14 August 2021 — See You in 2020
I say “most of the globe” because the 21st century civilizational collapse we’re in the early stages of isn’t going to be distributed evenly. Of course, in the long term the unraveling may catch up to even the most momentarily stable areas; as futurist William Gibson has said, “The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” Which can apply to the breakdown of peace and order as much as it can apply to the expansion of life-improving technologies.
“The large-scale perturbation of ecosystems as the sixth extinction event progresses is likely to have severe global consequences, with the provision of vital ‘ecosystem services’ likely to severely reduce as effects cascade at global-scale,” says this year’s academic paper An Analysis of the Potential for the Formation of ‘Nodes of Persisting Complexity’. “The growth in human populations and technological development can be linked to resource consumption, and the propensity for humans to destroy forest ecosystems gives a high probability (>90%) that global civilisation is very likely to suffer a catastrophic collapse in future (within a few decades).”
In increasingly large chunks of the Global South, as well as in the poorer areas of the richer countries, capitalism’s contraction is causing an expansion of the dark side of this futuristic potential. The World Bank has concluded that “in the poorest countries of the world, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty is not only still present, but it is worsening,” as evidenced by how nearly 100 million people currently live in extreme poverty who wouldn’t be in these circumstances if not for the pandemic.
This expansion of destitute conditions has occurred entirely outside of socialist China — which has reduced its poverty level since the pandemic began — and has unfolded in spite of China’s projects to newly provide electricity and transportation to hundreds of millions of Global South inhabitants. What’s allowed for the pandemic to have these catastrophic impacts has been the neo-colonialism of the U.S. empire. It’s the IMF that’s used the pandemic as an excuse to impose further austerity, privatization, and wage cuts upon 81 countries. It’s U.S. sanctions that have made struggling countries like Cuba poorer. And it’s the U.S. empire’s internal neoliberal policies that have mademillions more within Washington’s borders unable to buy enough food, unable to get medical care during a pandemic, and unable to pay their rent or mortgage — with black and continentally indigenous proletarians being disproportionately impacted by this hardship.
We’re witnessing the beginnings of what a UN expert predicted two years ago will be “climate apartheid,” where class and national oppression get magnified many times over by the crises of this century. Crises that the U.S. empire is not just exacerbating through its engineering of the world’s deepening inequality, but centrally producing. The U.S. military is the largest institutional source of greenhouse gas, making it what Abby Martin has called “Earth’s Greatest Enemy.” And global warming is multiplying all of the natural disasters that are driving down the conditions of the subjugated nations and classes.
These disasters include Covid-19, since global warming’s destruction of habitats has forced different species to come into closer proximity with each other and this has made disease transmission more likely. Which is just one facet of a broader trend towards destabilized systems, both ecological and sociological. Quoting a paper from this year titled Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future, the Nodespaper assesses that “The potential for nonlinearities and other complex system effects only serve to potentially heighten the risks and consequences. This can be summarised as ‘…future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms — including humanity — is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.’”
This is shown by how experts predict that in the coming decades, the ecological crisis is going to produce more viruses, potentially worse than Covid-19. This will exacerbate the positive feedback loop of poverty, inequality, instability, and disasters that the pandemic has kicked into overdrive.
South Africa is an example of this. In recent years the country’s government, plagued by corruption and reacting to the contradictions of capital, has been facilitating a rise in private policing. This has led to a replication of apartheid discrimination, combining with the pandemic era’s expanding poverty to provoke gargantuan riots. Chaos has unfolded, with garbage strewn around the streets, fires raging throughout neighborhoods, hundreds of millions of dollars of damage being done, food and medical supply shortages emerging amid supply chain breakdowns, and private police being sent in to reactively target black communities.
“Modern societies are wholly reliant on technological systems, and these are in turn as reliant on the availability of manufactured items (i.e., parts and components),” says the Nodes paper. “The capitalist economic system that has become dominant globally has led to global manufacturing becoming largely consolidated into a limited number of nations with favourable economic conditions, with low-cost logistics providing global distribution. This situation potentially makes a significant number of nations with limited and/or inflexible manufacturing capacity vulnerable, i.e., a ‘de-complexification’ event may decrease the local availability of manufactured items.”
If this is what’s been happening in the neo-colonies like South Africa, which is relatively far away from the prospect of socialist revolution, it’s no wonder why the U.S. empire has decided that more fragile states across the Global South require an intensifying amount of intervention. Intervention that’s manufactured further destabilization, in addition to the destabilization which Washington’s attempts at neo-colonial nation-building have already produced within these countries.
Truthfully, these supposed nation-building projects have been half-hearted, considering how catastrophically Washington’s “nation-building” within Afghanistan and Iraq failed. “Nation-building” is just a weak cover for creating chaos. Washington’s interventions in Libya, political meddling throughout the rest of the horn of Africa, and military operation expansions throughout the rest of the continent have resulted not in stable neo-colonies, but in increasingly lawless landscapes where whatever neo-colonial states that exist are unstable. Washington is punishing these countries for dealing with China by seeking to turn them all into post-invasion Libya, with AFRICOM serving as the tool for militarily occupying the struggling masses.
