Beyond Capitalism (Part 1)
By Guy Dauncey
First Published in Common Ground Magazine, January 2004
It all started when I was talking about a future book that I’m co-authoring with some friends called The Cancer Explosion: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic. It’s not about finding a cure for cancer – it’s about eliminating the causes, 90% of which are caused by the chemical and nuclear influences which pervade our bodies, and the corporate and political influences which allow this to happen.
“You’ll never produce a solution to cancer until you end capitalism”, my friend Judy Brady said, during a planning session in San Francisco. Judy spent some formative time in Cuba, and came away convinced that here was a model which could work. I thought that this sounded like terminal defeatism, for surely, there were many things that could still be achieved within the overall framework of capitalism.
Besides, I thought, there are many different kinds of capitalism. There’s the small-scale capitalism of the street market, and the big-time capitalism of the global corporations. There’s Dutch capitalism, which is different from the cooperative capitalism of Mondragon, in northern Spain, which is different from the brutal capitalism of the heroin market. In the big global picture, however, it is the unrestrained activities of the corporations, and the bankers and share-holders who finance them, that we are concerned about. Nobody’s worrying much about the street markets.
Let’s leave aside blame for a moment, and whether responsibility for the mess we’re in should lie with our desire to buy the latest consumer goods, the corporations’ desire to sell them to us, or our collective lack of a higher spiritual purpose. However you assign the blame, the result is that we are destroying the biological foundations of our existence.
In just fifty years, using the methods of free market competition, loan financing, and high-tech fishing technologies, we have vacuumed 90% of the world’s large fish out of the oceans – the cod, the marlin, the tuna, the swordfish, the halibut, the flounder. In a few more years, we’ll have taken the lot. Forever. Whatever it is that allows us to act this way, we’re doing the same to the forests, the wetlands, the freshwater, the topsoil, the atmosphere, and our own bodies.
We think of capitalism as a system of rules and practices – but in reality, it’s a state of mind, which says “There are no limits, and no need to restrain myself. The invisible hand of the market will make it all come out right in the end.” It is a mindset that took hold in the late 1700s, when people in northern Europe started looking at life as being an incredible adventure, in contrast to the dark, narrow worlds of religious bigotry that had dominated life for the past 200 years. Adam Smith gave voice to this state of mind in his book The Wealth of Nations (1776). The structures which the people of that era invented – the banks, corporations, shares, and stock options – were simply the means by which this new consciousness could be expressed.
So now we have hit the limits which those adventurous souls found it possible to conceive. We have taken our shiny SUVs to the furthest corners of the planet, and left a McDonald’s to say “we were here”.
Beyond capitalism … and beyond socialism too, for this too sprung from a mindset in which most people saw no need for limits. Socialists wanted a more fair division of the spoils, as we enjoyed the great adventure of living. The socialist path provides a much needed correction to the greedy selfishness of unrestrained capitalism – and the injustice that is so prevalent today is only possible because socialism has lost so much influence - but socialist thinking has never really addressed ecological limits.
Today, as we read about the loss of the fish, and the chaos that is coming from global warming, our consciousness is changing. A new consciousness has been awakening since 1966, when we saw the first photos of Earth from space, and started falling in love with the planet as a whole.
Just as the 18th century free thinkers had to invent the mechanisms of capitalism, we have to invent the mechanisms of Earth Stewardship, from watershed stewardship councils and local sustainable economies to enforceable global environmental agreements. The sooner we create the new structures, the easier it will be, for we are entering a new period of global constraint and hardship, as we hit the realities of Earth’s ecological limits.
It gives us all a wonderful choice, as we enter another new year. Are you going to let your spirit die, and hang onto the old capitalism as it goes down, or will you become part of the new emerging consciousness, that seeks stewardship and sustainability? The choice is yours.
Guy Dauncey is the author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers, 2001) and other titles. He lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com