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The Exodus from the Mega-Machine

by Fabian Scheidler Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 at 10:57 PM

His book "The End of the Mega-Machine. History of a Failed Civilization" explores the origins of economic power. For 40 years, the global economy has headed into a structural crisis. This crisis is hidden by growing indebtedness.


By Fabian Scheidler

[This article published on 5/19/2016 is translated from the German on the Internet, Fabian Scheidler studied history and philosophy at the Free University of Berlin and theater direction in Frankfurt. With David Goessmann, he jointly founded the independent television magazine Kontext TV. In this interview, he discusses his book "The End of the Mega-Machine. History of a Failed Civilization: that explores the origins of economic power.]

What motivated you to write "The End of the Mega-Machine"?

"The End of the Mega-Machine" tries to explain very complex historical connections excitingly.

Didn't many make that attempt before you?

I wanted to narrate history differently and from the viewpoint of majorities who suffered under all these developments, not from the view of the victors or winners, from the perspective of that 20% of the world's population that profit from the system. The term mega-machine is a metaphor for a system that arose 500 years ago in Europe and has not struck its limits. For forty years, the global economy has headed into a structural crisis that cannot be explained with the usual economic cycles.

This crisis is hidden by growing indebtedness and offers fewer and fewer persons a secure livelihood. 200 businesses command 25% of the world's social product while only 0.75% of the world population. The gulf between poor and rich has grown in nearly all countries of the earth. This leads to social, political and economic crises. The second limit lies in the biosphere of our planet which is already wounded or even destroyed in large part. The combination of these limits leads us into a long-term phase of systemic upheavals with an uncertain ending. The mega-machine is not the first system that failed but the largest, most complex and most dangerous.

"The End of the Mega-Machine" is a pessimistic book – at least until page 205.

I am not optimistic but also am not completely pessimistic. The danger is great that we will wind up with new authoritarian conditions. In the last chapter of the book, I also sketch initiatives of hope, resistance and practical reason that oppose the destructive force of endless accumulation. These islands must grow if we are to have a chance.

Can you describe this mosaic?

At the end of the last century, many understood building vertical structures do not help. Command socialism also showed this. Inspired by the Zapatistas, the anti-globalization movement then attempted to build horizontal structures, a mosaic of different movements that act together. I believe the emancipating potential is great. Platforms, where the different movements can ally, are lacking. The European Social Forum could not fulfill this role in Europe. Thus, we need something different and time is scarce…

This sounds like an absurd race. But everything involving plurality needs much time. Dictatorship is a much simpler form of government that can be created quickly and efficiently.

My hope is nourished by the existing diversity. However, I also believe we cannot escape certain chaos or chaotic situation. The idea of a planned, orderly social-ecological transformation is beautiful but doesn't seem to function. The ruling elites are ready to defend their privileges and riches with every greater vengeance. Thus, life will become more chaotic and combative.

The past 500 years described in your book were marked by a gigantic militarization. Weapons and the military have been in the hands of the ruling elites since time immemorial

Worldwide more than .7 trillion is spent annually for the military. The modern surveillance systems offer everything needed for a turn-key totalitarian state, as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange rightly warned. This is a tremendous challenge since every idea of social transformation must grapple with this world bristling with armaments. Therefore, a de-militarization of society is central. We could begin immediately in Germany, the third-largest armament exporter of the world.

You say, recalling history is always helpful.

We should recall the positive achievements of the last decades and centuries were only gained through hard struggle. Nothing was peacefully surrendered. But chaos need not unconditionally be accompanied by force. Many revolutions in history involved state bankruptcies that opened a window for change. Such situations can also be used positively when social movements are ready and ideas and organizations exist. If not, the ruling elites use the crises to their favor for shock therapy.

In your book, you speak of the four tyrannies that have ultimately led to a system that could destroy life on earth and not only itself.

We often see physical power in the form of the force of arms as in the militarized state. We witness structural force in the form of economic power, for example through the property and social relations. The ideological power, money systems, and debts can be traced from the domination of scripture to the control of modern mass media. This power helps legitimate or even make invisible the other two powers.

Those are three tyrannies.

The fourth arises out of these three. This is the tyranny of linear thinking based on the assumption that this world acts according to calculable laws of cause and effect and is controllable.

That sounds illogical but somehow desirably simple.

Linear thinking is very useful in a world of inanimate matter as in classical mechanics. But the devastation is left behind on our planet if this is applied to living systems. Still, there have long been important initiatives for another understanding of technology that emphasizes cooperation with nature instead of control and domination.

One of the most optimistic chapters of your book is titled "The search for genuine democracy" but only fills two pages.

First of all, the book is a historical analysis of how we came to our present point. I regard going beyond representative democracy – without abandoning it – as necessary and possible. The established parties are not able to raise systemic questions, let alone answer them. These parties have lost considerable credibility.

Therefore, building democracy anew from below and pressing big politics to systemic change is important. They cannot introduce change themselves. The nuclear exit is an example of how we could do this. What we need is an exit from the mega-machine while it still runs. This also means another type of economics that is obliged to the public interest and not to profit.

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