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Violence Does Not Discriminate
The Instability of Europe Has Come Home
Planet: Critical tries to be enveloped by the big picture; too big to grasp, too big to hold, instead we fold into it and allow its landscape to wash over us, waves of information revealing a rhythm that confesses a mechanical heart.
This mechanical heart is our catch-22, our reason why no matter what strategies we deploy, things only seem to get more unstable: it both feeds and is fed by the system it produces. But unlike a biological heart, which oxygenates blood to then send around its own ecosystem, this heart strips the nutrients, the care, the love, the very fabric of that which nourishes it, spitting out an ever-growing ecosystem of death. Yet, still, it grows: As long as there is that which feeds, there will always be that which is fed.
The thing is, we’re running out of resources.
In his book, End Times, Peter Turchin suggests that elite overproduction and elite aspiration cause instability in human society: the heavier the top of the social pyramid gets, and the more people scrambling to reach it, eventually it crumbles. The “productive class” cannot produce enough to satisfy the growing number of elites, and the positions of power do not grow alongside elite production, leaving many unsatisfied. They turn on one another. Turchin identifies this as the moment of instability. I would argue the extraction of the majority by the power of the minority is the true instability; perhaps it is not that empires crumble, but rather inequality.
Early in the book, Turchin suggests that elites can export their instability by invading other lands, stealing those resources, and essentially moving the fight elsewhere. As their society is enriched by this new flow of goods, the standards of living increase, producing more elite aspirants. For a while, there is calm—only because inequality and extraction have been temporarily outsourced.
This looks like the post-war boom, when the USA’s new wealth coupled with colonial economic policies allowed for the Western world to extract from the majority world under the guise of economic theory, development and democracy. Standards of living shot up in the Western world as labourers in foreign lands made our goods for a fraction of the price, all made more accessible by the increasing volume of fossil fuels flooding the veins of the global economy. This time is marked by history as peace time. Except, of course, it wasn’t.
The newly-created Israeli state chased 700,000 Palestinians from their home in the Nakba in 1948 to make way for their promised land after almost being slaughtered at the hands of Europeans. One million people were killed in Indonesia in a CIA-backed coup against communism in 1965. Communists killed 2 million people in the Cambodian genocide. The ANC and Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid in South Africa for decades. The Iron Curtain was raised and ripped down in Europe.
The fight for independence from colonial rule touched every continent, leaving a bloody history in its wake. Europe, which had gotten rich off the back of its colonies, and the USA, which had gotten rich off of World War Two, were in a superior negotiating position to create a new world order, a world order in which a currency could exert as much control in a nation as a military presence.
And so the West kept getting rich off the backs of their former colonies—with the help of a corrupt minority at the top who equally benefited from the brutal exploitation of their people. As Europe and the USA experienced a huge economic and power boom, living conditions for most people around the world developed slowly in comparison because most of their wealth and resources were being extracted.
That system worked just fine for the West—there was enough to go around. But population boom coupled with a growing middle class and political power in the majority world threatens that very world order they have come to depend on. To grow, they’ll need to pay the true cost. But, using Turchin’s terms, the elites can’t afford that. So they started extracting from their own populations instead.
Wage stagnation, rising house prices, inflation, unemployment, precarity: These are all signs of an unstable economy that is funnelling wealth to the top because the outside sources are drying up. All the instability that Europe exported is now coming home to these “superpowers”. Rather than strengthening the economy by diversifying its organisation and redistributing some of the wealth stolen from afar, they now immiserate their own populations. We, the people, are being colonised. Again.
That’s what is built into the very fabric of how our society is organised: Possess and Defend, with attack being the best defence strategy. How to scare off potential enemies? Take a leaf out of nature’s book: Simply be bigger.
The modern state exists to organise the flow of goods between elite interests, to economise. Citizenship, it seems increasingly, is merely the illusion of exchange, of benefit for the common people—to be protected, originally, by the crown court of law. But the state needs to grow bigger in the face of perceived enemies, cultures it long stole from. Without the land and resources of the other to take from, it will take from its own people. Unapologetically.
What else could explain the rise of authoritarian policies on European soil? Fascist thinking props up indefensible policies on borders, immigration and protesting. In what world do democratic states forbid citizens from marching in solidarity with victims of violence? In what world are refugees packed up to live on ships? In what world are eco-campaigners preemptively arrested? In what world are whistleblowers sent to high-security prisons while rapists walk free?
In this world. The same world that fabricates stories justifying foreign invasion, the same world that subsidises harmful industry, the same world in which leaders make fortunes from war stocks. The instability and horror that Europe exported to the world to fatten its stores has now come home to the people of Europe, and we are increasingly experiencing what it’s like to live under the threat of state violence, made possible by exquisite political gaslighting and cultural polarisation that keeps fingers pointed at biological hearts rather than the mechanical one.
The world is running out of oil. 50–65% of the remaining reserves are in the Middle East, the territory the West has repeatedly tried to destabilise and control for the past half century. Israel is the Western world’s closest frontier, armed to the hilt by American weaponry.
Biden himself said in the 1986:
“It is the best $3 billion investment we make. Were there not an Israel the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”
The conflict claiming thousands of lives of innocent people is framed in multiple ways. One narrative is a Jewish state terrorised by a people who want them dead. The counter is a colonised people fighting their oppressor who wish to cleanse the territory of them entirely. The third in this triplet is the historical context which sees victims and perpetrators on both sides.
Listen closely, and we can hear the drum of the mechanical heart. Its story is simple. It consumes life—violently—and excretes death—violently.
Life is the victim of violent regimes because violence does not discriminate. The violence with which the world was built guarantees its destruction. The price we pay in the West is small compared to the lives sacrificed to the mechanical heart—but, unless it extracts from elsewhere, it will exact an ever-higher tax. We should not be so foolish to think economic violence cannot become a bloodier violence. The ground is being laid. People always suffer under violent regimes.
They say history rhymes, but the mechanical heart knows no poetry. Its beat is a war cry, not a song.
© Rachel Donald
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