By Yavor Tarinski
For some decades now the human civilization has embarked on a journey to rapidly extract whatever resource it can from the planet as to maintain its current predominant doctrine — unlimited economic growth. There are, as one could imagine, dire consequences resulting from this activity that places in danger our very future. Despite the dangers that are going together with the growth doctrine, we are being told to blindly direct our hopes towards “science” as the ultimate crisis resolver, to clean up the mess left from extreme extractivism.
Science and technology today has become the practical equivalent of religion. They have managed to reinforce the dominant ideological mystification in a time in which authority has become ostensibly desacralized. If in the past the power of the ruling elites was explained through it’s divine God-given origin, today it rests on the scientific knowledge that they claim to posses, and allows them to continue their destructive activities.
The emerging new totalitarian forms are being described as technocracies — rule by experts and scientists. And the very structure of contemporary techno-science resembles the dominant organizational structure of society — that of heteronomy.
The depth this logic has reached is even more evident from the space it occupies among youth counter-cultures. If in the 60ties they were deeply submerged into radical politics from below, modern-day hacker culture, for example has given birth to supposedly-alternative tendencies like the Zeitgeist movement, in which technological and scientific expertise has replaced popular self-instituting, thus essentially reproducing the heteronomous nature of the present system.
“Need” as social creation
Like religious sacralized regimes of the past, contemporary technocracies claim to know what the people actually “need”. They can calculate it through the means of science and deliver it through economic growth and extraction. But what they actually do is to express the needs, embedded in one specific imaginary. In reality we can say that there are no predetermined natural human needs. Every society creates its needs and the means for their satisfaction. For one truly religious person the ultimate need is to make a pilgrimage to a holly (to his faith) place, spending all his savings if required. For the anthropological type of capitalism the need to constantly replace his belongings and gadgets with newer once that are slightly different and supposedly improved, seems as unquestionable and as natural as their very existence. Thus “need” is a social construct that can be altered.
If this paradigm today manages to function it is so because it successfully manages to provide the means for satisfaction of the needs it fabricates. And the debate between the two opposing fractions for the seats of power — the Right and the Left — is centered on this matter. The right-wingers advocate market deregulation as engine of growth, while the leftist forces often tend to blame the current close ties between multinationals and governments for the lessened buying power of local populations and promise, if elected to power, to fix that. And both sides insist on the scientific nature of their claims. In this sense the current paradigm is less threatened by traditional ideological criticism, rather than from the danger of running out of oil, for example.
Ecology as tool for reinvention of politics
Bearing this in mind, contemporary ecological struggles and movements should detach themselves from narrow reformist environmentalism. Instead they should attempt at reconfiguring the relations between humanity and nature, radically democratize society and ultimately offer new imaginary significations so as to make another, more sustainable, way of life possible. Thus a political alternative will be offered to scientifically excused social and environmental exploitation.
The rejection of capitalist way of life, so as to have today any meaning beyond electoralism and green consumerism, should go hand-in-hand with the search for germs of other ways of life, that contain traces of direct democracy, solidarity, self-limitation, self-instituting or in other words — seeds of autonomy. Such germs that can satisfy certain contemporary needs, but that also reflect desires that are not being covered by the present social system.
Challenging the doctrine of constant capitalist growth requires serious rethinking of what our societies can do. The ecological movements constantly remind us of the fact that we all share the same planet. Thus the above mentioned principals should be embedded in one framework that will allow to society to self-institute itself, while consciously self-limiting its affairs democratically inside the planetary boundaries. But this cannot be enforced from above, from an extra-social set of scientific knowledge or “enlightened” elite. It can come only if society itself desires it, or it will not come at all. In its essence it is a political, rather than scientific, choice that our society has to make.