Welcome to the Abyss : The Threat of Globalism


Richard Moore

Thanks to CyberBrook for this excellent article.

I see globalization as an apocalyptic event.  It's the final
climax of a long historical epoch.  But just how long was
that epoch?  Some might think the epoch started in 1980,
when Reagan & Thatcher formally launched the neoliberal
revolution... "If only we could go back to the good old days
of postwar prosperity."   Others might trace the epoch from
the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of capitalism.

From an analytical point of view, I think we must measure
the era by considering what we must undo in order to get rid
of globalization.  If we only need to undo neoliberalism,
then the era is a short one, and globalization will only be
a paragraph in future history books.

But when you look at capitalism, and how it operates, it
soon becomes apparent that capitalism can't really be any
other way.  Already in the Manchester Mills of the late
1700's you could see in microcosm what is now happening to
the whole world. It's taken only 200 years for capitalism to
get us to where we are now, and the whole time we've been
subjected to constant societal disruption, the breakup of
communities, mass migrations, wars and genocides, and all
those things that accompany "progress". It's all been driven
by a mad scramble by elites to accumulate, consolidate,
control, and monopolize.  That's what capitalism is all
about - maximizing returns for investors. And the path
capitalism has followed is precisely the path you must
follow, if that is your goal. Capitalism is fulfilling its
stated mission admirably.

Clearly then, we need to undo capitalism, if we are going to
undo globalization.  The epoch is ~at least~ 200 years long.
But how to undo capitalism?   We have a well-entrenched
capitalist elite which is dead set on continuing the current
path, and which has convinced itself that it is implementing
the best of all possible worlds.  They do not see compromise
as an option, and by the rules of capitalism they are

In order to undo capitalism, we need to undo rule by elites.
And when you look back into history, you find that elites
have been in charge ever since the Agricultural Revolution. 
That was when the growth paradigm was adopted.  "Go forth
and multiply, subdue & conquer", and so on.  Since then each
step has followed in logical succession, from chiefdoms, to
kingdoms, to empires, to globalization.  In ancient empires,
you can already see in microcosm the current global regime.

10,000 years is how long the Growth Epoch has lasted.  About
300 generations.  That's not very long really.  Ever since
then we've been on a suicide course, because growth, as a
paradigm, is not sustainable.  Capitalism is simply the most
evolved form, systematizing our rush to oblivion.

Undoing globalization means undoing capitalism means undoing
both the growth paradigm & elite rule.

This doesn't mean we need to return to pre-Agricultural
days.  Think of it this way.  Civilization has given us a
collection of building blocks. Technologies, sciences,
institutions, infrastructures, laws, etc.  These building
blocks have been put together in a certain way.  They have
been used to construct a world which is pleasing to the
elites who have been in charge.  But the building blocks can
be put together in many other ways.   Every thing we've
learned in the past 10,000 years is available to us, but
every way in which we've used that knowledge needs to be
called into question.

We need to rethink our path, beginning from a wrong branch
we took 10,000 years ago.  The following article gives
globalization some of the apocalyptic respect it deserves.


Delivered-To: moderator for •••@••.•••
Date: Fri, 11 May 2001 10:34:06 -0700
To: •••@••.•••
From: CyberBrook <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Welcome to the Abyss : The Threat of Globalism

Welcome to the Abyss : The Threat of Globalism

Could this 16th century vision of hell by Hieronymous Bosch
be a chilling prophecy of life today, asks John Berger

In the history of painting one can sometimes find strange
prophecies: prophecies that were not intended as such by the
painter. It is almost as if the visible by itself can have
its own nightmares. For example, in Breughel's Triumph of
Death, painted in the 1560s and now in the Prado museum,
there is already a terrible prophecy of the Nazi
extermination camps. Most specific prophecies are bound to
be bad, for, throughout history, there are always new
terrors. Even if some of the terrors disappear, there are no
new happinesses - happiness is always the old one. It is the
modes of struggle for this happiness that change.

