Question: Well, let’s keep going on this point about applying science to understand why the world is the way it is and how it could be different, and what could be done about that. Looking at the state of the world right now, in two senses—one, in a more overall sense, in terms of what are the conditions that the vast majority of humanity find themselves in right now, what is the state of the world in a more overall sense, but then, kind of zeroing in on one particular dimension of that, obviously it’s been very heartening these last few months that there have been things that we haven’t seen in this society in the U.S. in quite a while, in terms of massive resistance to this epidemic of police murder and police brutality, concentrated in the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the grand jury decisions letting their killers go, with tens and tens of thousands of people directly in the streets around this, disrupting business as usual, and then millions of people here and around the world confronting all this—what I’m getting at is how would we apply science, both to the particularity of this moment and understanding that, but also looking in a more big picture sense at, as you were saying, why is the world this way and how it could be different?
AS: Well, I would start off by saying, OK, let’s apply science to talking, first of all, about where humanity’s at, what’s the state of the world, what’s the state of this society that we live in. And it’s been said many times, including by BA, that the world, as it is, is a horror. Right? Now, this is being said by people, including BA, who are overall very appreciative of a lot of beauty in the world. Speaking for myself, trained as a biologist, as a natural scientist, I see beauty everywhere in the natural world, and among people, in the great diversity and richness of human experience and all the many different cultural expressions and the great variety of life, including social life. There is great beauty. But at the same time, it’s undeniable: The world is a horror for the majority of humanity at this point in history.
Now, let’s take the question of human suffering. It would be unscientific to think that you could ever completely eliminate human suffering. There will always be loss, there will always be death, there will always be grief, there will always be some forms of disease or some forms of catastrophes that negatively impact human beings. I don’t think you could ever say you would get to the point where there would never be any human suffering; that would be a completely idealized false world and illusion. But what you can say, is that it is possible to get to a world that is not characterized by so much unnecessary suffering.
And the reality of the world today—I mean, look at this society, what you were just talking about, all these police murders. You know, I can’t take it any more—and I won’t take it any more! Practically every single day, you hear about another person, usually Black or Latino, male, unarmed, who is gunned down in the streets by the police, and nothing is done about it! The authorities basically sanction it over and over again, because it’s built right into their system to need to have these kinds of things happen, to keep their kind of order, it’s that kind of repression that they require for their system to keep functioning relatively smoothly. What a system!
And there are so many things that are wrong in the world. The whole status of women in this country and all over the world—that women are still not treated like full human beings, that they’re constantly degraded and dehumanized, treated as play things, as sexual objects, as something short of full human beings, constantly raped and battered. And I’ve said this before: it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t happen to you as an individual—any time any woman anywhere in the world is raped, battered, pornified, or in other ways dehumanized and degraded, it degrades and dehumanizes all women everywhere.
And again I want to say that I really feel that...like BA in the recent Dialogue with Cornel West at Riverside Church talked about...the youth that are being gunned down by the police—these are our youth! I feel that, very strongly. And it’s just intolerable to have this loss of human life, this loss of human potential, that is just squandered away because of the workings of this system.
It is also intolerable to have a situation where there are endless wars. You can never get beyond this under this system: these wars of imperialism, these armies of occupation, people being put through horrible suffering for the interests of a capitalist class, a tiny sliver of humanity that benefits from this.
And what about on the planetary scale? The environmental crisis is real, people! It should be understood as an all-out global emergency. You know, the Earth itself is one thing, it can go on without us, but human beings’ ability to live on this planet is going to be severely restricted, very soon, if we don’t stop completely despoiling this planet and constantly degrading it. And the main reason we can’t deal with any of this, fast enough or on a large enough scale, is because of the dominant system that’s in place, the dominant form of social organization that’s in place. We need an actual revolution to completely dismantle the organization of society as it currently is configured and to replace it with a completely new form of organization that would go a long way towards getting rid of these problems.
Look, also, at the so-called problem of immigration. Why do we even have different countries? Think about it. Why do we have flags and national anthems, and why do we have borders? Why do we have whole populations of people that are pushed around and kept from having a decent life, when all they want to do is work and be productive members of society? Think of all the immigrants to this country who get pushed around, get brutalized, whose families are brutally torn apart, and who get incarcerated, forcibly deported or even gunned down on the border. Do you find that acceptable? I sure don’t! What makes Americans better than anybody else, by the way? Personally, I can’t stand the American flag, or the national anthem, or the Pledge of Allegiance, or any of these kinds of symbols that proclaim that one country or one population of one part of the world is somehow better than everybody else. That’s what’s called “jingoism,” or “national chauvinism”—that way of thinking is downright nasty and we should call it what it is and refuse to go along with it! We should all be thinking more like citizens of the world and not like Americans. But then you see people stand up in schools and at sporting events—they’re standing up for the flag and the anthem, and they’re putting their hands over their hearts and maybe even singing along, and often this is being done by people who are themselves being oppressed and degraded on a daily basis by the very system that they are saluting!
