About Work

A conversation between Johannes Grenzfurthner (monochrom) and Hans-Joachim Rieseberg. (First published in monochrom print issue # 11-14 1/2)

Is it possible to talk about the emergence of religion due to the emergence of "work"?

There are two roots here. One is the transition from a hunting and gathering society to an agriculture based one. That is one root. Today we know very precisely that the society that based on hunting and gathering was sustainable. It inserted itself into the natural cycle only insofar as nature was able to regulate it in a particular space and within a larger or smaller framework. The agriculture-based society is a society that hoards. Fundamentally, it is not dedicated to provide the means of subsistence but rather to build power potentials. This is the direction that I have been pursuing. It is one of my hypotheses that agriculture was superfluous and that it was also the beginning of the most fatal development that our culture has seen. The second direction of thought is of course that the big religions developed with and in connection to the transition from a society based on hunting and gathering to agriculture. All religions have hence the same origin and stem from the same geographical area - which is (as far as our Western civilization is concerned) from the Eastern Mediterranean region. The connections are very obvious there.

When pursuing this "fatal development" throughout the course of history we arrive in direct line in our contemporary society...

...that is somehow in always larger, let's say "circular movements" producing it's proper doom, since it destroys the environment that it needs to exist - presuming that nature is the basis of all life. It's actually quite simple. Let's take for example Afghanistan (Afghanistan/Persia) as one of the starting points for agriculture. These countries are totally destroyed today. They are deserts - while our countries are steppe areas. We have transformed our habitat into steppe. It is possible to support this with detailed documented evidence. We make examinations with satellites in order to determine the degree of steppe in Central Europe. We are trying to say: This part has turned to steppe in this degree and that part in another degree, and so on. But all of it is slowly turning to desert. This in turn has something to do with the development of agriculture and the society based on work. These two are actually synonyms. The agriculture-oriented society (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome) was followed by the medieval development, then by Renaissance, and it ended with the age of Industrial society. Today's society I'd call the consumer-oriented society.
Hence, I can easily propose that the basic concepts of all great political groups are stuck in the dilemma of late agricultural times... and in religion. I know somebody who was forced to accept a devastating realization. Of course this somebody is me. For a long time I was really into Marxism and I was disappointed to realize that even this is just a religion.

Would you say there is a way that leads out of this old development that has been around for more than a thousand years? Or is it impossible to avoid this self-destructive movement?

The problem is always that when making a prophecy you are simultaneously setting something into motion that questions the prophesy. This is done consciously or not. On the one hand, you don't want to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, you are thinking in realistic terms and you see that we are pushing ourselves beyond the limits of possibilities. When looking at the historical developments of these processes - in Mesopotamia, Greece, or Rome - then you realize that they always exceeded their basic existence. They always pushed themselves into catastrophe and never stopped before. Naturally, there is always a crucial point in the development. We are at this point now. Can we be the first civilized society to stop before it is too late? (When I say we are like societies before I mean that we are actually following the same mechanisms except today, we do it on a much more global scope.) This is the crucial question to ask. When I stipulate from the past: clearly the answer is no. When I look at the data that we all have and more is coming in all the time, then we are already beyond the limits of possibilities. The destruction of the cycles has already far advanced - and there are actually very few cycles in general. The most important cycle is basically the water cycle. There is only one way back: self re-generation of nature. Nature can achieve this in most cases. No problem. Except usually it implies that we are no longer a part of the system. We are extracted from the system. Meantime, you could almost say that I am leaning back saying: I think it is fascinating to watch everybody taking this detour route to suicide without learning anything. That's really fascinating. Of course this would seem really cynical to a lot of people.

Actually yes.

I don't really mean it in a cynical way, but nobody believes me. I achieve an always greater calm. Not, because I am self-righteous, but because I can say that I deeply understand the big cycles (water, weather, re-generation) and that I can say that it won't last. It lasts for ten thousand years. That is the time span of an ice age. Everything will disappear under a thick layer of ice and then it takes another ten thousand years for us to have back a blossoming nature that can be farmed.

