A few years ago, I was collecting information on what I was calling the Myths of Civilisation with the intention of writing a series of posts. They never materialised because I came across 33 Myths of the System by Darren Allen and realised he’d done the work for me! The book deconstructs the system we live in, looking at its history and the myths that underpin it and how it affects the way we live.
It’s not an easy book to read and it took me a while to get through it. Some of it’s quite challenging and it forces you to rethink everything you think you know about everything. This is a good thing and more people should try it.
You won’t necessarily agree with everything Allen says either. The book is written as “a polemic, or as defenders of the system would have it, a ‘rant’,” so it can get repetitive and some of the description feels overdone. Despite it being a hard read there’s plenty of humour, although you sometimes have to wade through interminable sentences to find it.
I especially disagree with his claim that the Earth is dying. She’s in bad shape and suffering under our toxic assault, undoubtedly, but she’s been through worse. He fails to tackle the Climate Change myths that are being used to justify the 4th Industrial Revolution and the Green New Deal which will continue the destruction of the biosphere.
But whatever is happening, the system will collapse anyway. It has to because it’s unsustainable – hence the current crisis. The Green New Deal isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about saving the system. And that might not be worth saving.
The system we’ve created has become an autonomous, self-perpetuating machine that devours humans in order to preserve itself. As individuals, we serve this system and keep it going without realising that’s what we’re doing. We think we’re making choices for ourselves, but our actions end up benefiting the system more than us.
Trying to break free of this situation isn’t easy because we’re trapped in our own web. Most of us are dependent on the system in order to survive. Every attempt to break free tends to make the situation worse. We create more problems trying to fix current problems and we become more trapped.
This might have something to do with the fact that the system works the way it does because it reflects our own minds. We created the system out of our own misconceptions of reality.
“The system has been ten thousand years in the making. During that time it has taken many localised forms—autocratic, democratic, socialist, capitalist—but despite superficial variations in structure and priorities, it has remained the same entity. It is now so sophisticated, so pervasive and so invasive, that it is almost impossible to perceive. We may know that something is very wrong with the world we have made, but it reaches so deeply into our experience that when it comes under radical criticism, we defend and excuse it as an extension of our own selves. The myths of the world are our own, and to expose them is to expose ourselves.”
These myths are the lies the system uses to perpetuate itself and the lies we tell ourselves in order to avoid waking up to Reality. The ultimate myth is the one that underpins all the others: the myth of the separate self, which is the subject of Darren Allen’s new book Self and Unself, or 33 Myths of the Ego, due out soon.
In 33 Myths of the System Allen describes how the postmodern system operates through commodification of pretty much everything. It commodifies knowledge via data; debt via financialisation; perception and emotion through virtual interactions; matter via artificial materials and patent law; and energy through petrochemicals, nuclear power, and presumably whatever new forms arrive in the next decade.
Through this process of turning everything into a thing to be sold, it removes:
“every barrier between the system and the last recesses of reality. Ultimately even our own conscious experience of our own bodies [is] incorporated (or privatised) into the world-mechanism and forced to conform to its rhythms and laws.”
This experience is about to become even more invasive with the Great Reset and the digitisation of everything, including the natural world, and the financialisation of your data so you can be given a credit score and sold to the highest (or lowest) bidder. There’s nothing great about the Great Reset, just like there’s nothing green about the Green New Deal.
One feature of the system is that it mutates through different forms. Allen says the current version of the post-capitalist, or late-stage/neoliberal system often takes on the features of earlier forms, such as feudalism and socialism. As the system unravels it will also take on more extreme forms, such as fascism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism.
Another way to look at the system is through the lens of fictional dystopias, and Allen includes four, based on the work of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Franz Kafka, and Philip K Dick.
The Orwellian system is ruled by an autocratic totalitarian people, party or elite group. Control is through suppression and submission, hyper-relativism (postmodernism) and polarisation into ‘us and them.’
The Huxleyan system is ruled by democratic, totalitarian, capitalist, technocratic systems. Control is through an excess of choice and information, addiction and distraction, and the ‘church of truth’ in Scientism.
The Kafkaesque system is ruled by bureaucracy. Control is through tracking and measuring and managing everything and everyone, and the avoidance of life via paperwork.
The Phildickian system is ruled by replacing reality with “an abstract, ersatz virtual image of it.” Control is through the simulation of real connections between people, virtual reality, constant surveillance and distraction via the ‘Spectacle.’
The system draws on these four dystopias in a variety of combinations, but the differences are cosmetic.
“That all these apparent differences are essentially aspects of the same reality or pseudo-reality becomes visible during crises. When the Huxleyan world is attacked or at its apogee, begins to break down, it instantly turns into an Orwellian nightmare.”
The system can never really be reformed. It merely mutates into another form and continues along its merry way. Progress is achieved by making small adjustments to the system but the underlying problems remain.
“Uncertainty, mystery, femininity, innocence, nature and the context (aka non-specialist reality) are all sources of anxiety to systemoids, who respond to their presence with irritation, hostility and an irresistible urge to brush them from awareness or to bring them under comprehensible control. … Then, as reality is annihilated and a rational, virtual nightmare spreads over the wasteland where the earth once was, the system proceeds to make a series of extraordinary claims to the effect that because people’s lives have quantitatively improved… that they are thereby enjoying a superior ‘quality’ of life.”
So much for progress.
Other myths covered in the book include: Economics, Choice, Freedom, Truth, Democracy, Education, Work, Science, Religion, Psychology, Meaning, and Nature.
33 Myths of the System isn’t just a rant about how crap everything is. He also includes ideas about how things could be done differently, specifically through an anarchist approach. Anarchism is widely misunderstood, by me included, so I appreciated his breakdown of how it works and what it really means.
Basically, it would depend on adults taking responsibility for themselves and not handing their power over to others. Read the book for more details. You can download it for free here.
The system is now breaking down (hence the big panic to keep it going by doubling down), which makes it easier to see how it operates. The illusion is laid bare and it’s not a pretty sight. As the system breaks down, it’ll also be easier to break free of it – and that’s the good news.
It’s important to remember that there are many good things about civilisation and it doesn’t have to be the nightmare it has become. But that’s down to us. As Frank Zappa says:
“The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theatre.”
This sounds like a terrible situation to be in – trapped. But the point to remember is this: the wall is an illusion too. The clue is in the word ‘theatre.’