It’s time to put an end to this kind of stuff. Think about what you’re doing, what you’re saluting! People need to think more about this, and educate themselves about the true nature of this system. These police murders, for instance: they’re not an accident. They’ve been happening for a long time. They happen on a horrific scale. And they keep on happening, because the root of this problem can be found in the very foundations of this system.
The only good thing in this recent period, what you’re calling this “moment,” is that there’s a beautiful new thing that’s emerged, which is that people are standing up and resisting in ways we haven’t seen in this country in a long time. That’s a beautiful thing—the youth and others who stood up in Ferguson, very bravely, and said: NO! we’re not gonna take this any more. And the people who came out around the police murder of Eric Garner. And this did involve broader numbers of people, besides the most oppressed people who are most directly under the boot of the police. There were also people from the middle strata, including some white people, who came out and said: We don’t want to live in a society where this kind of stuff keeps happening. So that’s a good thing, although there needs to be a lot more of that kind of resistance. That kind of resistance is very, very important, and it needs to get bigger and it needs to spread. One of the things a scientific understanding and analysis can tell you is that protests are very good and very important. What’s been called “fighting the power” is very important. It builds the strength of the people. It serves notice on the people running society that their crimes are just not going to get over, and are not going to be tolerated any more. And that’s a very important part of what needs to happen. But it also has to go further. Why? Because a scientific analysis will also show you clear evidence that the whole way this system is structured, the whole way it’s built up at its core, at its very foundation, will keep regenerating these kinds of problems, these kinds of abuses, these kinds of outrages and injustices, over and over again, as long as this capitalist system itself is allowed to remain in place.
Sometimes we talk about the unresolvable contradictions of capitalism. If you use science to analyze this stuff, you will increasingly understand that this system cannot fix itself, and that it is not fundamentally capable of correcting these types of abuses. It cannot do away, ultimately, with the police murders of Black and Latino people in this society. It cannot do away with the rule of their enforcers, the brutality of their enforcers, that keeps a whole section of the people down. All this has a lot to do with why BA stresses all the time that you have to understand that this country, this system, was built on slavery. It’s not just what’s happening now, it goes back to the very beginning of this country. The United States got started, got built up, at its very founding, on the basis of slavery (and genocide of indigenous peoples), and everything that came out of that brutal beginning has carried over until today, and is a direct root cause of why today you have police enforcers, defenders of this capitalist system, who are routinely gunning down unarmed youth in the streets. There is a direct connection there. Science will show you that this connection is real and objective, and not just someone’s subjective opinion or empty speculation. To make such a claim you need concrete evidence—and the evidence is there.
It’s the same thing with the question of the oppression of women. It’s another one of those profoundly unresolvable contradictions of the existing system. This system cannot ultimately resolve that problem, which science can show has been deeply built into the root foundational structures of this capitalist system as well as those of previous oppressive and exploitative systems going way, way back in time. Yes, there are some women, a few—there are a few sections of women that can be allowed to move up the ladder, so to speak, under capitalism. The same can be said about Black people—a few can be allowed to move on up, to enter the professional middle strata or even become totally bourgeois, and you can elect some Black officials to high places and even have a Black president these days. But none of this changes anything fundamentally about the profound and relentless oppression faced by the vast majority of Black people in this country, and of other people of color as well. The same goes for women. Literally half of humanity—in other words, women—continues to be kept down, in all sorts of ways, in the U.S. and all around the world, and none of that changes just because you can now have a few female corporate CEOs or government representatives or a few very wealthy bourgeois women. None of that changes the ongoing fundamentally degraded and dehumanized status and experience of the vast majority of women here and throughout the world.
Wars of empire—there’s another one of those unresolvable contradictions of this system. It doesn’t ultimately matter whether, every now and then, even a few individual politicians or other representatives of the ruling class are willing to speak out—even sincerely—against one or another war of imperialist aggression. This ruling class is going to continue to wage wars of empire to extend and defend and consolidate their imperialist system. And they will do so over and over again. Why? Because the underlying dynamics of their system drive that process, whether any individual politician or other ruling class figure would like it to be that way or not. Do you see? The very machinery of this ghoulish system repeatedly requires such wars—for its ongoing maintenance, expansion, and consolidation.
