We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore LappĆ©, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Two articles written by highly educated scholars illustrates the power of capitalist ideology

by Ron Horn for this blog. (Some revisions to add clarity were made at 5 PM Seattle time.)

I perused two articles this morning that pushed my emotional buttons because they were written by highly educated people that reflects much of what passes as advanced intellectual thinking about two primary problems tormenting most of mankind today--1) wars, acts of violence, terrorism, etc and 2) the relatively imminent prospect of catastrophic climate destabilization (often benignly labeled as "climate change"). Related to number one was an article entitled "The Psychology of Ideology and Religion" by Robert J. Burrowes, and number two was illustrated by "The Guaranteed Ending?" by Guy McPherson.

What I will attempt to do this morning in the time remaining is to argue that both articles are illustrative of the incredible power that capitalist ideologues have. I don't have the time to speculate very much on how they exercise this power, but will concentrate on the fact that they are able to influence the minds of highly educated people so that their views are diverted away from any criticism of the capitalist system and by extension from any class-structured social system.

In the first article Burrowes essentially argues that adults are responsible for instilling fear in children that not only produces violence-prone behaviors when they reach adulthood, but also prevents them from developing any kind of critical judgement about their beliefs. Children are seen as innocent victims of adult behavior. Thus adults are evil-doers! That's it!

In the second article McPherson provides a concise summary of his concern about catastrophic climate destabilization. I don't dispute the facts supporting his concern that climate destabilization is going to result in the extinction of humans--indeed, I agree. What I see as a major flaw in his argument is that he attributes the cause of the profligate use of fossil fuels and other environmental disasters to industrial civilization or simply civilization. The core meaning of the word civilization is human knowledge about the world in which we live. McPherson argues that if we had not entered the civilization phase of our existence, we humans would be just fine. If we had remained stupid and only able to survive tenuously in rather primitive circumstances, we would be alright today.

Both of these highly educated people abort any reasonable effort to go beyond these rather superficial analyses to find real causes of the problems they are addressing. Both argue what looks like a more sophisticated version of the biblical "original sin", specifically the sin of disobedience in consuming from the tree of knowledge.

Anthropological knowledge has revealed that although the difficulties seem to have paralleled the rise of civilizations, they more specifically had to do with the rise of class-based societies in which a ruling (or more powerful) class of people appropriated disproportionately more of the wealth of societies. Such classes originally were created through violence of the stronger over the weaker, but soon ideologies (including religions) rationalized and justified such class structured societies so that people soon passively accepted social injustice and inequality. This caused problems expressed in article number one. The second problems that McPherson addressed came later with the rise of industrialism in the class structured (capitalist) societies with the discoveries in technology related to cheap and abundant fossil fuels.

What I object to with both positions argued by these two highly educated people is their reluctance to go beyond what is essentially a position taken several thousand years ago--the concept of original sin--even though they dress up their arguments with more sophisticated terminology. I do not think this is an indication of a deficiency of intellect, but the influence of capitalist ideology which discourages in a variety of ways any examination of their system or of any class-based system. 

Knowledge seeking is a primary characteristic of human nature. Ruling classes want to have a monopoly of knowledge to preserve their power, therefore they want the classes of people they dominate to remain in ignorance. It is imperative that we of the subjugated classes should use the knowledge humans have gained over the last 2500 years or more to properly diagnose the major problems of violence and catastrophic climate destabilization that we see today. Such knowledge points directly at class-structured societies. 

Thus a solution according to our human natures lies in overthrowing our ruling classes and creating societies that insure equality. Yes, catastrophic climate destabilization will likely happen anyway along with the extinction of humans, but I and most others as politically aware human beings, with a human sense of justice, with a human sense of fairness, insist on pursuing this course anyway to the last gasp of our existence.


  1. Absolutely correct and perceptive analysis. I think though there is another cause for these writers' flawed analysis: tunnel vision--which is also a deliberte accomplishment of hierarchical society.

  2. I totally agree. And this gets back to my point about the power of capitalist ideology which I don't think I made clear. Because these two highly educated (or one might argue "trained") individuals, their narrow education was heavily influenced by capitalist ideologues who insured that they would never be exposed to the long history of class conflict. The result was their tunnel vision.


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