The end of all flesh is come before us, but we are too caught up in our greed to see what’s in front of our face. Look on the dead earth. This is our work, this is what our hands have made, and we find it all very good. But a dark time is on the way. We can see it close at hand. But we have to shut our eyes to it, since we don’t care to stop it, as we trust that it won’t come till we are gone. Our avarice is preparing for us a humane and prosaic armageddon.
We measure our own power and influence by how heavily we press on the earth and by how much room we take up in it. We don’t want to touch the ground lightly, we want to make it feel our full weight. We are proud that we can force it to yield so pliably to our brutal manipulation.
Conscious life is perhaps the universe’s grand mistake. So it has raised us up to blot it out. The appalled earth will make use of our meddling kind as the engine to unload it of its freight of misery. This planet won’t be glad and light again, till it has been disburdened of our desperate and oppressive band. Is the peaceful moon mocking the earth for having to tote such a weight of heaving wretchedness? If we have a purpose on this orb, it must be to wreck it. Our species will stay on it just long enough to wipe all the rest off it. We will leave it denatured, sanitized, deodorized and disinfected. God the destroyer has commissioned us to crown his work by restoring the earth to its pristine lifelessness or at least to a festering clod crawling with eyeless grubs and maggots.
Climate change will act like chemotherapy on our cancerous species, but not till it has killed off the body that sustains us.
The world is overpopulated with other people’s children.
Having rendered this accursed orb uninhabitable, we now dream of abandoning it and infecting the rest of the solar system with our taint. Once we have turned this Eden to a garbage dump, we will quit it to found our paradise among the stars.
Having wrecked this planet by colonizing every corner of it, we plan to save our rapacious species by colonizing the galaxy.
We all now spin like tops, knowing that if we slowed down, we would totter and fall. The earth can’t be saved, since we can be coaxed to do better but not to do less. And there’s no money to be made from persuading people to stay put and be content with what they’ve got. We would rather do anything at all than do nothing, and we would rather run mad than slow down. ‘If a soldier or labourer complains of working too hard,’ Pascal proposed, ‘try giving them nothing to do.’
It’s our resilience that has made the earth so fragile. Nothing can kill us, and so we are bound to kill it.
We are willing to squander our lives but not to scant our fidgeting desires. Each generation will grow more predatory, more restless and more distracted than the last, more rootless and more plugged-in, more solipsistic and more connected, more helpless to quash the giddy wishes that will wreck it, too weak to save itself, and not worth saving.
We are now recreating the plentiful land in our own worst likeness, flat, wasted, withered, sere and stunted. We will soon have made it as ugly as our heart’s desire.
The world was made for us. So we must have the right to smash it so as to snatch the small shard of it that we want. This earth, pure and unprotected, is just the quarry to tantalize our bullying greed. But as Faulkner prophesied, ‘The people who have destroyed it will accomplish its revenge.’ We have shown the land no justice. So it will soon show us no mercy. It will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of us who hate it.
We are genially reducing the earth to a vast labour camp and a vast death camp. We cram it with breeds that live and die for us, while fecklessly extirpating the rest. We hold out to the beasts an unenviable choice, feed us, amuse us, or die. But we will pamper the tame remnant in zoos and kennels as our near equals, once we have rid the world of all the untamable ones. We love wild nature, now that it has been domesticated or exterminated.
For all our prudence, we will lose everything. For all our greed, we will end up with nothing. For all our wiliness, we will be duped by our own shallow desires. For all our dexterity, we won’t solve a single one of our problems. For all our enlightenment, we will plunge the earth into darkness. For all our generosity, we will leave nothing for those who come after us. For all our creativity, we will wipe out the whole of creation.
Nature is now just one of the synthesized fictions which we are fond of consuming.
The wild beasts were a benediction to us, and we have been nothing but a scourge to them.
We might not quite succeed in emptying the globe of all life, but we will at least fill it with the worst sort. Having killed off all the wolves and lions, our fate is to be devoured by vermin.
Our war on nature has entered its triumphal phase. All that remains is to mop up the bedraggled residue.
We will devour all that’s fresh in our rage to feed fat our stale desires.
What hope could there be for us, when we have to look for our rescue to the very powers that have brought us to this brink, freedom, democracy and technology?
We don’t know what we want, but we will despoil the dappled world to grab as much of it as we can. Our schemes are as mean as they are peremptory and rapacious. For such small bait we will chew up the multitudinous world. We harpoon great whales, to whittle their bones to make walking sticks.
