The current economic crisis has exposed an enormous weakness in the global capitalist system. The collapse of the financial markets is just the beginning of a massive paradigm shift that will transform the social and ecological relationships inherent to capitalism.
We are living at one of the greatest turning points in history, in which a system that has just finished colonizing the entire planet is already facing its imminent demise. Like the Babylonian, Mayan, and Roman Empires before it, now Capitalism, seemingly secure in its global triumph, is in fact crumbling before our very eyes, and nothing can reverse the deterioration. Yet there remains a stark choice facing us: will the powerful succeed in coercing us into an even ghastlier slavery, or will we free ourselves and secure a more democratic future? Never before has humanity found itself at such a profound crossroads, and never will it again.
I believe strongly that we will win the future by mass noncooperation with the forces of fear and violence. The demise of capitalism and empire is closing the curtain on corporate globalization, and people the world over are going to seize the opportunity to redefine how they want to live with each other and in connection to the Earth, on a local level. Ultimately technology, the economy, and even culture will need to be appropriate to its surroundings. What works in a bioregion like the Great Plains might be different from what works in the desert, which might be different from what works in the inner city, or what once were the suburbs. This is exactly as it should be; it is impossible to construct a uniform formula that all individuals and communities should follow. The best we can lay out are core values to guide us on the journey we are about to undertake. And if we look inside ourselves, five such core values immediately present themselves: democracy, justice, sustainability, freedom and love.
Ella Baker inspired the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and the other social movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s with her principle of participatory democracy: individuals and communities having control of the decisions that affect their lives. In those massive, decentralized movements this doctrine proved successful not only as the ideal end but also as the best means available to social change activists. To create a world in which workers control their workplaces, students and teachers control their education, communities control their land and resources, women control their bodies, etc., our efforts towards that goal must also function through democratic decision-making. We must make sure that our movements remain inclusive of those with differing views and backgrounds, and we must involve more and more people by keeping our messaging and tactics relevant to the average person on the street. When people see themselves in the movement because we are speaking their language, they will join us.
A sense of justice teaches us that our movements must be feminist, anti-racist, queer and trans-positive, and anti-classist. Systems of oppression which privilege one group of people over another cannot be a part of the future society we are working towards, and therefore they cannot go unchallenged as we do our work. We must be sensitive to the fact that each and every one of us has been negatively affected by patriarchy, white supremacy, class and heteronormativity in different and overlapping ways, and even though some of us may be privileged for being male and/or white, for example, it is in everyone’s interest to break these systems of oppression. A famous quote by indigenous activist Lilla Watson shines a helpful light on this subject: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Obviously we are working towards sustainability, but what does that really mean? On a planet that has been devastated by industrial capitalism, and now is in danger of mass extinction or catastrophic climate change, it is not enough that we merely switch energy sources or technologies, while maintaining an economic structure based on growth. Industrial mass production and global monoculture, no matter the system of government managing them, are antithetical to sustainability. We can save trillions of dollars, create billions of jobs, and drastically reduce the threat of climate change, simply by eliminating wasteful and unnecessary industrial production.
But not all industries deserve the same treatment. For example, when it comes to transportation, it would be responsible of government to invest in high-speed rail and other forms of desperately-needed public transit, but there’s also a real need for small-scale bike construction and repair, which will create many more jobs than mechanized auto production plants. Overall, a sustainable economy requires that we drastically downscale and relocalize production, consumption and trade to the human level. In the future we will all be more connected to the land and what nature readily provides, and not waste what we do not need. However, that doesn’t mean we are all going to be huddled together and starving, either. In the days before Empire and the State, humans worked an average of 2-4 hours a day (mostly hunting, gathering, making their own tools and shelter, etc.), and yet ate more nutritiously and were far healthier than all but the wealthiest people today at the height of industrial capitalism. Industrialization itself is at the root of the unsustainability of our current society. We must move beyond it, and bring the human economy back within the web of the ecosystem rather than an alien force above it.
Freedom must be the backbone of any functioning future economy. People must always maintain the right to choose the field of their own labor, and be compensated fairly. Communities should decide how best to do this, and together we can likewise decide how to manage surpluses and trade. We must meet all basic human needs, like food, clothing, housing, shelter, health care, education, as well as creative work, and the best way to do this is to allow people to provide for themselves. Left to my own devices, I can fix our solar water heater during the morning, garden during the afternoon, sew in the evening and philosophize at night, without ever becoming a construction worker, farmer, tailor, or philosopher. And I cannot imagine a more productive day. This means labor must be as equally free as trade, negotiated at the grassroots level.
All together, democracy, justice, sustainability, and freedom are more than just slogans – put together they provide a frame for the world we want to live in. But this picture would be incomplete without filling the canvass with the mutual support and forward-looking hope that I associate with love. Not the sappy, saccharine love that we’re exposed to in Disney films, but the genuine, time-tested, and transformative love that bell hooks talks about when she writes, “Love will always move us away from domination in all its forms. Love will always challenge and change us.”
We need to recover a love for humanity and a love for the planet’s creatures which is founded on mutual respect. You cannot abuse, enslave or destroy that which you respect. But this is not about self-sacrifice, we also must commit to self-love. We have grown up and lived our whole lives in a culture that glorifies the unimportant, and denigrates the meaningful. As a result we’ve lost our connection to what matters most, ourselves. We love ourselves when we feel inside our bodies: notice our surroundings, appreciate our pain and pleasure, trust our emotions. We love ourselves when we put our minds to work: turn on our “thinking caps” and study the world around us, with an eye towards understanding ourselves. Finally, we love ourselves when we practice our spiritualities: connect ourselves to the great known and unknown energies at work all around us. If we base our struggles for the future on love, we know that in the end, the world we wish to see is not just a far-off idealistic dream, it is the inevitable result of a planet restoring to balance and a people recovering what they’ve lost.
This world is just over the horizon. We can see it getting closer every day as we work towards it. We will make it there, together.
[Your feedback on these ideas is very welcome! Please share your thoughts by commenting on the Discussion page.]