So we have to confront the fact that what we call national oppression, the oppression of minority peoples, and the oppression of women, the wars of empire and the armies of occupation—none of this can ultimately be solved under this system. Science can analyze why none of this can fundamentally be solved under the structures of capitalism-imperialism. And this is something that BA has done a lot of work analyzing over decades, really deeply bringing to light why this system cannot be reformed, why it cannot just be fixed with a few quick fixes, why you have to have an actual revolution, rather than just work for a few little tweaks here or there.
And the same thing is very much the case with the question of the environment, the global environment. Even if you had a bunch of capitalists and other ruling class figures—you know, their government representatives in this country or in other countries—who personally became really convinced that there is an environmental emergency for the planet, and that steps really have to be taken to try to save the planetary environment and prevent all this degradation which is causing critical problems throughout the world—even if some (or even many) individuals in the ruling class became personally convinced of that, and even if they tried to institute a few reforms here or there, they would quickly run up against the limitations and obstacles of their own system! The capitalist-imperialist system is simply not set up and structured in such a way as to allow the kind of radical transformations that are actually needed to resolve the global environmental crisis. Because of the underlying structures and “rules of functioning” of their aggressively competitive and profit-driven system, capitalists are simply not capable, they do not have the material basis, to actually resolve this planetary environmental problem, with sufficient scope and scale, under the current system.
This is all very important to understand, and once again it takes science to deeply understand that you can’t just “convince” rulers to change, because they are themselves completely caught up in the rules and machinery of their own system, whether they like it or not. The machinery of the capitalist-imperialist system has basic rules of functioning, “rules” which ultimately cannot be changed without changing the type of system we live under. If you don’t understand this...if you think the way to change the world...if you think, for instance, that the way to keep the police from killing unarmed Black youth is to just to do a few “reforms,” like putting body cameras on the cops, or just do better education and training for the cops, you’re going to have a rude awakening, because their system will keep regenerating this form of terror and oppression. It can’t not do it.
Same thing with all those other situations. If you think that just empowering a few women or girls, in a few instances here or there, is going to get rid of the burden of the systemic oppression of women in this country and around the world, you’re deluding yourself. If you think that just expressing the people’s will not to go to war is actually going to be enough to ultimately put an end to all these imperial wars, you are also deluding yourself. And if you think that convincing the capitalists that it’s better for their bottom line to not degrade the environment so much, or that their children and grandchildren will suffer if we don’t actually save this planet...if you think that’s going to be enough to solve the global environmental crisis, you’re also deluding yourself.
Protest? Yes. Definitely. Protests are very important. It’s very important for masses of people, here and all over the world, to make clear that they won’t tolerate and be complicit in and accept any more these egregious abuses and injustices. It is important to say: NO, we won’t take this any more. As I’ve said before, it is part of building the strength of the people. But you have to go further and understand that there are built-in contradictions within the way economies and politics are set up under certain systems and that those underlying contradictions—there are clusters of them that lead to horrible injustices and abuses—are simply not resolvable by the capitalists, under a capitalist system. You need a different economy, you need a different ideology, you need a different worldview, you need different social objectives. You need different forces coming to the fore to implement that. You need state power. The people have to organize themselves for an actual revolution. And, you know, in the course of just this interview, I can’t really go into all the patterns that prove that those underlying contradictions of this system cannot be resolved by the system, but there is accumulated evidence, including very much spoken to in the extensive body of work of BA, that has been developed over decades, over more than 40 years. The work has been done, the work is deep and profound, it is scientific, it is methodical and systematic. And people should critically examine it, they should engage it, they should study it. It should not be dismissed by anyone superficially. It is getting at the underlying deeper problems and corresponding solutions.
I’ll just say this, and then I’ll stop for a minute on this point [laughs], but one of the most encouraging things about science, too, is that it shows you the potential for positive change, how we could change things in some really good ways. If you don’t have science, you’re kind of bopping around in life, running into problems, maybe solving a small problem here or there, but more problems keep coming up, and you don’t know what you’re doing, basically. But with science you can systematically figure out not only the source of the problems, but also what the basis is for positive change. One of the things that people don’t understand very often is that the basis for the revolutionary transformation of a society, of a social system, where that basis is located—it actually resides right within the contradictions of the system. In fact, right within those contradictions I was just talking about—the really big ones that this system cannot fix itself, that it cannot ultimately resolve. The fact that they can’t resolve these big things and that they keep driving people into the ground in different ways, actually creates the conditions which move in the direction...actually creates the basis for people to be able to work on those contradictions, to bring the people forward, in the thousands, in the millions, to move towards the ability to organize for an actual revolution, and build a new society on a whole different basis. That won’t resolve every problem overnight, obviously. But many, many of the big problems can be resolved to a great degree, thanks to science, and thanks to the conscious initiative of people organizing themselves collectively for an actual revolution.