Monthly Archives: May 2014
Mark Corske has written an amazing analysis of human history and our current predicament from an anarchist point of view. I heartily recommend that you read his book in its entirety. But if you don’t have time for that, or just want to get a sense of it for now, here are my notes…
Engines of Domination: Political Power and the Human Emergency by Mark Corske, 2012
Part I: The Human Emergency
In his introduction, Corske says that by the time he finished elementary school, he’d learned that he was living in a “terribly violent world, at the mercy of powerful authorities – from the school principal to the White House and the Kremlin.” As an adult, he became an anarchist, dropped out of college, and began a course in independent thinking, resulting in this book.
Corske believes that “the enormous destructive forces at work in the world are neither our nature nor our destiny. Rather, they were created by small groups of people, and developed over thousands of years into their present form. Most of these forces weren’t created for the purpose of destruction, but destruction is necessary for them to achieve their purpose. These forces are what we call political power, in the sense of armed central authority, the capability of small numbers of people to control the actions of huge populations. Wherever intense political power exists, a tiny minority of the community owns the great majority of the wealth, and wields great authority over the rest of the community. Institutional violence in the form of oppression and warfare also exists. The purpose of political power and institutional violence is to maintain the authority and privilege of the rulers.
Political power has left destruction and agony in its wake since the first Bronze Age civilizations 6,000 years ago, but in the last centuries it’s reached a level of devastation that threatens the planet. The wealthy few have become richer than any elites in history, while many people live in poverty as wretched as any that’s ever existed, and vast regions of the planet are being exhausted of riches and poisoned by industrial processes primarily serving to increase the wealth and power of elites.”
Corske calls political power in the sense of armed central authority “Domination,” and says that “if we understand its nature correctly and act with enough determination, we might be able to abolish it before it destroys us,” replacing it with “a world of peaceful, voluntary communities, where human ingenuity and goodwill can flourish, a world without states, war, or exploitation.”
Corske believes that “the disastrous processes underway in our world continue because so many people don’t or can’t face them, and because those who do face them feel powerless to change them.” He notes that “some New Age philosophies hold that a ‘great transformation’ is imminent, a leap of ‘spiritual evolution,’ just as some Christians believe that although Satan rules the world now, God will soon intervene with a final cataclysm in which evil will be destroyed forever. Those with a comparable faith in technological progress believe that discoveries and innovations will carry us through our crises and bring us to a scientific utopia. Such ideas can readily serve those who seek to escape, keeping us from taking action.”
For Corske the greatest threat of what he calls “the Human Emergency” is that of nuclear disaster, especially nuclear war, deliberate or accidental.” Ecological disasters, like that of climate change, also loom or are already in process, “resulting in economic crises, mass relocations of people, famines, and species extinctions.
Much of the horrifying increase in cancer and degenerative diseases is a result of environmental toxins, while at the same time bioweapons research deliberately cultivates virulent and deadly pathogens targeted at people, plants, and animals and genetic engineering recklessly introduces synthetic variants into ecosystems regardless of possible effects.
The current system also results in mental, emotional, and spiritual degradation. Corporate culture drowns children in lies and causes their imaginations to atrophy, while public education functions as part of the industrial system, mass-producing workers and ‘citizens.’ People are infantilized, habituated to authority, and trained in obedience, conformity, competitiveness, and corporate identity. They’re functionally illiterate, have no imagination, curiosity, or ability to think originally or critically, and are constantly distracted by corporate entertainment and propagandistic ‘news.’”
Corske writes that the modern idea of “progress” that emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries with the new scientific worldview has been used to justify the Domination system. Those who enjoy the benefits of this progress, however, seldom suffer its costs. Besides, “costs such as systematic enslavement, plunder, murder, and environmental devastation render the idea of progress meaningless.
The myth of progress is like a religion whose hidden goal is always more authority and privilege for those in power, achieved by more violence and destruction and more mass human suffering. The supreme deity in this religion is the ‘economy,’ specifically, private property, wealth, and money.”
Corske believes that “there are several errors people make in trying to understand all of this. The first is supposing that the problem is that the wrong people (e.g. white European men) or system (e.g. capitalism or the US) is/are in power when it’s the system of Domination itself that’s the problem. Conspiracy theories are a version of this.
Another error is thinking that, since modern technology has made the Human Emergency possible, technology itself is the problem. But since technology is simply systematic ways of making and doing things, everything depends on which people are making and doing what things, for what purpose. Technology is merely an accessory of Domination – pure human ingenuity in the service of genuine human needs would never have produced ‘modern technology,’ with its stupendous means of destruction and disastrous effects on the common good. Without the encouragement and virtually unlimited support of the richest and most powerful, many innovations would either have been impossible, or would have occurred much more slowly and openly, so that their development would have had much less severe and destructive effects.”
Many people believe that human nature is just inherently evil: power-hungry, greedy, and violent, but Corske debunks this idea by pointing out that before the advent of Domination 6,000 years ago people live in relatively egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups or Neolithic villages characterized by sharing the means of livelihood. He points out that “it’s a fallacy to attribute to our entire species the worst behaviors of certain individuals and groups [he refers to this as the deadly collective “we”]. It isn’t humanity as a whole that’s now changing the face of the planet, unleashing forces of destruction that endanger the entire biosphere – it’s one faction of humanity with power over all the rest. Some people believe we’re all complicit in these destructive processes because we pay the taxes that fund them and buy products from corporations that facilitate them.” Corske admits that we play a part, but that we have no real alternatives. “We’re coerced into contributing to destructive processes we didn’t create and to which we would never have consented, given the chance. When large numbers of people reduce the amount of support they provide by living a frugal and low-tech lifestyle, significant effects become possible, but such action is best taken collectively, as in tax revolts, boycotts, and strikes. Actions like these can sometimes force those in power to change specific policies or practices for a time. The fundamental institutions behind the policies and practices are much harder to change, though they can be by the actions of organized groups acting with sufficient intelligence and resolve. Such organized action is our only hope.”
Corske also makes the point that human nature contains all potentials, and that different cultures bring out different traits. Current “systems of power require, enable, and reward our worst capabilities.” Left to their own devices, “humans rarely act violently or aggressively naturally – even infants find the pain of others highly aversive. People inclined to aggression were typically emotionally and/or physically abused as children, or trained in the military to act brutally on command.
Weapons designed for murder only appeared in the Bronze Age, at the same time that war in the modern sense became common. From that time to the present, the practice of mass murder has been part of ‘civilized’ culture. Still, without weapons and institutions that use them for systematic mass murder, human aggression and violence are limited and relatively easy to neutralize.”
Corske has an optimistic view of human nature, which he calls “the Rule of Good Faith. This rule assumes that while people are capable of doing almost anything, they’re generally disposed toward goodwill, cooperation, and mutual aid, acting in good faith and expecting the same of others.” He concludes that mass human suffering and the Human Emergency result from “institutions that act contrary to human nature, but that the Rule of Good Faith and human ingenuity give us grounds for hope.”
Part II: Political Power
“Six thousand years ago,” Corske says, “a completely new kind of society emerged between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the region now called Iraq. It’s common to call this the ‘birth of civilization,’ but behind these grand words lies the violent reality of a new kind of weapon – the mace, a heavy stone mounted on a handle to crush human skulls – and new kinds of institutions: war, slavery, and human sacrifice. This new kind of society completely reversed the way of life that had prevailed from the beginnings of our species – from cooperation, equality, and mutual aid to domination and exploitation, from peace to war. State religions with a central temple authority replaced ancient local religions, myths, and magic. ‘Civilization’ is often described as an advanced culture characterized by cities and writing. We’re not supposed to look closely at the scepter in the king’s hand – a symbolic mace.
If we omit the aspect of armed central authority and state religion, civilization existed long before the Bronze Age. Neolithic agricultural communities had large towns and complex cultures, sophisticated tools and techniques. Many of them probably even had informal systems of writing for keeping track of their practical affairs. Above all, they certainly had many of the positive values that we identify with civilization: music and the arts; not written laws, but intricate systems of customs for resolving conflicts; even civility, in the sense of decent and considerate common behavior. This civilization with a small ‘c’ was born with the cultivation of plants thousands of years before the Bronze Age, and it grew and developed as human ingenuity found new ways to serve human well-being. Civilization with a capital ‘C’ sprang into being full-grown – a monster on the rampage, serving only its masters. Within a few centuries, the colossal powers of Mesopotamia and Egypt had attained a degree of Domination seldom surpassed until modern times.
