A Marxian View of Collapse-Consciousness

One of Karl Marx’s better-known quotes is “Being determines consciousness.” Before it can be understood, “being” has to be unfolded to the physical conditions of daily life of society and “consciousness” to public consciousness—all the stuff that goes into it, including laws, rules and regulations, administrative procedure, public morality (or lack thereof), the sort of value-signaling that is required for entry into polite society and all that sort of mental furniture and pious claptrap. It sounds quite a lot pithier in the original German: “Das Sein bestimmt das Bewusstsein”—that old bearded guy sure had a way with words!

Marx was all about social progress of the revolutionary persuasion. In his tidy view of human affairs, a wave of economic progress in the systems of production created a superstructure of human culture which over time became ever more constraining; then a wave of revolutionary change would sweep away the prevailing social order, making room for a new wave of economic development. Thus we had the progression from slavery to feudalism to bourgeoisie to proletarian revolution (I would include both the communist and the trade-unionist varieties)… but then, rather unexpectedly, it’s back to bourgeoisie, and then, once the physical resource base becomes depleted, then back to feudalism and, finally, back to slavery.

As I mentioned, Marx was a great believer in social progress and so he didn’t think far enough ahead to resource depletion and collapse—but I did, and pretty early on I hit on the idea that when it comes to collapse Marx had it exactly backwards: it das Bewusstsein that determines das Sein. The first to go is the belief in the continued existence of the status quo, and that this loss of faith propagates through the entire technology stack of social consciousness, top to bottom—financial, commercial, political, social, cultural—in a sort of psycho-socio-economic domino effect. At the time, I knew better than to drag old Karl into it, sensing accurately that members of the bourgeoisie would be less thrilled to have me as their dinner speaker if I compounded the sin of being Russian by sounding like a Bolshevik. But it’s such a neat idea—that regress recapitulates progress—that I believe that old Karl must be given his due (yet again). And so, with no further ado…

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