I’m extremely bothered by the way we exist. It’s taken me a long time to realize that most people either don’t notice, don’t care, or are too busy trying to make a decent life for themselves or their loved ones to be able to spend time on these things. I, unfortunately, am unable to simply accept it. This is my problem. It drives me constantly.
Lately, I’ve been reading the works of Abudullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish movement in Turkey. He’s given me some fairly incredible insights into a few things that have confused me.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying people, religions, money, and technology – as many of you know, I have a degree in Anthropology – that’s why. Civilization and how we ended up here has always been a mystery to me. I mean, it’s laid out in various ways – history of religion, history of money, history of economics, capitalism, political history – but when you look at the whole picture it’s very difficult to put them into a cohesive pattern that explains why we are in this strange mess we exist in.
Ocalan’s narrative of civilization makes sense and the ancient backstory works well. In fact, it fits with most of what I’ve read or learned from other thinkers. This is pretty simple stuff, but it is important for context. Humans formed family bands where the mother was the distributor of food, the assignor of tasks, and the arbiter of punishment/rewards. Without a true notion of paternity, this makes a lot of sense. The mother was clan leader with her brothers and mate filling the heavy lifting roles. With the coming of agriculture, suddenly there was the opportunity for surplus food, supplies, etc. This surplus in hunter/gatherer cultures or early agricultural cultures would be distributed as gifts or saved for famine. This set the stage for the next step. The clever strongman realized that the mother-clan-leader had power that she was not using in this surplus, he took control of the surplus from the mother-clan-leader and began to use it to improve his own position and that of his immediate family and friends – it was turning this surplus into power that gave patriarchy the chance to strip power from the mother-clan-leader. The clever strongman eventually settled into a clever way to hold power – the triumvirate of the clever-strongman-father, the priest, and the soldier. Women were stripped of their power as mother-clan-leader and relegated to the role of domestic servant and baby machine. Patriarchy was fully born.
Patriarchy functions as a dominator system. He who is able to dominate takes control. Matriarchy by nature functions as a cooperator system. Unfortunately, this meant that wherever the two met, matriarchy was forced to either dominate (which opened the door for internal clever strongmen) or to be fully dominated. In any event, a cooperator culture (so far) has never been able to overcome a dominator culture.
The surplus was turned into power. The merchant class was born. The whole point of the merchant class at first was to distribute the surplus but with the dominator effect coming into play – the merchant class began to function as traders – looking for ways to arbitrage goods from one market that were not worth much into goods that were worth more. Eventually, this led to the creation of coin and money.
At this point, things become tricky – the clever-strongman holds power with his high-priest and general, but suddenly merchants and traders (a necessary but despised group until then) have harnessed a source of seemingly unlimited power – hoarded wealth and profits.
The priest class immediately see the advantage of wealth and begin to use its power. Gradually, the clever-strongman tribe starts to become challenged by the religious tribe – the merchant and trader class cater to both increasing their power and influence. The merchant cities of Italy typify this – Genoa, Venice, Florence – suddenly the power of the merchant class is (while still despised) determining the victor in wars.
It was in England and the Netherlands however, the next stage was brewing. The merchants in London and Amsterdam became the first capitalists. They used the power of interest, notes, and fractional reserve to essentially take control of the states of England and Orange. Money lending had always been a thing, but this was different.
At this point, the nation-state was born. The high priest was ejected from his role in the ruling triumvirate and he was replaced by the high-banker. Religion still had a necessary role in ruling the people however and a church was still necessary. The church was changed for the nation-state – the devotion to god was replaced by the devotion to nation. If you look, it is around this time that the ideas of nationalism and patriotism were born. Flags and documents began to be treated as holy objects. Prior to this there was no such thing as a Frenchman or an Englishman – because the religion of state-worship had not yet been born – there were only peasant subjects, not lower class nationalists. The pomp and pageantry of the church was replaced by that of the state being worshipped – in some cases overtly as with the Church of England replacing Catholicism.
The bankers and merchants had not completely eliminated the power of the priest but had at least supplanted it. Next seeing the opportunities being born of the industrial revolution, they set about taking control of the means of production and the industrial base of the nations they were in. Capital and capitalists have never known a national loyalty. Money, goods, and power are shifted around the globe regardless of political allegiance. If you look at history you will see this – American and English companies profited from German markets (and even direct Nazi markets) for as long as they could even as their nations fought wars. The reason for this is that capital and capitalism have never been adherents of the nationalist religions – they follow a different religion called Capitalism.
This is a very hurried summary of everything I’ve put together through the years with the works of Ocalan filling the gaps that I had missed. In particular, Ocalan’s revelation that capitalism is not an economic form but a religion shed huge amounts of light on the blank portions of my map. I had always understood that nationalism is a form of religion but I was under the mistaken assumption that capitalism was an economic model independent of religion. Wrong.