Central management is necessary for certain tasks, such as operating a sizable irrigation system, but it doesn’t require armed central authority – it can be voluntary. Late Neolithic agricultural communities probably had institutions of central management for irrigation, for organizing harvests, for storing and allocating the surplus, etc. While many different tasks can be managed from many different centers, armed central authority controls the entire community from a single privileged center.”
The changes from hunter-gatherer tribes to settled villages and from settled villages to Neolithic farming towns resulted from innovations in techniques and artifacts, most importantly animal domestication and plant cultivation, then grain agriculture. The innovation of Domination was inevitable, Corske says, because “people try everything.” He believes armed gangs, tempted by the riches concentrated in Neolithic agricultural communities and their highly organized forms of human action, took them over, using weapons of war and probably horses. These gangs could have used town temple cults with priests or priestesses enjoying some luxuries at the expense of their communities to create a centrally administered religion justifying their actions. Corske seems sure that the change came from outside, but it’s also possible that it was an inside job, that the priests or priestesses responsible for keeping records and distributing grain were tempted to take over their community’s wealth for their own benefit.
However, it started the idea of Domination spread fast, Corske says, because once the raiders had occupied one town, they could easily have wanted more. “A larger captive region and population would mean more riches and human energy at their disposal, which would mean more authority and privilege. The raiders may also have had needs that the conquered community wasn’t able to provide: timber and stone for construction, weapons, draft animals, and so on. Local supplies of important materials may have become exhausted after a time, or more labor might have been needed. In a kind of domino effect, armed central control would have had a tendency to spread through a region, destroying or assimilating more peaceful communities, or prompting them to take up arms and become more centrally controlled.” Corske mentions other writers who have suggested that all of this may have been a natural development when population growth in the late Neolithic, caused tribes to outgrow their land bases. Because agriculture favors population growth (as hunter-gatherer economies do not), and because it also made possible the creation of wealth in the form of grain surpluses, many thinkers believe large-scale agriculture was the “original sin,” and that raiders from the east were just incidental.
In any case, Corske’s political theory is still valid. As he puts it, “the engine of domination captures the human energy that would naturally go into action that serves human well-being through the common good and redirects it into action that serves the authority and privilege of the rulers. Systems of domination around the world and at widely varying times function in much the same way.
If human communities naturally tended to organize around a powerful and privileged center, no tool of Domination would be necessary, but examples of Neolithic civilizations show that this is not the case.
People can be subjugated by threats of violence and/or deception. Hard subjugation compels obedience by violence or the threat of violence. Soft subjugation induces obedience by deception, and requires that the victim trust the subjugator. People are more inclined to trust others than to be suspicious, and soft subjugation exploits these tendencies.
The engine of domination has seven components: landholding by force of arms, the command structure, the destruction industry, forced labor, the class structure, thought-control, and human sacrifice. The first four are necessary; the last three serve primarily to stabilize the engine’s operation.
To capture an entire community, you must take its land – its life-support system – by force. The conquered people are then forced to take actions that benefit those in power to obtain life-support. Thus, the fundamental component of Domination corresponds to the fundamental institution of Civilization: private land ownership. This institution has evolved from the dominion of the first kings and emperors to the sophisticated real estate and public land management of modern capitalism, refining but not changing its basic function of taking its subject’s life hostage. Indeed, capitalism is more ruthless than serfdom in that the modern urban worker has no independent means of life-support, while the serf was allowed to cultivate some land for himself and his family.
Private land ownership is as close to sacred as any institution in our modern secular world. To challenge it provokes alarm, not only in the rich and powerful, but in almost anyone raised under it. To clarify, private land ownership is an entirely different institution than private property in the sense of personal belongings – my toothbrush, my computer, my car, even my house, since all things of value come from the land. Private land ownership is also different from private land use, in which individuals, families, or groups agree to use a piece of land subject to certain conditions. By private land ownership,” Corske says, he means “the unrestricted power of individuals or organizations to hold a piece of land and put it to any use they choose, even exhausting or destroying its riches, to forbid others from even setting foot on it, and to hold exclusive rights to anything produced from it. This is the power that Domination claimed for itself thousands of years ago, and on which it’s based all its advances since. Today people almost universally condemn slavery, the private ownership of people. But if people can’t be legitimately owned, how can one legitimately own the land they depend on for their lives?
The second requirement of Domination is a hierarchical military and administrative command structure with elaborate systems of written law: standardized commands and penalties for disobedience. In modern times, the state has increasingly taken over the role of the monarch, sometimes under a tyrant, sometimes under a more complex authority controlled by one person in times of war.
The destruction industry provides the weapons, vehicles, prisons, etc. – the Domination hardware – needed by the system. Beginning with industrial capitalism in the 19th century, destruction industries were increasingly privatized, making war a highly profitable business. In the United States today, vital artifacts and consumer products are also parts of Domination’s hardware, since without mass-consumption the system of corporate power can’t function. The entire economy has become one gigantic destruction industry.
The fourth fundamental component of Domination is forced labor – labor done under hard subjugation like slavery, draft labor, serfdom, debt indenture, taxation and tribute, military conscription, and prison labor. The slave trade has been a major industry since the Bronze Age, which indicates that human energy is the prime treasure and commodity of Domination. When multinational corporations induce Third World governments to deprive natives of their traditional livelihood and then employ them in wage-slave jobs, this is forced labor. When people are lured into debt through credit cards or loans without understanding the usury they’re accepting, they’ll have to perform forced labor to pay their debts.
It’s impossible to directly force an entire population into obedience, and the greater the extent of hard subjugation, the smaller its stability. Domination can’t function effectively unless a large sector of the population accepts or approves of the system in power. Just as hard subjugation operates through threat gradients, the class structure operates through incentive gradients. Threat and incentive gradients operate together, and greed is cultivated as a tool of control. Divisions between classes and internal divisions within the lower classes make unified antagonism against the rulers unlikely.
Forced labor and the class structure alone can’t keep the entire community under control and working at the necessary tasks, and even the upper classes require some way of thinking that rationalizes their relative privilege, especially if it clearly results from oppressing the lower classes or from the bloodshed of war. Some idea of meritocracy can serve this purpose. Thought-control of any kind is the technology of soft subjugation. Individuals or groups may have doubts about the system as long as an atmosphere prevails which intimidates them from expressing or acting on them.
The first great powers of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, and Mesoamerica emerged with political power and religious authority hand in hand. The rulers were either divine or represented supernatural power, and their regimes operated within a cosmic framework of belief.” Corske believes these communities were used to some form of religious thought-control before becoming “cores of empires.” He calls the body of doctrines promulgated by a thought-control system its “orthodoxy. The orthodoxy must explain why the community is under subjugation, why a small elite is in control of its lands and human energy, why the elite enjoys inordinate privileges, and why they threaten and commit violence. Second, it must explain why the people should submit to their subjugation, why they should suffer and work hard for the benefit of those who live in luxury and leisure.” Corske says that in an effective orthodoxy the system is shown to be “necessary to satisfy a higher power or accomplish a higher good.
Animal sacrifice may date to the middle Paleolithic, but the first archeological evidence of large-scale human sacrifice appears with the first great systems of Domination. Just as animal sacrifice may have sanctified the practice of hunting and slaughtering animals for food, human sacrifice ritualized and sanctified murdering the innocent, as in war.” Corske says he defines human sacrifice as “the doctrine and practice that some people must die for the welfare of others when those in power demand it. When those in power today set ‘acceptable’ rates of death from radiation, toxicity, drug side-effects, and industrial accidents, what is it but human sacrifice to power and profit?” By this definition, capital punishment is also human sacrifice.
Many historical systems have resembled the model very closely, beginning with ancient Egypt and Sumeria, and continuing through the Persian, Roman, and Byzantine empires to the colonial powers of Europe, the fascist dictatorships and Soviet Union of the last century, the People’s Republic of China, and the United States today – not to mention many less powerful examples. Corske says he’s not equating Domination with government as such, if ‘government’ simply means “the institutions that maintain peace and order within and among communities.” He adds that “even a modern nation-state can function less for the authority and privilege of its rulers than for the well-being of its citizens. Modern examples might include New Zealand and the Netherlands.”
War and conquest, “systematic mass murder and mass destruction,” are the necessary to hard-subjugate external communities. Also, “if a regime chooses to refrain from war, other regimes may dominate or conquer it.”
