End of the Megamachine, The
A uniquely comprehensive page-turner depicting the roots of the current civilizational crisis.
The End of the Megamachine provides a uniquely comprehensive picture of the roots of the destructive forces that are threatening the future of humankind today. Spanning 5000 years of history, the book shows how the three tyrannies of militarized states, capital accumulation and ideological power have been steering both ecosystems and societies to the brink of collapse. With the growing instability of the Megamachine in the 21st century, new dangers open up as well as new possibilities for systemic change, to which everyone can contribute.
Originally published in Germany in 2015 to great acclaim, Zero Books presents the first English language edition of The End of the Megamachine: A Brief History of a Failing Civilization.
“The topic could not be more important. A very valuable and surely timely contribution.” Noam Chomsky
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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. The End of the Megamachine provides a very interesting, although just slightly shallow historical account of the ways humanity has gone in the wrong direction in the past five millennia. For Scheidler, the people have veered away from the right path of development due to four things he calls tyrannies. Though four, they all stem from the same base desire - that for endless capital accumulation. Everything, from the creation of cities and countries, to that of the monotheistic religions comes from this greed for getting more and more. Seeing how the world ended up where it is now through the lense of Scheidler's observation is equally enlightening and depressing, but it is something everyone should read. ~ Martin Lukanov (Reviewer) , NetGalley
Fabian Scheidler, a journalist, playwright and visual artist, caused a sensation when his book was published in Germany in 2015. Admirably researched and accessible in its coverage of 5,000 years of history, the book — now in its first English language edition with the addition of a telling final chapter on the covid-19 crisis — argues that ‘four tyrannies’ have brought both social and ecosystems near to collapse: the tyranny of the market and capital accumulation, the physical violence of the militarised state, the ideological power of the media, schools and universities, and the preponderance of linear thinking. Linear thinking, says Scheidler, assumes the world functions according to predictable laws of cause and effect and thus is controllable. But while this works for inanimate matter, it misleads when it comes to unpredictable humans, and blocks the view of reality in the living world. ‘The Great Machine is hitting a wall in slow motion, and those at the wheel are only making things worse by haphazardly yanking on all the levers,’ he asserts in a memorable passage. As the materialist ‘megamachine’ grows more unstable in the 21st century, new dangers present themselves, Scheidler warns, but at the same time opportunities for systemic change are developing around the world at grass roots level. Failures of the old order, perpetuating many problems which the existing system has been unable to solve — war, poverty, disease, climate change and financial collapse — demand a new model. Not since Colin Wilson’s monumental A Criminal History of Mankind (2nd edition 2005), have I read such an essential but dispiriting work about the flaws in the nature of man (and, historically, it is mainly men, of course) — for Scheidler’s book is a criminal history of a whole other kind, giving us a chilling perspective on the events of today, tracing as it does the course over centuries of pernicious forces now combined to place the future of the human race under serious threat. ...................................More and more people are beginning to see through the bluster, exemplified particularly in the response of the medical-political complex to the coronavirus where the imposition of lockdowns and economic cruelty worldwide will only keep the capitalist Megamachine running, it seems, and even perhaps extend its life, through the structural violence of debt being enacted on and by governments everywhere on a vast scale. Perhaps this is a hidden agenda: how the world’s economic and political elites, through the power of debt, as Scheidler points out, can facilitate neoliberal reorganisation and profitable business and political control. After all, a sharp increase in national debt suddenly is no longer a problem; money, supposedly never there for social and ecological restructuring, suddenly flows in almost unlimited sums. While governments cosy up to the big corporations, the state and capital always having been closely intertwined — state power being chiefly a means to pave the way for unimpeded increase in money capital — small and medium sized businesses are disproportionately harder hit. Indeed, Scheidler agrees that the basic structures of the Megamachine are being maintained, and in some cases strengthened, by the covid catastrophe. The End of the Megamachine follows two timelines: the first five chapters cover a period from about 3,000BCE, tracing the development of military, economic and ideological power back to its roots in Mesopotamia, and the following six chapters cover the last 500 years, relating how the modern world system was formed with the emergence of the first highly militarised corporations, the accumulation of capital in financial centres, colonisation and the rapid expansion enabled by fossil fuels which broke through ecological boundaries. Some key quotes: ‘The inner logic of the Megamachine is fundamentally incompatible with true democracy, understood as self-organisation.’ ‘At the beginning of the modern era, Europeans transformed half the world into a hell on earth in the name of salvation and progress.’ ‘Wherever the European trinity of military, merchants and missionaries set foot, sooner or later, it laid waste to egalitarian forms of social organisation.’ ‘Modern states have arisen neither for the benefit of populations nor with their consent, but as the products of physical violence.’ ‘The only prospect remaining is that of a desolate dystopia: a planet torn between extreme wealth and abject misery, racing toward an ecological catastrophe with a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, collapsing megacities and a dysfunctional financial system.’ Apocalypse is not just a province of the imagination, says Scheidler. No other civilisation in history has managed to produce so many real-life doomsday options, from nuclear war to environmental collapse to the spread of lab-grown, mutated killer organisms: ‘These days the connection between apocalypticism and capitalism is almost uncannily topical.’ Scheidler warns that the covid-19 crisis and social and economic shutdowns could be a foretaste of how governments will try to control an increasingly fragile system in the future through a crisis mode that suspends democracy, at first temporarily, but eventually permanently. So as to take back hard-won democratic rights from the populace, the best justification is always a powerful enemy: since 2001, it has been Islamism and the ‘war on terror’, but that’s replaced by the coronavirus — although not a particularly dangerous illness in the scheme of things — and the ‘biopolitical state of emergency’, with governmental rhetoric remarkably similar. Fear of such enemies has diverted attention from ‘those far greater threats that come from the heart of Western civilisation itself: the biosphere crisis and the growing danger of nuclear war’. Pandemics, financial crises and the collapse of life-sustaining ecosystems will inevitably force the economies of rich countries to contract in the long term. Thus Scheidler sees the corona crisis as an important learning experience as to how to free the state from its interdependence with big business and make it an institution obligated to serve the common good, how wealth income and work must be redistributed to create dignified lives for everyone. Disintegration, or collapse, often translates into chaos, but not necessarily an apocalypse. A determined resistance against the destructive force of the Megamachine is needed, and new social and economic structures built to allow people gradually to live outside its logic. Scheidler ends with various examples of ‘defensive struggles’ going on around the world which are resisting the old and building the new, and are just as important as creating alternatives. His good news is that exit from the prevailing system has been under way for some time: he cites battles against mining projects, oil drilling, fracking, pipelines, dams, highways nuclear power plants, land grabbing, privatisation, militarisation and the power of the banks. ~ Geoff Ward, Medium.com
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars....Exploitation, alienation. Human cruelty, violence, impending ecological catastrophe. How did things ever get to the predicament we collectively face now? How is it that 99% of the world's wealth is currently owned and controlled by a mere bus load of billionaires? This book attempts to answer this question by looking at the ways our civilisation has evolved. More crucially, how this Machine evolved since the evolution of the first city states. Before that, the nomadic hunter/gatherer way of life persisted for tens of thousands and millions of years. But with this relatively highly recent development, metallurgy, profiteers and war became linked into an unholy alliance of power-over and has always been essentially malevolent. The need for constant growth through making profits leads to rapacious growth, to viewing nature as a commodity to be exploited (especially post Bacon and Descartes), the glorification of war, and innate inequality. This is what this writer has called the Machine, and it is time it was dismantled - for the sake of our survival of the species, as well as for the planet we are rapidly destroying...............This is an excellent sociological and anthropological study of how and why we have reached this current, precarious state of affairs, either way. ~ Lynda Stevens (Reviewer), NetGalley
