Why Are Humans Fighting Other Humans when We Are Facing Extinction as a Species?

EDITORIAL, 18 Apr 2022

#741 | Howard Richards – TRANSCEND Media Service

For critical thinkers, the cascading consequences of the Ukraine war are redundant proofs of what they already knew before the war: there are no solutions to humanity´s principal problems inside the framework of the basic legal and ethical structures of the modern  world-system.

But I fear that the war tempts critical thinkers to lose focus.  Today´s news overshadows an existential crisis that compels humanity to rethink itself and to reinvent itself.  My critical  friends fall into invoking the moral standards of “normality,”  hoping that “normality´s”  sacred norms still have some power to restrain violence and mendacity.  But  they know full well that the sacred norms  of “normality” pave  a road to disaster.

The sacred norms of normality:  Friedrich von Hayek, in his lecture at the Centro de Estudios Publicos in Santiago during the Pinochet dictatorship titled “The Morality of a Free Society” named the deep structures of what he  called a free society  as two, and only two, property and liberty.

The same sacred norms of the dominant civil religion renamed with a critical spin:  My favorite is  Theodor Adorno´s one word: Tauschprinzip.  (the principle of exchange).    I take Tauschprinzip to be equivalent to André Orléan´s séparation marchande. Both describe what Karl Polanyi called market society.

As a critical realist, I am not surprised to find that the governing principles of the same objectively existing social reality are described with different vocabularies by different analysts.  Von Hayek, Adorno, Orléan, Polanyi  and many others offer diverse ways to talk about, and to see, the global economy.  From  Immanuel Wallerstein we learn something else we already knew: today everything social science studies is in the global economy.  Every social fact is inside it.   No social fact is outside it.

To bring today´s war into focus:  Its background, the fond of its forme, is an  existential crisis is that is physical.  Surviving humanity´s existential  crisis by creating sustainable relationships to physical reality requires that humanity rethink and reinvent complex social institutions. Their core –the core of the constitutive rules that constitute the global economy– is the  Tauschprinzip.  It was Adorno´s co-author Max Horkheimer who first named people aware that there are no solutions to humanity´s main problems within the confines of the dominant system  “critical thinkers.”

Physically, human use of the earth´s resources must decline to a point where, as J.C. Kumarappa wrote,  human consumption in  year does not exceed what the earth replenishes in a year.   The human population must stabilize or decline, at least until if and when technological and social breakthroughs make it possible to be sustainable with a larger population.

A  presenting symptom of humanity´s  plight is the diabolical double crisis.  The solution to economic downturns is to resume economic growth.  The solution to poverty is higher incomes for the poor.   More growth and fewer poor people mean more sales and more consumption.  But when the poor achieve the present living standards of the prosperous it will be game over for life on planet earth.

For most of history humans have been so few and so poor that nothing humans did could kill the biosphere.  Those days are gone.  Today success equals failure.

Social structures defined by the Tauschprinzip, and consequently by the stylized ideal-type of human being Marcel Mauss called échangiste, imply that economic success leads to ecological failure.  History confirms logic.  Historically, larger numbers of people producing more and buying more, damage the environment more.   The causal link is  robust  in spite of competitive markets bringing down the price of social panels, in spite of major corporations like Mercedes Benz and Tesla being leaders in creating green technologies designed to save us, and in spite of many other nuances and  counter currents.

An argument connecting everyday life (as Gandhi put it, connecting what we do in our neighbourhood with all the other neighbourhoods in the world) goes like this:  When you start with “isolated egos” (Roy Bhaskar´s phrase for what Orléan calls séparation marchande) doing simple commodity exchange,then as a matter of what is logically to be expected, and as a matter of what has actually happened in history, sooner or later you get societies where the general welfare depends on investor confidence.  Everybody´s welfare –not just corporate profits– depends on the confidence of investors that their investments will be safe and profitable.  You get “regimes of accumulation,” that is to say you get societies where every Institution is molded to favor capital accumulation.   You get warfare states as a consequence of  the chronic weakness of effective demand.  You get empires because demand at home is never enough.  You get astronomical sums of unpayable debt because cash sales without credit sales are never enough.  Some combination of  massive balloonings of spending  has to happen.  It has to happen  because if investors do not find it credible to believe that they can successfully turn money into more money, then “the economy” stops and everybody suffers.  It has to happen and it has to crash.