Corske calls the relentless effort to develop superior weapons and create defenses against the weapons of other regimes “the race to destruction.” He adds that “given the power of human ingenuity, the race to destruction inevitably produces the mythic powers of destruction we see today.”
Domination also does away with the natural constraints a “natural community” employs in using its habitat. “If weapons or palaces require materials that are difficult to obtain, they will be gotten – with gold from the treasury, forced labor, or war. Construction can be carried out to the limits of human endurance, because those who enjoy the benefits are not those who do the work. Waste and depletion of or damage to the habitat is largely irrelevant. The degradation and devastation of Nature began with the degradation and devastation of people.
Late Neolithic hand weapons consisted of the wooden club and the stone-blade knife and axe. Projectile weapons consisted of the sling, the dart, the long spear, the shorter javelin, and the bow and arrow. The small number and simplicity of these weapons show that there was no Stone Age race to destruction, just the progressive refinement of a few ancient techniques.
Thousands of years before the Bronze Age, Neolithic peoples used copper for ornaments and implements. They first pounded the metal into the desired shape, and later found that it could be melted and cast. By early in the fourth millennium, they had discovered that a small quantity of tin added to molten copper produces a much stronger and more durable metal: bronze. This discovery roughly coincided with the invention of Domination, but the first great powers in Egypt and Mesopotamia were fully developed before the use of bronze became common – weapons made of stone, copper, silver, and even gold were only slowly replaced by ones made of bronze. Bronze weapons brought decisive advantages over other metals – greater durability and a finer cutting edge – so by 2000 BC weapons of precious metal were mostly restricted to ceremonial use.
New weapons included the mace, the first specific antipersonnel weapon, the dagger and sword, and the composite recurved bow. These offensive weapons were countered by the bronze helmet, the shield, body armor, and the walled city with a central fortress. Egypt’s destruction industry also created the warship. Beginning with reed and pitch vessels on the Nile, by 3000 BC the first war galleys were equipped with sail, oars, shields, raised platforms from which soldiers threw spears and shot arrows, and sometimes a ram for boarding or wrecking other ships. The first chariots were simple carts drawn by asses, but after 1600 BC domesticated warhorses brought a tremendous new source of energy to the Mesopotamian destruction industry. Drawn by two or three horses, light and highly maneuverable chariots with lightweight spoked wheels became a major tactical weapon for hundreds of years – until horses large and powerful enough to carry armed men were bred.
In Neolithic cosmology the Mother represented creation – the harmonizing, creative power in and source of all things. By keeping the Mother’s ways, the community continued to merit her fruits. Compared with the cosmologies of violence to come, we could call this a cosmology of balance. The new cosmology of violence replaced the goddess with a male deity, part of a pantheon of warring gods, and the status of women fell as theocracy and patriarchy developed.
After the techniques for smelting iron were perfected in the last centuries of the second millennium, major powers could deploy large armies equipped with new ordnance, and lesser powers could arm themselves better than before (steel swords were more durable and effective than bronze ones). The Persian royal road and the great Roman highway network that eventually stretched from Africa and the Middle East to northern Europe provided the kind of transportation and communication needed to deploy large armies effectively.
With the new scale of war came a new scale of forced labor from slaves captured in battle. Domestic class structures also became more complex, and smaller and more subtle systems of Domination emerged, such as the Greek polis, an autonomous city-state ruled by a single tyrant or wealthy aristocrats. The first experiments in democracy took place in these city-states, in which power was shared by the male, non-slave citizens. Systems of Domination increasingly relied on corporate bodies – councils, tribunes, and administrative and legislative assemblies, but they were often shaken by internal rivalry and bloodshed and vulnerable to takeover by powerful figures. The Roman circus and coliseum added a significant innovation to thought-control. In these festive public spectacles of power and corporate identity, people could watch horse and chariot races, jugglers and acrobats, exotic wild animals, and theatrical performances, as well as gladiators fighting to the death and public executions. The wealthy individuals who sponsored these spectacles were highly honored, and the events themselves were dedicated to the gods. The cosmology of violence had become a spectator sport.
Christianity’s original message – the impending reign of the one true God that would put an end to suffering and injustice, the brotherhood of all believers as children of God, and the moral imperative of compassionate love – brought hope and a new way of life to the oppressed subjects of the Roman Empire. It’s “no wonder,” Corske says, “that the faith was a capital crime under Roman law for a lifetime after Jesus’ death. Facing the pressure of persecution, the early church took a submissive attitude toward Domination,” but early in the 4th century, the emperor Constantine attributed his military success to the Christian God and not only issued a decree of tolerance for the religion, but granted church authorities legal and financial privileges. By 380, Christianity had become the state religion. “Pagan” temples were shut down or demolished, and heretics were punished by exile or worse. What had begun as “a religion of the downtrodden and dispossessed,” Corske writes, “became a new cosmology of violence, wielded by the most powerful rulers on Earth. While their divinely supported rulers waged war, the common people were urged to save their souls from their fallen human nature and hope for a better life in heaven, a brilliant innovation in thought-control that internalized the cosmology of violence.
The 5th century also saw the emergence of the main source of destructive energy that would serve Domination for the next thousand years: horsepower,” well-used by the “barbarians” that brought down the Roman Empire. Although the saddle and stirrup had been invented by 200 BC, the archer on horseback only became a primary force of war 600 years later. The lance, a formidable weapon that could strike with the power of a charging horse, evolved from the spear.
The European Church turned to warlords and kings for protection and help in enforcing its ways. When large private estates worked by slaves became impractical, they were broken up into tracts worked by peasants called coloni, forming the basis for the new system of serfdom, the primary source of forced labor through the Middle Ages. The coloni, many of them former slaves or descendants of slaves, others refugees from wars, were bound to the land by law, and forced to pay rent to the landowner in labor and/or grain. Their status was hereditary. The landowner didn’t own them, but they were part of the land he owned. Peasants thus bound to the land came to be called servi, from the Latin servus (slave) – thus, serfs.
The 11th century saw the development of the iron crossbow, which could store far more energy than a wooden bow of the same size, propelling its missile with enough force to pierce chain mail at 1,000 feet. The longbow, which required greater skill and strength than the crossbow, but could perform even better, followed a century later. In the 14th century, two more weapons were added to oppose the mounted knight: the halberd – a spike, axe, and hook mounted on a pole, and the pike, a spearhead on a pole. To counteract the threat of battering rams, catapults, siege towers, and firebombs, castle construction progressed from wooden structures on earth mounds to advanced works of masonry, with overhanging towers and crenellated parapets to protect archers.
In 800, the Pope declared the Frankish king Charlemagne head of the “Holy Roman Empire,” but power shifted from dynasty to dynasty in relentless warfare, and landowning nobles controlled most of the land. Lacking a stable central state for military protection and legal enforcement, they resorted to the system we call feudalism. The lord would grant loans of land – fiefs – to vassal knights, who would pledge loyalty to him and promise military service. The Church was a major landholder, with high Church offices held by the nobility and many clergymen holding important positions on the staffs of royalty. Education became a church monopoly, with the clergy the only continuously literate sector of Europe for centuries.
As political power became more stable, Corske notes, trade increased, and many cities gained considerable power and independence from the lords and kings. Urban associations of craftsmen and merchants were, at least at first, “remarkable instruments of self-government and mutual assistance.” In time however, as trade increased and wealth accumulated in private hands, the merchant guilds became more powerful than the craft guilds, and rich merchants came to control the cities. Thus, the landed nobility, the kings, and the cities competed for dominance.
Chinese alchemists created gunpowder in the 9th century, and by the first years of the 14th century Arab craftsmen were making guns from bamboo. The gun “embodied a completely new mechanical principle. An explosion, controlled in every direction but one, propelled a projectile in that direction with great force.” By 1375 the first iron cannons could fire 500-pound stone balls. Artillery proved decisive in winning battles, Corske says, leading to the French victory in the Hundred Years’ War and the Turkish defeat of Byzantium. Until the 20th century, guns dominated what Corske calls “the destruction industry,” and innovations in guns led the development of warfare.
