Childhood’s End for Humanity?

Article by Kevin Carson.
History, since the agricultural revolution, can be usefully conceptualized as an offensive-defensive arms race between technologies of abundance and social structures of expropriation.

Until the appearance of agriculture, human society didn’t produce a large enough surplus to support much in the way of social organization above the hunter-gatherer group. Agriculture was the first technology of abundance sufficiently productive to support parasitic classes on a large scale. With agriculture came a superstructure of kings, priests, martial castes and landlords who milked the producing classes like cattle.

We now seem to be nearing the end of an interval of ten thousand years or so between two thresholds. The first threshold was the appearance of the first large-scale technology of abundance — agriculture.

Since then we have been in that aforementioned arms race. Sometimes technologies of abundance produce an increase in the social surplus faster than the class superstructure can expropriate it, and things become better for the ordinary person — as in the late Middle Ages, when the horse collar and crop rotation caused a massive increase in agricultural productivity, the craftsmen of the free towns developed new production technologies, and the decay of feudalism resulted in falling rents and de facto emancipation of large sectors of the peasantry. Sometimes the advantage shifts to the social structures of expropriation, and things get worse — as in the case of the absolute monarchies’ suppression of the free towns, what Immanuel Wallerstein called the “long sixteenth century,” and the Enclosures.

We’re approaching the second threshold, when the technologies of abundance reach a takeoff point beyond which the social structures of expropriation can no longer keep up with the rising production curve.

The interval between the two thresholds has been comparatively brief, compared to the hundreds of thousands of years that homo sapiens has existed in something like its present form and the billion years or so that the sun will likely be able to support human life. Seen in that light, this interval can be seen as a brief initial adjustment period in the early stages of human productivity. The state was an anomaly in this early stage of the technological explosion, in the childhood of the human race, by whose means the parasitic classes were briefly able to piggyback on the revolution in productivity and harness it as a source of income for themselves.

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1 reply »

  1. I’ve had similar thoughts along these lines myself, but never so clearly or beautifully expressed.

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