Do you get reactions to your hypotheses? What about the press?

Not at all. It is too long-term and not spectacular enough. I am not looking at this in a time frame from today until tomorrow, but on a scale of a few hundred years and beyond. Nobody wants to talk about this.

With theories like these there is a fair amount of danger to be placed in the doomsday camp?

Things take on a particular religious glamour an in turn, everybody is looking for the Guru in me. Hey, that 's the Guru! I can only say that I want the exact opposite. You have to talk about it in a totally sober and non-spiritual way. There is nothing Guru-like, only some simple, basic knowledge that everybody could acquire if people were not thinking in such an excited manner. That's the problem. Everybody is thinking excitedly and is running after the smallest things instead of looking at the bigger picture.

Your actual work is with researching the water cycles?

No, no. Unfortunately, I also have to earn my living. I work at the Technical University in Berlin and there I work in the area of structural and administrative reform, meaning: The development of the knowledge-space into the next century.

Even science is a very closed thing, and a science reform must be a totally special situation.

In my view, the scientific basis will be redefined in the next century. I think we need an open science that is not stuck in the causal principle but one that is much more complex. Even these are beaten terms and it is better not to use them. Anyway, I was so lucky as to be reactivated by the new principal of the Technical University and thank god, I am not in the spotlight. Besides this work I continue to work on my won research of course. You could say that the subject of the 20th century was energy. It is easy to describe this from beginning to end. It was a popular belief that energy was the key for the future of human existence. At first this was thought of as a positive thing since it was believed that energy is limited. Later it was thought to be negative because we found out that we use up too much energy that destroys our atmosphere. That is the basic knowledge process that was determining this particular century. Slowly we are moving to another knowledge process that in sum says that we are not as much dependent on energy as we are on water cycles.
The basic element of everything in this world is water cycles. I can try to describe this with a few words: Basically, all catastrophes that we are experiencing these days are easy to describe. We have dried out all swamps, we have cleared the upper regions of rivers, and we have speeded up the exertion of nutrients from the ground. We made the water flow. A sustainable ecological system builds on stable water, not flowing water. This is how we have changed the climate. Our team (we are a few people) is already able describe how the sum of individual effects from local areas are the cause for the climate changes, instead of global causes. This is a different point of view. The general perspective until now was that of global warming, etc., which is only a rather small part. The big changes in climate that are a result of the interplay on the planetary surface, meaning between water, earth, plants, animals, and farming. We also have some technical names for all this in order for it to be more understandable. This slow destruction leads to the increase of steppe and desert land. In Afghanistan and Greece this can already be observed very well. These are semiarid areas, meaning desert forms or actual deserts. It is not easy to reforest these deserts. When examining the ground in Afghanistan you realize that there are no minerals left. They are completely void of nutrients. This means: Whatever grows there only grows there because of water systems that add minerals to the ground. But only via water. A lot of research deals with this. If we uncover the surface of the earth we over stimulate it. The reason why it was so hard to observe this until now is that we take the temperature measurements from a height of about two or more meters above surface and not directly from the surface of the earth. It's hard to believe that it is so trivial. Satellites measure the surface. This way it is possible to measure the temperature, the storage capacity, and the radiance factor by degree of color. This is what we examine in larger research contexts in many regions. It is how we realize that in connection with uncovering/erosion/avulsion/etc. the farming land (speaking of Europe, America, Australia) is transformed into steppe and desert land.
Here, even the definition of "ground" has to be adapted. The surface of the world is covered with a mix of water and earth. Our common use of the term "ground" is wrong. Ground, in the sense of nurturing ground does not exist per se. It really depends on the mix, the capacity to store water, the degree of draught, and the flow rate.
The increase of steppe and desert land influences the climate in the long term. The climate in desert areas is of course hotter. From this follows that these areas cannot be cleared any more since the mere necessity to bring in minerals is too prevalent. And obviously everything that makes a moor or forest - mainly fungus, etc. - disappears as well. The result will be that we are making it impossible to live in these areas. This is already the case today in Italy and Greece. There, people are not any more directly living off the ground but from imported food. With the import of cereals they are withdrawing minerals from the other regions. This means that when a destroyed area imports cereals, rice, etc. it imports nutrients from the ground and hence destroys this other region since mostly the wrong fertilizers and not enough of them are being used. The farmers are not able to replace the minerals that go into the harvests. This is the basic model. All this is of course really complicated, but for now that's it.
... It means that our civilized habitats were built alongside rivers (this can be observed clearly in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland). The big river landscapes, such as meadows, are mostly destroyed. That is how we will reach the peak around 2030 or 2040. We will then be facing a similar catastrophe like Italy or Greece except the region is much larger. All of this is part of our working group.