In the 15th century, along with larger and more accurate cannons, came the first small arms: the Spanish harquebus and musket. These weapons – precursors of the first rifles – fired armor-piercing balls. Advances in firing mechanisms progressed from the matchlock with a slow-burning fuse to the flintlock, which could be fired immediately. By 1680, small hand-thrown bombs – grenades – joined the arsenal, with specialized soldiers called grenadiers hurling them through breached walls, then leading the assault. The bayonet, dating from the same decades, compensated for the unreliability of muskets and the time it took to reload them.
At the same time that gunpowder was transforming warfare, the landed nobility and the cities were coming under the control of “large aggressive kingdoms,” and money was starting to replace labor and commodities in the economic system. Along with this, by 1400 the serfs in many places were being replaced by tenant farmers and wage laborers, “a different kind of forced labor. Lacking land for life-support, workers had to rent themselves to those with money to survive, and human energy became a commodity. A starving person can’t provide labor,”Corske notes, “but when a starving wage worker falls, he or she can be readily replaced,” unlike a slave or a serf, whom the owner/landowner is responsible for feeding.
In the same centuries, the Church had become blatantly corrupt in its brokering of power, selling indulgences, levying oppressive taxes, and supporting brutal despots. The Protestant Reformation challenged not only corruption in the Church, but the central authority of the Pope and many issues of dogma.
Merchant bankers had become rich and powerful, through both the increase in trade and the newly legitimized practice of usury – charging interest on loans, which only Jews had been able to do until this time. Exploration also opened up immense new supplies of materials and human energy. Armed with all the weapons of the gunpowder period and Arabian horses from the Spanish Conquest, Spain subjugated the indigenous peoples of North and South America, and Portugal conquered those along the northwest coast of Africa – like the Spanish, seeking gold and slaves “in the name of God.” (Portugal also colonized Brazil and the East Indies and Spain the Philippines.) Colonial wars followed, as the French, Dutch, and English joined in fighting over the spoils.
The sea trade in African slaves, begun by the Portuguese, soon became an essential source of New World forced labor, the numbers of Native Americans having been greatly reduced by epidemics, conquest, and flight. From the early 1500s through the mid-19th century, it stole the lives of millions of people “whose human energy powered the engines of colonial empire.” On this foundation of mass human suffering the rising European capitalist class built the fortunes that would serve as the foundation for the Industrial Revolution.
First, however, came the Scientific Revolution, inspired by curiosity and the desire to create practical applications of new knowledge. As Corske puts it, “to the New World conquests of the European empires was added an even more ambitious program: the conquest of Nature.” Patents allowed legal monopolies of inventions, and private businessmen founded the first central banks in Sweden and England toward the end of the 17th century.
Numerous and lengthy European wars ended in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which created a new political order and made state sovereignty supreme. Financial power had also consolidated, first in joint-stock companies under royal charters, then limited liability corporations. “Brutal conquest, slaughter, and forced labor were part of company business.” At its peak of power, the British East India Company, for example, maintained a military force of 250,000, twice the size of England’s army. The Virginia Company “thrived on deporting criminals, homeless women and children, and debtors to serve seven-year terms of forced labor on the Jamestown tobacco plantations” under horrific conditions. Six years after the company’s founding in 1618, only 1,200 of the 6,000 people shipped to Jamestown had survived. “The new combination of private wealth and state power added an essential mechanism to the development of modern Domination,” Corske says.
Over a century would pass from the time when steam engines were first used to pump water from mineshafts until they were used to power locomotives and warships; yet during this century, steam technology helped establish a completely new system of economic power: industrial capitalism. Innovations such as bills of exchange, joint-stock companies, and stock exchanges had made a new scale and complexity of investment possible, and to facilitate commerce national governments had begun building new road and canal systems at public expense. Laws concerning foreclosure and forfeiture of land had put increasing amounts of land in the hands of financiers, dispossessing large peasant populations and driving them into the growing cities, teeming with the working poor, beggars, prostitutes, and orphans – “a vast pool of human energy awaiting capitalist exploitation.”
Britain pioneered the new economic system. The thriving colonial trade ensured a huge market for English goods, textiles in particular, and British engineers created inventions that transformed one industry after another. The flying shuttle and spinning jenny revolutionized the textile industry, the use of coke in forges and blast furnaces revolutionized iron processing, and Newcomen’s early steam engine helped pump water from coal mines. Manufacturing replaced commerce as the primary source of wealth, and cottage industries succumbed to centralized factories and mills.
Throughout the first half of the 18th century, prices rose with the glut of gold and silver from colonial conquest, but employers kept wages low. Men, women, and children toiled for slave wages in mines, mills, and factories, living in crowded tenements or barracks, malnourished and plagued by occupational diseases.
When Watt patented the high-powered condensing steam engine in 1769, his interests were purely industrial, but in 1770 the French military engineer Cugnot produced a steam-powered tractor for hauling artillery – the first automobile. By the early 1800s engines powerful enough to propel locomotives and ships were revolutionizing transportation. Steam-powered sowing, reaping, and threshing machines mechanized agriculture, and the power loom brought steam power to the textile industry.
The first steam-powered warship was built in the United States in 1812, followed by the first screw-driven man-of-war in 1843. Armored steam warships first exchanged fire in the American Civil War. These new weapons required new levels of investment and industrial sophistication to build, and the industrialists who manufactured them amassed tremendous fortunes at public expense. “The destruction industry had been privatized, a crucial step in forming the modern system of Domination.”
Henry Shrapnel’s exploding shell, which could strike at distances of 1,000 yards, played an important part in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and in 1805 the first percussion system for rifles replaced the flintlock. By the time of the US Civil War, bolt-action breech-loading rifles provided a new degree of speed, range, and accuracy. Rapid-firing weapons included the crank-operated Gatling gun (1861).
In 1800 the American inventor Eli Whitney, of cotton-gin fame, pioneered the system of mass-producing rifles. Arms factories in France, Russia, and Sweden were among the first large organized factories, with a precisely regimented division of labor that soon became the commercial standard.
In the same way that iron weapons had made larger armies possible 2,000 years earlier, the mass-production of rifles allowed for still larger ones. In the 15th century a large army might consist of 50,000 soldiers, Corske tells us. By the mid-18th century there were armies of 200,000. After the French pioneered mass conscription to safeguard their Revolution in 1792, armies in the Napoleonic period numbered around a million, “increasing the mass human suffering caused by war by the same proportions. During the 23 years of the Napoleonic Wars, 3 million soldiers were killed, along with a million civilians.”
Enlightenment thinking, a companion to the scientific faith in reason and progress, “subjected Domination to critical scrutiny. Against absolutism and the divine right of kings, Locke and others proposed that the state’s only legitimate authority derived from its subjects, and its only legitimate function was to protect their rights to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and estate.’ Against the Hobbesian ‘war of every man against every man,’ some Enlightenment thinkers even dared to teach the natural goodness of man. Most of these thinkers were gentlemen of some standing, who took the capitalist system of property and exploitation for granted; nevertheless, they established a precedent for the greater challenges to come: socialism, communism, and anarchism.
A new cosmology of violence was needed, and it gradually took shape, incorporating elements of capitalist doctrine, ‘scientific materialism,’ and, most significantly, the idea of progress. Society is an aggregate of separate individuals, these men said, each acting in his own best interest, competing for his share of the world’s limited resources. The most ingenious and industrious best succeed in this effort – that is, those who have more deserve to have more, and vice versa. Just as individuals within a given society compete for their share of resources, so states compete with one another – by economic growth and technical ingenuity, and by war. And just as those individuals who have more deserve more, so the richest and most powerful states deserve their opulence. Thus, humanity progresses toward a better future, a progress which can know no limits and which must be subjected to no constraints. Society could be envisioned as a machine, with each individual playing his part in the overall order. Any parts that malfunctioned must be discarded and replaced, and to prevent malfunctions, the educational system must manufacture reliable, durable, and interchangeable workers.”
In the years around 1789 in the United States “an engine of domination was consciously engineered from scratch, with a vast unexploited region at its command.” A hundred years later, the United States had expanded across the continent, having driven the resident Native Americans from their homelands or confined them on reservations. “Power and privilege in the early United States derived from the former colonial system, with its plantation slavery and foreign trade. The ‘founding fathers’ consisted primarily of rich property owners and merchants who strove to create a government that would protect their interests while keeping the greatest possible degree of popular support.” Representative government, in the words of John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, meant that the people had their choice of rulers. Naturally, they were, like Jay, men of property – as were “the people”: in most states, only property owners could vote.
