Post-corona: ‘getting back to normal’ is suicidal – here’s the alternative

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Posted Apr 19 2020 by Dave Darby of
Getting back to normal: is there an alternative post-corona?

“For those who dream of a return to “normalcy”: normalcy was standing on the tracks watching an oncoming train & arguing about how fast it was going. Something just banged into us & sent us sprawling. It hurt. A lot. Now let’s get up, but NOT get back on the tracks again.” – David Graeber

This is Part 2 of an article about why we shouldn’t be thinking about ‘getting back to normal’, but instead, offering a realistic post-corona alternative (Part 1 is here). Some will be eager to get back to full-on destruction; and the mainstream media, including the BBC (constantly), give them plenty of bandwidth.

It’s not good enough to continue to tweak an inherently damaging economy – not good enough at all. Here’s an opportunity – let’s take it. If the next crisis is brought about by ecological collapse, it may not even give us any breathing space to do something new. We may not have this opportunity again.

So no, let’s definitely not ‘get back on track’. If it’s not OK for individuals to hoard toilet roll, why is it OK for some individuals to hoard billions of dollars? But we have to remember that humans are not the problem. The system is the problem.

Consumerism at it worst: what's the post-corona alternative?

A new economy is possible

This is the stumbling block for many – talk of system change sounds unreasonable, impossible. But things always change. Here’s Ursula Le Guin:

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

But what kind of ‘new economy’? How can we define it?

To define something, first we have to say what it’s for. For example, if we want to define a hammer to someone who’s never seen one, it’s no good saying that it’s a lump of metal with a long piece of wood, metal or plastic sticking out of it. First we have to say that it’s a tool for hitting things with, before we describe what it looks like – otherwise it will make no sense.

It’s the same for a system – start with the purpose of the system; and remember that the purpose of a system is what it does (POSIWID).

So for example, rather than describe the Roman Empire in terms of architecture, clothing or culture, we should say that: the Roman Empire was a pan-European system for maintaining the power of the Emperor in Rome, adding that it did so by extracting tributes from the provinces via military force.

We can similarly define Feudalism as a national system for maintaining the power of the monarchy, adding that it did so by extracting tributes and service from a hierarchy of dukes, sheriffs, lords and serfs, via military force.

And we can define capitalism as a global system for maintaining the power of banks and corporations, adding that it does so by extracting wealth from communities via labour, consumption and taxes.

If we want genuine, lasting change, then the new economy must not be a bastardisation of any of the above systems, that will allow power to become or remain centralised in some institution(s), whether imperial, royal, corporate or financial.

So we might say that:

The new economy is a global system for maintaining distributed wealth and power within communities via a federated network of non-extractive institutions.

And here’s the interesting thing. Those institutions exist – in huge numbers. The trick is to connect them – to federate them, and to replicate them in communities where they don’t exist, not by smashing anything, not by overthrowing anything (did the early capitalists plan to overthrow feudalism?), but by building, collaborating, replicating, networking and federating – by transcending.

It’s interesting that groups are now being formed based on ‘mutual aid’ – the title of a classic book by Peter Kropotkin. In it, he takes apart Thomas Huxley’s social Darwinist claim that society is best served by people relating to each other in a dog-eat-dog, ultra-competitive way. If that were true, how is it that humans survived when sabre-toothed tigers didn’t? If it really was a ‘war of each against all’, as Huxley described it, a human would be no match for a sabre-toothed tiger. No – humans practised mutual aid. We outlived sabre-toothed tigers by co-operating. Humans thrive when we co-operate and look after each other.

Here’s a sample of organisations building the new economy in various sectors in the UK: Co-ops UK, the Open Credit Network, the Ecological Land Co-op, Cotech, CLES, the Open Food Network, the CSA Network, Sharenergy, the Community Land Trust Network, the Free Software Foundation, the Equal Care Co-op, the P2P Foundation, Go-op. Apologies to the hundreds that I’ve missed – you know who you are; but the point is to show that the range and the ability is there. We need to connect and build, rather than beg the state to do it for us.

I suggest that the most urgent sectors are social care and exchange, both of which are going to become extremely difficult in the coming economic slump. We need social care networks and an exchange medium that are owned and controlled at the community level, not by the state, corporations or banks.

We can add other sectors when we are able to look after the most vulnerable, and when we are still able to trade even though money is scarce. A moneyless trading system is being built for the UK, that will be based on a network of local groups, operating at the town / community level, and that will trade seamlessly with other schemes around the world in a global mutual credit network – the ‘Credit Commons’. A package including social care and mutual credit is the most urgent requirement.

The new economy will be helped to grow by the early adopters (and if you’ve read this far, that’s almost definitely you), who will help bring in the mainstream. Late adopters and laggards will join when there’s no alternative.

The new economy is preferable

This earth is a paradise for humans – perfect temperature range, water falls from the sky, rich, dark soils, seas full of fish, and it’s utterly beautiful, with its forests, grasslands, oceans, mountains, sunsets and the stars at night; and plenty of other humans – bliss for a social animal, that loves to interact, exchange, talk, dance, sing and play. None of this is surprising – we’ve evolved through the ecosystems of this planet, after all. But we’ve been thwarted since the agricultural revolution by centralised power and its quest for constant growth, which brings in its wake materialism, competition, hierarchy, debt, pollution, environmental damage and death of community.

A post-corona alternative: protecting nature over profits

And your life – how do you see it going, post-corona? – back to commuting, a boss you dislike, a job you feel is pointless (unless you don’t – in which case you’re lucky), lack of community, money worries, stress?

As well as steering us away from extinction (which is fundamental – without that, there’s nothing else for us), life could be very different in the new economy, in ways that are conducive to human well-being:

  • Autonomy: independent businesses allowing creativity and self-determination.
  • Community: connection in non-hierarchical, mutualist networks.
  • Meaningful work: doing useful things for the people around you, rather than trying to help one corporation make more money than the next corporation – a game in which so many people have become trapped.

These three aspects of life are essential for mental health, and all three will be destroyed by ‘getting back to normal’ post-corona.

Avoiding this, and helping to build the new economy will take effort on your part, as an early adopter. It will require you to re-evaluate, to research, to find non-extractive sources for the things that you consume, and re-skilling to provide goods and services in the new, non-extractive economy, starting as a hobby, then providing things for friends and family, and when the quality is good enough, becoming self-employed, or joining / starting a non-extractive institution, and committing to trade with and support others who have done the same.

Then it’s all about networking – replication and federation. New opportunities will emerge that are not possible to envisage now. People will try to tell you that it’s not sensible or reasonable. But it’s going back to the way it was that’s not sensible or reasonable. If enough people believe it, and act, there’s nothing that can stop us. We may never get another chance like this.

Dave DarbyAbout the author: Dave Darby lived at Redfield community from 1996 to 2009. Working on development projects in Romania, he realised that Western countries were seen as role models, so decided to try to bring about change in the UK instead. He founded in 2001, spent 3 years on the board of the Ecological Land Co-op and was a founder of and the Open Credit Network.