From now on the end of the world must be the starting point of all our thinking. But this is the one theme that no one can bear to think of.
1 Greedy apocalypse
The all-consuming gods of silver and gold are now unifying the globe in their frantic worship. The human race claims to be the gardener, but it is the locusts come to devour the garden. We do homage to earth’s maker by ravaging what he has made. ‘The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness, yea, and nothing shall escape them.’ Our mean desires will soon drain the broad earth of its unfailing bounty, like a swarm of ants on the carcass of some great bull.
The law of nature is growth, but we will wear out nature because we have found an unnatural means to an unnatural form of growth.
We have to keep growing richer, so that we can pay to repair the earth which we have wrecked to grow so rich.
Our greed for more and more life will soon make an end of all life. Our age of barren affluence will soon give place to a far worse age of barren havoc. Our frantically life-affirming society will force a final ruin on the earth. It clings to life while hurtling on to an ecological collapse of its own making. It’s those who love life that will soon bring it to its unlovely end. We clench it so tightly that we are crushing it. We love this life that’s killing us, and we are killing this life that we love.
We have drawn fire down from heaven, and we will use it to burn up the earth. Our promethean greed will put out the stars, and poison the pure air.
We may prove too weak to resist our cravings, but we are bold enough to ransack the whole globe in our rage to feed them.
We are too greedy to stop and repair the ruin that our headlong greed will give rise to.
Having been so long oppressed by famine and scarcity, we are now merrily oppressing the rest of creation to snatch our brief day of plenty. The old dreams of abundance will soon come true as a nightmare of squalid planetary immiseration. We are entering on the golden age of Midas. Our lust for more will doom us to lose it all. We will stop at nothing to get all that we want. But how we will squeal when we soon get just what we deserve. Once we have gained the power to gratify our least whim, we will at last get exactly what we deserve.
In the past we used to be prey to the diseases of want, but from now on we will be prey to the diseases of affluence. We now lay out vast sums of money and ingenuity to treat illnesses for which there is no cure. But we are too lazy and self-indulgent to stay clear of the diseases that could so easily be avoided.
We all know that each of us has far more to gain from the individual greed which is sure to wreck the world than from the collective self-restraint which might save it.
Our innocent greed will soon eat up the innocent earth.
Having pillaged the planet so heedlessly, why would we deserve to live through its jaunty holocaust? We act like its spoilt brats, sulkily set on mangling it if it won’t disgorge all that we hunger for. We will wear out the old earth in our vain striving to slake our thirst for unstopping fun and novelty. This planet is our plaything. We will break it and scrap it and get a new one.
We prefer to be rich hirelings than poor and free. We refuse to submit to a voluntary poverty. So the maimed and broken earth will soon force us to submit to a compelled one. Our race will live on as a residue of harried scavengers, roaming in a vast red desert, preyed on by implacable nomadic bandits.
Millions have died to defend a false idea of their country. But we won’t moderate a single one of our sterile desires for the sake of conserving this common earth. We were always willing to kill foreign peoples to assert creeds that we didn’t quite believe in. Now we don’t scruple to kill the whole of creation to get things that we don’t even want.
We now feel sure that no cause is worth fighting for, but the least of our wants is worth ransacking the entire earth for. We have thrown off the baggage of beliefs in our sprint to get rich. Mass suffrage has taught us that where there is no vision the people flourish. The nations now toil so resolutely for their greed, that they have no vigour left to wage big wars. And they won’t resume, till their insatiability has sharked up all that is worth wrangling for, and has left nothing for them to loot. We’re yet to see how nice they will be to one another once their candy and toys have been torn from them. They may turn cannibal again, when they have chewed through the rest of their fodder.
Now that we are too prudent or too exhausted to put an end to ourselves by violence, we will use what’s left of our vitality to do it by our greed.
2 The rapacity of happiness
The pursuit of happiness is a fine pretext for the untrammelled indulgence of our greed.
The earth is dying, and we are having a high old time doing all the things that are killing it.
We subsist in a brief interim of frantic happiness between the end of universal misery and the dawn of universal destruction. We have had the best of it, and it has not been much good. Our prosperity has hoisted us an inch above the ground for a brief term. But its loss will bury us a mile below it for all time. We will presently be more forlorn than ever, ground between our ancient afflictions which we can’t evade and our gluttonous new appetites which we can’t resist or satisfy. We seek to cure our chronic woes, and so we turn them into acute and lethal ones. We will fall victim to the frenzied remedies that we take up to heal the wound of our being. Nothing now will change, and it will all keep on getting worse. Life will soon revert to a fevered gloom more black and miasmal than it’s ever been. We now fly so fast, we trust that we are approaching escape velocity from the miseries of the earth and time. But we will burst into flames and crash before we reach it.