The total fatalities in four years of civil war, with the Union and Confederate armies of two and one million respectively, were around 500,000, two-thirds of them from disease – “an intensity of slaughter on par with that of the Napoleonic Wars.
By the end of the century, the United States had become the world’s foremost industrial power, supporting the richest elite in history. The product of science, technology, democracy, and free enterprise, the nation represented goodness itself, as it battled against the jealous and archaic evils still threatening the world. When the US committed violence, it was always in the name of self-defense or high moral principles.”
In the latter part of the 19th century, chemists invented the first high-explosives, creating a source of destructive energy that would greatly intensify Domination. The first high-explosive, nitroglycerin, was discovered in 1847. Then Nobel’s research on nitroglycerin mixtures led him to invent dynamite, the first practical high-explosive, in 1866. The dynamite stick and blasting cap soon revolutionized mining and road and railroad building, and new nitrogen compounds, including TNT, “the military explosive par excellence,” followed. Artillery ranges increased from five miles to fifty, Corske says. “Gun-making advanced as well, so that small arms could project deadly force at distances of over a mile. The first true machine gun, created by Maxim in 1884 and later produced by Vickers in England, used the bullet’s recoil to load the next round at firing speeds up to ten rounds per second with ranges of over two miles.” Germany’s Alfred Krupp, the inventor of cast steel, produced the first cast-steel cannon in 1847, a dramatic improvement in weapons manufacture, which proved itself in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). By the time Krupp died in 1887, his business had become the largest industrial company in the world.
“In the same decades, the internal combustion engine made explosively-powered transportation possible. Petroleum, first produced commercially in 1858, proved to be the perfect explosive fuel, and small, powerful gasoline engines were soon propelling wheeled vehicles at unprecedented speeds.” In 1909 the Wright brothers signed a contract with the US military to produce the first aircraft, and France, Spain, and other countries also established air forces. Bombs were first dropped from a plane in 1912, the same year the US tested an airborne machine gun.
The Irish engineer Parsons created the modern steam turbine in 1884, and by 1906 new battleships, cruisers, and torpedo boats (destroyers) began using steam turbines for propulsion, attaining greater speeds than previously possible. Steam turbine plants were also used to generate electricity, powering steel furnaces, telephones, locomotives, elevators, lights, radios, etc.
“By the late 19th century, industrial elites had attained unprecedented wealth and political influence, not only through banking and the privatized destruction industry, but through the new transportation, communication, and power industries. In the US, these elites worked steadily to erode the legal safeguards against corporate power. Their success made the modern United States the first global corporate power, and today the private profit-making corporation has become the fundamental legal organization of Domination. One can rarely provide the best product or service by intrinsic standards of excellence, based on human well-being, and also provide the product or service that reaps the greatest profit. The corporate capitalist decision in favor of profit is a decision in favor of nothing less than the Human Emergency.”
Books and newspapers attained mass circulation by the end of the 19th century, and motion pictures and newsreels were in place by 1908, just as “psychological theory and a growing body of data opened up new possibilities in systematic thought-control.” Advertising led the way during the 1920s, manufacturing demand for products, as did President Wilson’s Committee on Public Information, which promoted US entry into World War I. “Hitler was inspired by the effectiveness of Allied propaganda in World War I, and under the masterful control of Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda machine rose to new heights, from staged public rallies dominated by Hitler’s theatrical speeches and shown in newsreels to brilliant adaptations of German folklore, music, and symbols to genocidally aggressive ends.”
It’s neither possible nor necessary, according to Corske, to “strictly regiment the entire population – all that’s needed is to inculcate attitudes of obedience and conformity in the majority,” along with a general sense that the deep and subtle reasons for public policy are largely unfathomable. “Modern thought-control succeeds admirably in these respects, starting with compulsory public education in corporate-controlled schools. To generate support for specific issues, Washington proclaims a flood of official lies, the corporate media broadcasts them, and scientifically crafted ‘public relations’ campaigns guide the subsequent ‘debate’ between carefully chosen ‘experts.’ It’s a violent form of abuse that’s led to nothing less than mass psychosis.”
In World War I, the modern ‘destruction industry’ demonstrated the power and horror of fully industrialized warfare for the first time. This was total war, deliberately targeting civilians and civil infrastructure, but its full brutality wasn’t seen until the development of greatly increased air power in World War II. “Some 60 million troops were mobilized between 1914 and 1918, more than a ten-fold increase over the Napoleonic Wars a century before. In Great Britain, nearly one in four of the male population enlisted or were conscripted; by the end of the war, nearly half the British soldiers were under 20 years old. When the armistice of 1918 was signed, the death toll had reached 9.7 million military and 5.9 million civilians killed, more than double the killing rate of the US Civil War.”
Corske doesn’t emphasize this, but I would add that together the two world wars crushed the anti-capitalist movements of socialism, communism, and anarchism, especially in the United States, and distorted the development of communism in the Soviet Union. Nationalistic propaganda overrode the international brotherhood of workers, and Domination, as Corske calls it, triumphed. It took especially virulent form in the development of fascism in Germany and Italy, supported by elites in the US, Britain, and France. Corske says that “the fascist movements emerged from the same injustices and hard times that provoked the challenges of socialism, communism, and anarchism, and sometimes promised comparable remedies, at least in their rhetoric. But they condemned the existing left-wing movements and made their eradication an essential goal of their programs. Not only private individuals, but the Falange movement in Spain, the progenitors of the Vichy regime in France, and the British Conservative Party explicitly supported Fascism and Nazism in their early years.
Spain in the 1930s showed the power of anarchist ideals. By the mid-1930s much of the Spanish economy had been put under worker control – three-quarters of the industries and more than half of the land in Aragon and Catalonia. The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) crushed this defiance of power and privilege,” with only the Soviet Union providing some material support to the Republican uprising. After Franco’s forces, supported by Italy and Germany, defeated the Republican movement and drove it underground, 200,000 militants were executed. Five months after the Spanish Civil War ended, Germany invaded Poland, and World War II was underway.
“Aerial warfare reached astounding scales. In the Battle of Britain, 1,200 aircraft fought in a 15 by 30 mile area; in the German invasion of Russia, the same number of Soviet planes were destroyed on the first day. The ‘strategic bombing’ that had begun in World War I, striking at cities for terror and industrial destruction, became primary. Along with heavier and far more destructive explosive bombs and cluster bombs that released up to 2,000 submunitions (explosive, incendiary, or chemical), incendiary napalm bombs ignited by white phosphorous were used to firebomb large cities. Germany’s 8-month bombing of London killed 40,000 people. Allied firebombings killed 42,000 in Hamburg in one night (Operation Gomorrah, 1943), 60,000 in Dresden, and 100,000 in Tokyo. These conflagrations caused firestorms with winds up to 150 miles per hour and temperatures over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Germany and the United States began research on the atom bomb, and at a cost of $24 billion in 2008 dollars, the first test nuclear weapon was exploded in the US in July 1943 (Germany had surrendered in May). Japan was militarily defeated, but the US demand for unconditional surrender kept it at war till the bitter end, supposedly necessitating the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the mornings of August 6th and 9th.
“A total of 108 million troops had been mobilized, 80% more than in World War I. The fatalities, using conservative figures included 22.6 million military and 37.6 million civilians, including at least 5 million in the Nazi Holocaust. Sixty million were killed in six years, as many as were mobilized in the first war. Add to this the non-fatal casualties, the destruction of entire cities, the ten million industrial slaves held by the Nazis, and the even greater number held by the Soviets, and it’s clear that industrialized total warfare had brought mass human suffering to mythic scales and intensities.
With nuclear weapons, the destruction industry had achieved its ultimate goal of total destruction.” Three years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear bomb. The astronomical temperatures and pressures of a nuclear fission explosion made the nuclear fusion hydrogen bomb possible by late 1952, first in the US, and less than a year later in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the Britain had tested its own nuclear fission bomb, with France soon to follow. Nuclear reactors, originally used to create the fuel for nuclear bombs, generated intense heat, which was adapted to drive steam turbine engines, making the first nuclear-powered submarines possible by the mid-1950s. American and Soviet engineers developed missiles powerful enough to propel nuclear warheads intercontinental distances, while rocket research ultimately resulted in the 1957 Sputnik (Soviet) space launch. “Although propaganda depicted the US space program as a great human adventure with enormous potential for scientific discovery, it was in fact the first step toward the militarization of outer space, and the corporations with the contracts to carry it out made enormous profits at public expense.
