The choice seems starkly clear: Social solidarity or civilizational breakdown. Which side is social work on?

Is this title some sort of trick question? Of course social workers (truly, anyone in their right mind, right?) would choose solidarity over breakdown. But why is that even a “choice” to begin with? To be sure, humanity faces a number of serious challenges, but a “breakdown of civilization” still sounds like alarmist hyperbole. Human civilization has faced previous challenges, setbacks and disruptions, but here we still are, still learning and problem-solving, still thriving, still progressing. What’s so different now?

Simply put, what’s so different is the nature of the problems humanity confronts, in the face of which all previous problems pale. The climate crisis and its multiplying consequences cannot be solved through political half-measures constrained by largely unrestrained concentrations of economic power. Shrinking biodiversity and the collapsing life-sustaining capabilities of earth’s biosphere cannot be arrested by the feeble and largely “performative” exertions of a dysfunctional nation-state system obsessed with territorial sovereignty. The rapid escalation of global conflicts, including the growing threat of nuclear war as a consequence of “great power conflict,” cannot be prevented by a flood of technologically advanced weaponry, the militarization of space, or an orgy of new arms sales and “upgrades” of nuclear arsenals.

These terrors are not deemed “existential” threats to humanity for no reason. If the very existence of the species is at stake, it is surely at least equally plausible that the prospects of “civilizational breakdown” – that is, an inability to sustain any organized form of stable social existence on a large scale – is a risk not to be discounted.

Are we doomed? No; not yet, anyway. But as the title avers, the choice is stark: Embrace an uncompromising ethic of social solidarity – not just within this one nation, but with all the peoples, indeed all life, of the planet – or suffer the unraveling of organized social life. Solidarity, and the humanely rational political and economic choices that can flow from it, is the only way we can climb out of the deepening hole we’ve dug for ourselves.

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