We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Green capitalism: the god that failed [followup commentary]

Click here to access article by Richard Smith from Climate and Capitalism. However, to access the website which contains the abstract of the article, the pdf link, and comments on the article, go here.

Yes, I am listing this again because it is a crucial document in order to understand the fundamental conflict between an ecosystem that can sustain human life (and many other life forms) with that of the system of capitalism.

Last night I read the article completely after printing out a double-sided copy of the 33 pages on 17 - 8X11 sheets. Smith lays out his thesis with some of the best arguments and documented evidence that I've seen anywhere. It certainly does not represent the last word on this vital topic, but it is a huge beginning. Others must step up to carry his thesis forward if we are to have any chance against this 300 year old juggernaut of capitalism that is hellbent on destroying the habitat that supports all decent human life. This is the very best article that I have posted on this blog in the year and a half of posting. Need I say that it is a must-read?

One commentator's (Allen Cookson) response to the article makes reference to a lot of cold war era thinking and other rather shallow thoughts about socialism to critique the article. I am referring to his allusions to socialism which indicate a Soviet type and socialism as meaning public ownership of some industries. Such thinking is so common among people who have been totally immersed in Western capitalist indoctrination all their lives--and who hasn't been if you live in the West?

On page 117 of the article Smith writes:
The global ecological crisis we face cannot be solved by even the largest individual companies. Problems like global warming, deforestation, overfishing, species extinction, the changing ocean chemistry are even beyond the scope of nation states. They require national and international cooperation and global economic planning. This requires collective bottom-up democratic control over the entire world economy. [my emphasis] And since a global economic democracy could only thrive in the context of a rough economic equality, this presupposes a global redistribution of wealth as well.
It is hard for most people to get their heads around a concept like "bottom-up democratic control" simply because most people have never known anything but hierarchical control. If you stop to think about it, hierarchy is a necessary system whenever a few people need to control many people. This is true for all institutions in a capitalist society and for any type of privileged class structured society.  

Visualize the typical military type organizational structure. It's a pyramid shape that represents one or a few people at the top and progressively more people as you go down the schematic. All important organizational structures in a capitalist society have precisely this kind of structure. In addition, outside of formal organizations there are many kinds of informal norms of behavior that privilege some people over others. Such norms promote and reflect the interests and values of those at the top of the formal structures who consist of a general class of capitalists.

So, who are these people? They are the most privileged and powerful because they live off the "ownership" of money, resources, implements of production (capital); while others live off their labor whether manual, skilled, or intellectual. The former, or capitalist class, according to the rules of the system, have several fundamental advantages: they appropriate the wealth created by working people, provide working people some portion of that wealth mostly based on market rules of supply and demand (essentially the same rules applied to any commodity), control the supply of jobs (rented labor or wage slaves), control what is produced and how, and control the general supply of money and credit.

Because humans have lived in class structured societies for several thousand years, they find it difficult to imagine any other arrangement. But there is abundant evidence gathered from anthropologists, archeologists, etc. to conclude that class structured societies have been in existence for less than 2% of humanity's existence. Unfortunately, this has been the last 2%.

So, we humans have forgotten how to live in a collective, egalitarian, and democratic way. Also, we now live in huge numbers where before we lived in small bands of people. Thus, we can't simply go back to making decisions the way we did before. So, there's the rub. How do we build a democratic decision making system that uses small group participation in fundamental core units of a society in a way that results in control of higher levels of organization? This is precisely where much work needs to be done.