The woes of our unblessed race have for so long weighed the earth down, now its convulsive gaiety is poised to burn it up. ‘And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.’ The earth has for millennia been sodden with our agony. Now we will scorch it to kindle the flame of our joy.
We, who can never find happiness, will badger the happy beasts to extinction in our vain hope to reach it one day. The earth, caked so thick with our misery, will soon smother all the more carefree kinds of life. We will snuff it all out to snatch a brief joy that we would not feel anyway. If life’s purpose is the pursuit of happiness, ought we not leave it to the animals? They are so much better at it than we are.
The long-suffering earth won’t last through a few more centuries of our scramble for happiness. The pursuit of the greatest happiness of the greatest number will inflict the greatest misery that the earth has ever had to bear. We seek the happiness of the greatest number, but only of that small class of beings who matter because they are the same kind of beings as us. It is a ruthless juggernaut that doesn’t care how much life it will crush under its adamantine wheels. It costs a ton of irreparable animal wretchedness to squeeze out one gram of our brief felicity. And it takes a system of global domination to make a local human emancipation. We are so eaten up by our discontent, that we have resort to a manic hilarity which will eat up all the world. Our fruitless search for merriment will ring in long ages of affliction. It will make a worldwide doom, to scrounge a brief luxuriance. ‘They joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.’ We won’t hesitate to put an end to the earth for all time, in our rage to snatch a mite more of what we will lose so soon. The last two hundred years have shown what small satisfaction we get from gaining the whole world. The next two hundred will prove how much it will grieve us to be reft of it. Our day of prosperity will cost the earth, and we won’t scruple to force it to pay the price. We will trash it to tighten our grip on a gladness which we would scarcely feel. Happiness is a mirage, but we will turn the lush earth to a desert in our fury to make it a reality. Our shiniest dreams will turn the earth to a shadow. We will never bring in the millennium, but we will incinerate all living things in the attempt. As Baudelaire wrote, ‘the cannon booms, limbs whizz hither and yon, one can hear the groans of the victims and the howls of those officiating at the sacrifice. It’s human kind in search of joy.’
We befoul the innocent air with the stinking discharge of our industrialized jollity. And now that we are cut off from our roots, why should we mind how we blight the soil?
We presume that nature has put in our hands the right to be happy, yet we callously gouge from it the mere right to live.
3 Justice and ecological collapse
The earth has more to fear from our good angels than from our bad ones. The more tame we grow to one another, the more savagely we hack and mangle the earth. Sinfulness hath slain its thousands, and good will slay its ten thousands. The world is in such a state, not because the few rogues stop at nothing to get what they want, but because the many good people do so.
We are so full of our own rectitude, that we will feel no guilt when we have emptied the earth of all living things.
We are the salt of the earth, and we now crust it so thickly, that it’s no wonder the ground will bear nothing.
We hope to get away with planetary murder. If we succeed, it will show that we are exceptions to nature’s laws, as we always thought. And if we fail, it will be one more proof that nature is unjust.
Our extermination of all living things won’t put the least dent in our moral self-satisfaction.
We preen ourselves on our nice distinctions of right and wrong, but they are nothing weighed against our brute physical impact. We fiddle with our fine moral discriminations, and meanwhile our material might goes on callously decimating the earth. The gross physical consequences of our acts will be of far greater moment than their exquisitely judged motives. It makes no difference now how well-intentioned our views might be. In the world market we are all mere consumers, and the righteous and the unrighteous together will soon have sucked the earth dry to its last morsel. Our race with its greeds and gods has dropped like a slow asteroid on this sad planet. This will be the sum of the moral significance of our incorrigibly moralizing breed. Our technological precocity has spread our sway over its face. But we grudgingly hug justice to our breasts, and refuse to extend it to the rest of creation, since it is too weak to wrest it from us. Our humane amelioration will merely screw up our mechanical preponderance to a more lethal pitch. And our evolved ethical codes will prove less effectual than the instincts of a parasite, which at least has the sense to preserve its host. We solemnly debate the duties that we owe to the animals, at the same time as our sheer numbers are shoving them off the edge of the earth. To confer rights on them would be to add insult to injury by pretending to make them part of the regime of liberal individualism which will soon do them to death. And how could we owe them a thing, when they don’t have the means to enforce our debts? Our love of right, by assuring us that we are superior to the rest of the beasts, will grant us a warrant to wipe them out.