From 4,615 nuclear weapons in 1956, the US stockpile reached 32,040 in 1966, Soviet stockpiles increasing from 426 to 7,089 in the same years. Each superpower had enough nuclear weapons deployed in missiles, bombers, and submarines to launch not only a devastating first strike, but an equally devastating retaliatory strike even after suffering overwhelming damage. This unprecedented deadlock in destructive power was called ‘mutually assured destructive deterrence,’ or (appropriately) MADD. In the 50 years since the advent of total war – deliberately targeting civilians for terror and industrial destruction – the entire civilian populations of the United States and the Soviet Union had come to be held hostage to total annihilation. This new degree of overt state terrorism made the worst abominations of the past look like child’s play.” By the late 1960s, not only the United States and the Soviet Union had hydrogen bombs, but also Britain, France, and China.
By the 1960s, spy satellites were in operation, making a new degree of global surveillance possible. The first powerful digital computers had been used in designing the hydrogen bomb, and computer technology proliferated, first to scientific and industrial applications, then as consumer products by the 1980s.
Since President Reagan’s so-called Strategic Defense Initiative of 1983, the United States has violated international law by seeking to militarize space for establishing absolute military supremacy over the world. The idea is to deploy a system of space-to-space and space-to-ground “killsats” armed with laser and particle-beam weapons, making it possible to strike targets anywhere on Earth and deny the use of space to other powers. Space weapons, together with advanced ground and air antiballistic missile technologies, could ensure the effectiveness of a US nuclear first strike against any power in the world. These dangerous policies seem guaranteed to aggravate international conflict, as those threatened by a US nuclear first strike consider either militarizing space themselves or launching a preemptive first strike of their own. One way or another, “the race to destruction is fatefully close to the finish line.”
The US now bases a significant part of its economy on war production even in times of peace (which may be no more, since it declared an indefinite “war on terrorism” in 2001). Today military spending makes up half the annual federal budget, a rate comparable to that of World War II. Potential profits to corporations are such that they have every reason to encourage conflict, and one of the ways they do so is by funding and staffing policy-making institutions like the RAND Corporation, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Heritage Foundation. Major corporate shareholders and board members also occupy central government posts, and employ lobbyists and use campaign funding to dominate Congress.
“Hard fascism is exemplified by the Axis powers of World War II, soft fascism by today’s US-based global industrial capitalism. It’s a human anthill heading for catastrophe unless the people of the world turn against the Dominators in time to shut the engine down.
The feeling that we’re powerless,” Corske says, “is Domination’s greatest weapon against us, and we must defy it with all our strength.” Hope for him means “acting as if things are not hopeless, and we can start as we are in this moment – analyzing Domination and passing moral judgment on it.” In terms of morality, Corske takes “human well-being” as the ultimate standard of good, defining it as “the conditions necessary for stable, thriving communities in which individuals can lead safe and fulfilling lives. An action is good,” he says, “to the extent that it sustains or furthers human well-being, and evil to the extent that it lessens or prevents it.” Corske notes that he’s “speaking of good and evil actions, not people, groups, or esoteric cosmic forces.” In these terms, he says, “Domination is evil as a tool for making tools of human beings.” It’s also evil because it requires landholding by force of arms, and Corske doesn’t believe it’s legitimate to own either human beings or the land, held in common, on which they depend for their lives. Thirdly and fourthly, Domination requires weapons designed to destroy human well-being and the destruction of their habitat. Fifthly and sixthly, it requires “the deception of thought-control and causes mass human suffering through war, conquest, forced labor, and the creation of the Human Emergency.
Domination is not a necessary evil,” Corske says. It did not, as is often claimed, “civilize” humanity or rescue us from “primitive savagery.” Instead, it “took over civilization, creating institutions and weapons of highly advanced savagery that threaten to destroy our world. The intention to rule for power and privilege is the fundamental evil,” Corske says, even though “by the Rule of Good Faith, most of those in power either genuinely mean well, or at least rationalize their actions in terms of lofty goals and ideals. Any intention or action must be judged by its consequences,” however, “and no matter what any individual ruler may intend, it’s evil to seek power and privilege by subjugating communities. The intention to dominate inevitably leads to nothing less than world-abuse. Thus we must condemn power and privilege as such. There is no ‘good’ way to do it; nor is it a matter of degree. Domination is the crime against humanity, the crime against Nature.”
The most important thing we must do to try to avert the Human Emergency, Corske says, is to deal with “the greatest threat today: the nuclear first-strike policy of the United States. Together with the precedent of fighting ‘preventive wars’ like the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it amounts to overt nuclear terrorism against the world and clears the way for other nuclear powers to adopt comparable policies.
The second greatest threat is the militarization of space, which only the United States has had the wealth and technology to do at a large scale.” The development of anti-ballistic missile technologies must also be halted, and any existing facilities dismantled. After this, all further development of nuclear weapons should be banned, and existing weapons reduced, neutralized, and destroyed. “It may be impossible to completely eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons as long as belligerent military states exist. Nonetheless, the threat can be reduced from one of total catastrophe.
The menace of ecological disaster also demands urgent action. Even if today’s levels of destruction and contamination are promptly reduced, we will suffer their consequences for generations. If they’re not promptly reduced, however, the consequences will come sooner and with far greater destructiveness.” The crises of economic chaos, famine, drought, floods, and rising ocean levels “are already underway, provoking powerful movements in opposition. Direct action and legislation can put powerful restraints” on corporate interests and lessen ecological devastation, and “specific restraints at the local level can set precedents for more comprehensive ones. The critical goals of such action must include prompt and drastic reduction in contamination of the oceans, greenhouse gas emissions, and deforestation. Second only to these would be halting the construction of new nuclear reactors, and a complete review of nuclear waste disposal systems. After causes of global warming and nuclear contamination are addressed, further critical actions would involve greatly reducing other forms of industrial contamination, soil depletion, offshore mining and drilling, and deep-sea trawling methods that make deserts of the seabed.”
Only at this point does Corske begin to discuss challenging domination, beginning with listing some “non-solutions. Electoral politics,” he says, “offers no hope of bringing fundamental change,” and “grand-sounding ideas like ‘humanizing capitalism’ can offer at best only limited changes within a fundamentally destructive system. Limited changes can also be used as a tool of control by blunting the force of popular outrage and allowing the underlying system to continue unchanged.”
Neither can armed force defeat Domination. “The military power of today’s states is overwhelming, such that even if an armed rebellion could bring down a specific regime, the overall pattern of world Domination would remain unchained. Even if it were possible to defeat Domination by force, a disastrously unstable situation would result, because billions of people depend on it for life-support, and the victors in the revolution would inherit all of Domination’s machinery, be tempted to use it for ‘good’ ends, and thus resurrect the very monster they’re trying to destroy.”
Individual lifestyle changes, “becoming the change we want to see,” even on a fairly large scale, is another non-solution, Corske says, because “it will hardly inspire those in power to abandon their authority and privilege.” Corske doesn’t believe in any of the “popular doctrines that claim we’re on the brink of a ‘great transformation’ as humanity ‘shifts’ to a ‘higher stage of spiritual evolution,’” either, describing them as magical thinking similar to the belief held by some Christians that “the end time is near, with the final battle of Armageddon leading to the triumphant return of Christ and everlasting life in the New Jerusalem.” Corske says that if he “were designing a doctrine of thought-control to stabilize the status quo,” he “couldn’t do better than these ideas…In view of the long and bitter struggles that have been necessary to win even small changes in the past, the greatest change in history will surely require a great struggle.”
So what can we do? “On the level of individual action, there is personal agitation and education – talking about our problems, referring people to important sources of information and analysis, and urging them to take action.” Corske also believes in the power of marches and demonstrations, since “those in power are placing increasingly oppressive restrictions against them,” and since they represent “far larger numbers that share their feelings and convictions.” He says that actions of civil disobedience, individual or collective, can also have “powerful effects, as in the US civil rights movement or the movement to liberate India from British rule. Among other forms of civil disobedience are individuals refusing to serve in the military, and military or other government personnel who refuse to follow orders, including officials who defy orders to withhold important information from the public.”
Boycotts, tax resistance, and industrial strikes can also be “extremely powerful. Corporate interests have sought to neutralize strikes by creating large, politically corrupt unions, and by banning the most powerful forms of strikes, such as sit-down strikes. Taking industrial actions in defiance of the law is a superb example of civil disobedience, and there are signs that a new labor movement is forming today, especially outside the United States. Grassroots organizing to form new independent unions has great potential.”