Capitalism has been jockeying for top spot from the beginning. Capitalism wants to replace the nation state, the church, and control the military. In the United States and England, it has pretty well done that. Think about the ‘faith’ in the dollar. Think about campaign finance and how capital essentially determines who serves in government. Think about government contracts and industrial pork being written into legislation. Think about how the markets have rallied to new highs while tens of millions of Americans are unemployed and the world sits precariously on the edge of war with China, a pandemic, and more. Capital has taken the crown. A billionaire sits in the White House and billionaires called before Congress smile and dodge tough questions and then make billions in profit the next day!
Now to explain the inevitable conflict with Islam. As many of you know, I converted to Islam. I’m a pretty terrible Muslim as I drink, sometimes eat pork, don’t pray, and don’t really do anything prescribed except the Ramadan fast, charity, and trying to live up to the good suggestions (which also exist in the words of Jesus, Buddha, and others). Essentially, I’m Sufic. There are many reasons I chose to convert, among them the restrictions that Islam put on capital. Lending for interest is haram (forbidden) by Islam. Hoarding of wealth is forbidden (but it still happens). Speculation is forbidden by Islam. And charity is mandatory. These and other prescriptions and restrictions make Islam fundamentally opposed to the capitalist religion. It is not democracy and Islam which are set for inevitable warfare as Samuel Huntington claimed (The Clash of Civilizations) – it is capitalism and Islam that cannot co-exist. Capitalism demands sacrifice and exploitation, it demands the exploitation of labor, the exploitation of markets, the exploitation of resources – it is always ravenous and cannot survive without consuming. (edited)
I believe that there is also an inevitable clash of civilizations between Chinese State Capitalism and Capitalism in the west. These are two systems opposed. And so we have the modern world – three religions that cannot co-exist. Chinese State Capitalism, Capitalism, and Islam. These are the wars of our generations. The reasons they are being fought are not the reasons we are being told.
Now, I want to address something – why don’t Christianity and Buddhism sit in that group of three religions. It’s because Buddhism is a passive religion that does not look for conflict in this world and Christianity has been reformed and reformatted over and over to fit with the Nation-State religion which has been coopted by the Capitalist religion. Islam is the only religion that encourages the sword. Muslims are told to fight for their existence and from the beginning there has been a prescription that disallows any sort of reformation or drastic change – yes there is the schism between Sunni and Shia but they have the exact same foundational text, the schism comes from disagreements about other things.
It’s interesting how Soviet Communism was swallowed by capitalism with the dissolution of the Soviet State. Chinese ‘communism’ however has made the transition to something new which is state controlled capitalism and thus survived as a nation-state that has enchained capitalism by fully controlling capital, markets, and trade. The U.S is the reverse – a nation state that has been enchained by capitalism. They cannot coexist which is why they each seek to destroy the other by absorbing more markets.
Islam is a threat to both which is why the U.S. continues it’s war against Islam (despite trying to paint it as over) and why there are over 1-million Muslim Uighars who have been disappeared into retraining camps.
I really didn’t expect to write that much…but I feel like it is important.
I encountered the writings of Ocalan while reading about Murray Bookchin, a prominent anarchist who, like me, realized that anarchism was an adolescent fantasy and developed a more cohesive and realistic set of principles that allow for organization and representation but without the apparatus of the state. Instead, Bookchin’s models focus on the municipality as the largest power and then a series of confederalized city-states with fully recallable delegates/representatives. Ocalan also became a devotee of Bookchin’s work and began organizing the PKK (Kurdish people) under those principles. The PKK has largely reduced (but not fully eliminated) paternalism, patriarchy, and as an organized nation of people without a state – the religion of Nation-Statism. During the past decade, the Peshmerga fighters were staunch allies of the U.S. in fighting ISIS but when the battle appeared won, the U.S. abandoned them to be crushed by the Turkish and Syrian states. During the time they were allied however, the Kurds managed to set up a very successful governance model under Ocalan’s principles in Rojava and other towns which worked quite well. This has been the closest thing to a modern challenge to the capitalist, state-capitalist, and Islamic power structures we have seen. The Confederalist system was a challenge to all three – which is why it was crushed. At the moment, it seems unlikely that such a system will be able to thrive or grow in the Middle East environment but with current global conditions appearing to threaten collapse in several places – the opportunity to bring about such a system seems to be coming.
Of course, it will depend on the level of collapse.
It seems to me that island nations might have the best shot at it – and if the U.S. seriously collapses – Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean Islands seem like they might have an opportunity. Additionally, European nations with a long history of socialist movements like Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy might be able to light the candle and have it spread to places like Germany, France, and Northern Europe.
These are exciting times – but, I warn you not to be too excited, because Capitalism has proven time and time again how resilient and deadly it can be.