What a profusion of physical inputs is required to keep a disembodied intelligence running. The future of humanity is a sum that doesn’t add up.
God help any cause that’s so weak it has to rely on human nature for its success.
We are the one indispensable species, since we alone have been entrusted with the mission to kill all the rest.
There’s no need of bad people in order to smash the earth. All that’s required is plenty of good people, and there’s now more than enough of them.
In books what we like is tragedies that end happily, as Howells said. But in life we are manufacturing a paradise that will end in devastation. And when we have ground to chaff all our fellow forms of life, we will tell poignant stories to weep for our plight and how we have been forsaken and to boast of how heroically we struggled to save them. How we will pity ourselves for having been deserted by all that we have so pitilessly destroyed. Though we make the worst of everything, we won’t stop believing the best of ourselves. We are such scrupulously moral creatures, that we don’t just want to ruin the earth, we want to be applauded for our fine motives as we do it. We will bring nature to its opprobrious end in a festival of self-congratulation, and our recessional will be an anthem of booming self-satisfaction. We will keep on extolling our good intentions right up to the point when they bring down the curtain on the disgraceful farce.
We overblow our importance, yet deny our liability. We are awed by our own power. Yet we still sentimentalize ourselves as too weak to do the earth any harm.
We are so transfixed by the spectacle of moral bogeymen and horrors, how could we see the nest of everyday blameless greeds that are poisoning the ground beneath our feet? We love to wring our hands at moral abominations such as the holocaust, since they keep our minds off the philanthropic holocaust of nature that we are all at work on right now. We frighten ourselves with monsters, so that we don’t have to see that the monster is us. Our condition must now be terminal. We can’t bear to face our real dangers, but have to steer our thoughts from them by fretting about things that are no threat to us.
We are now so powerful that we provoke the very threats that we are so afraid of.
Our selfishness will crush the earth beneath its boot, but our benevolence couldn’t save it. We are so intent on obliterating it, that by acting in unison we will do so the sooner. Malice slew its multitudes, but virtue will bring death to the innocent earth. We work as one to smash up the whole earth, so that each of us might seize our own small shard of it. By cooperating so closely, we will screw up our sanctimonious ravenousness to a murderous predominance.
We’re bound to stamp out nature, because we see that we are part of a polity, but not that we are a part of it. We feel that we have a slot in a rapacious economy, but no home in a broader ecology. Our sense of right grants that we owe duties only to the class of living things that are like us, and so it will help to empty the earth of all the rest that are not like us.
Since nature has doomed us to die, why should we care if we blast it with a universal death?
We can make no contract with the earth.
We talk as if there were no form of life on earth but our own, and soon there won’t be.
Our heaven on earth will soon have us praying for death or else glad just to drag out one more day of crippled life.
We will have just cemented in place the copestone of the temple of our righteous new Jerusalem when the end time comes to pluck it down on our heads.
4 The havoc of freedom
Why would the rest of life rejoice at the triumph of carnivorous human liberty? Every extension of human emancipation has come at the cost of the enslavement of the earth. Freedom of choice is the sole kind of enfranchisement that we now set any store on.
Human liberty has bound the earth in chains. Gods and creeds used to help keep it free by oppressing and stupefying us. Now like all the rest of our illusions they urge on our avarice and self-assertion. What has cut us loose will make an end of us, but not till we have used our surly freedom to make an end of all the earth.
The innocent freedom of each of us will make the brute power of all to squeeze the life out of the earth. The sum of all our individual rationality will add up to a terracidal madness. Everything that each of us does will help to bring ruin on the earth, but nothing that any of us does could help to save it. And there’s no need to stop, since none of us will be held to account for any of it. As Pascal said, it is not good for us to be too free, or it is not good for the earth which groans under the weight of our oppressive freedom. The net effect of all our discriminating individual choice will be an indiscriminate obliteration. We deem that each of us ought to be free to get what we want, though what we want will tear from the rest of life the mere freedom to draw breath. We can’t so much as tend our gardens without poisoning the soil. We can all now claim our place in the sun, though we may find it a bit too hot for our liking.
In our age of self-admiring individualism we love to be told that each of us can make a difference, and this is exactly what each of us is now doing by every free act of getting and spending. All that we do adds fuel to the conflagration. Mass consumerism is ravaging the planet, and all we can think of to repair it is to consume in a new way.