Half a century before Breughel, Hieronymus Bosch painted his
Millennium Triptych. The left-hand panel shows Adam and Eve
in Paradise, the large central panel describes the Garden of
Earthly Delights, and the right-hand panel depicts hell. And
this hell has become a strange prophecy of the mental
climate imposed on the world, at the end of our century, by
globalisation and the new economic order.

Let me try to explain how. It has little to do with the
symbolism employed in the painting. Bosch's symbols probably
came from the secret, proverbial, heretical language of
certain 15th-century millennial sects, who believed that, if
evil could be overcome, it was possible to build heaven on
earth. Many essays have been written about the allegories to
be found in his work. Yet if Bosch's vision of hell is
prophetic, the prophecy is not so much in the details -
haunting and grotesque as they are - as in the whole. Or, to
put it another way, in what constitutes the space of hell.

There is no horizon there. There is no continuity between
actions, there are no pauses, no paths, no pattern, no past
and no future. There is only the clamour of the disparate,
fragmentary present. Everywhere there are surprises and
sensations, yet nowhere is there any outcome. Nothing flows
through: everything interrupts. There is a kind of spatial

Compare this space to what one sees in the average publicity
slot, or in a typical CNN news bulletin, or any mass-media
commentary. There is a comparable incoherence, a comparable
wilderness of separate excitements, a similar frenzy.

Bosch's prophecy was of the world-picture that is
communicated to us today by the media under the impact of
globalisation, with its delinquent need to sell incessantly.
Both are like a puzzle whose wretched pieces do not fit

And this was precisely the phrase that the Zapatista leader
Subcomandante Marcos used in an open letter about the new
world order. He was writing from the Chiapas, southeast
Mexico, where he leads insurgents fighting for liberation
from the Mexican state. He sees the planet today as the
battlefield of a fourth world war. (The third was the
so-called cold war.) The aim of the belligerents is the
conquest of the entire world through the market. The
arsenals are financial; there are nevertheless millions of
people being maimed or killed every moment.

The aim of those waging the war is to rule the world from
new, abstract power centres - megapoles of the market, which
will be subject to no control except that of the logic of
investment. &quot;Thanks to computers and the technological
revolution," he writes, "the financial markets, operating
from their offices and answerable to nobody but themselves,
have been imposing their laws and world-view on the planet
as whole. Globalisation is merely the totalitarian extension
of the logic of the finance markets to all aspects of life."
Meanwhile, nine-tenths of the women and men on the planet
live with the jagged pieces which do not fit.

"What we have here is a puzzle," writes Marcos. "When we
attempt to put its pieces together in order to arrive at an
understanding of today's world, we find that a lot of the
pieces are missing. Still, we can make a start with seven of
them, in the hope that this conflict will not end with the
destruction of humanity. Seven pieces to draw, colour in,
cut out and put together with others, in order to try to
solve this global puzzle." So vividly does this recall the
jaggedness in Bosch's panel that I half expect to find there
these seven pieces.

The first piece Marcos names has the shape of a dollar sign
and is green. The piece consists of the new concentration of
global wealth in fewer and fewer hands and the unprecedented
extension of hopeless poverties.

The second piece is triangular and consists of a lie. The
new order claims to rationalise and modernise production and
human endeavour. In reality, it is a return to the barbarism
of the beginnings of the industrial revolution, with the
important difference that the barbarism is unchecked by any
opposing ethical consideration or principle. The new order
is fanatical and totalitarian. (Within its own system there
are no appeals. Its totalitarianism does not concern
politics - which, by its reckoning, have been superseded -
by global monetary control.) Consider the children - 100
million in the world live in the street; 200 million are
engaged in the global labour force.

The third piece is round like a vicious circle. It consists
of enforced emigration. The more enterprising of those who
have nothing try to emigrate to survive. Yet the new order
works night and day according to the principle that anybody
who does not produce, who does not consume, and who has no
money to put into a bank, is redundant. So the emigrants,
the landless, the homeless are treated as the waste matter
of the system: to be eliminated.

The fourth piece is rectangular like a mirror. It consists
of an ongoing exchange between the commercial banks and the
world racketeers, for crime, too, has been globalised.

