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Excerpt from Endgame

Endgame (p. 871)

From chapter "Endgame"

The assassination [of Hitler] must take place, cost what it will. Even if it does not succeed, the Berlin action must go forward. The point now is not whether the coup has any practical purpose, but to prove to the world and before history that German resistance is ready to stake its all. Compared to this, everything else is a side issue.

Henning von Treskow

* * *

The second lesson [of the Holocaust] tells us that putting self-preservation above moral duty is in no way predetermined, inevitable and inescapable. One can be pressed to do it, but one cannot be forced to do it, and thus one cannot really shift the responsibility for doing it on to those who exerted the pressure. It does not matter how many people chose moral duty over the rationality of self-preservation – what does matter is that some did. Evil is not all-powerful. It can be resisted. The testimony of the few who did resist shatters the authority of the logic of self-preservation. It shows it for what it is in the end – a choice. One wonders how many people must defy that logic for evil to be incapacitated. Is there a magic threshold of defiance beyond which the technology of evil grinds to a halt?

Zygmunt Bauman

How will the crash play out? Predicting the future is always a sketchy endeavor, and I believe this is especially true for the crash of civilization. There are too many variables, and there will be too many bifurcation points. Will a plague of antibiotic-resistant bacteria hit humans so hard the human population plummets? Maybe the crash will come through a genetically- modified virus, whether released by a Twelve Monkeys protege, someone who hates the US. government, the US. government itself (remember the line from Rebuilding Americaas Defenses, that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”), or perhaps most likely of all, Bayer or Monsanto. Maybe peak oil will bring it all down. Maybe global warming. Maybe hackers and ex-military people. Maybe soil loss. Maybe water loss. Maybe nukes: I have absolutely no doubt that when those who run the United States feel their power slipping, whether through oil shortages, external invasion, internal revolt, or ecological collapse, they will have no moral qualms about nuking anywhere they feel necessary, including places in the United States (hell, they’ve bombed Nevada for decades now). Indeed, I have great fears that when they feel their power slipping – and slip it will no matter what anyone does – they may blow up the entire planet before they give up their losing game. I asked Dean and Brian if they thought hackers could prevent this. They said, “No. I’m sure we could hack our way into a dozen or so missile sites and prevent them from being fired but there’s no way we could get in to stop them all. There are thousands and thousands. There’s just too many.”

All that said, I’m going to lay out some possibilities, which may or may not come to pass. Honestly, you might do just as well to skip the next several pages and take a nice long walk. But only on one condition: that you spend the next few days developing your own series of scenarios for what happens next, holding yourself as honest as you can, and making yourself answerable in this honesty to those humans and nonhumans who come after. That’s not a rhetorical suggestion. Close the book, put it down, and take a couple of days to think about it.

Now, to one version of the crash, this one caused by oil.

Oil, as Brian mentioned, is the black blood of industrial civilization. As demand for this cheap energy continues to outstrip supply, the United States and other industrialized nations will continue to invade regions containing oil. Environmental regulations will be systematically gutted or ignored. Those who effectively oppose oil extraction will be bought off, silenced, or killed.

But no matter how many regions the industrialized nations invade, no matter how many landbases they destroy, supply for oil will never again exceed demand. Oil prices will continue to rise, leading to the eventual strangulation of the entire economy.

We can say the same for natural gas, except that its decline may be even more precipitous than that of oil.

Oil and natural gas are used not only as energy sources. Natural gas is the feedstock from which nearly all chemical fertilizers and pesticides are derived. No natural gas, no industrial agriculture. And plastics are petroleum products..No oil, no plastics. But it goes much further than this. Oil is used in the fabrication of at least 500,000 different types of products, including, to provide a very tiny sample: “saccharine (artificial sweetener), roofing paper, aspirin, hair coloring, heart valves, crayons, parachutes, telephones, bras, transparent tape, antiseptics, purses, deodorant, panty hose, air conditioners, shower curtains, shoes, volleyballs, electrician’s tape, floor wax, lipstick, sweaters, running shoes, bubble gum, car bodies, tires, house paint, hair dryers, guitar strings, pens, ammonia, eyeglasses, contacts, life jackets, insect repellent, fertilizers, hair coloring, movie film, ice chests, loudspeakers, basketballs, footballs, combs/brushes, linoleum, fishing rods, rubber boots, water pipes, vitamin capsules, motorcycle helmets, fishing lures, petroleum jelly, lip balm, antihistamines, golf balls, dice, insulation, glycerin, typewriter/computer ribbons, trash bags, rubber cement, cold cream, umbrellas, ink of all types, wax paper, paint brushes, hearing aids, compact discs, mops, bandages, artificial turf, cameras, glue, shoe polish, caulking, tape recorders, stereos, plywood adhesives, TV cabinets, toilet seats, car batteries, candles, refrigerator seals, carpet, cortisone, vaporizers, solvents, nail polish, denture adhesives, balloons, boats, dresses, shirts (non-cotton), perfumes, toothpaste, roller-skate wheels, plastic forks, tennis rackets, hair curlers, plastic cups, electric blankets, oil filters, floor wax, Ping-Pong paddles, cassette tapes, dishwashing liquid, water skis, upholstery, chewing gum, thermos bottles, plastic chairs, transparencies, plastic wrap, rubber bands, computers, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, heating oil, asphalt, motor oil, jet fuel, marine diesel, and butane.”