The only solutions that we have for our globalized problems are the slogans of the same globalized greed that is poised to end us. The best that we can do to save the planet is to mouth the catchcries that are urging us on to destroy it.
We all wring our hands over the destruction of the earth, while we all go on doing the things that are destroying it.
5 The wrong of rights
In the past society bore down hard on the individual. Now the individual partners with society to bear down hard on the earth. To flee our personal torments, we feel that we have the right as a species to scourge the planet. To solve our global problems we have had to take up a personal optimism which fuels the frantic buying and selling which is the main cause of all our global problems. We will turn the earth to a hell, to air-condition our private inferno.
We will make the worst of everything by scrabbling to get the best for ourselves. We are each so bent on bettering our own small nook, that together we will wreck the whole globe. In order to make our own little life charming, we will make the lush earth desolate. We’ll smash it to bits in our madness to make our own puny and broken lives whole.
We don’t hesitate to empty the earth of all life in our rage to fill our own small lives with a minute more of tawdry fun.
Universal suffrage grants to each of us a patent to the overbearing voraciousness which in the past fine lords alone were graced with. And we now treat nature as great landowners, according to Tolstoy, dealt with their serfs. ‘I sit on a man’s back, choking him and forcing him to carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means, except by getting off his back.’ It is the human will free and equal to tyrannize over the rest of creation. Our homicidal kind, unyoked from all its oppressions, has set itself up as the sanctimonious autocrat of the wide earth, which it will keep on ravaging till it at length rebels. And like all autocrats, we glory in every extension of our power which is bound to bring us to our ruin.
We are an imperial species, and every place on earth is now ripe for our exploitation.
Human rights seemed at first to be no worse than a benevolent fiction, till we turned them into a terracidal fact. They do more damage than human crimes, since all rights are the one right, the right to consume and to subdue the earth.
Human rights make earth’s oppression. We now glory in our inviolable rights with the same assurance that sovereigns trumpeted their divine right to rule just in time for their anointed heads to be chopped off.
We will wreck the earth not by the wrongs that we do to one another, but by the rights that we arrogate to our whole species.
The car is the prime symbol of our individual freedom, and one of the chief tools of our species’ domination of the globe.
6 Gang of equals
Equality for all will rape the globe far more brutally than the lusts of the few. The earth will be baked to ash not by the blaze of some grand enterprise but by the brushfires of ten billion low desires. When they have ceased to dread the wild beasts devouring them, the lambs will feel safe to nibble the pasture bare to the dead root. A few billion sheep will chew up much more than a pack of wolves.
Democracy is one more syndicate of gangsters, hustling to bag as much loot as it can, and get out before the crash comes. It will lay waste all that it has inherited. But it will still dare to boast of its benevolence in liberating each class to get rich on its share of the spoils. It is indulging its brief prerogative to devour all that is too weak to fight back, the past and the future, the memory of the dead, the blackened planet. It’s auctioning the land’s extorted plunder to pay for its short heyday of affluence.
All great things have been made by elites. But the humblest of us will have a hand in democracy’s crowning work of ecological collapse.
All of us are now equal and free to grind the face of the gracious earth for our gain, as once the ruling class trod down those below it. There is only one class now, the class of all human beings, who have been freed to work the indentured earth till it gives out. The few used to club in oligarchies to stomp on those beneath them. Now we gang together in democracies to pillage the subjected land. Inequality cut off one class from the next, equality cuts off the whole of human kind from the rest of life.
7 The injustice of altruism
In order to put an end to nature, all we need do is stay true to our own nature.
We are all now so well-intentioned and cooperative, and we each bring our modest faggot of kindling to add to the common bonfire that will burn up the world.
We are strangling the land in our close fraternal bands. Our solidarity has multiplied by many times the destructive force of our selfishness. Altruism is the egoism of our self-infatuated species, and our pacifism is its jingoism, both of which arm us to make war on the earth with a more brutal effectiveness. We use them as the oil to grease the engine of greedy capitalism which is pulverizing the land. And when the whole of our kind is leagued in brotherly love, it will work with one accord to wipe out the rest of the beasts that are not its kin. We are doing all the good that we can, and it will soon have put paid to the earth. We glory both in our righteousness which has loosed all humans from their thralldom, and in our power to bind the whole planet to do our will.