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Because those in power get to write down “true” history, much of the world is steeped in the idea that Western civilization represents progress and reason. According to Western (economic and political) mythology, historical events by and large represent progress (so long as the victors become wealthy and the standard of life, for a large cross-section in the winning culture, is acceptable). This historical “truth” is embraced by most college students even though real history is a stream of wars, destruction and oppression of the weak. Scheidler explains that the root cause of this myth is not really liberalism favoring free market capitalism so much as a much older predatory system that seeks increased gains for those in power, forever justified by a publicly announced mission to bring about religious salvation, and when that justification was scuttled, the mission was modified to bring about development, a free market, and a higher standard of living. No matter what is blamed for wars, the overall promotion of consumerism and exploitation of the earth is running into two 21st century walls: a structural global economic crisis that “can no longer be explained away by the usual economic cycles” (loc 157 of 5298) and the steady dwindling lack of security for a growing number of people (let alone the issues of global warming and ecological crisis). The End of the Megamachine is no mere exploration of a theory; it is a prophecy. Scheidler supports his thesis with a historical study of cultural commercialism, and in so doing, he proves that we do not have to put up with the economic structure that we are saddled with today. The beginnings of the modern free market are tied to state gain. Scheidler asserts that those who “cultivated European market expansion at the threshold of modern times were not peaceful merchants” but they were in fact VIPs from militarized city states who used warfare “to assert their commercial interests” (1171). By contrast, Arab merchants did not use physical force and were not part of state policy making and were removed from state power. The First Crusade involved the conquest of the port city of Acre in Galilee in 1104, for which Genoa received a third of the port city’s revenues The first crusade “led to the enormous enrichment of Genoese merchants and was the basis for much of the city’s subsequent power.” Scheilder cites William of Tyre’s eyewitness account of the massacre at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and it is horrific. The knights and soldiers from the Christian West massacred without mercy, and the “‘whole place was flooded with the blood of victims.’” Tyre described his revulsion at “‘the spectacle of headless bodies, mutilated limbs strewn in all directions that roused horror in all who looked upon them’ and insists that the victors themselves, dripping from blood from head to foot,’” brought terror to the beholder. In the Al Aqsa Mosque alone, ten thousand died, and a similar number of victims were dragged out from wherever they hid in the city and slain like sheep or “‘dashed headlong to the ground from some elevated place so that they perished miserably.’” All the spoils went to the victors by agreement before the slaughter, explaining the pitiless lack of humanity among the victors (1197). Scheidler observes that a similar fate awaited the inhabitants of the Americas, calling the phenomenon “destructive violence produced by the combination of capitalism, militarism and Western missionary zeal”(1197). He furthermore brands the Crusades (in which Europe was the victor) as revelatory of what the rest of the world would soon taste. From the Crusades, the West moved into new forms of mercenary combat that threw out old rules, evident in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between England and France. The age of chivalry died when rules of combat were tossed aside and the number of dead were not limited—not even of other Christians. The “Black Prince,” Edward III’s son, resorted to a scorched earth policy that devastated large parts of southern France. His armies were financed by the Florentine banks, investors. If the world’s wars have seemed disjointed or part of convoluted political maneuvering on a world stage, reading Scheidler’s assessment in the light of economic aggression and entitlement will have the advantage of tying everything together. He makes a tremendously strong argument for the driving force that could lead to mankind’s ultimate destruction. There is a section of the book that appears to argue that the belief systems supporting a dominant god have played into the global economic aggression, and that very well may be, but that segment (which many religious followers will take at least some issue with) does not detract from the overall convincing thesis that concepts can be distorted. He draws attention to this idea by quoting Levi-Strauss, who wrote, “The primary function for writing as a means of communication is to facilitate the enslavement of other human beings”(366). One would hardly imagine that Scheidler would advocate a cessation of writing and reading lessons; here, he simply makes a good point about propaganda and the power of disseminated ideas. It is ironic that religious and philosophical playbooks for living at peace and in harmony with each other and the earth have been in existence for centuries, but mankind has chosen to applaud the road of greed. This is not a book without hope, for at the outset Scheidler explains that the entire world agricultural system could be shifted to organic within a few years, if people wanted. It was good that he started on such a note, because one needs a little hope in the face of such a tidal wave of evidence. ~ Julia Simpson-Urrutia (Reviewer), NetGalley