Rising energy costs will undoubtedly hasten the consolidation of the already mammoth conglomerates that control the economy. These state-backed monopolies will act as state- backed monopolies are wont to do, and they will drive prices up and wages down. Unemploy- ment will continue to rise. The gap between rich and poor will continue to widen. Spending on the military, police, and prisons will continue to climb. Starvation will increase, as the poor continue to be denied access to land and water used instead for the production of consumables for the upper classes.

As energy becomes more and more expensive, and as an ever-greater percentage of governmental spending is aimed toward securityTM – which has always meant providing security for those who steal resources and security from those whose lives and landbases are ruined – less money will be available to provide basic maintenance for the infrastructure. This is already happening. The infrastructure – or at least that part of the infrastructure which serves the poor – will continue to degrade.

The more the infrastructure degrades, the more that stockpiles of food, oil and gas, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals will be controlled by the military, police, and other warlords. We see this already in U.S. occupied Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

The already (and always) faint line between corporations and governments will fade not only from reality but from memory as well. The already fundamentally false distinction between “public” armies and private “security forces” will disappear entirely. Mussolini’s definition of fascism – the merger of state and corporate power – will be complete. We see this already in U.S. occupied United States.

I think the fictional reference I’m looking for is 1984.

The writer and activist Aric McBay has described what may happen next. In order to make up for the “energy gap” in agriculture and manufacturing, slavery and forced labor will become ubiquitous. Production will still falter, since huge numbers of people are required to put out even a fraction of the output of a large machine. Many of these people will be worked to death. These deaths will matter no more than these deaths have ever mattered to those who value production over life.

Portions of cities may be ghettoized – sealed off – to prevent those inside from escaping or getting food. Those inside may be forced to work in the factories for food, water, and so on. Many of these people will be worked to death as well. In the country, people will be worked to death in agricultural labor camps.

But without cheap energy, none of this will be sufficient to supply cities with necessary resources. In time even the rich may begin to go hungry. Urban populations will crash because of disease, starvation, and emigration. The electrical and other infrastructures will fail com- pletely because of deliberate attacks, lack of maintenance, and lack of energy. Most cities will become effectively uninhabitable, and industrial civilization as we know it will be over.

Simultaneously, the breakdown of the infrastructure will reduce the effectiveness of the military and police, who rely partly on high-tech communications and energy-intensive mobility to kill or capture their targets. This reduced effectiveness will lead to a gradual return of power to the local level as it becomes impossible to maintain distant control without massive inputs of cheap energy. This transfer of power back to the regional level will not, however, herald the beginning of an enlightened era of ecovillages where people live sustainably in peace and harmony, in part because there are still too many people for the landbases to per- manently support, in part because the landbases have been too degraded to support as many people as they did prior to the arrival of civilization, and in part because most of the people are still insane, that is, civilized, and have no idea how to enter into a relationship with other humans, much less a landbase. So there will be those who attempt to seize power. There will be fights over resources, over the protection of resources, over the depletion of resources.

I think the fictional reference I’m looking for is Mad Max.

But there are two pieces of good news. The first is that gasoline degrades quickly, so this Mad Max era will not be able to last very long. Soon the cars will sputter to a stop. Soon the chainsaws will cease to roar. Soon there will be only the sounds of living beings. No machines. This leads to the second piece of good news. Local battles are eminently winnable. Years ago, as I mentioned earlier, when I asked a member of the rebel group MRTA what he wanted for the people of Peru, he said, “We need to be able to grow and distribute our own food. We already know how to do that. We merely need to be allowed to do so.” Without interference from those distant others who wish to steal their resources, people could grow and distribute their own food. And they could form protective organizations with no fear of being overwhelmed by state power. And they could kill those who try to stop them, those who try to seize power, those who try to steal their food or their land.

Hundreds of pages ago I wrote, about the collapse of civilization, “The urban poor are in a much worse position than the rural poor. They obviously do not have access to land. In the long run, they would of course be far better off without civilization. The problem – and this is a very big one – is that in the short run many of them would be dead: their food is funneled through the very system that immiserates them.” I was right, and I was wrong. The most unforgivable word I used is obviously. They do not have access to land, true, but why is that? It is not because the rich own the land, since land ownership in this sense is nothing but a shared delusion, backed by the full power of the state. And that last phrase is the key to everything. Without the full power of the state, the rich are no longer rich. They are simply people in big houses with big swimming pools and big piles of paper claiming they own big plots of land. Big deal. Cut these people off from their support by the colonizers, and the poor, including the urban poor, will be able to take back the land that is currently used to produce non-food crops like cut flowers, dog food, coffee, opium, and cocaine for the rich.

