Conversation with the ‘Moneyless Man’: our problems are way beyond policy changes – we need a new system

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Posted Sep 12 2015 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
the moneyless man

Mark Boyle, the ‘Moneyless Man‘ came to visit last Wednesday. It was the first time we’d met, although we’ve exchanged emails for years. As I suspected I would, I found him to be an inspirational character. We talked into the small hours, and we started at a point of mutual understanding that meant one thing was a given from the start – our problems are way, way beyond policy changes. Our system of corporate capitalism is undemocratic, unsustainable, and is pushing us down a path towards extinction. If you’re not at the same starting point by the way, see here and here. We have to grasp the nettle – sooner rather than later.

Between us we know hundreds of extremely talented people working on ways to get us off this path – but as yet the nettle remains ungrasped. We are losing. The essentials of life are slipping into corporate hands all over the world – land, housing, energy, food, employment, finance, media. You may move in circles where this is less obvious, but it’s true nevertheless. Until and unless we replace this system, we will continue to lose. It’s our business to change it – yours and mine. There is nobody ‘else’ who is going to do it. We will fail in our work and in what we’d like to achieve unless we replace this system.

Problems

  1. Democracy: we live in a corporate empire that concentrates wealth and power in capital; and it’s becoming more concentrated, which would be fine if you don’t think democracy is important. We can survive without democracy; but we can’t survive without nature.
  2. Nature: corporate capitalism eats nature. The growth inherent in it has caused the current mass extinction event that peer-reviewed ecologists are telling us will, if unchecked, lead to a ‘cascade point’ when ecology will begin to irreversibly haemorrhage away from us and lead to our extinction. It will remain unchecked in this system because there are no mechanisms to check it.
  3. Leadership: this system rewards bad qualities – selfishness, greed, ruthlessness, ego. Any system that gives wealth and power to a person with the intelligence, compassion and integrity of Donald Trump is a bad system.
  4. Ugliness and alienation: this system fills the world with supermarkets, motorways, telesales jobs and ready-meals; it cannot and will not allow beautiful and interesting places, communities and jobs to exist if money can be made from their destruction.

Approaches that won’t work or won’t be enough

  1. Incremental change: this is a good thing, and it’s part of the solution (see distributism, below) – it’s just not enough on it’s own. Anything that looks as though it might challenge their power will be bought or crushed. Remember how the Body Shop, Green & Black’s and Ben and Jerry’s were going to usher in an entirely new way of doing business? They’re now owned by L’Oreal, Cadbury’s and Unilever respectively; and the Co-op Bank has just been swallowed whole by the Empire. I’ve had conversations with people in the Transition movement who believe that incremental change will result in a tipping point being reached, after which we will inevitably shift to a sustainable system without a plan for systemic change. Not only are we moving in the opposite direction, but if the Transition movement or anything like it begins to challenge the corporate sector, they’ll understand what those in power will do to keep it. The Transition movement is a wonderful thing, in that it brings like-minded people together in their communities, but again, it’s not enough. To really challenge the corporate sector, change needs to be more, well – revolutionary.
  2. Violent revolution: however, as Bakunin warned Marx at the end of the 19th century, violent revolution requires military men to take power, and when military men take power, they never give it up. History has proved him right, and so in my opinion, non-violent revolution is the only way to bring about real change. Mark gave me another perspective however, in that you wouldn’t walk past a rape – you’d do something, and it would probably have to be something violent. Doing nothing would be a more violent thing to do than confronting the rapist. As the corporate system is destroying ecology (our life-support system), this represents such violence that doing nothing may be more damaging, and more violent, than using force to prevent it. If your only source of food was an apple tree (ignoring the fact that one can’t survive on apples alone), and someone tried to cut it down, to survive, you’d have to stop them by any means possible, including violence as a last resort. It’s an interesting concept, but still doesn’t resolve the problem of violent men taking power and actually introducing a worse system than the one they replaced; or giving the corporate military the excuse they need to crush attempts at change with force; or scaring the masses so much that they oppose change.
  3. Voting: we should maybe ask members of Syriza how possible it is to challenge the corporate empire by voting. Syriza and the Greek people are now being punished for challenging the corporate status quo. The same would happen to Podemos, the Greens or any other radical party that, against the odds, wins power in a Western country. The Empire will punish them, as will international investors who will remove their funds from that country with the click of a mouse. Both these attacks will impoverish the country and ensure that a pro-corporate party is returned next time. Policy changes help with symptoms of the problems, not the causes. We can’t keep using policy sticking plasters for the cancer of capitalism, and by capitalism I don’t mean the free market. A free market would be much better than the corporate-dominated market that forces taxpayers to bail out failed corporate banks (for example). Although of course if someone comes up with a better idea for allocating resources, we should investigate it. Michael Albert certainly has one, although implementation is a problem.
  4. Utopian blueprints: there’s no need to have a vision of what society will be like in a post-corporate world. In fact I’d like to argue that such a vision will cause more problems than it solves. Historically, people with utopian visions who reach positions of power tended to do quite savage things to people who opposed their vision. Best I think to remove power from the corporate hierarchy and discuss how society will work democratically. See here for more on this.
  5. Only opposing: again, I have nothing but admiration for those fighting TTIP, palm oil plantations, the arms trade, sweatshops, GM, war and all the other horrors introduced by the corporate sector to increase their profits and market share. But it will be a never-ending battle that we will eventually lose, unless we replace this system.
  6. Trying to engage the masses: a common refrain is that all we have to do is stop buying what the corporate sector produces. I wish we could put this simplistic approach to bed. For every person who realises the need to challenge the Empire by not giving it our money, there are thousands who have not the slightest clue. For every person who struggles to work out how to live without supermarkets and corporate products there are tens of thousands who gleefully fill supermarket car parks, read the corporate media and follow corporate fashions. The masses are not going to be reached. Change will come from a minority of us. The best we can do is hope that the masses won’t challenge us when change starts to happen. My experience of talking with all kinds of people is that they won’t if it doesn’t threaten their security. Most people intuitively know that we’re headed in the wrong direction, and the future is going to be full of environmental disaster, famine, war and strife, with the 1% becoming the 0.1%. They’d like to avoid that if possible, but not if their family’s safety is compromised. We have to show that we have a plan for a better world that can be transitioned to safely, and I believe that most people will support it.