Corske even believes political parties have possibilities for effective organized action, despite the fact that the “entire political apparatus in the United States is designed for the exclusive operation of the two corporate parties.” Also, “compared with other forms of action, political parties suffer from needing to operate in an existing system of power.” Still, they might “accomplish certain specific reforms. Another possibility is religious movements…What if respectable religious leaders passed a moral judgment on Domination similar to mine?”
Corske’s final idea for action is an “uprising – large numbers of people taking action to protest some condition or to control some aspect of their lives, such as local land use. Such actions are likely to be violently suppressed, but as a dramatic and dangerous form of civil disobedience, they might play an important role among other actions.”
Corske admits that “with the possible exception of industrial strikes and mass uprisings, none of these modes of action alone would profoundly challenge Domination. But working together, with a common understanding that the problem is Domination itself, they could…We can only oppose hierarchical power by organizing from the community up, forming groups of dedicated [people who work to address specific problems. Such groups need no internal hierarchy. Indeed, an egalitarian and decentralized form of organization proves far more versatile and resilient than authoritarian and centralized ones. On a foundation of local groups addressing specific local problems, powerful coalitions can be built. No matter what problems are at hand, the very act or organizing brings human action to a new level of power. It must be our foremost priority.” Corske advises that we keep organizations as localized and informal as possible, striving for a large number of small organizations rather than fewer larger ones. “Many small groups can easily join in common actions.
Unless a sufficient number of people are sufficiently determined to risk their own well-being and even their lives to challenge Domination, little is likely to be accomplished.” It’s impossible to know what number of people will be sufficient, but “nothing less than total determination” will suffice. “Violence is virtually certain to be involved in the struggle to abolish Domination,” because that’s how it operates, and Corske says violent action in self-defense is justified as long as it would truly accomplish that purpose. On the other hand, “armed revolt and assassination or other violence against ruling elites is self-defeating and extremely difficult under modern security techniques. Acts of violence against the rulers would do nothing but greatly increase Domination.
“What about violence against property – against the hardware of Domination? The hardware of the military is almost invincibly defended, but violence against the industrial infrastructure upon which Domination depends would be self-defense, considering today’s disastrous rate of ecological destruction of the habitat upon which we depend for everything. Billions of people depend on the industrial system for life-support, so this could involve all of them starving,” but Corske believes this would still be justified, as the action would “leave a less ravaged world for the survivors.” Besides, if not stopped, the industrial system will kill us all in the long run. Still, Corske doubts that irreparable damage to the system is possible. He says it’s “likely that it would shatter into many smaller engines, some of them with the potential to grow back to planet-threatening scales. In that case, the sabotage would at best have won a temporary reprieve for the habitat, at the expense of mass human suffering and death. Further, direct assaults against the industrial system would cause greatly increased oppression, up to a police state under martial law.” Corske believes the “new US policy of extralegal detention and torture is partly intended to intimidate ‘ecoterrorists’ from taking such actions.” He concludes that “the damage caused by sabotage would be limited, while the costs in oppression would be overwhelming.”
The military and police threat (hard subjugation) against us is formidable, but Corske reminds us that it “depends on an intact command structure within each military organization. If these organizations were turned against the general population with too much brutality,” he thinks “it would be hard to keep the ranks in order.”
In order to deal with our isolation and economic dependence on the system, we can form voluntary communities practicing mutual aid that will also serve as a model for the kind of society we desire. Another asset we have is “the internet and other electronic media, including community radio and television.
“Those who created Domination acted to sustain and refine the engine by specific actions suitable to their place and time. We must do the same to reduce and abolish Domination in ways that suit our place and time. By sustaining this effort – certainly over decades or generations, possibly over centuries – we may accomplish what seems impossible or unimaginable today. The most important long-term goal is to keep our own position clearly in mind, to remember that Domination as such must be abolished, no matter what specific form of it we’re presently trying to oppose. An artist who waits for inspiration may accomplish little, but one who goes to work without inspiration often finds it in the work itself. We can’t wait to challenge Domination until we find a brilliant solution to the problem; we’ll only find it in our efforts to solve the problem. In the same way, we mustn’t hope to find a ‘master plan’” that would involve dictating our ideas to others. “The ruling elites amount to only a few percent of the population – we overwhelmingly outnumber them. And the Rule of Good Faith” means that even members of the elite will ‘see the light’ “as Domination causes greater and greater destruction and as growing opposition movements challenge it.”
Corske believes “we have one final asset, one that goes even deeper than human nature.” He has “faith in the universe, in the miraculous creativity of life,” which he believes is “on our side.”
The other thing that will give our movements strength is “solidarity,” which he defines as “mutual aid,” the belief that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” He believes “the engine” could be shut down without violence by a global general strike, in which workers “organize life support for those in their local communities. The demand of the strike would be for the rulers to relinquish power,” so that society can be “reorganized under popular control. Another way Domination could be shut down without violence “is much simpler and even less likely: if those in power choose to do so.” This would probably start as a reform movement: making concessions in order to retain some power and privilege rather than risk losing it all. The rulers might start by demilitarizing economies, then make an international organization like the United Nations “genuinely democratic, with not only all nations but also the people of those nations directly represented. This organization could oversee the end of military conflict, enacting binding treaties and strictly supervised global disarmament. Nation states could be decentralized and reconstituted as genuine democracies.
Then the former rulers could create a world commonwealth, redistributing global wealth to everyone, beginning with those in the greatest need. Landholding by force of arms would be replaced by local landholdings under community control. Through organizations resembling credit unions and cooperatives, giant corporations could devolve into a multitude of small community businesses. In particular, the corporations involved in thought-control could be returned to their legitimate functions of education and information. The great wealth in industrial infrastructure could be put under worker control.”
A more realistic possibility, Corske admits, would be a process of continuous reforms until Domination is no more. “The fact that reforms can be used to buy off some of the opposition at least temporarily is no reason not to pursue them.”
Corske goes on to suggest that we consider the necessary components of Domination and look for ways to weaken or eliminate them. He believes that since “thought-control is the greatest vulnerability of modern Domination, action against it is the most promising.” Corske further states that “by the Rule of Good Faith, if large enough numbers of US citizens understood the US system of Domination, there would be a revolution.” I don’t believe this is certain. First of all, I think a lot of people realize that they’re being dominated and that the system is stacked against them, but they feel powerless to do anything about it. Secondly, some groups and individuals feel oppressed and act based on an incorrect or incomplete analysis of the system. For example, there are groups that refuse to accept the legitimacy of the federal government, but cling steadfastly to ideas of capitalism and private property.
Corske suggests that we speak our minds in public as much as possible and form study groups to “share experiences and insights. Any ideas that are different from” the Domination party line will do, “because it’s the action of thinking differently that accomplishes the liberation.” If soft subjugation stops working, “those in power might resort to increased oppression, as they’ve often done to silence dissent in times of war. Yet this could lead to a backlash that might prove fatal.” Corske believes hard subjugation is impossible “at the scale of modern societies” – I think he might be overly optimistic on this.
“Since landholding by force of arms is the fundamental component of Domination, it will be the most difficult institution to reduce and abolish. Democratic land-control must return industrially-occupied lands to the service of human well-being. As communities increase their control over their lands, they’ll take their life-support back into their own hands, and greatly reduce the stranglehold of Domination over their lives. Land use for profit must be subordinated to land use for life-support and human well-being and ultimately abolished.
Abolishing Domination would simply mean a world of peaceful voluntary communities dedicated to human well-being and thriving in harmony with the habitat: the goal of anarchism. Contrary to the common definition, anarchism doesn’t oppose all forms of government. It opposes the state, in the form of armed central authority. It opposes power and privilege, hierarchic social organization, all forms of forced labor, and other involuntary human relations. It opposes all forms of institutional violence, above all war. If government means the institutions that maintain peace and order within and among communities, armed central authority is arguably the worst form of it. Anarchism holds that peace and order are best achieved by purely voluntary human relations.
Anarchists believe that peaceful voluntary community is not only possible, but the natural way for our kind. They believe that if armed central authority is reduced and ultimately abolished, we can create a world that achieves the greatest possible well-being for everyone. Since communities were mostly peaceful, voluntary, and egalitarian until 6,000 years ago, anarchism is hardly a new idea: it’s the way of life in which our ancestors thrived through all the ages before Domination began.
