3. Recognizing the Darkness of The Modern Age

The stories we tell about ourselves are a collection of memories we choose to remember. The story I tell may be uncomfortably different from the story you learned from history books because it is a story of degeneration. This way of truth-telling sets me free to take responsibility for the violence of my culture; it empowers me to imagine a life-affirming future where next generations can flourish.

I hypothesize that The Dark Age which coincided with The Little Ice Age has not yet ended. First, I will describe the emergence of capitalism and colonialism in The Little Ice Age climate event. Second, I will show that the Prolonged Dark Age is the context for the current anthropogenic climate event.

This hypothesis builds on Culture Continuity: Regenerating Life in the Spiraling Story of Culture and Climate, where I hypothesized that climate change events are followed by a Dark Age. In a Dark Age, cultural degeneration occurs due to famines, diseases, mass migrations, violent invasions, and intolerance. Cultures that regenerate after a Dark Age tend to a) retain a useful  cosmology, b) renew their relationship with the Land that sustains them, c) respect generative forces, d) exercise pluralism in welcoming difference and newcomers.

The Little Ice Age: A Prolonged Climate Event 1300-1850

During the first phase of the Little Ice Age, Europe’s population declined due pandemics and famines. The Black Death was a pandemic of bubonic plague in which one third of Europeans died and globally 200M people died. There were local famines as well as three multi-year pan-European famines.

In the second and colder phase from 1651-1850, there were several smallpox epidemics. Waves of Bubonic Plague hit cities. In France, over 2M people died in two famines between 1693 and 1710. There was an influenza pandemic in 1781. The Tambora eruption caused a pan-European drought followed by cholera pandemics.

The Little Ice Age coincided with major change in Europe’s economic system. The emergence of capitalism ended the economic system of feudalism and introduced waged labour that produced profits for business owners. European monarchs adopted the economic doctrine of expansion by creating colonial empires using new inventions in sea navigation to accumulate territories. The ideology of linear time was essential to capitalism’s notions of continual progress; it colonized workers’ minds by fragmenting a workday.

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Figure 1:Capitalism’s Four-Square structure of domination.

Figure 1 is a metaphor for capitalism as a thick-walled four-square structure of domination that deploys interlocking systems of power: heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, Christian theocracy, and domination over land. As a historical construct, capitalism has a begin date and it will have an end date. The following definition of capitalism by Oreskes and Conway (2014) is aptly stated in past tense: 

Capitalism is a form of socioeconomic organization that dominated Western Europe and North America from the 16th to 20th centuries, in which the means of production and distribution of goods and services were owned either by individuals or by …corporations [that] operated for-profit, with the surplus value produced by workers funneled to owners, managers, and investors… The separation of work from ownership produced a concentration of wealth amongst a tiny elite, who could then purchase more favorable laws and regulations from their host governments. Ultimately, capitalism was paralyzed in the face of the rapid climate destabilization it drove, destroying itself (p. 54).

Philosophers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment generated ideas that favoured capitalism:

    • Humanism located man at the apex of all species.
    • Dualism disconnected mind from body and people from Land and categorized all things into hierarchies.
    • Reductionism changed the relationship with Land from mutual caring to domination.
    • Individualism was influenced by the Protestant work ethic in northern Europe.

Witch-hunts: Patriarchy’s reign of terror

The witch-hunts during Little Ice Age created a period of terror for women. I will briefly examine witch-hunts from 5 perspectives.

  1. From a historical perspective, the witch-hunts began in 1530s and was a crime unique to the Little Ice Age (Oster, 2004; Behringer, 1999).
  2. From a psychological perspective, the witch-craze was a mass hysteria and collective paranoia driven by fear. Marginalized groups such as witches, Jews, and vagabonds were scapegoated for changes in weather and for epidemics (Behringer, 2010).
  3. From a religious perspective, the Catholic Church prior to the Inquisition had not been concerned about witches and taught that only God had the power to control weather. Most executions for witchcraft were in Germany and Switzerland where there was fierce competition for membership between Protestants and Catholics (Leeson & Russ, 2018).
  4. From an economic perspective, the witch-hunt was capitalism’s first human resource management intervention and it was designed to control the reproduction of the labour force by restricting women to the domestic sphere ( Federici, 2004).
  5. From the medicine perspective, loss of knowledge related to ethnomedicine and midwifery was a consequence of the witch-hunts.

Gendered violence in the name of God plunged Europe into a decivilizing  period. This gendered genocide ended in 1782 with the last execution of a so-called witch. The witch-craze shows how vulnerable the mind is to psychological manipulation at a time of crisis and helps to explain modern trend to spreading conspiracy theories and scapegoating ‘others’ for pandemics and climate change.

Enclosures: Domination over the land

‘Domination over land’ draws on the biblical concept of ‘dominion’ in Genesis 1:28 KJV. The enclosure of the commons was a capitalist strategy to exercise dominion over land by commodifying land that had been farmed collectively for centuries. The enclosure of the commons forced thousands of evicted peasants to migrate to cities to work in factories. Evicted peasants experienced the enclosures as loss of beauty, loss of seasonal festivals, loss of singing, as well as the loss of shelter and food (Federici, p. 71).

Christian theocracy at war: Competition for Members

Theocracy refers to a state that recognizes a deity as the supreme ruling authority for that state. Kings and lords derived their authority from the deity. The Protestant Revolution was the first major threat to Catholic theocracy in Europe. Religious intolerance deepened into religious wars. In the French Wars of Religion between Catholics and Huguenots, 3M people died. After 8M people died in The Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants, a treaty set out rules that allowed a monarch or lord to name the religion for that state.

