I don’t know what to say anymore to people who just don’t get it or refuse to.
Too many folks know things are not right. They can talk vaguely about greed or dominance but when it comes to challenging the institutional structures that have been so cemented in our culture they shut down like a computer experiencing the dreaded blue screen of death.
How can we rebuke greed but defend the institution that breeds it? (An even scarier questions is: How can we not see that these institutions breed them?)
How can we dream of something better but defend the nightmare?
I just can’t tolerate it.
I remember in High School when our philosophy teacher, Dr. Tripp, had us read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Even then the story had meaning for me and the more and more I learned the allegory became more and more of a personal expression.
I see how many of us, as I was, are imprisoned. We are chained to a "reality" that only lets us see the images, or the shadows created before the fiery truth behind us.
I can recall how I began to strip myself from that wall of fear and dogma. I remember when I too first looked up at the blinding light above and was so pained by its brilliance that I had no idea what I was looking at. It took time for my eyes to adjust, for my brain to soak in all that I was seeing, hearing and learning.
I still remember when I saw how the American Dream was just a shadow, an opiate for the masses.
Slowly I began to learn the reality of our economic system of choice: capitalism.
I learned how there was no invisible hand lifting us up. That the phrase "rising waters lifts all boats" was not entirely appropriate, especially if we note how many are left with boats with holes or, worse, no boats at all! But radical economist, Robin Hahnel, has a better expression: the invisible foot. Rather than the miracles of the free (but not fair) market lifting people up, the horrors of them are used to keep many down, their necks pinned by the dominators boots.
I have yet to meet someone who was an authentic monster. What I mean is that most people are driven to be good. We value good relationships with others. We normally get a warm, fuzzy feeling when we do something beneficial for others even at our own expense (e.g. altruism) while we will feel nervous, awful or guilt-stricken if we lie, cheat or deceive others.
And I come back to Plato because after all I have learned and seen and heard I have to admit that sometimes I wish I could just wipe my memory clean. (Damn you, Steven Pinker for showing me that we are not blank slates!) But I know that I can’t. I just go on trying to do what I do best: be me. Like others I cherish my loved ones, enjoy my time while I got it, but I cannot shake my feeling of concern for those who suffer due to our inability or unwillingness to make a better world a reality.
Peter Kropotkin was right in regards to our "mutual aid." I realized long before I heard of the prince that our entire lives center round our relationships with others. If you will go back to every memory, experience, dream, nightmare you will see that it was never just about you. In countless detail it was always about us and the relationships we have with each other, and we have always striven for good relations.
True, we experience difficulties with differences but at the heart of it we want the same things: decency, fairness, respect, tolerance, liberty and justice (in terms of economics Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel note solidarity, equity, diversity, self-management and efficiency). I am not suggesting we can ever be free of problems. Obviously that will never be the case. But what can be the case is that we create social, political and economic institutions that are a part of and reflect these values.
If the capitalist system(s) inherently creates or nurtures particular anti-social behaviors then we shouldn’t use it. The systems are unjustified and should be replaced.
Which brings me to another thought: I know that if I criticize capitalism as being inherently flawed, no matter if it’s regulated or not but turn around and defend "Communism" by pointing out that not all forms of communism are of the authoritarian, Soviet brand, I will be accused of hypocrisy. I also know that I will have to point out some particularly useful facts of the Russian Revolution to highlight the differences even with communism and how what loose form of communism I advocate is nothing like the USSR.
What I am getting at here is that there is a reasonable basis for some type of communism to be a preferable replacement to capitalism. All versions of capitalism center round private ownership and market systems but not all versions of communism center round state bureaucracy or centrally planned economies. And I digress…
I know I keep saying this but I truly think Participatory Economics (parecon) has taken much of this into consideration and properly addresses it.
With no private or state ownership of work places no one can dominate. With work tasks being balanced so that all workers can be empowered while sharing the burden of tedious tasks no one can dominate. With planning being done democratically and in a participatory fashion then no one can dominate. With remuneration being based off of effort, sacrifice and social value of work produced then no one can feasibly pull ahead of others at such a degree as to monopolize wealth, and again, with wealth not being a prerequisite of power and control no one can dominate.
The picture that begins to emerge is one of a society that deeply considers the affects, needs and desires of others where institutions are created and maintained to enrich people’s lives by not dominating, controlling or enslaving them, but rather by empowering them with the ability to have a direct say in their planning. In this society people are paid an honest wage for an honest days work.
The choice between this society and one where a roughly 5% owns nearly everything and make the decisions based on what will enrich them even if it means huge income inequalities, poverty, ecological devastation and the consignment of the rest of the population to simply take orders is not a difficult one to make. Perhaps the most difficult decision is letting go of the fear and ignorance that chains us to our existing institutions, because after that the understanding of what chained us and what can free us is relatively easy.