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Book Review: A Users Guide to the Crisis of Civilization and How to Save It. By Nafeez Ahmed.

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This is a VERY insightful book. Though not always an easy read, the effort will be well worth it.

Much of the book consists of a sequential assessment of six existential global crises facing humanity in this century. These crises are placed in a systematic, global context in which each crisis variable affects all of the others.

These crisis variables are: 1) climate change; 2) energy scarcity; 3) food insecurity; 4) economic instability; 5) international terrorism; 6) militarization of domestic and foreign policy in the US and other powerful nations. Variables 5 and 6 above are responses to items 1-4. Crises of climate, energy, food and the economy, lead to resistance (variable #5 above) on the part of exploited populations. This resistance leads, in turn, to repression (variable # 6). These crises, and their analysis from a systemic context, taken sequentially, comprise the initial six chapters of the book.

Two other variables are considered at shorter length. These are demography (population growth, location of population growth, effects of non-uniform population growth) and epidemiology particularly the emergence of new, virulent diseases.

Relating each of these variables into a coherent whole is accomplished by means of using a type of systems theoretical approach derived from neo-Marxism: World Systems Theory . The author's development of this approach is his own and is not dogmatic. Readers might remember that while history has shown Marx's ideas to be severely deficient with respect to organizing a society, it has also shown these ideas to represent arguably, the most prescient critique of capitalism as an organized political and economic system ever conceived. Further, an explicit neo-Marxist approach is not really even required to understand the essence of Dr. Ahmed's argument. I would parse it as follows:

Our world political economy is organized along the lines of neo-liberal finance capitalism. This entails that corporate profit maximization is the fundamental organizing principle of our global political economy. All human and material variables are subject to the logic of this organizational system.

Accordingly, the physical world--both living and non-living equally, is simply an inexhaustible source of raw materials, while also serving as an infinite sink for dumping industrial wastes. Human beings, human nature itself are wholly material commodities. The maximum human "good" is therefore maximization of consumption.

The inner logic of neoliberal finance capitalism is thus the commodification of everything in the context of a market economy in which those who control wealth also exercise oligarchic control over the rules according to which the economy functions. The inescapable logic of profit maximization requires endless economic expansion. This expansion has been underway for centuries. However, it is now confronting absolute limits due to impending decline or exhaustion of material and energy resources, the carrying capacity of the Earth's biosphere, and on the spiritual, economic, and material stresses which its animating system imposes upon humanity.

The hard wired logic of this system makes it a juggernaut leading humanity, at an ever accelerating pace, to its utter doom. Essentially the animating system of our world is utterly incompatible with reality over the long term. While it can produce benefits for some, for a period of time, it leads inexorably to global collapse over a longer term. That time is fast approaching.

Key insights are that all of the various crises facing humanity spring from a single cause. Piecemeal or ad hoc attempts to deal with one of more of these crises without addressing their fundamental cause are less than useless--they waste time and resources without any possibility of success. It then follows logically from this realization that truly effective change must involve replacing neoliberal finance capitalism as the organizing principle for humanity. Nothing less than this total change in our planetary political economy can produce meaningful results.

Armed with this understanding Dr. Ahmed analyzes the inner logic of this peculiar form of capitalism (it is by no means the only variant of capitalism possible) in very great detail in his seventh chapter entitled: "Diagnosis--Interrogating the Global Political Economy."

I found this chapter to be brilliant. Up until this point, I had wondered whether the author would be able to make a fundamentally new contribution to this discussion. Many people, Mike Ruppert, John Michael Greer, Carolyn Baker, James Howard Kunstler, even myself, have already weighed in substantively concerning some or all of the topics discussed herein. I should note however, that any reader who is not well versed in these issue areas will find this portion of the book to be a fine introduction to them.

From my perspective at least, it is in this seventh chapter in which the author really adds new insights to the global crises conversation. This insightful chapter, while information rich, is written so that any reasonably intelligent, motivated reader can understand it.

I found it to be personally, very educational, as well as enlightening. By carefully unveiling the core nature of our animating system, it is possible to both understand why such a system cannot be "fixed" as well as to begin to grasp the outlines for the system which must replace it. I strongly recommend careful reading of this chapter. In fact, I recommend buying this book because of the chapter. Read it carefully and learn.

The final chapter in the book consists of suggestions for the "Post Carbon Revolution and the Renewal of Civilization." Here, in addition to the usual ideas often offered: localized production of renewable energy, localization in general, subsidiarity (government decision-making at the lowest possible level), the author really focuses on specific ideas to make money work in favor of advancing sustainable civilization rather than destroying it as is presently the case.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As to critiques of it, my main criticism is the apparent unfounded, or at least unsubstantiated, optimism of the author regarding humanity's future prospects. On multiple occasions I suddenly found assertions such as this one: "By the mid-twenty-first century, as global crises and hydrocarbon energy scarcity erode the capacity of states to sustain industrial methods of "total war', those states will find it increasingly difficult to maintain their monopoly of the means of military violence. While this implies a possible proliferation of so called "low intensity' conflicts and even de-industrialized methods of warfare, it also suggests an eventual end to mass casualties from interstate war, and greater opportunities for communities to join together in transnational bonds of peace." (P. 237). Further at the end of his 3rd chapter "Food Insecurity" the author seems to imply that given some other organizing principle for the world political economy human populations of 9, 10, even 11 billion could be sustainable (see pages 105-106)! Throughout the book I found statements similar to this one: "By the mid-twenty-first century, as global crises render existing national and international political-economic structures increasingly irrelevant, such alternative structures will become more, rather than less, viable as part of an emerging post-carbon civilization." (P. 256).

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Michael P Byron is the author of The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow: Your Guide to Personal Survival and Spiritual Transformation in a World Gone Mad. This book is a manual for taking effective action to deal with the crises of our age including (more...)
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