What, at its essence, does military technology do? It allows one person to kill many. That has always been the point. With the technology in place you have thousands of starving people being held back by mobile police forces with guns. But without an industrial infra- structure, soon enough a gun is nothing but a metal pipe attached to a piece of wood. Take away these technologies – take away the full power of the state – and you have thousands of starving people with machetes up against a rich guy and the people he used to pay holding guns that will soon run out of bullets. I’ll put my money with the starving people. I’ll stake my life with them.

* * *

Let’s be clear. The richest one-fifth of the world: consume 45 percent of all meat and fish, while the poorest fifth consume 5 percent; consume 58 percent of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4 percent; have 74 percent of all telephone lines, the poorest fifth 1.5 percent; consume 84 percent of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1 percent; own 87 percent of all vehicles, the poorest fifth less than 1 percent. Taking out the electrical infrastructure will not harm the poor. It will harm only those who are killing the poor, and killing the world.

* * *

I’ve read several accounts of the crash that suggest that deforestation will increase. This strikes me as nonsensical, for several reasons, not the least of which is that the international market for pulp and paper will be gone, as will cheap oil, gasoline, and metal. Only a madman would cut. down a redwood if he couldn’t sell it.

People will of course still need wood to use for cooking, and in cold climates warmth. But it strikes me that trees will not be the first to burn. Trees are hard to fell, and there will be an awful lot of more easily accessible wood. It’s called “someone else’s furniture.”

* * *

If you’re a member of the first group, those in power, the crash of civilization will for a time probably seem like business as usual. You will continue to attempt to increase your access to resources. You will continue to attempt to increase your power. The holocausts you cause – although of course you would never call them holocausts, and it would never occur to you that you are the cause – will become increasingly visible, but time after time you will be willing to pay these prices, so long as it is always someone else who really pays. Faltering production will concern you, but your faith in the system will remain unshaken. Dissent will disturb you slightly, but you will recognize that there have always been those who are jealous of your freedoms, envious of your wealth. And so you will hire more police, install more cameras. And you will keep the charade going as long as you can.

If you’re in the second group, the good Americans, you will continue through the crash to be co-opted into supporting the system that does not serve you well. No longer, however, will the holocaust look like a new car. Your expectations will be diminished. And then they will be diminished again. And then again. No longer will the ongoing holocaust that is civilization look like merely continuing to do a job you hate, but it will come to more and more openly resemble slavery. To maintain the fas:ade of pride and dignity – real pride and dignity having long-since been stripped away – you will resist calling it slavery. When you do finally call it slavery, it will probably only be after the razor-wire-topped and electrified gates have been shut behind you. You may vaguely recognize the phrase, Work Makes You Free, but you may not know what it means.

If you’re in the subsection of the third group who might some day resist but don’t know where to put your rage, the collapse of civilization might look like opportunities for increasing your personal power. You might attempt to seize and hold territory through force and terror. You might for a time succeed. But as the system collapses in on itself you, too, like those in group one, with whom you have so much in common, may find your power base too reliant on resources brought in from outside. Also like those in group one, unless you have a change of heart, you will to the extremely bitter end try to maintain your power. You will keep the charade going as long as you can. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe your hardships have honed your rage, made it sharp against those who caused the hardships in the first place, those who exploited and degraded you and those you love, including your community.

If you’re a member of the subsection of group three already working against the central- ization of power, against the system, then you may find the system no longer so invulnerable as once it seemed. Its weaknesses will every day be more obvious, more inviting. And you will strike. And you will strike again. You will taste something you have never before tasted: victory. And then victory after victory. Some of you will certainly die, as those who were once fully in power cannot even to the end admit they were wrong and just give it up. But some of you will not die. And day after day your success will become more clear.

If you are of the fourth class, those who are now considered simply extra, you, too, will taste something that you, too, have never before tasted: hope. Hope in lasting change. Subsistence farmers will no longer be threatened with dispossession. The same with indigenous peoples. The landless will take back land. And over time this faint taste of hope will become stronger, and stronger still, until it begins to taste like something altogether different: agency. You will come to know that this lasting change is not merely something to be hoped for but is something you can achieve through working in solidarity with others in your community. And you will come to do it.

* * *

For as long as civilization continues, many of us will walk quietly, meekly, into whatever form the gas chambers take, if only we are allowed to believe they are bathrooms. But more and more of us will no longer make this mistake. We will begin to allow ourselves to know what we have always known. And once we know that they are not bathrooms- once we see civilization for what it is – then it will be time for us to dismantle the gas chambers – and gas refineries, oil wells, factory farms, pharmaceutical laboratories, vivisection labs, and all of the other cathedrals of civilization – and to make certain that they will never be erected again.

* * *

Early in this book I described how environmental change is often not gradual, but catastrophic. I quoted one scientist as saying, “Ecosystems may go on for years exposed to pollution or climate changes without showing any change at all and then suddenly they may flip into an entirely different condition, with little warning or none at all.” Another wrote that, “only in recent years has enough evidence accumulated to tell us that resilience of many important ecosystems has become undermined to the point that even the slightest disturbance can make them collapse.”

The natural world is far more resilient than civilization. This culture may go on for years without showing any change at all and then suddenly flip into an entirely different condition, with little warning or none at all. This will happen when the system has been undermined to the point that even the slightest disturbance can make it collapse.

What are you waiting for?