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How to get from Here to There: A Modern ‘Archimedes Hypothesis’


[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
 
As an old anarcho-Marxist utopian, I am overjoyed to receive the invitation to join in Parecon’s Reimagining Society project. Indeed, I had just begun a parallel initiative: the creation of an interactive web site which invites participants to join together collectively in constructing realistic models of post-capitalist societies – and the roads leading thereto. I urge my fellow activists and theoreticians to give free reign to your imaginations and join us at www.wikitopia.wikidot.com The following paper outlines the theoretical basis for such possible future societies.
 
 

 

By all appearances, capitalism, decadent since the First World War is rapidly descending into economic depression, social barbarism and ecological suicide. In 2009, slowly reforming the system – always a dubious proposition – seems less and less practical in the face of actual and impending social, economic and environmental catastrophes. Assuming that there is a future ‘life after capitalism’ and that ‘another world’ is really possible, it follows that this future society will of necessity be radically Utopian (or rather Ecotopian). It also follows that such a society will emerge from the grass roots and spread globally, rather than percolating slowly through existing national institutions. Consequently, the most serious problem for our time is realistically imagining how we can get from here (capitalist ecocide) to there (Ecotopia) without invoking supernatural or extraterrestrial intervention.
 
In my view, such a social transformation would have to be global in scope, although obviously it would emerge sooner or later in different areas as it developed and gained experience. Ultimately, such a world-wide social transformation would require the emergence of a network of planetary social movements powerful enough to strip the billionaires of their power and build sustainable post-capitalist societies. Impossible? In May of 1968 millions of us, workers and students, took over the schools, factories and offices of France. Our slogan: ‘Be practical! Demand the impossible!’ Today, after forty years of neoliberal capitalist reaction, it has become obvious that only ‘the impossible’ (under the profit system) is possible (for the survival of intelligent life on this planet). That is our working assumption. I begin my (basically Marxist) analysis by asking: What are the human (social), material (technological) and ideological (spiritual) elements latent in today’s globalized capitalist society that could combine to enable the emergenceof a Better World?
 

I will raise the Earth!
 
They say that in ancient times, that bold philosopher and inventor Archimedes boasted: Give me a lever long enough, a fulcrum, a place to stand, and I will raise the Earth! Of course, we know Archimedes’ amazing feat was only a hypothesis – a ‘thought experiment’ that could take place only in the mind. But Archimedes’s discovery was no less powerful for being a ‘mere’ idea dreamed up by a philosopher. In the centuries after Archimedes, inventions based on his hypothesis vastly multiplied the puny strength of human beings so that they were able to circumnavigate the globe and eventually to dominate it – for better or for worse. Can anyone then doubt the ability of an idea – a thought experiment – to multiply human power?
 
Our problem, if we want to successfully imagine a plausible science fiction scenario with a happy ending, is to think up a similar hypothetical formula for multiplying human power so that our passengers and crew of Starship Earth can lift the Earth before it is shipwrecked. Our mutineers will need a lot of leverage to overpower the officers who are fighting among themselves, looting the ship, and steering it toward disaster. How to imagine such a lever, platform, and fulcrum? History seems to indicate that whenever people are ready to pose new questions, the means of resolving them are already present – if only as possibilities for science fiction. 
 
 
The Modern Archimedes Hypothesis
 
In our scenario for ‘Mutiny on Spaceship Earth’ the three elements are already on board, ready to be configured into a new power strong enough to halt the onrush of global self-destruction and release the human energy to build a new society. I call them: The Social Lever, The Electronic Platform, and The Philosophical Fulcrum.
 
  • The Social Lever is the vast untapped power of planetary solidarity. Once the billions of passengers and crewmembers aboard Spaceship Earth unite and act together, no force can stop them. Divided, they are pitiful and weak. United, their power is irresistible.
 
  • The Electronic Platformis the World Wide Web. Its emergent technology is tentacular, infinite in its connections, interactive, and indestructible because its center is everywhere and nowhere. As accessible tomorrow as the telephone is today, the Internet provides a place to stand large enough for billions to interact. The Web is a planetary platform where each can speak for her/himself on equal footing, where billions of passengers and crew-members can connect, unite, empower themselves and take initiatives on a planetary scale – the only scale on which it makes sense to confront the power-mad officers of predatory global capitalism.
 
  • The Philosophical Fulcrum is planetary consciousness: the awareness that planets are mortal. It is a vision which places the survival of Spaceship Earth and its inhabitants at the center of all things. It is the affirmation of Life on Earth as a new universal, as the common spiritual and practical basis around which billions can unite.
 
The Lever of Planetary Solidarity
 
Solidarity is the most familiar of the three powers. We all know that there is strength in numbers, and it’s six billion of us against about six thousand billionaires. It follows that ‘united we stand, divided we fall,’ for in the words of the old song ‘union makes us strong.’ Solidarity is not merely a realistic tactical, practical necessity; it is a positive social ethic and a fundamental human value as well. The old labor slogan sums up the lesson of all the great religious teachers of the past two thousand years: An injury to oneto the humblest child among us – is an injury to all.
 
If we base our successful Mutiny on Starship Earth scenario on real human history, it reveals that the potential power of mass solidarity has shown itself successful at revolutionary moments from ancient times.

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