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars...............Human society is not just heading in the wrong direction, it has forcefully made the wrong turn and doubled down on it for five thousand years now. According to Fabian Scheidler, whose book The End of the Megamachine has finally been published in English, that wrong approach can be clearly broken into four tyrannies that all trace their root to endless capital accumulation. It is an alternative history that can be very persuasive..... ~ David Wineberg (Media) , NetGalley
An extremely good read! ~ Annette Jensen, Taz. Die Tageszeitung
The book makes us understand how today’s madness came to be. You do not feel confused and powerless anymore, but ready for a new start. ~ Der Freitag (German weekly)
Fabian Scheidler has written not only an economic but also a remarkable psychological history of capitalism. ~ Bettina Dyttrich, WOZ. Die Wochenzeitung (Swiss weekly)
This book should become part of the curricula of all schools and universities. ~ Prof. Ulrich Duchrow, Publik Forum (German biweekly)
The book is relentless but it reads marvelously, it makes one angry while offering encouragement at the same time ~ Lara Mallien, Oya (German monthly)
A fascinating new take on the parts of human history that got us where we are today. It's a disturbing story, but it offers some clues on the way out of our box canyon. ~ Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org
The topic could not be more important. A very valuable and surely timely contribution. ~ Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology/University of Arizona
This book, a sensation in Germany when it was first published, challenges us to seek a new path for our and the planet’s survival. It tells the backstory of the failed promises of economic globalization and market capitalism and shows that the current social and ecological crises have their roots in thousands of years of war, domination and destruction of the natural world. ~ Maude Barlow, Chairperson of the Council of the Canadians
A fascinating book, delightful to read in spite of the grim topic. This is an excellent reflection on the terror/hope that we are living. ~ John Holloway, Autonomous University of Puebla, Mexico
A brilliant book, that couldn’t be more topical. We owe the author our gratitude, solidarity and a great deal of admiration. ~ Jean Ziegler, Advisory Committee to the UN Human Rights Council
What a brilliant achievement—a wonderfully coherent, cogent and gripping story of the historical origins of the political, economic, social and ecological crises of our times. You can’t be a serious activist committed to creating a new world if you haven’t read this. ~ Firoze Manji, Carleton University; founder of Pambazuka News
A highly original and fascinating book. It helps to understand and overcome the global Megamachine that is threatening our future. ~ Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, President of the Club of Rome (2012–2018)
The End of the Megamachine exposes the slide into a near complete loss of memory of who we are as humans and how we ought to live together. Scheidler weaves a potent tapestry of how we subvert ourselves through reckless exploitation of nature and the piling of socio-ecological harms on human communities. This book is a loud alarm that must not be ignored. ~ Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria
In this fascinating and rich synthesis, Fabian Scheidler tells us the whole story of the Megamachine, this giant creature that eats minerals and spawns armies, from the very beginning of the mining age, to the current wholesale destruction of the Earth's crust. ~ Ugo Bardi, University of Florence/Club of Rome, author of “The Limits to Growth Revisited” and “Extracted"
An eye-opener for social activists. A history of Western civilization in only 300 pages: no wonder that the book has such a great success! Fabian Scheidler brilliantly succeeds in highlighting the rupture points in this process. ~ Wolfgang Sachs, Club of Rome, editor of “The Development Dictionary“
The End of the Megamachine is an informed and clearly written chronicle of how societies have reached the dire situation we now face. Going on from our perch on the precipice, do we accumulate ourselves into barbaric death under the rule of the Megamachine? Or do we cooperate ourselves into civilized life by ending the Megamachine, and not ourselves? Scheidler offers historical insights meant to fuel the liberating outcome. ~ Michael Albert, founder and editor of Z Magazine
Fabian Scheidler’s book paints a uniquely complete picture of the historical roots of capitalism. It is a profound mirror for the Western world, which prides itself so much on values, peace and democracy. For me, the book is more valuable than everything I learned about history at school. ~ Christian Felber, founder of the Economy for the Common Good
Top 10 of non-fiction books. ~ Robert Jungk Library for Future Studies
A must read for everyone rising against the system that is destroying life on earth and our future. ~ Vandana Shiva, World Future Council, founder of Navdanya.org, India