When the human family has learnt to live as one, it will be free to eat up all the rest of life. We have made peace with each other, so as to make war on the verdant world. Like the romans, we cause a desolation, and call it concord. Peace now wastes the globe as war once did. The age of destruction will dawn the day that we call a halt to all conflict. It will roll out to the accompaniment not of martial trumpets and drums but to the merry blare of pop tunes.
The old nation states laid waste continents from time to time, the new solidarity of the human race will lay waste the whole planet for all time.
We assume that we will have attained a state of supreme justice, when the meek members of our one species have ceased to prey on each other and are joined in harmony to prey on all the rest.
Say that life is sacred, and you blaspheme nature, whose first and final sacrament is death. Our blest species is a curse to all the rest. We profane the face of the earth in order to propagate its holy strain. A form of life that’s sure that it is chosen will stop at nothing to sate its unholy cravings and spread its stain over the whole globe. To call our species sacrosanct is to sanctify egoism.
8 The chaos of enlightenment
We have woken from our morose superstitious dreams to an enlightened devastation, which will have a fiery but unilluminating end. The age of reason tried to replace divine providence with human progress, and so we will anticipate a god-sent apocalypse with a godless one. Our knowledge killed the gods, and our technology will kill the earth.
We can’t know a thing without destroying it if we can get our hands on it. But we will succeed in destroying our own kind without ever having known who we are.
Our desires are so unnatural and immoderate, that they can’t be kept within the pale of nature except by ignorance and repression. When we give up our few irrational first principles, the world rationally goes to hell. We are sensibly sustained by our deranged delusions. ‘Banish sagacity, discard knowledge,’ Lao Tzu says, ‘and the people will be benefitted a hundredfold. The sage rules by emptying their hearts and filling their bellies.’ Our progenitors were saved from ruining the land as we have done not by their wisdom and innocence, but by their nescience and incompetence. They had no choice because they lacked the means, and we have no choice because we abound with them. We are no more vicious than they were, just more successful. They knew too little to make as much of a hash of things as we have. ‘If we possessed one granule of knowledge,’ Montaigne wrote, ‘there would be no restraining us.’ Heretofore the coercive sleights of established custom, superstition, usage and bigotry have held us back from exterminating all that lives. Our rapacity used to be hobbled by our ignorance, but is now sped on by our ingenuity. Knowledge has now so ravaged the world, that not even the old reliable stays of prejudice and stupidity could save it. Our enlightenment will run as the scout in the van of worldwide wreckage. ‘Now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.’ Since we have outgrown our innocence, we need to cling all the more to our illusions, so as to shut our eyes to the ruination that our knowledge will bring on us. The future, as Wells wrote, will be a race between education and catastrophe, but each will nudge the other to speed up, and it will end with them crossing the finish in a dead heat. ‘Knowledge,’ said Cioran, ‘having irritated and stimulated our appetite for power, will lead us inexorably to our ruin.’
Natural ignorance is the one thing that might have saved us. But all we have is the unnatural kind which does even more harm than our knowledge.
Why do we always look to powers outside of ourselves to save us? First it was the gods, then kings and great men, and now our technologies.
The same greed that lured us to explore the globe will soon goad us to destroy it. Explorers were once the advance guard of empire, as knowledge is now the advance guard of worldwide exploitation.
Patriarchal societies were prisoners of a past which was no more than a myth. Progressive states are prisoners of a future which will prove to be no more than a dream.
Why do we keep on seeking our salvation from the cackling messiahs who fool us so outrageously and the ingenious mechanization which will ruin us so lucratively? We are as crafty as gods, and stupider than parasites, which have more sense than to wear out their host.
The course of events in a technocratic age illustrates the cunning of unreason in accomplishing the most chaotic and destructive ends by the most rational means.
Humanism is the collective egoism of our species. It is the ideology which justifies our domination of the earth.
When sovereigns set up their religions, the poor had good reason to tremble. Now that humans have set themselves up as gods, the land has reason to tremble. Humanism will be our last idolatry, and we will immolate the smouldering planet as a burnt offering to its insatiate deity. Each god has tried to bring an end to all flesh. The old ones were too weak and decrepit to do it. The new humanist one will prove how far it outranks them by succeeding. Marx called it ‘the highest divinity. There shall be none other beside it.’ Our omnipotence will only demonstrate that we were too unwise to know how to wield it. Humanity is a god powerless to save itself from the mayhem wrought by its own irresponsible power. We boast that we are the stewards of creation, while we rack it like fiends of destruction. Having shed the shining gods which we made to reflect our glory, we now worship our own selves, naked, fetterless and almighty. Humanism is the gold leaf encasing the monumental clay image of Mammon which we all bow down to. The face of the earth now swarms with ten billion extortionate divinities, sure of their own sanctity and determined not to be balked or delayed in the least of their sordid desires. We deify our own will, and won’t scruple to desecrate all that dares to cross it. Our last illusion will prove to be the exterminating godhead that we have made of our own power.
