False Hope and Real Transformation

The currently self-destructing system of corporate profit at the expense of human happiness and the environment props itself up by constantly selling us hope for the future as a substitute for transformation of the present. We need hope if we’re to keep struggling for a different world in the face of hostile and discouraging conditions, but we have t be careful to avoid the false hope that consumerism, the media, and mainstream politics always offer us: A new shining leader who will fix everything, if only we elect them. Dizzying new forms of techno-entertainment to take our minds off the crumbling economy and the dying planet. And lots of new stuff to buy—hybrid cars, “alternative” fuels, crap made from fair trade this and recycled that. If you can be thing, young, and beautiful through consumerism, surely you can be green too, right?

Let’s go back a step. The current political/economic/cultural system is not offering solutions to problems—it’s causing the problems. Under capitalism, constant competition forces everyone involved in the system to make decisions harmful to human beings and the earth. Every part of the system has to constantly increase profit, sales, efficiency, speed, and size, while reducing costs or risk being eaten up by someone else. The result is a race to the bottom—a sacrifice of the experience that make life worth living and the ecological systems that make life possible.

The system’s own internal logic of constant growth is inconsistent with a finite and fragile natural environment. Since the industrial revolution, human civilization has brought the world’s natural systems to the brink of collapse. Global warming is only the most stark example. Look at the rivers, the oceans, the forests, the air, the soil, wildlife—will your children’s natural world be better or worse than yours?

You might think that with all the technology and abundant material possessions that capitalism has created at the expense of the earth’s environment, people in developed countries would be the happiest in the history of the world. But capitalism—with its constant competition and insatiable appetite for more—corrodes the human spirit and human cultures just as surely as it destroys the natural environment. We have undergone the greatest speed-up in the history of the world. Time to spend with our families, time to be in nature, time to learn about the world for its own sake, time to make music, time to master a craft, time to just sit and be still—capitalism rations it all. Communities, family ties, our health and sanity are all sacrificed on the altar of More. The industrial economy crushes diversity, autonomy, local decision making, and free choice—instead, you get 10,000 identical Starbucks, processed frozen treas, and programmed mass culture. Workers always get the hardest deal—in sweatshops in China or closed factories in the USA—but even the “lucky” people in capitalism, inhabit a culturally, ecologically, and spiritually poor cage. The modern world is the ugliest, saddest, dirties, and most stressful and dangerous place humans have ever created.

In the face of this absurd system, people are organizing everywhere for different ways of living. While the system concentrates power in distant hands, we seek forms of organization that re-localize decision making—putting control of our lives back into our own hands and the hands of people we can speak with face-to-face. While the system worships competition and creates a pressure-filled world in which every individual is pitted against every other individual, we are building alternatives based on cooperation, trust, and mutual aid. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need. The system makes assumptions about individual psychology that just aren’t true: that everyone is inherently selfish, greedy, violent, and values material possession over time to enjoy our lives. We’re observing how people actually help each other out, how we have compassion for others, and how our time is more valuable than having a bunch of stuff. While the system seeks to promote individual isolation—living alone in suburbs, driving alone to a job, working alone in a box—we’re re-discovering our social nature. People have always lived together with others, cooperated to meet our needs, and caroused and sang late at night around a campfire. While the system always seeks more and faster stuff, we’re re-learning the richness and joy of being slow, low-tech, and simple.

All of these transformations lighten our impact on the natural world while making our day-to-day existence more meaningful, engaged, and connected with others. People have been organizing for these alternatives for a long time—some are described in the pages of this organizer—they don’t match neatly with our learned short-attention span in which plots are resolved in a half-hour tv episode. And yet, whole the transformation we’re building is a long-term project, it doesn’t require that we replace action now with a vague—or false—hope for the future. Because real social transformation is not about hoping for the future, but changing the way we live now. Real social transformation isn’t something that someone else does for you—a leader, a company selling you a new product, or a celebrity offering you entertainment. Real transformation is strictly do-it-ourselves. It is unmediated by the system of buying, passively watching or waiting for someone else to do it for you.

Part of real transformation—maybe the most important part—is within your own heart and your own head: freeing yourself from the fog, lies, and distractions offered by the outside—form buying, accomplishing stuff, or getting approval from someone else. Satisfaction and meaning can only come from within. Once you realize that you’re responsible for your own life, you are free to seek liberation from corporations, landlords, bosses, church leaders, teachers, and politicians.

Ultimately, the struggle against the system a struggle that we must make together. There is no single plan, no single solution, no single cause, no single alternative technology or form of organization that will bring liberation. But by trying many different ideas, struggles, and experiments, people just like you—probably including you—are developing alternatives in the here and now and for the future. We should pat ourselves on the back, celebrate our victories, and keep on keeping on. The future we seek starts right now.