Living at the expense of others

There was an article in the Frankfurter Rundschau with this headline in December 2019 in which the Authors, Nilda Inkermann and Simon Walch stated that, “Even if they try, especially in rich societies, people have little choice but to live and manage at the expense of others.” It wasn’t especially surprising, since we only have to look at where the goods we consume are made or produced and look at the standard of life there, and it becomes obvious that the imperial powers of the past are still profiting from that time. The authors called it correctly the “Imperial way of life.” That this way of life is made possible by people who disguise the conditions under which the goods were made or produced has come to light at various times, often when disasters strike and the people to whom we owe our way of life suffer great misfortune, which consequently affects us slightly. However, we in the West all live an “imperial life” – although this is beginning to crumble in Europe where our dependency is becoming evident.

As people in formerly imperial countries struggle to pay their bills in 2022 and governments erode their rights, we are slowly getting a glimpse of what life was like before the world wars, before workers’ rights gradually took hold in Western society. It was a struggle, and many lost their lives for these rights, which were only granted because people would not work for less. Of course, the world wars interrupted this development and millions of idealists died in WWI, thinking that the world was moving forward, and if only this last war is won, things would get better. But the struggle went on between the wars, and the Weimarer Republik in Germany was an example of how an emerging ideological confusion in a newly gained republican state brought back the imperialistic mindset with a vengeance and a new world war, which was even more devastating. It had a temporary effect of creating institutions in Europe which were built on solidarity, but this was an internal solidarity.

The struggle for comparable workers’ rights was lost in the former colonies, and because enough profit was made there, people in Europe were able to enjoy the fruits of their struggle for a short time. Moreover, consumption became a new form of profit-making and enforced globalism, a neo-colonialism pushed by the new superpower America, enabled capitalism to maintain its course. Investigative journalism regularly showed that the struggle between East and West was a conflict for dominance in countries where democracies were developing, but where both sides had “national security” problems that they felt forced them to slow down that development. In many countries where fundamentalist religious movements arose to take over their countries, the moderate socialists, who had envisioned a modern democracy, had been killed. And so, in the richer countries, living at the expense of others continued.

However, as I mentioned some months ago, Europe especially has to face a new future, in which the cohesion of the member states is the only guarantee of a lifestyle that at least resembles that of the latter 20th century and first decades of the 21st century. It is no longer only a question of morality, but of economic survival. Added to this problem is the climate crisis, which is becoming ever more apparent, and at least to some degree the result of industrial expansion and the changing of the planet’s surface and cycles. Urban life, which is brightly seen from our space station, has an effect that we can no longer ignore, and apart from the environment issues, mental health has been declining in our cities for decades. I see this, not only in the burnout and breakdowns, but in the hysteria that has grown amongst young people in protest of modernism.

It is not just a question of living a life free from exploitation that is fair and sustainable, which are impressive goals in themselves, it is a question of survival. And yet there are the forces of the “machine” of globalist capitalism pushing nations to act in ways that lead to more exploitation, towards populism where fairness is seen as coddling people’s desires, and the assumption that sustainability is wishful thinking. Social media is manipulated by propaganda experts and opinions are steered towards what people think is the most comfortable or cheapest solution with minimal effort, and the mass of people find comfort in doing what everybody else does. A solution isn’t easy to find, given that some many forces are at work that are only interested in functioning, and so many people only try to “get through the day”.

The fact that the fossil resources we have consumed over the last 100 years have been created by global catastrophes over millions of years and are therefore no longer available when they are exhausted, i.e., that there is an end to their use, leads to the inescapable consequence that the energy we need must come from renewable sources if we are to continue to have our lives improved by technology. The strain on the environment through industrial usage as well as the use of arable land for the expansion of settlements means that there may one day be too little arable land available, or that the available land could lose its fertility. The effects of global warming will not only lead to a rise in sea level, but also worsen the ratio of freshwater to saltwater. As glaciers melt, rivers will eventually dry up or at least decline sharply. All this means that future generations will have to do more to preserve these natural resources.

As the article in the Frankfurter Rundschau said, “The limits of this way of life become more visible every day.” So, the life we lead is not only at the expense of people in the so stigmatised “third countries”, but also at the expense of future generations whose “No Future” and “Fridays For Future” protests have been criticised in organised populist campaigns. It seems understandable to me that younger people, naïve as some protests may be, show some form of resistance, be it in the form of open protest, alternative lifestyles, rejection of conventions and alienation from their parents’ generations, whom they perceive as lemmings hurtling towards the cliff.

There is a cleavage in society, which is going on at different levels and for that reason weakening the opposition against the “machine”, Alexander Beiner mentioned in a brilliant article on substack,, how the world was dividing, and quotes David Goodheart who identified the “somewheres” and the “anywheres”, or N.S.Lyons, who suggested a similar division between the “Virtuals” and the “Physicals”. Beiner’s article uses the discussion around the Amazon series “The Rings of Power” to show up how entertainment is being used to reignite the class war and is very important reading. The problems I see in this division is that it weakens the ability to confront the problems facing us, because individual opposition, as morally righteous as it may be, will not have the strength needed achieve a systemic change, which is what is required here.

While the “physicals” see the problems that are piling up in our society, e.g. through rising rents, insecure employment, the care crisis and increasing pressure to perform in the elbow society, the “virtuals” are more likely to throw themselves into ideological struggles, most clearly illustrated in the struggle for the inclusion of marginalised groups, which is fought out above all on the traditional left, because feminists see the rights they have fought for as being eroded in the interests of trans women, instead of seeking a solution for this group of people. The energy being used up here and its convenience for right-wing groups, who readily use it against the left only weakens the struggle to achieve a turnabout in society, and a farewell to the “imperial way of life” which exploits the rest of the world, but also leaves a great debt for its own children to pay.

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