Hence we will reach the point when we will have literally dug out the ground under our feet....and our society will come to a halt, right?

We really have to reach a form of sustainable development. The term sustenance can never orient itself around industry needs or social requirements. This latter point of course implies a really strong break with current tendencies. A major part of the entire discussion about sustenance is oriented around realizations about the ecological system and also around societal realizations. This is where I come to speak of my book "Work Until Doom", which deals with the union movement. Unions were never organized around sustenance. They worked primarily for the idea of equal distribution that supports the exploitation of natural resources and distributes them. Everybody wants to participate in the exploitation. This is also how discussions went in the early this century: The bad capitalists against the good workers. These discussions are finished today. Only the bad capitalists are left, since everybody is participating in the exploitative system. It is why you don't get anywhere in discussions with unions. They quickly attack you and declare you a neo-liberal, stuff like that.

Really, they define you as neo-liberal?

Of course. It' s all very simple. You say you want abstinence or you don't want people - speaking frankly - to use up as much energy or you want both. It is very easy to simplify everything completely and then just be part of one or another camp. It is impossible to talk about this with our unions. When we have a few million unemployed people then they want growth in order for people to have work. And that is nonsense. People have to work less in general and must stop destroying nature a little more.
This is followed by the next craze, eco tax. In my book I included it under VAT. In some sense, any eco tax is a VAT since there is energy in all products. On the one hand, you want to put a tax onto energy, and on the other hand, so far, all tax systems that ended up being mass systems have never achieved to minimize taxation of other products. The government was feeding off this and was watching while taxation of goods was spreading (e.g. tabacco tax, etc.).This means that it is not the way to do it. We would have to just ban a few things. It's the worst you can announce, since we are in a nice upswing movement of the green party right now, that proclaims we are now making very enlightened top level politics together with a movement of joyful abstinence. It is not going to work like this.

The green party has been demanding for a long time that we renounce atomic power. In political advertizing it is never mentioned that 30% of German power comes from atomic plants and that staying away from it would mean an immediate 30% decrease of comfort.

Everybody is weaseling out of it. Surely it is possible to live without this 30% by means of cutting back a little. It is not about the 30%. If you really want to attain a sustainable economy we would have to cut back 90% of what we are used to as consumers. Or we don't do this and we keep on rushing in direction of doom. This is the current tendency.

And you are waiting?

Not exactly. I am just cool. I analyze. I try to speak about how things are, whereas I am always careful about saying, "how things are". In the meantime I have gained a pretty good position since people are starting to reflect about it. They see the flooding incidents and say to themselves: What if he is right? -And it is always the same context. If you are building more ponds you will get more flooding and you are going down the wrong alley. In fact we are building new ponds everywhere. This is even true for the intellectual realm. We are funneling realizations instead of allowing them to enter the broad spectrum. We are building channels to guide the streams of knowledge/water around people and while doing this we are depriving them of being able to soak it all up. It makes no difference when an expert tells you that this is no good. S/he will immediately be called an elitist nutcase. We will offer him/her a good pension as long as s/he keeps quiet. The other ones are going crazy in keeping business as usual going. This is what's happening.

I have heard enough. Excellent summary, thank you.

Hans-Joachim Rieseberg lives and works in Berlin. His book "Arbeit bis zum Untergang" was published by rororo.

Translation: Patricia Futterer / 2004

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