What would an anarchist world look like? How would it work? That’s for the people of the world to decide. There can be no ‘anarchist’ blueprint for an ideal society. In the extensive anarchist literature, many different ideas have been proposed, from the union-based agricultural and industrial system of anarcho-syndicalism to the ‘re-wilding’ of the anarcho-primitivists. Yet no true anarchist believes that his or her ideas should be imposed on others by force. I have no proposals of my own. My dearest hope is that future generations will inherit a world in which they are free to decide for themselves what kinds of communities best fit their needs.
All of the various anarchist ideas for a better society share a faith in the creativity, intelligence, and goodwill of common people, a faith that mutual aid is the foundation of human community. Mutual aid works to provide the birthrights of sustenance, shelter, and dignity. To the extent that we reduce Domination, political power of any kind will become obsolete – including democracy. Voluntary human relations are the opposite of power relations. In a world free of Domination, democracy would become nothing more than a method of cooperative decision-making.
Domination has created mythic powers of destruction. The mythic power of people emerges not in individuals, but in organized groups. Exactly such groups of people created Domination 6,000 years ago, and have overseen its operation ever since, often working at cross-purposes, but struggling toward the common goal of remaining in power. If ruthless men like these – men who don’t hesitate to commit mass murder – can overcome their differences and keep working together, despite constant resistance and continued setbacks, how much more can people of goodwill accomplish?”
We must not accept our domestication – accepting captivity and believing that continuing to live under the yoke of Domination is our inevitable lot. “We must organize and work together to build the spirit of resistance. As we share our thoughts with one another, our fears and our hopes, as we act together in whatever ways we can to make a better world, we will find the strength and inspiration to carry on. Six thousand years of power and privilege, violence and chaos, is long enough. It’s time for something better.
According to Richard Heinberg’s latest article, “The Gross Society” (4-28-14), oil companies have given up on discovering new deposits of conventional oil, the fuel that’s powered our “way of life” for almost 200 years. Almost all new “oil” production is deepwater or shale oil or bitumen from Canadian tar sands. These resources are more expensive to produce, and give us less bang for the buck than conventional oil.
Not surprisingly, oil prices are rising and, as a result, demand is 20% what it would have been had everything stayed the same since the halcyon days of the 1950s or ‘60s. Bill McKibben says that in order to address climate change we need to allow the price of oil to reflect the true costs of its usage. European governments are closer to this than ours is, but a move in this direction would be way too unpopular for any US government to make.
Heinberg’s main concern is dealing with “energy descent,” the increasing unavailability of the kind of energy we’re used to at reasonable prices, and the fact that “there is virtually no discussion occurring among officials about the larger economic implications of declining energy returns on investment. Indeed, rather than soberly assessing the situation and its imminent economic challenges, our policy makers are stuck in a state of public relations-induced euphoria, high on temporarily spiking gross US oil and gas production numbers.
The obvious solution to declining fossil fuel returns on investment is to transition to alternative energy sources as quickly as possible. But from an energy accounting point of view, this may not offer much help. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind have characteristics very different from those of fossil fuels: the former are intermittent, while the latter are available on demand. Solar and wind can’t affordably power airliners or 18-wheel trucks. Moreover, many renewable energy sources have a relatively low energy profit ratio.”
So, what’s going to happen? Whether planned or not (and the latter looks most likely), we’re soon going to be living in what Heinberg calls a “leaner” society, one in which there will be a greater requirement for human labor and the skills of our great-great-grandparents. Society, Heinberg says, will be “able to support relatively few specialists in other activities.” We’ll be using some renewable energy sources, but they won’t be powering “a rerun of Dallas. This will be a simpler, slower, and poorer economy.
If our economy runs on energy, and our energy prospects are gloomy, how is it that the economy is recovering? The simplest answer is, it’s not,” Heinberg says, “except as measured by a few misleading gross statistics. Each month the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases figures for new jobs created, and the numbers look relatively good at first glance (175,000 net new jobs for February 2014). But most of these new jobs pay less than jobs that were lost in recent years. And unemployment statistics don’t include people who’ve given up looking for work. Labor force participation rates are at the lowest level in 35 years. All told, according to a recent Gallup poll, more Americans say they are worse off today than they were a year ago (as opposed to those who say their situation has improved).
Claims of economic recovery fixate primarily on one number: Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. That number is going up, albeit at an anemic pace in comparison with rates common in the 20th century; hence, the economy is said to be growing.” But a higher GDP can reflect lots of things, like increased military spending or higher healthcare costs, “that don’t actually improve people’s lives.” It also means increased burning of fossil fuels and worsening climate change. “Altogether, Gross Domestic Product does a really bad job of capturing how our economy is doing on a net basis.
Second, a growing money supply (which is implied by GDP growth) depends on the expansion of credit – increasing levels of outstanding debt, and there are limits to a country’s ability to perpetually grow GDP by increasing its total debt (government plus private). A warning sign that these limits are being reached would be a trend toward diminishing GDP returns on each new unit of credit created, exactly what we’ve been seeing in the US in recent years. Back in the 1960s, each dollar of increase in total US debt was reflected in nearly a dollar of rise in GDP. By 2000, each new dollar of debt corresponded with only 20 cents worth of GDP growth. The trend line will reach zero in 2016.
Meanwhile, since rates of consumer borrowing have been stuck in neutral since the start of the Great Recession, to keep total debt growing and the economy expanding, if only statistically, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low by creating up to $85 billion per month through a mere adjustment of its ledgers, using the money to buy Treasury bills (US government debt) from Wall Street banks. When interest rates are low, people find it easier to buy houses and cars (hence the recent rise in house prices and the auto industry’s rebound); it also makes it cheaper for the government to borrow. The Fed’s Quantitative Easing (QE) program props up the banks, the auto companies, the housing market, and the Treasury. But, with overall consumer spending still anemic, the trillions of dollars the Fed has created have generally not been loaned out to households and small businesses; instead, they’ve just accumulated in the big banks. This is money constantly prowling for significant financial returns, nearly all of which go to the one percenters. Fed policy has thus generated a stock market bubble, as well as a bubble of investments in emerging markets, and these can only continue to inflate for as long as QE persists.
The obvious way to keep these bubbles from growing and eventually bursting (with attendant financial toxicity spilling over into the rest of the economy) is to stop QE. But doing that will undermine the ‘recovery,’ such as it is, perhaps sending the economy into depression. The Fed’s solution to this damned if you do, damned if you don’t quandary is to ‘taper’ QE, reducing it gradually over time. This doesn’t solve anything; it’s just a way to delay and pretend.
Cheap, high-energy-returned-on-energy-invested energy and genuine economic growth are disappearing,” and we’re refusing to face these facts and adapt to “our new reality. We teach our kids to operate machines so sophisticated that almost no one can build one from scratch, but not how to cook, sew, repair broken tools, or grow food.
What would the world look and feel like if we deliberately and intelligently nudged the brakes on material consumption, reduced our energy throughput, and re-learned some general skills? You don’t have to move to an ecovillage to join in the fun; there are thousands of Transition initiatives worldwide running essentially the same experiment in ordinary towns and cities, just not so intensively. Take a look at http://www.Resilience.org to see reports on these experiments and tips on what you can do to adapt more successfully to our new economic reality.
These efforts are self-organized and -directed, not funded or overseen by government, which is not likely to be of much help in present circumstances. Even a little large-scale planning and support would help, and without it the transition will be more chaotic than necessary and a lot of people will be hurt needlessly.” But, Heinberg says, our political system is “broken.” I’d say totally in bed with the corporations more concerned with squeezing the last morsels of profit out of a dying system than facing and dealing with reality. But that’s the nature of the corporate beast.
“When it comes to energy,” Heinberg concludes, “we’ve deluded ourselves into believing that gross is the same as net. In the early days of fossil fuels, it very nearly was. But now we have to go back to thinking the way people did when energy profit margins were smaller. We must learn to operate within budgets and limits. This means decentralization, simplification, and localization. Becoming less reliant on long-term debt, paying as we go. It means living closer to the ground, learning general skills, and becoming involved in basic productive activities like growing food.
We can make this transition successfully, if not happily, if enough of us embrace Lean Society thinking and habits. But things likely won’t go well at all if we continue to hide reality from ourselves with gross numbers that delay our adaptation to accelerating, inevitable trends.”