The fifth piece is more or less a pentagon. It consists of
physical repression. The nation states under the new order
have lost their economic independence, their political
initiative and their sovereignty (the new rhetoric of most
politicians is an attempt to disguise their political, as
distinct from civic or repressive, powerlessness). The new
task of the nation states is to manage what is allotted to
them, to protect the interests of the market's
mega-enterprises and, above all, to control and police the

The sixth piece is in the shape of a scribble and consists
of breakages. On the one hand, the new order does away with
frontiers and distances by the instantaneous
telecommunication of exchanges and deals, by obligatory
free-trade zones (such as the North American Free Trade
Association) and by the imposition everywhere of the single
unquestionable law of the market; and, on the other hand, it
provokes fragmentation and the proliferation of frontiers by
its undermining of the nation state - for example, the
former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, etc. "A world of broken
mirrors," writes Marcos, "reflecting the useless unity of
the neo-liberal puzzle."

The seventh piece of the puzzle has the shape of a pocket,
and consists of all the various pockets of resistance
against the new order that are developing across the globe.
The Zapatistas in southeast Mexico are one such pocket.
Others, in different circumstances, have not necessarily
chosen armed resistance. The many pockets do not have a
common political programme as such. How could they, existing
as they do in the broken puzzle? Yet their heterogeneity may
be a promise. What they have in common is their defence of
the redundant, the next-to-be-eliminated, and their belief
that the fourth world war is a crime against humanity.

The seven pieces will never fit together to make any sense.
This lack of sense, this absurdity, is endemic to the new
order. As Bosch foresaw in his vision of hell, there is no
horizon. The world is burning. Every figure is trying to
survive by concentrating on his own immediate need and
survival. Claustrophobia, at its most extreme, is not caused
by overcrowding, but by the lack of any continuity existing
between one action and the next which is close enough to be
touching it. It is this which is hell. The culture in which
we live is perhaps the most claustrophobic that has ever
existed; in the culture of globalisation, as in Bosch's
hell, there is no glimpse of an elsewhere or an otherwise.
The given is a prison. And faced with such reductionism,
human intelligence is reduced to greed.

Marcos ended his letter by saying: "It is necessary to build
a new world, a world capable of containing many worlds,
capable of containing all worlds."

What the painting by Bosch does is remind us - if prophecies
can be called reminders - that the first step towards
building an alternative world has to be a refusal of the
world-picture implanted in our minds and all the false
promises used everywhere to justify and idealise the
delinquent and insatiable need to sell. Another space is
vitally necessary.

First, a horizon has to be discovered. And for this we have
to refind hope - against all the odds of what the new order
pretends and perpetrates.

Hope, however, is an act of faith and has to be sustained by
other concrete actions. For example, the action of approach,
of measuring distances and walking towards. This will lead
to collaborations that deny discontinuity. The act of
resistance means not only refusing to accept the absurdity
of the world-picture offered us, but denouncing it. And when
hell is denounced from within, it ceases to be hell.

In pockets of resistance as they exist today, the other two
panels of Bosch's triptych, showing Adam and Eve and the
Garden of Earthly Delights, can be studied by torchlight in
the dark. We need them.

I would like to end by quoting the Argentinian poet, Juan Gelman:

    "death itself has come with its documentation
    we're going to take up again the struggle
    again we're going to begin
    again we're going to begin all of us
    against the great defeat of the world
    little compañeros who never end
    or who burn like fire in the memory
    again and again and again ."

This is an edited version of an article which appeared in
The Threat of Globalism, a special issue of Race & Class journal.

Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland

    A community will evolve only when
    the people control their means of communication.
    - Frantz Fanon

    "One cannot separate economics, political science, and
    history. Politics is the control of the economy. History,
    when accurately and fully recorded, is that story. In most
    textbooks and classrooms, not only are these three fields of
    study separated, but they are further compartmentalized into
    separate subfields, obscuring the close interconnections
    between them" -- J.W. Smith, The World's Wasted Wealth 2,
    (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), p. 22.

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