For months Retake has been framing the climate change as a crisis of capitalism that can only be solved by inventing another system. In two well crafted articles, from The Nation and Resilience, this challenge is framed brilliantly. Capitalism insists on me against you, me over you, with a thirst for profit eroding the value in caring for each other or our future. That is what must change.
Escaping Extinction: Our Systems Must Change
Today’s post relies on two extraordinary articles, first “Escaping Extinction through Paradigm Shift,” by Nafeez Ahmed, originally published in Insurge Intelligence and republished in Reslience. The second written by Astra Taylor and published in The Nation, “Time’s Up for Capitalism, But What Comes Next?”
Ahmed begins by reporting on his personal reaction to the daily news: paralysis. How could so much be going so wrong while there is a total absence of political leadership anywhere on earth grappling with the full depth and scope of the problem? “Watching the news has become like entering a psychological boxing ring where you get the shit punched out of you repeatedly until you drop to the floor, broken, bloodied, and inert: helpless.” Ahmed goes on to claim this reaction as our common ground. We all have had this sense of impotence and rage watching Democracy Now!, CNN, MSNBC, or PBS. For those needing more evidence of the imminent collapse of our economic, political, and environmental systems, Ahmed cites six recent studies, each viewing this collapse from a different perspective. I excerpted his citations and you can view the annotated list with links to each study by clicking here.
Ahmed goes on to point out how part of the problem is how the world reacts to its impotent rage. He notes that some react by blaming “the other,” the refugees fleeing war, violence, drought, and other manifestations of capitalism’s collapse. Here we find the classic capitalist framing of everything: it is “we” who have versus those who don’t have. And we need to win — with walls, laws, and rising animosity toward those who seek refuge. Ahmed’s context is in Europe, where one democracy after another seeks legal protections from floods of immigrants that dwarf what the US finds on our southern border. In this context, we find a racist, xenophobic opposition to the mere existence of those fleeing uninhabitable homelands. The problem is not us, but “the other.” “Within this paradigm, expulsion of the ‘Other’ is the final solution. This is the zero-sum game model of existence. There’s not enough to go round, so we need to accumulate as much for our (narrowly-defined) selves as possible. More growth, but just for ‘us’ — because ‘They’ are the ones taking our jobs.”
The other reaction is among those who are “woke.” We protest, we petition, we march, we vote. But Ahmed points out that all of this protest is directed at governments that are essentially incapable of taking the kind of actions needed to address the scale of the crisis. What’s more, our petitions and protests externalize the problem: “We” get it. “They” must change.
We have been trained to believe that voting every once in a while in parliamentary systems suffices for effective democratic action that serves our legitimate interests. We now know that this is not enough. Our democracies are not just broken, beholden to special interests belonging to an interlocking network of energy, defense, agribusiness, biotechnological, communications and other industrial conglomerates dominated by a tiny minority. Our democracies are in a state of collapse: incapable of addressing the systemic complexity of the crisis of civilization. As they fail, they are veering toward rejecting their own democratic ethos toward increasing authoritarianism — shoring up centralized state powers to ward off dangerous ‘Others’ and unruly citizens.”
Ahmed goes on to describe how our democracies are incapable of addressing the complexity of the challenge, in large part due to these democracies being beholden to the very capitalist organizations with a financial stake in how we currently do business. “Until we address the question of transforming the very sinews and structures of contemporary neoliberal capitalism-as-we-know-it, the defining economic paradigm of our global civilization, we are speaking the wrong language.”
But Ahmed doesn’t simply blame capitalism and our democratic governments, he blames all of us and suggests that the solution to our climate crisis resides within each of us, not just in changing our personal behaviors, but in insisting that in our places of business, our local government, in our schools and other institutions, we change how we do business and resist the zero-sum game of we versus the other. “This is what is missing from our response to the crisis of civilization. Our responses are based on demanding change from the ‘Other’. Whether it’s governments, or philanthropy or business — it’s about calling to account everyone other than ourselves. The problem is out there, and we have to shout and glue ourselves to the ground to get Them to listen.”
Ahmed is short on specific suggestions, but his laser-like exploration of the nature of the challenge is very worth your review. Click here to review the full article.
Astra Taylor in The Nation also identifies capitalism and the world culture it has birthed as the heart of the problem, but she also offers a glimpse of the kind of change from within that is required.
Indeed, in researching this post, I did a Google search: capitalism and climate change. There were scores of articles from the NY Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Mother Jones, Yes!, the LA Times, everywhere. It isn’t as if the relationship between capitalism, our addiction to growth, and the 1%’s addiction to profit is a secret. But, as is described so clearly by Ahmed, our governing systems are paralyzed or more accurately, tied up in knots and incapable of addressing the scope of the problem. But while Taylor doesn’t point to specific political strategies or policy reforms, she does point to the kind of transformation required, describing a North American pre-colonial, indigenous treaty-making process.
I must say, that while these two authors framed the nature of the problem very compellingly, I was left wanting in terms of the solutions. While the kind of transition or paradigm shift Ahmed and Taylor identify do seem to be the required change, in their writing I didn’t see a bridge that can get us there. The “one dish, one spoon’ treaty was created by peoples with no concept of land ownership or profit. Our cultural distance from that time could hardly be wider. With so little time, how do we achieve one dish, one spoon when those who own the dish have no intention of giving up that ownership?
And so I end by posing a question to readers of this blog: With less than 12 years remaining to contain what seems uncontainable, what is the most effective path? What should each of us do with the remainder of the day, the week, our lifetime, if we are to pass on a sustainable world to our children? What do we do?
Paul & Roxanne