(“The economy” named  here is the  one that gets virtually all the attention in economics textbooks, and indeed shutting it down, as happened in Chile in 1973,  does bring life to a standstill.  But a majority of the work of the world is carried on outside it.)

Physical disaster becomes a social imperative; due to a complex historical chain of causes set in motion by a simple beginning constituted by a simple principle,  the Tauschprinzip.

The  incompatibility of endless growth  with the health of mother earth, is far from being the only fatal flaw in profit-from-exchange ways of life.   Writing in mid twentieth-century, Adorno and Horkheimer do not even mention it.  Back then they already  found many other reasons to be critical thinkers.

Although the general flourishing of all human beings in harmony with nature is physically possible, it is now socially impossible.

Hence two general questions:  How can the absurdity of humans fighting humans while the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology have our whole species slated for extinction, become a growth point leading to solutions that will really work in practice because they transform not just the  symptoms but the deep causes of cultural and structural violence?  How can we contribute to rethinking and reinventing a species, our own species, which is now programmed to self-destruct?

Here is an idea starting  to answer these two questions:   a Pedagogy  of the Rich, conceived as a companion volume to Paulo Freire´s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  It could also be called The Pedagogy of the Unoppressed. 

The unoppressed are those of us who enjoy having  a surplus that we could share, and often do share.  We are the “we” to whom Martin Luther King Jr. referred when he said that today “we” have the resources and the techniques to end poverty, and added that the question is whether we have the will.   We could, if we had the will, comply voluntarily with sharing and caring  norms regarding property that have existed and continue to exist in many cultures.  Saint Thomas Aquinas articulated a caring and sharing norm  when  he wrote that our property belongs not to us alone, but also to those whom we are able to help with our surplus.

Ending poverty is not the only objective –indeed a key objective is more voluntary frugal green living enhanced by green technologies. The overall goal is better stated as aligning across sectors to serve the common good inclusively and sustainably.

“We” who are able to share, in most cases, have achieved basic security.  Our physiological and safety needs are met.  In Abraham Maslow´s terms, we are able to move forward to focus on our needs for love and belonging, esteem and self-realization.  Many others have expressed similar ideas in different words.  For Victor Frankl, the decisive  factor determining whether a human life is a success or a failure is the search for meaning.  For José Ortega y Gassett, humans invariably want to feel that their actions are justified, at the very least justified in their own minds even if others misunderstand them.  Gandhi remarked that for a hungry person God appears in the form of a piece of bread; as for himself,  he defined his own aim in life as Moksha, seeing God face to face. Erik Erikson makes a case  for identity driving action, including cultural identity.   Some say “identity is motivation.”

To use a single name, I will name the motivations that remain after physiological and safety needs are met as “personal development.”  This one  phrase lumps together  Maslow´s three or four: love and belonging,  esteem (self esteem and enjoying the esteem of others) and self-realization; and it also lumps in words others have used to name motivations driving human action  above and beyond physiological needs and safety needs,  including Frankl´s meaning,  Ortega´s self-justification,  Gandhi´s Moksha, and Erikson´s identity.

Remember that Maslow´s seminal paper is called “A Theory of Motivation.”  It turns out that what motivates people is what satisfies their needs.  Motivations and needs are two sides of the same coin.

My working hypotheses for a Pedagogy of the Unoppressed are that personal development, consciously pursued,

  1. goes with the flow, with the grain and not against the grain, of what people naturally do after their basic needs are met,
  2. can be a  form of concientización, consciousness-raising, named by another commonly used word as mindfulness,  and
  3. leads toward pro-social behaviour and away from anti-social behaviour.

