Averting the ‘Total Ruin’ of Institutionalized Injustice
by Randall Amster April 3, 2012 Common Dreams
As a parent, I tend to keep one eye on the present and another on the future. I also keep one (the third eye, perhaps?) on the past, since we need to know where we’ve been to know where we’re going. Or so they say — I’m actually not convinced that history is an accurate predictor any longer in this brave new world we’ve created in relatively short order. Then again, we in the Western world have always perceived the inevitability of an apocalypse of our own creation, from the very moment we decided to flout natural laws in favor of our man-made shackles. So maybe the past does matter.
(Photo: Flickr | Jyotirmoy Basu | Creative Commons)
But it’s the present and immediate future that most concern me these days. Or, more precisely, the ways in which the present is foreclosing, narrowing, and perhaps even mooting the future. My children are growing up in a world of apparent plenty and wondrous stimulations, but it all comes at the cost of rendering the continued existence of the species — even possibly within the scale of their lifetimes — seemingly speculative at best. Their bubble of ostensible freedom and perceived luxury also comes at the expense of the wellbeing of most of the planet’s inhabitants, including the children of other parents whose capacity to mask the mounting horror is likely far less than mine.
This isn’t some alarmist, Chicken Little rant; it’s the basic narrative we’ve been enacting for centuries now, if not longer. Modern society is built upon the tenuous foundations of a creation mythology that is also a prediction of ultimate demise, that the very things that make us special will also lead to our undoing if not kept in check; the line between inquisitiveness and hubris, between industry and irresponsibility, is incredibly thin. Drawing upon these civilizational planks, later treatments constructed an elaborate intellectual justification for seeing the project through to its inevitable end, all in the name of protecting us from the “law of the jungle” and promoting our rightful dominance.
For Thomas Hobbes, life before civilization was a state of perpetual struggle, conflict, and war, in which human existence was “nasty, poor, brutish, and short.” John Locke offered the flipside, that humankind could only find its true purpose and highest expression through private ownership of that which sustains us, rather than being subject to the irrational whims and wasteful habits of nature. Charles Darwin observed a tendency toward relentless competition in which only the fittest would survive, perversely turning human attributes into the “natural order” of things. None of these men, nor those that followed, were sinister figures; they were describing the emerging world around them in terms that had been given from yore and that fit the tenor of the times in which they lived.
Today’s logical inheritors, born of gatherings such as Bretton Woods in 1944 and solidified with the rise of corporate globalization, are of a similar ilk. Perhaps the clearest statement of elite ideology on these core matters of how we are to live in the world was delivered by Garrett Hardin in his famous 1968 essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” in which he plaintively writes:
“An alternative to the commons need not be perfectly just to be preferable. With real estate and other material goods, the alternative we have chosen is the institution of private property coupled with legal inheritance. Is this system perfectly just? As a genetically trained biologist I deny that it is…. We must admit that our legal system of private property plus inheritance is unjust — but we put up with it because we are not convinced, at the moment, that anyone has invented a better system. The alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate. Injustice is preferable to total ruin.”