Settler Colonization: Expanding the Empire’s racist thinking

Settler colonialism uses the power system of white supremacy to appropriate Indigenous lands and replace Indigenous populations with an invasive settler society. Settler colonial states include Canada, the United States, Australia. A settler colonial state imposes its identity and values on Indigenous populations based on the racist belief in the superiority of white Europeans. As a project of capitalism, settler colonialism subjugates FIrst Nations using all of capitalism’s systems of domination: heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, Christian theocracy and domination over land.

  • White supremacy. Colonialism in US and Canada was built on the free labour of slaves. The slave trade enslaved 6M Africans on plantations in the Americas. Slavery was also practiced in Canada, where there were twice as many enslaved Indigenous persons as enslaved African persons. To justify their barbaric practices, colonizers created propaganda that portrayed Indians and black slaves as demonic, naked, pagan, cannibalistic, orgiastic, and witchy (Federici, p. 222).
  • Heteropatriachy. Canada used The Indian Act to impose heteropatriarchal social organization on Indigenous cultures. It attempted to erase Indigenous matricultures that were pervasive among First Nations. Matricultures practice egalitarian social organization based on the maternal values of  care-giving that serves as the ethic  for all genders, for mothers and not-mothers. Matricultures elevate mothering as essential to regenerating culture and embed mothering in cosmological narratives. Matricultures typically practice governance by consensus, sharing economies and plurality. Women play a key role in food production and food sovereignty.
  • Theocracy. Religious intolerance migrated to Canada through missionization that reinforced the submission of women and their silence in the public sphere. From 1885 to 1951, Canada attempted to erase Indigenous sharing economies by banning Indigenous ceremonies.

A Prolonged Dark Age, 1851-present

In this section, I discuss how capitalism’s systems of domination continue to operate in ways that are anti-Life. If the Dark Age had ended, I would be able to tell stories of a paradigm shift in which new ideas helped us return to fairness and flourishing.  I cannot find evidence of regeneration marked by cultural continuity, effective cosmologies, renewed relationality with Land, and respect for generative forces and plurality.  

I bring to this work a strong belief that violence breeds violence. Philosopher Grace Jantzen (2008) defines violence thus: “Violence enters not when difference is defined but when difference is perceived as dangerous, so that hierarchies are imposed and force is exerted to keep the hierarchies in place” (p. 19). Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence… The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…., violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that (King, 1967, p. 67).

The metaphor of “boomerang” explains the karmic principle that violence breeds violence.

Boomerang: European racism and expansionism produce the Holocaust

 Aimé Césaire (1955) explains how colonial violence “boomeranged” on European colonizers, illustrating the karmic principle that violence begets violence. The evils perpetrated against Indigenous peoples required a price. “Colonization dehumanizes even the most civilized man” because it is based on contempt for Indigeneity” (p. 5). The colonizers hypocrisy in equating Christianity with civilization was exposed. The degeneration of Europe into the “supreme barbarism” of Nazism applied to Europeans the expansionist policies and extermination techniques that had first been applied in the colonies. Hannah Arendt also used the term “boomerang effect”  to show that the seeds of fascism were not German, but imperialism, racism, and anti-Semitism: “it was as though all the chickens came home to roost” and that  Europe could blame “no scapegoats, but only ourselves” for the ruinous effects of imperialism (Arendt, 2003, p. 271).

Boomerang: The Carbon Industry produces Anthropogenic Climate Change

The capitalist system of dominating land and air is producing the current anthropogenic climate change event and the Sixth Mass Extinction Crisis. Capitalism persists in the anthropocentric myth that one species is in control of the earth, when in reality climate has the upper hand.  Capitalism acts as though it is entitled to extract minerals, oil, and gas, even when extraction collides with species survival. Extractivism as a “nonreciprocal, dominance-based relationship with the earth, one purely of taking” (Klein, 2015). The global food industry is no longer agriculture but “monoculture” that enslaves corporate landowners to “Round-up ready seeds of death” (Shiva at al., 2000; Shiva, 2016), reducing earth’s generativity. In 2018, there were 25M refugees (UNHCR) and 10M stateless persons worldwide, one-quarter of Canada’s population. Homelessness will increase as climate change compels mass migrations from coastal flooding and arid zones. If capitalism had to pay for all climate change mitigation and adaption infrastructure, and for the resettlement of all climate refugees, it would be bankrupt.

Colonial Genocide exposed

Indigenous peoples of Canada experience colonization as a violent invasion and a genocide by a totalitarian aggressor that attempted to eliminate them.  The barbaric depopulation of the Americas is the most massive genocide in world history (Thornton, 1987). “Modern genocidal ideology emerged from combinations of religious and racial hatred with territorial expansionism” (Kiernan, 2007). Canada’s methods of erasure include starvation, displacement, poisoning water supplies, germ warfare, residential schools, involuntary sterilization, and removing children from their mothers. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015) found that “The Canadian government pursued a policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources” (p. 6).  The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Canada (2019) found that ‘genocide’ was the root cause of Canada’s failure to protect the life and safety of Indigenous women. If the wisdom that violence breed violence is true, then we can anticipate a boomerang on settlers who remain unconscious of our violent history and who continue to oppress Indigenous peoples using the methods of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, religion, and domination over land.


Western culture is tragically unconscious of its violent stories. My purpose in telling this uncomfortable story of degeneration is evoke consciousness. When we re/member those who we erased in our history, we can face our collective Shadow and  heal our fragmented lives. What small steps can we can take to return to the Light?

  1. Wake up and become conscious.
  2. Begin the journey back to spiraling time. This disrupts capitalism’s modern addiction to linear time and recognizes that capitalism is a historical event and that its end date is overdue.
  3. Imagine a pro-Life economic system in which all Beings can flourish.

Daring to imagine a radically different future is a political act.

  • By Irene Friesen Wolfstone
  • April 20, 2020. Excerpted from … Posted on…