A combination of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and a Pedagogy of the Unoppressed  sublates  the Tauschprinzip.  It nurtures  ethics of care (feminism);  while regarding serving the common good as a virtue (Aristotle) and as a duty (Kant).   The rich can and sometimes do embrace ethics that define paths to green sustainability and social inclusion –not because ethics are imposed from outside, but because ethics are understood from inside.

These are not untested hypotheses.  They describe the personal development programs (PDPs) of the EMBA program at  University of Cape Town.  Details are given in Sounding the Depths of Leadership by Kosheek Sewchurran.

At the level of economics, the concientización of everybody, both the oppressed and the unoppressed,  is a proposal for and a path toward making the impossible possible.  It is a proposal made in the light of recent historical experience.  Social democracy did not work essentially because globalization –and even more so today´s financialized global value chains—destroyed the state´s capacity to  intervene to correct market failure.  But the empirical finding that social democracy does not work has been made assuming as constant the constitutive rules of the modern world-system, in one  word assuming the Tauschprinzip.   Concientización, in contrast, implies that organizing and organizations can and should be unbounded, aligning across sectors for the common good, doing what works to save  people and planet with no a priori prejudices for or against any available option.  Concientización  does not mean that liberty, property, businesses, governments, schools, markets,  plans and so on cease to exist.  It means  they are reinvented.  Human cultures mutate to survive.  Critical thinkers morph into cultural creatives , social entrepreneurs and social innovators.  Their mental models frame the modern world-system  as a social and historical construction.   It  can be  deconstructed and reconstructed.

Mindful consciousness  channels surplus to where it is needed.  It  is needed to help to create dignified employment that serves human self-realization and nurses mother earth back to vibrant health.   A social analogue of supersonic jets:  Unbounded employment  does not necessarily and always depend  on investment for profit generating sales to pay wages with; it can tap existing surpluses and harness multiple motivations.   In Adam Smith´s terms, mindful consciousness hires servants, to do useful work — not just  workers to do profitable work.  In Peter Drucker´s terms there is a sea-change in  what is done with profits after they are made. Humans wake up from the nightmares of declared and undeclared wars to focus deliberately on reinventing society to save homo sapiens and its habitat.


Prof. Howard Richards is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is a philosopher of social science and Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, USA. He was educated at Redlands High School in California, Yale, Stanford, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Toronto, Harvard and Oxford. He currently teaches in the University of Cape Town`s EMBA programme. His books include: The Evaluation of Cultural Action, a study of an application of Paulo Freire´s pedagogical philosophy in rural Chile (London Macmillan 1985); Letters from Quebec; Understanding the Global Economy; The Dilemmas of Social Democracies; Gandhi and the Future of Economics; Rethinking Thinking; Unbounded Organizing in Community; and The Nurturing of Time Future. His new book, written with the assistance of Gavin Andersson, Economic Theory and Community Development: Why Putting Community First Is Essential for Survival, is now available from the publisher, Dignity Press, and from Amazon and other major booksellers, as a print book and as an eBook. howardri@earlham.edu

Tags: , , , , , , ,

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 Apr 2022.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Why Are Humans Fighting Other Humans when We Are Facing Extinction as a Species?, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

2 Responses to “Why Are Humans Fighting Other Humans when We Are Facing Extinction as a Species?”

  1. George Kent says:

    This essay of mine might interest readers of this article:


  2. Dear Richard, humans who fight are arrested, tried in Court and sent to prison. Wars are not fights. They are a business. They are a competition between powerful businessmen, ambitious businessmen, called politicians. They work for the War industry and the ONLY way they can fulfill their promises is by promoting sales. Sales only valid promotion is ware.

    Scientists are paid handsome salaries to help politicians destroy life and the environment. And the gullible masses accept it, avidly working in the manufacturing of killing toys, from tiny bullets to gargantuan warships. and a very good proportion of the young population gets paid or volunteers to help those politicians fulfill their mission, even paying with their own life.

    If you don’t agree with the destruction of nature, of the environment, campaign with me for the abolition of Militarism.