Excerpts from Introduction to Third Phase Transition: Solving The Anthropocene Crisis
On the second phase transition
“[A]ccording to present state of the art, it does not seem like this singular conquest of natural force [control of fire] would have played a principle part in driving the successful harvesting metabolism into crisis. It seems like the very general success of the species had had a more decisive significance. At the beginning of the Holocene, around 11,000 years ago, the cooperative skill had not only spread our species to the entire planet. It had brought it to a popular density, where the consumption power of harvesting metabolism had threatened to turn into a destructive power.
Sticking to harvesting metabolism would have tended to lead to a general plunder crisis. Sudden climate change, in combination with human overkill, had led to extinction of megafauna in entire regions and even continents. How much of this ecological crisis that had been caused by natural climate change, and how much by human consumption stress, we might never really get to know.”
“This threatening plunder crisis was solved by human cooperativity undergoing a fundamental revolution, facilitated by the uniquely stable and hospitable interglacial conditions of the new geological epoch. Early Holocene formed a phase transition in the interaction between human cooperation and surrounding nature. Its breakthrough is commonly known as the Neolithic revolution, or the First Agricultural Revolution. Harvesting metabolism was giving way to the beginnings of linear metabolism. Sedentary development of human society was self-organised through co-domestication and cultivation of successively selected plants and animals. The horticultural glades of late harvesting metabolism were extended into virtual fields of agriculture. The resilience of ecosystems would prove to be robust enough to allow for such systematic human exploitation of the soil.
Cooperation was refined by functionally dividing itself, in the form of human labour. Peasant agriculture formed the first human mode of production. Human labour and its tools, together with the natural forces of settled areas, were transformed into forces of production. Henceforth, development of productive forces became the general self-organising principle of humanity, successively selecting for production relations conductive to furthering this development.
Science as such is a human category, which became possible to apply to surrounding nature, by human cooperation refining itself into social labour, a permanently self-evolving, systematic, and specialised belabouring of nature’s regularities. Within the cooperation of the human mind, such scientific inquiry and discoveries began to infiltrate the religious superstition inherited from the first metabolic mode.”
“A denser and larger human population could be fed in an area sized a fraction of former hunting grounds, albeit at the cost of a more unbalanced and nutrient-poor diet, dominated by cereal staples. Produced necessities could be stored as social reserves, buffering seasonal shifts and potential devastation brought by drought, flooding, pests, et cetera.
Exchange of such accumulated surplus re-invigorated variation in diet. This, however, brought with it even more important things. Interchange in mating counteracted deleterious inbreeding. Exchange of accumulated knowledge set out intercultural crossbreeding. Human needs were diversified. The scale and density of human cooperation increased exponentially. Handicraft and trade formed the organising principle of urbanisation, a general tendency of intensifying association that was to accompany the entire development of civilisation.
Families, gathered in clans, would associate in tribes, that in turn federated, transforming into chiefdoms and proto monarchies. Conglomerates of various ethnicities and socially differentiated populations, spanning vast areas, were to give rise to politics as mighty groups’ meta form of cooperation.
The second phase transition was to end, and the beginnings of the second phase was to start, with the advent of class society. How? Why?”
“At the proto-historic pre-stages of class society, with their typical domestication of slave labour, human cooperation had been brutalised. A minority of men had conquered power, as an enclosed cooperation, in a sect-like community above general cooperation. They could live relieved from toil, at the expense of human collaboration. They had thereby acquired a special interest in spreading the cooperation of the labouring population. Such segregated leadership versus massive incapacitation, would remain the hallmark of human cooperation throughout civilisation.”
“Honour culture of proto history had been idolising brutal force. Torture, manslaughter, rape, and enslavement of foreigners and internal competitors had been upheld as heroic virtue, as displayed in for example the classical Greek drama, or in the Icelandic Eddas. Productive agricultural labour had been stigmatised as a despicable characteristic of poor people, slaves, and draught animals. Such traditions had not only been nonconductive to development of productive forces, except for those directly applicable to armament, mobilisation logistics, amassing of wealth, and celebration of Emperor cults. They had also been threatening to degenerate into society’s dissolution in unbounded criminality and civil war. Especially the practice of enslaving a failing debtor had been a threat constantly looming over labour.
The labouring peasant majority, subjected to societies’ recurring plunder crises, had tended to rise in social mutinies against the warlords. Populations of ravaged and threatened cities had been teeming with sympathy for social mutiny. Another, more subtle, countervailing force to the endemic plunder crisis of protohistory had been the cooperative force of transcultural cross-fertilisation, possibly transforming warrior culture of conquerors by assimilating more complex associative culture of the conquered. Sophisticated handicraft, trade, civil administration, and pacifying rituals had been perforating the warrior cultures.
Class society arose and constituted itself under the pressure from labour’s social mutiny against the rule of robbers. The system appeared as an historical solution to this active or latent plunder crisis within humanity. It had been emerging as massive development features, until finally finding its self-organising principle: development of productive forces through production relations among social classes. Put in metabolic terms, this formula corresponds to exploitation of nature by exploitation of human labour.
On the one hand, progressing division of labour, increased migration, trade networks, and spreading urbanisation, had been fragmenting and dissolving clans and tribes. On the other hand, the tribal systems were to be substituted by a more powerful force. The new civilised mode of cooperation was to be regulated at a more permanent footing, as well as a larger scale. It made itself binding to relatives as well as to strangers. The new order substituted private property in land and the territorial state for tribalism. These more robust, durable, and inclusive forms of association were to prove their force of social cohesion. Linear metabolism had reached its characteristic level in right of association – class society.”