Approaches that might work

  1. Distributism: more on this in future, but distributism is the principle of spreading the wealth and power away from the corporate centre, out to independent businesses, co-ops, smallholdings and family farms, the self-employed, community-owned businesses, not-for-profits etc. There are many people already working on this, in the community energy, community-supported agriculture, co-operative, open source and peer-to-peer sectors (for example), and we should support them. There is cause for optimism in that they often (if not usually) offer better returns than corporate banks, and in the case of open source, are free. If successful, the logical end-point of distributism (i.e. flattening the hierarchy) is a completely flat, non-hierarchical system – i.e. anarchism, the political philosophy that dare not speak its name (let’s hope that changes in future). Distributism was and is embraced just as much by the right as the left (our local Tory parliamentary candidate considers himself a distributist. This hugely increases the likelihood of success, the difference being that he would most likely want to stop with an incompletely-distributed society, whereas I’d push on towards the dreaded A-word). Here’s some more on distributism. However, distributism alone isn’t enough, as it will take too long.
  2. Revolutionary change: revolutionary, as in fast, so they can’t see it coming and buy it or crush it. For this, we need to talk – see below.

What next?

I don’t want to debate whether the corporate sector is a good thing or not – or whether it can be reformed. I have no interest in playing that game, as in my opinion it’s entirely pointless. If you do, you have plenty of options. If you don’t want to give corporations your money under any circumstances however, your options are few and becoming fewer. I’d like to increase your options.

At the end of the 19th century, the Internationals brought people together to discuss ideas for change. Marx’s idea won, although hindsight has shown that it was the wrong idea. We need a new one. For that we need to discuss and debate, and for that we need a platform.

I’d like to give Lowimpact away to a board of directors drawn from the non-corporate sector (co-ops, community energy, community-supported agriculture, even cryptocurrencies etc.). I’ve broached the idea with several people, and I’ll be pushing this agenda more over the coming months.

At that point, I’d like to suggest that Lowimpact.org would be the ideal platform for promoting the distributist agenda of spreading wealth and power thinly, to the non-corporate sector, and for hosting discussions and debate about systemic change. Lowimpact has 15 years worth of content in 200+ topics, plus blog, forum, directory and we’re about to go international (hello Dani in Australia). At the moment, the ownership / decision-making structure is undemocratic and therefore a barrier.

So let’s hear your thoughts. I’ve spoken with lots of people who have ideas for a new system. The main problems always seem to be a) a rigid utopian vision, or b) lack of a plan for implementation. But let’s hear them anyway, whether that’s the case or not. Maybe cross-fertilisation will mean that someone else will have the implementation idea. We’ll have a new section on the website to showcase ideas for systemic change.

The best idea I’ve found is Julius Nyerere’s ‘ujamaa’ – but the fact that it was tried in just one country was the weakness that the Empire (in this case the World Bank) exploited to bring it down. The corporate empire is global, and any challenge to it has to be global too. That wasn’t possible for Nyerere, but in the age of the internet it’s possible for us. More on the ujamaa idea here and here.

However, that’s just one idea to throw into the mix. We could even have a competition, based on likes and shares on the page for each idea uploaded/blogged. The important thing is for us not to splinter, but to decide which is the idea most likely to work, and to get behind it. We can all continue to do our own things, but spare some time and energy for this. Otherwise our ‘own things’ are not going to work.

So, two questions – the first is, what do you think of this approach? The second is, what’s your idea?