Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Out of control (2020)

Book Review from the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The End of the Megamachine. A Brief History Of A Failing Civilization by Fabian Scheidler.  (Zero books. 440 pages.)

Whilst this book could be described as a potted history of control and dissent over millennia it is much more than that. It is filled with relevant historical examples which lead to discussion of current global events and the general state of the world. None of the horrific statistics of current deaths in former colonies or empires of the West are new incidents but are merely the long continuation of what began many years ago, have increased, and have become an integral part of the ‘system’, the ‘megamachine’.

Western Christian efforts through history to control and subjugate whole populations to their beliefs continues to the present with, perhaps, a slightly altered emphasis. Now businesses have ‘mission statements’, governments ‘space missions’, and ‘the market’s radical preachers push a universalist ideology’. Structural racism today, the author suggests, comes from colonialism and empire-building which needed justification in order to subject populations to disenfranchisement and exploitation. Hence the Christian religion, along with scientists and philosophers, to declare ‘white’ superiority and exceptionalism. The author’s point here is that the colonial ‘wars’ should more correctly be referred to as genocide.

The underlying theme of the megamachine is that of the cycles of gradual development, decay, and renewed development of the economy, the military and the power of authority – but always linking current practices to earlier, similar planned events. And reminding us in different ways that ‘modern states have arisen neither for the benefit of populations, nor with their consent, but as products of physical violence.’

There are far too many threads to mention in a brief review but all are relevant to the societies we are living in today where everything is compacted and concentrated and where we are living with the results of past decisions. The post-WW2 years began ‘the rapidly accelerating species extinctions that are now threatening to escalate into one of the greatest crises in the history of life on the planet’ but as constant economic growth is an integral part of the machine then that is exactly what should have been expected and was forecast by some more than half a century ago. There is a section devoted to the ills of the current system’s approach to the environment, ecology in general, agricultural and industrial methods, the need for constant growth and the warning of what’s to follow if the decision is to carry on regardless.

A thoroughly worthwhile read with a wealth of useful and relevant information for a book of this size, plus end notes with references and several timelines relevant to the various topics. What there isn’t is a socialist view of the one and only thing to be done to stop the progress of this megamachine. Instead there is a final chapter on ‘Possibilities’ which, depending on your disposition you could either ignore or write your own.
Janet Surman

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