The following is the Foreword to the French edition of Survive—The Economic Collapse.
The crisis that began in 2008 with the bursting of the subprime mortgage bubble is no ordinary downturn. All observers understood this intuitively. Something has gone wrong with our world, something lying at the very foundation of our way of living, producing, and consuming—and even of our way of thinking. This something that has just been broken is our faith in the millenarian mechanism of Progress.
For three centuries, Western man has had the idea that he does not need God, since he is his own savior. Humanity is the messiah of humanity: thus proclaimed the new religion. A religion that entered into Catholicism on tiptoes with Descartes. A religion, also, that ended up substituting itself everywhere in the place of the ancient faith.
People sometimes laugh at Juche, that ridiculous North Korean ideology whose only article states that man can transform nature indefinitely. Wrongly. In more sophisticated forms, all contemporary systems rest upon the postulate of human omnipotence. China has razed the house of Confucius and frenetically converted to the religion of growth. Eternal India—yes, even India—has set itself to conceiving the future as a rising curve.
All mankind has gradually entered into the naïve communion of the new religion, much less rational than it seems: technology to perform miracles, banks to serve as temples of the monetary idol. Monetarist neoliberalism—the last ideology, standing victorious upon the corpses of Jacobinism, classical liberalism, social democracy, communism, and fascism—would lead man to the millennium, the long-lost terrestrial paradise soon to be regained.
It was a false promise and a trap. We ought to have been suspicious. For the past few decades, the facade of the progressivist temple has begun to crack. . .
Since the 1970s, various Cassandras have been warning us: a project of indefinite growth cannot be carried out in a finite world. Their arguments have been swept under the rug as “not taking account of scientific perspectives.”
In the 1980s, the collapse of the USSR following the Chernobyl catastrophe provided food for thought for anyone willing to think: “so, an extremely large, over-integrated system can collapse suddenly, once a certain threshold of fragility is reached?” Here again, we have refused to draw the lessons from the event, preferring to blame the collapse on communist ideology without posing the question of over-concentration and over-integration as such.
During the 1990s, the West was giddy with triumph. Those were the mad years of the Internet bubble. “Who cares that the material world is finite: capitalism will invade virtual worlds of its own construction!” But the dream ended abruptly when the model of the new economy revealed its real nature—it was a mirage, an illusion. If there was a dizzying fall at the turn of the millennium, it was not that of the Twin Towers, but the collapse of hopes placed in virtual reality, the escape hatch through which were pushed the ever more insurmountable internal contradictions of a capitalist system driven mad by the permanent confusion between the monetary map and the economic landscape. Once again, people decided to see nothing, to learn nothing. In order to maintain at all costs the illusion that the millenarian utopia could construct the meaning of history, the financial oligarchy put the economic system on life support, giving the American economy fix after fix of debt. It was an absurd effort that, besides, pointed out the absurdity of neoliberal monetarist semantics.
This absurdity could only endure for so long. In the fall of 2008, its time was up.
A great shiver ran down the spine of the hundred-thousand-headed beast—the ruling class. Amidst the crash, still more dollars were injected into the system, like so many symbols that concealed nothing, but which once more, for a few years, perhaps, allowed the neoliberal propaganda machine to keep grinding away at all costs.
These were just the last, dilatory maneuvers that will not change anything in the end: it is all an illusion. It hardly matters that financial indices are artificially maintained by lowering interest rates to zero. Breaking the thermometer never cured a fever.
Economic rationality alone is not able to provide the meaning of history. Technology cannot accomplish everything. A project of infinite development cannot be conducted on a finite planet. Man cannot have everything he wants; he must want what he is able to get.
We are faced with a return to limits. Mankind will not be its own messiah—the humanist religion is a failure.
The beast with a hundred thousand heads is, indeed, behaving like a beast—in particular, it is as dangerous as a wounded animal that feels its hour has struck. Back from the failure of the credit system that served as an ideological shelter for their power, the elites and their trustees are now struggling to save their power, to preserve the messianic fiction, while gradually restricting it to themselves. On the one hand, a superior humanity that wants to be a messiah for itself and itself alone; on the other, an inferior humanity sent back into the symbolic shadows of thought’s absence, the non- existence of meaning—in fact, into the negation of its status as an autonomous subject, where it is forbidden to define a mental space free of the constraints placed upon it. A humanity skinned of its spirit. Such is the generative schema of the next decades. The future is menacing. We might as well understand this. The humanist religion is going to transform itself into an anti-human ideology. This turnabout, the creating of a monster by those who sought to make an angel, has been underway since the 1970s. But the 2010s will mark a perceptible acceleration in this process. And life, in consequence, will soon be very difficult for many of us. In this context, the stakes of the game, for true men, will soon be to survive. That’s all—to survive.
Going back to the ranks of the powerful madmen is not an option. You might obtain the intoxicating illusion of superiority, and certainly easier living conditions, but only at the price of your soul. Resigning yourself to vegetating among the mass of the ruled is hardly less depressing. (And amidst that oppressed and impoverished body, violence will be the norm.) Our contemporaries have too deeply assimilated the perverse logic of the consumer society to convert suddenly to the voluntary simplicity that might save them.
Survival will almost certainly play itself out away from today’s bustle, in refuges we must know how to create and defend. Physical survival, yes; but also psychological and spiritual survival.
Of course, this is no exalted ideal. But at this stage, resisting the inhuman machine will often mean passing by it unnoticed, and above all, being able to do without it.
A modest struggle, but hardly a contemptible one.
For one day, when that machine has exhausted all the possibilities of its original élan, it will totter and fall. Then, for us, it will be enough to be numerous, to maintain solidarity, so as collectively to regain control of our Earth after we have fiercely defended our few areas of retreat. It is in order to be there, at that decisive moment, that we must survive now. So do not be ashamed: let us build our refuges! Remember that a rebel wins if he can hold out one hour longer than his adversary. Let us organize ourselves to do so.
So, my friend . . . wipe away that sad, drawn smile. Raise up those eyes you have kept lowered for so long. Look straight ahead at the horizon. Hold your chin up. Your life has meaning—to survive one hour longer than the machine.
Pass the word on: comrade, our children are counting on you!
Michel Drac is a writer, political commentator, and economist. For fifteen years, he worked as a controller. He is the author of numerous books and the founder of the publishing house Le Retour aux Sources. He is also a member of the national association Equality & Reconciliation.