Should South Africa throw out its corrupt neo-colonial government and replace it with anti-imperialist leadership, Washington will apply to it the same level of political interference and military involvement that it subjects countries like Libya to. As NewPol’s Lee Wengraf assessedlast year, amid what Richard Wolff described as a “COVID-triggered crisis” for Africa, the empire’s hand within the continent is continuing to tighten in preparation for such meddling expansions:
Any reduction in U.S. forces in West Africa will be more than compensated for by an expanded presence elsewhere on the continent and globally. The leaked plans for a troop drawdown are consistent with a 2018 shift in U.S. global imperial strategy, from “counter-terror” to a focus on “peer competitors,” chiefly China but also Russia and other powers. Then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis summed up the new “posture” as follows: “To those who would threaten America’s experiment in democracy: If you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day. … We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.” Thus, tactical shifts in troop levels — rather than a cause for celebration — are an expression of great power competition, one that will only intensify in this latest chapter of the “new scramble for Africa.”
The same is the case for Biden’s supposed ending of the war in Afghanistan. Just like in Africa, the empire has been replacing the official Afghanistan war troops with private mercenaries while keeping intelligence operatives and special forces, and while quietly backing terrorist groups that can advance U.S. interests. The empire’s goal in Afghanistan is the same as in Africa: to keep the country too unstable for China to sufficiently develop its Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure plans.
For Afghanistan, the U.S.-backed terrorists in this operation have beenthe East Turkestan Islamic Movement (which has been posing a growing threat to China since Washington took it off the terrorist watch list last year). For Africa, they’ve been the types of militants who are partnering with mercenaries to hunt down Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Al-Islam, the son of Muammar Gaddafi, is currently in hiding as Libya’s government seeks to arrest him on clearly trumped-up charges of collaborating with Russian mercenaries. Their goal is to stop al-Islam from winning this year’s election within the country and returning the Libya to anti-imperialist governance.
The consequence of this sabotage of Libya’s peaceful route towards national self-determination will be continued destabilization. As will be the case for Washington’s intensifying bombing campaigns against Somalian extremists, who became terrorists precisely because of U.S. and British meddling within the country. This has inflamed the humanitarian crisis that already plagues Somalia.
As will also be the case for Washington’s recent meddling to fortify neo-colonial rule within Haiti, whose former president was assassinated last month. This assassination was perpetrated by mercenaries from Washington’s proxy neo-colonial state Colombia. The mercenary operation, and the instability that it’s helped inflame, has been exacerbating Haiti’s widespread malnutrition. The same patterns of failed states, unrest, and humanitarian catastrophes are emerging both in neo-colonies where the empire has deliberately manufactured crises, and in neo-colonies that are coming undone under the very weight of their own contradictions.
While capitalism continues to collapse, the empire will keep making its desired future more evenly distributed. It will keep engineering failed states and war zones within more and more Global South countries. It will do this to try to stop them from undergoing proletarian revolutions as socialism becomes ever more of a practical necessity for these exploited societies. To it, a world on fire is preferable to a world where imperialism has been defeated.
As Michael Klare, author of All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change assessed last year, “The title of my book is All Hell Breaking Loose, and what that refers to is a time in the not-too-distant future. Not right away, but 10, 20 years down the line when all these horrible things are going to start happening simultaneously. The collapse of major states, like Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia. It’s very clear from the literature that people in the Defense Department and in the intelligence community are aware that all of this is going to happen.” The Pentagon has already named Bangladesh as a country where it will apply Syria-style intervention after the climate crisis sufficiently worsens there, so we can expect such manufactured crises and conflicts to be the empire’s response when things reach this point. We can expect them in all the countries Klare mentioned, and in many more.
The empire’s hope is that when all hell breaks loose, when the “de-complexification” occurs across the rest of the Global South, the super-rich will be able to escape both revolution and climate doom. As the Nodes paper has assessed, the places most likely to serve as havens for the elites are the northernmost and southernmost colonies that the imperialists have snatched up from the local indigenous nations:
Scandinavia, Patagonia, Tasmania and the South Island of New Zealand are identified as locations that migrants may seek to relocate to in this scenario. With the global average temperature increased by 4 °C, much of the land in the tropical and subtropical latitudes may become unproductive and depopulated, and inundated coastlines are common throughout the world with Scandinavia, the British Isles and New Zealand identified as potential lifeboats. Using the perspective of the Gaia Hypothesis, northern Canada, Russia, Scandinavia, New Zealand and the British Isles (along with mountainous regions at lower latitudes) may remain habitable through the persistence of agriculture and may therefore act as ‘lifeboats’ for populations of humans.
All lands outside these zones, including the United States, are ultimately expendable for the elites who run the empire. If the imperialist military operations of the elites aren’t stopped in time, they’ll expand their manufactured crises so much that even the core of their empire will be inundated by climate doom. At that point, what remains of the population will be living under the brutal dictatorships of the elites, who will rule as neo-feudal lords within the few places that are still habitable — or escape to space, like they have after the engineered capitalist apocalypse of Blade Runner. Unless we defeat the imperialists, the imperialists will distribute the future to all of us.
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