Beyond Capitalism (Part 2)
By Guy Dauncey
First Published in Common Ground Magazine, February 2004
“If you want to abolish capitalism, what will you replace it with?”
It’s that old question, designed to make you cringe with uncertainty. I once heard a world trade protestor answer the challenge from a radio broadcaster with the confident “Well, communism, of course!”. A silent guffaw arose across the country, as comfortable capitalists listening to the radio in their sports utility vehicles had their stereotypes confirmed about half-witted protestors with half-baked ideas.
In reality, it’s not the right question. Why? Because the question assumes that it’s the structures and institutions which need changing, not the consciousness which created them. The question should be “If you want to end the dream that created capitalism, what will you replace it with?”
Business has always existed. There was business among the Neolithic traders 10,000 years ago, and business in the Roman Empire. There was business among the Nuuchalnulth tribes of western Vancouver Island, and business among the Mayans of central America. Business is as ancient as humans.
It was a restless spirit that emerged out of a dark and cramped feudal Europe that dreamed a new dream, and created the institutions of capitalism to express that dream. Consciousness was shifting. 18th century people were excited by a dream in which individual freedom, trade, exploration and science would open up a new world, leading to prosperity, discovery, and the comforts of a civilized life. Who can nay-say them? It was house versus hovel; piped sewage versus slops on the street; free discussion versus prison.
Coming out of an era in which very few people travelled beyond their nearest village, and in which the bishops, priests and preachers of the church (whether Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Presbyterian or Episcopalian) assumed the right to judge, condemn, burn and hang people for thinking “heretical” thoughts, it was an incredible dream.
It was with this new consciousness that the innovators of the 18th century created the institutions and structures of capitalism, such as the limited company, banking, and shareholding. The consciousness came first: the institutions came later. When Karl Marx and other socialists proclaimed that it was the structures which determined the form and content of consciousness, not the other way round, they were simply reflecting 19th century science, which was fascinated with machinery and material change.
Today, the dream is no longer fresh. First it went stale; then it went sour, and rotten. Now is positively dangerous. It is one thing for a family farm to produce pork, metaphorically speaking. It’s quite another to turn the whole world into one gigantic pork factory, spewing pollutants, suppressing liberties and spreading foul odours everywhere, all for the sake of profit. If the Statue of Liberty was not made of copper, steel and concrete, she would have keeled over and drowned in New York harbour long ago.
And yet this is exactly what is happening, with a speed and vengeance that is more appalling than most of us can conceive. Last month I reported that the global fishing industry has wiped out 90% of the large fish in the world’s oceans in just 50 years. This month I can report, with alarm and distress, that a large new international study led by Chris Thomas, professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Leeds, in England, says that global warming could wipe out a quarter of all species of land-based plants and animals on Earth by 2050.
Holy schmoly. The noble 18th century dream is no longer noble. Bereft of life, it should be resting in peace. If that band of corporate capitalists hadn't rigged the system and nailed it to its perch, it would be pushing up the daisies! It would be an ex-dream!!
Today, a new dream is calling to us, in which we, the people, plants, fish, birds, animals and tiny organisms of planet Earth, live together in peace and ecological partnership amid Nature’s beauty, honouring and respecting the spirit that gave us life, while continuing to explore the excitement of our dreams, and the unfolding future.
A world in which business continues, and communities continue to pull themselves out of poverty, but in which business leaders and investors are constrained by the laws of Nature, instead of roaming the “free trade, protect all investors” world like a bunch of bloody-minded pirates and privateers in search of profits, treasure and power.
Beyond capitalism, is Earth Stewardship. But if we want it, we have to create it, taking our dreams and shaping them into the institutions and structures that will give shape and meaning to it, challenging and then replacing the institutions of capitalism.
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