Not all unintended consequences are alike
It’s no surprise that we live in a world of unintended consequences. Yet we rarely stop to think that our very existence as humans is nothing but the result of a long chain of events in the material world which, combined with the laws of evolution on our planet, and with no specific intention in mind, generated humanity.
This realization may cause discomfort to those who see themselves as the end result of some plan of conceived by nature, a creator, or the procreating intentionality of the human species. But nature, being nature, does not plan anything. It exists according to the laws and processes of its being, of which we humans are also part. This is the first unintended consequence we as humans must face, and it is a fortunate one, because this knowledge offers us the opportunity to be free, to determine our course of action and our future based on our convictions, without the tutelage of extraterrestrial elements or even other terrestrial ones.
THINKING OUT LOUD
Not all unintended consequences are alike: The case of climate change
Taking into consideration the current conditions of the planet (according to scientists, we have already surpassed four of the nine barriers in our biosphere necessary to ensure a safe existence for humanity), climate change constitutes the most crucial unintended consequence of our time.
However, this affirmation merits a historical clarification. In general terms it is accurate to accept climate change as an unintended outcome of the so-called “insanity of the growth society,” grounded in economic expansionism, accumulation and consumerism.
Early warnings about this condition date back at least to 1972 with the Report to the Club of Rome (an international organization integrated by heads of state—former and current, UN bureaucrats, diplomats, scientists, economists and business leaders) that tried to alert the world to this issue: “Exponential growth is incompatible with a finite world and […] our capacity for consumption must not exceed the biosphere capacity for regeneration.”
Some turn out to be inevitable
Fifty-two years later, as we witness the systematic and deliberate neglect of the ecological consequences of capitalist development—the heavy dependence of the world economy on the use of fossil fuels. The result is dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which in turn strengthen the greenhouse effect, posing serious threats to the planet and the survival of civilization. It feels naïve to characterize these results as the unintended consequences or the “externalities” of capitalist production.
In fact, we are witnessing the inevitable consequences of an economy oriented towards the global elite’s systemic greed for profits. We have to call our current condition the expected consequences demanding our immediate action if we aspire to survive.
A single spark can start a prairie fire: 8 minutes and 46 seconds
The better example of truly unintended consequences is the prairie fire of outrage fueled by ongoing state sanctioned police brutality, and ignited by the murder of George Floyd. The magnitude of the response to institutionalized racism in the US has transcended the perimeters of the Black Lives Matter movement, evolving into a multi-racial, international movement of protest around the world.
At the time of this writing, the movement is far from over. It continues to grow both in number and in political clout, demanding specific measures aimed at redesigning police, thereby challenging one of the ominous and repressive state apparatus aimed against black people. This newspaper pays tribute to all the black lives taken by the police, and to the permanent struggle for the elimination of racism and economic exploitation against any human being.
The limits of our imagination?
Leading into this historical moment, Fredric Jameson’s argument that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” was hard to refute. Now, as the phrase “defund the police” gets debated and discussed, and examples like Camden NJ are cited, perhaps we will prove Jameson wrong. Perhaps an unintended consequence of the Black Lives Matter movement, turned now into an international movement, will be a shift in our collective imagination. —EQ
August: When money is the measure. Do you spend more at Walmart because stuff is cheaper? Can we afford to measure a college education by anything other than how it will increase our job and earning prospects? Do businesses pay their workers less than a living wage because to do otherwise would make them unprofitable? How should we value old trees vs new developments? Send us your thoughts on these and any other money topics. Deadline: July 16.
September: Hoping, doping, coping & shopping. A recent book says that people are reaching for one of these strategies to survive in today’s economy. That public institutions are falling apart; bosses are overwhelmed or incompetent; businesses are dysfunctional. Do you find any of this to be true?
Do you need a strategy?
Deadline: August 15.
October: The struggle for justice. WIPs mission is to contribute to the struggle for justice across economic, social, political and environmental realms and to the expansion of participatory democracy across classes, races and genders. October 2020 marks the 30th year that Works in Progress has been trying to live up to that mission, as a publication produced and distributed by volunteers. The paper has shaped and reshaped itself across the years, depending on who puts in the time and energy to make it happen. We invite anyone who has read, contributed to or helped produce the paper to send their memories, critiques, old copies, artifacts etc. that have been part of WIP on its journey. Be sure to save the date for an anniversary celebration Nov. 21. Copy deadline for October issue: September 13