore new homes elsewhere and move on to becoming a Universal Community of Scientific Beings – star-trekking beings. As Marx said, ‘Circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances’. Thus eventually humans will have to make their circumstances anew once again.  Of course becoming star-trekking beings is a very long way off as it will be a few billions of years before the Sun begins to burn out. ‘Will the Sun Ever Burn Out? Yes, the sun will eventually burn out. But not for a long, long time. The Sun has used up about half of its hydrogen fuel in the last 4.6 billion years, since its birth. It still has enough hydrogen to last about another 5 billion years.’ (From space.com)  So this wouldn’t be a way-out from a more immediate threat from global overwarming. But that time will eventually inexorably come.

BINAY SARKAR