Capitalism as Geobiological Extinction Event

by Emilie Rākete (August 1, 2016)

What happens when human survival stops being an absolute limit on capital’s ability to infinitely expand itself? What will it mean when humanity becomes yet another barrier for capital to overcome?

2.3 billion years ago, the dominant mode of production was the respiration of oxygen by anaerobic microorganisms, to whom oxygen is toxic. The waste output, oxygen, was disposed of as it reacted with dissolved iron in the earth’s oceans. We can see the remains of this process in the banded iron formations which characterise that epoch in the geological record.

Jaspilite banded iron formation (Soudan Iron-Formation, Neoarchean, ~2.722 Ga; Stuntz Bay Road outcrop, Soudan Underground State Park, Soudan, Minnesota, USA) by jsjgeology.

When this dissolved iron was exhausted, oxygen quickly saturated the planet’s oceans, in one of the most significant extinction events in this planet’s history. For anaerobic lifeforms, the only means of survival was through symbiosis with the aerobic lifeforms whose existence was unthreatened by rapidly escalating oxygenation. This new paradigm, the Eukaryote, is the taxon to which half of all planetary biomass belongs — including humanity.

The respiration of oxygen as a mode of production was perpetuated by anaerobic organisms, but their continued survival was not a limitation on production. All that mattered was efficiency, and when the bodies which carried out production became a barrier to that efficiency, those bodies were either killed en masse or incorporated into a revolutionary new order, utterly alien to that to which they had belonged.

An example of high frequency trading software from the Queen’s Finance Association Conference website.

By some estimates, upwards of 70% of the volume of trades in the US stock market are made by automated algorithms. These high frequency trades occur thousands of times per second at the speed of light across a globally-integrated communications infrastructure constructed to coordinate the planetary distribution of resources. This tendency in political economy is a marked shift from a few short decades ago, when trading times were measured in hours if not days. Vitally, human agency is irrelevant to these decisions. The agents which now operates a majority of finance capital are nonhuman ones. Humanity is rapidly becoming obsolete to the functioning of market economies.

Capitalism can only be understood as a revolutionary force, considering the way in which it has swept away all previous social formations. These are in no way words of praise. But it is naive to presume that human survival imposes an absolute limit on capital’s operation — that capitalism will reach the point at which it threatens humanity’s planetary dominance and then stop. Indeed, as the trend towards market automation shows, the more machinic, the more alien, the more inhuman which capital becomes, the more efficient its operation. As Camatte says, ‘there can be revolution which is not for human beings’.

Just as the aerobic mode of production revolutionised and terminated the anaerobic population which sustained it, planetary technocapital is rapidly approaching the point at which humanity will no longer be a necessary component in its functioning. Beyond that? It’s possible all of human society to this point has served only as a precondition for the capitalised and posthuman beings still yet to come. Human history until now may be a mere trace to be detected in the geological record in a thousand thousand years by our unrecognisable descendants, as moved by our deaths as we are by the suffering of our anaerobic ancestors.

This post was originally published by Emilie Rākete on her tumblr. You can also find her on Twitter and some of her social activism work at People Against Prisons Aotearoa.



An archive of contributions made to the short-lived writing collective/blog/website The Ink Well, originally published in 2016.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
The Ink Well

An archive of contributions made to the short-lived writing collective/blog/website The Ink Well, originally published in 2016.