Having sent the gods to their dim graves, we will soon flex our godlike might by abolishing all the rest of life. So we are doomed to be left alone in omnipotent desolation.
9 Marauding technology
Technology has loosed our greed from its physical bonds, and capitalism has loosed it from its social bonds. Our gadgets lend us the means to control the wild earth, so that we won’t have to control our own wild cravings. We have to keep driving automation to add to our power, since we are too weak to hold out against our desires. It will serve as the perfect detonator for our incendiary greed. We used to be exasperated by the helplessness which hemmed us in, now we are awed by the might which will bring us down. Our cooperation and resourcefulness are provisioning our brutishness and unwisdom with the tackle which they will use to crush us.
Technology is the servant of our greed, and will soon prove to be the master of our destruction.
Technology lends us the power to call up permanent global problems by finding temporary local solutions.
Technology is a noxious fume which is exhaled when science reacts with utility and greed.
Technology makes us more restive, rapacious and distracted, more divorced from all but the fun that we crave right now, more disembodied and more in thrall to our appetites, more self-obsessed and more connected, more equipped to kill the earth and too weak to stop ourselves, more smug and inventive, less wise and imaginative. It and the kitsch that it serves will render us both brutal and sentimental. We have become the tools of our tools, as Thoreau said, and the greedy dupes of our own ingenuity.
The same greed that has pricked us on to invent our technologies will prevent us from repairing the ruin that they will let loose on us.
Our omnipotence will reduce us to helplessness, and our pitiless arrogance will leave us abject and self-pitying.
We will die in thrall to the technologies which we hoped would make us free.
We have devised such smart appliances so that we can be more efficiently stupid. Our ingenious prostheses extend the reach of our ravening inanity. The might of our machines will lay bare the squalor of our desires as they enrich us before they end us. We shall perish as the helpless casualties of our own insuperable compulsions. The road to hell on earth is paved by good inventions.
Technology has lavished on us all the tools and toys to keep us physically and mentally active yet sedentary and oblivious.
Technology gives us the means to go so fast that we don’t have to stop and think where it is that we are going.
Science now shows us how bad the future will be, and technology supplies us with the tools to make it still worse.
We will silence the chorus of nature, so that we can hear the idiot burble of our babbling devices.
We will grind the earth in the mill of our ingenuity.
Man is an animal that has learnt how to harness forms of energy other than its own food. And so we cease to live in the present, and migrate to a future of restless accumulation.
10 The sleights of optimism
We will have to use all the sleights of our optimism to get through the terminal havoc wrought by our advances. We will need to make our songs and movies cheerier and more affirmative than ever, to lighten our spirits as we bring the earth to its dark close. Our best days are in front of us, we have to keep chanting as we go down into the black pit that our hopes have dug for us. Could a misanthrope wish for our race a more sombre doom than the one that its own bright hopes are preparing for it? The future that our optimism will soon bring about will be an apt chastisement for our deluded and arrogant hopes. Our despair would wear us out, and our hope will wear out our species and the whole earth. There is no future for us, now that we have all turned into the hopeless addicts of optimism. The best we can hope is that it will kill us quick.
The twittering optimism of experts who ought to know better tells us that it is high time to have done with hope.
The world is heading for annihilation. So it may be that everything is for the best after all.
Our pessimism can’t guess how bad our optimism will make the future.
In the past our hopes served as a harmless refuge from our inescapable disappointments, now they goad us to get and spend as much as we can. They used to deny reality, now they drive us on to devour it.
We will turn the earth to a hell, because we can’t let go of the hopes which we trust will make it a paradise.
11 The mechanical utopia
Democracy has debased progress as it has everything else that it’s touched. In the past philanthropists hoped that humankind, unfettered and right-thinking, would one day reach perfection. Now the most glorious thing we can aim at is to get rich. We gave up aspiring to a moral utopia an age ago. But we still look forward to a mechanized one, which will heave into our lap all the trash that we crave. We count on our machinery to manufacture the millennium for us. But we will use our prostheses to degrade this god-hated globe to an airless plastic paradise. ‘The telephone is his test of civilization,’ Wilde wrote of the middle-class philistine, ‘and his wildest dreams of utopia do not rise beyond elevated railways and electric bells.’ We laud as civilization the mass affluence which has drowned it. Our Eden will be a moronic funfair, buzzing, crowded, garishly lit, blinking with devices and distractions. The human race will die not from truth or light, but from their shabby reproductions, mindless information and mercenary technology. Each accursed invention piques our rapacity and will hasten our perdition.
