05 June 2016

Let's Start Picturing How We're Going to Stand Up to Globalized Capitalism

Stephanie McMillan
While visiting a friend's place last week, I picked up a copy of New Yorker Magazine that was lying on the end table in his living room. I flipped to an article about Jeremy Corbyn, Britain's new Labour Party leader, and read this: "It is easier for people to imagine the end of the earth [Earth?] than it is to imagine the end of capitalism." 

I nearly gasped out loud. I'd heard before that Canadians "would rather die comfortable than live uncomfortable" (see this post), but this was the first time it had been pointed out to me so starkly that those made comfortable by capitalism are NOT going to bite the hand that feeds them, even if that hand is killing off their children's future.

The quote was attributed to Fredric Jameson, an American literary critic and Marxist political theorist, best known for his analysis of contemporary cultural trends. What he actually said was:
"Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world." 
Jameson makes a good point. Capitalism and "the end of the world" are rapidly becoming synonymous -- even if most EuroAmericans (and those we've globalized) can't picture any other economic system and therefore are willingly accepting the end of the world. (I call that a failure of imagination.) 

That "someone" that Jameson mentioned was Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian sociologist, philosopher and cultural critic. And here is his exact quote:
"Think about the strangeness of today's situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth [Earth?] disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on [um, climate chaos?]. So the paradox is, that it's much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism." 
— from Zizek!, a 2005 American/Canadian documentary film by Astra Taylor 
It's true, isn't it? Capitalism (of the globalized sort) has become the metaphorical water we swim in -- so we can't see it for what it is ... unkind, unfair, exploitive, lying, inequitable, dangerous, dirty, carbon intensive and greenhouse-gas-spewing. We've created quite the mess, haven't we? It's led to what my hubby calls a "widespread de facto conspiracy to keep supporting the fossil fuel industry and its tacit support by the majority of governments, scientists and and NGOs."

According to Žižek, it's possible that all we need is a "modest radical change in capitalism." I like that: "a modest radical change" ... but a radical change nonetheless. 

I've written before that we don't have time to effect that radical change BEFORE we save the world, but many of the solutions do entail a tweaking of our capitalist system (see this post). As Naomi Klein explains in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate:
"We have been told it's impossible to get off fossil fuels when in fact we know exactly how to do it -- it just requires breaking every rule in the 'free market' playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies and reclaiming our democracies."
"Free market" in quotation marks? Yes, that's because it's not a free market. We're actually subsidizing fossil fuel corporations with direct and indirect subsidies in the trillions of dollars per year. With our tax dollars. Which also pay for all the externalized costs of fossil fuel burning. So it sure ain't a free market for us!

Reining in corporate power? Yes, how about a change to the corporate charter? Making it law that corporations must internalize all their health and environmental costs before counting their profits and paying dividends to their shareholders?

Rebuilding local economies? Yes, after we've got solar fusion technology down pat, scaleable to small communities and building the renewable energy infrastructure. (We need energy-dense power to transition to renewable energy -- but we can't be using coal and other fossil fuels to meet that goal.)

Reclaiming our democracies? Yes, people don't realize just how many democracies (and those we have elected to represent us in our governments) are "owned" by Big Banks and the fossil fuel industries. (Here in Canada, we elected a party whose national campaign co-chair, who has since resigned, gave lobbying advice to a major Canadian pipeline company less than a week before the election. See what I mean?)

How about if we start clearly picturing how capitalism is ending life on Earth -- and then start imagining how we're going to stand up for the children and end the destruction?

I love this one! Ah, dear sweet Capitalism,
it was fine until you got greedy!

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?