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Real-Time Radical

by Greg Joly

Scott published his final book, Civilization and Beyond, in 1975 at the age of 92. It is the culmination of his thinking on economic disparages, politic power, the life cycle of empires, entrepreneurial homesteading, confederated “worldism” and spiritual enlightenment:

In every social situation construction and destruction are Siamese Twins. One does not appear without the other. The same forces, the same implements, the same institutions and practices that construct can be used to destroy…. It is the political state that must be depended upon to resist the fragmenting forces of a disintegrating Western civilization, to preserve the social structure and administer human society through the transition…. In a word…we humans should be acting as a responsible part of a functioning whole engaged in the vast enterprise of being and becoming.

(170, 199, 222)

From his 1922 volume, The Next Step, through 1944’s United World to the present work, Scott argued against the profit-taking capitalist system which over-rewards those in power and pillages the workers of their wages in the name of shareholder’s returns. This competitive system not only underpays the vast majority of workers, but also destabilizes all earthly biological systems and geologic structures through the mechanisms of resource extraction, refining, manufacturing, transportation and all the pollution which is the byproduct of modern industrialized consumer society:

Monopoly capitalism, throughout its entire history, has tended to function internationally, moving across frontiers in search of raw materials, markets, and fields of profitable investment…. Not only has the flag followed the investor, but the investor has used governmental agencies, including the military to protect economic interests, promote them and expand them.    


What this international pillaging has provided the Western world, and now also many in positions of worldly entitlement, is a demand for unbridled consumption, mobility and out-of-sight, out-of-mind polluting. (Note how the Trump Administration, in the middle of a pandemic, has ordered (through the last vestiges of a ravaged EPA) that all industries in the USA no longer have to report, let alone record, their release of pollutants into the earth, water or air.) But such privilege has its twin:

At the moment, we have the satisfaction of orderly, beautiful neighborhoods at the same time that we are surrounded by a disorderly, littered, chaotic international battle ground.

Whether it is the accelerated burning of the Amazon under Bolsonaro’s Brazil First policy; Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign with right-wing judicial court stacking, union bashing, and oil and coal industry coddling; China’s annihilation of hectares of sea floor dredged to create military installations, or the world-wide human-fueled atmospheric tsunami which has intensified weather events from the burning of the Australian continent, to the climatic changes disrupting Central and South American coffee plantations, to deadly mudslides in western states caused by drought-fed wildfires that leave slopes unable to withstand heavy rains. Now, the battleground is on all our doorsteps as Covid-19 has traced our global interconnectedness directly back into each individual’s home. Scott was right: “Monopoly capitalism…has tended to function internationally…”  To paraphrase him further: In “times of plenty,” the wise lay in stores. When the “lean times” arrive, the wise have the capacity to feed others…including the unwise. Presently, many urbanites are sheltering in place or at their country properties. They think their previous virtual world awaits them, unscathed, post-flattened-curve-vaccination. Scott and Helen thought otherwise. They homesteaded not so much as a lifestyle statement, but as a protest against a rapacious economic system, which, like Covid-19, destroyed indiscriminately. Scott also knew that if our scientifically-based technologies were stripped of their profit-making superficies and truly functioned with international equanimity, then and only then could we all enter the Age of Beyond Civilization.

Scott and Helen spent 60 years cultivating this fact-based resilience. It is now time for us to enter the “social situation” together, constructively.

As Scott wrote to his friend Hank Mayer during the bleak years after World War II:

It is still raining here & things are backwards—
But we hope for sunshine.

-Greg Joly       Jamaica, Vermont      17 April 2020

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