Progress disowns the past, devours the future, and reduces the present to a transit camp on the way to some receding paradise.
Progress makes us more smug but more unsatisfied.
We have never been more consumed by the present, and never less present. We can’t live for today, but we will burn futurity to cinders so as to live in opulence the day after tomorrow. All our time-saving devices prove that we have lost the patience to live in the present. Now that we set no value on time, we can’t bear to wait for anything. Everything is urgent, but not one thing is present. The more we make it all speed up, the farther everything gets from us. We live as if everything were makeshift, transient and provisional, and yet we are never in the moment. We don’t take the time to build a secure foundation. We’re in too much of a whirl to lay up the materials that we might need in the future.
The ride has never felt so fast and exhilarating as now when we’re rollicking downhill. And woe to anyone who would dare to put a brake on our hard-driving haste.
12 Progressing to ecological collapse
Progress is the defeat of life by the machine, of insightfulness by inventiveness, of grace by utility, of ends by means, of civilization by technique, of wisdom by power, of love by lust for gain. ‘The more the human race advances,’ as Flaubert said, ‘the more it is degraded.’
Progress is piecemeal improvement leading to universal ruin.
In this world of continuous improvement the one thing that doesn’t get any better is progress. Its costs continue stubbornly to mount up, while its benefits are subject to the law of diminishing returns.
Progress finds out more and more ingenious routes to send us off course. When we have at last got hold of the power to achieve any end we want, we will use every end as a means to get more power, and that will spell complete ecological collapse.
We are ingenious enough to solve all of our problems, save those brought on us by our own ingenuity.
Progress has unchained our marauding breed from the natural checks which have stopped any single one from exterminating the rest.
We’ll soon have procured a power as limitless as our will, and we’ll use it to lay waste the earth.
There can be no doubt that we are progressing. How else could we account for the vastation that we have made?
Progress has infected us like a virulent pestilence. We would rather die from it than be healed. It will spare us its worst horrors by annihilating us. A utopia is an inferno which soon burns itself up, but progress won’t peter out till it has burnt up the whole globe. It’s our last and most lethal addiction. We gladly give up our real good to keep it on the go. We have shrunk to its hungry junkies, mad for our next fix of technology to solve all our problems. It keeps us in its thrall, since its benefits are tangible but delusory, while its costs are covert but real. Like a mastiff, it has clamped the world in its jaws, and it won’t let it go till it has dashed it to shreds.
In order to wreck the world, all we need do is persist in the projects by which we hope to perfect it.
The wave of progress which has raised us so high and carried us so fast will soon dump us and break our necks.
We have made so much progress, what hope of reclamation could there be for us?
‘Progress would be wonderful,’ said Musil, ‘if only it would stop.’ We can never reach our destination, because we have to keep on the move. If progress could ever give us what we want, we would have no need of it.
In the louring evening of the world we still have such sights to charm us. But the green earth will go dark, before we learn to see the beauty it abounds in. We have no eyes to see the loveliness of the earth which we’ve been given or the ugliness of the world which we have made.
Each generation will now palm off on the next a better world and a worse earth. Each day the world gains at the expense of the planet. Our worldly hearts will be glad when they can chew up the earth and not need to taste any dirt. All the things that have been a boon to us have been a bane to it, such as technology, democracy, individualism and our manic pursuit of happiness. As the world becomes more free, more rich and more enlightened, the earth grows more enchained, more exhausted and more bleached. The human race has swallowed the earth and vomited up the world. The earth so innocent, the world so tainted.
God could find no other way to wipe out our insatiate race, and so he sent us progress.
The wheels of our discontent have to rotate more and more rapidly as the runaway train of progress speeds up. Modernity accelerates all our enterprises, including our self-destruction.
Progress is the acute stage of our diseased attitude toward time.
We are so determined to make the present better than the past, that we will make the future worse than both.
The earth was doomed, the day that civilization was born. Civilization was the brief phase that we forced nature to pass through on its way to becoming garbage.
The world may not look so grim as I paint it. But it’s progressing at such a frantic pace, that it soon will. Progress will make the future the best of all times not to be alive in.