This was a very challenging and thought-provoking read. Mark lived without money for three years, and wrote the Moneyless Manifesto, published in 2012. This is his latest book about the corporate ‘Machine’ and appropriate responses to it. He came to visit me a few months ago, and it was refreshing to be able to launch into a conversation without having to dance around the question of power in society. He knows where power resides – in corporate boardrooms, with governments reduced in effect to playing the role of local managers of corporate power. We could cut to the chase and start to discuss what the appropriate response to that might be.
I’m going to review the book in three parts, covering:
- The Machine, and how it can’t be reformed, only replaced.
- How we replace it, whether violence plays a part, and what we mean by that, exactly.
- So what are we going to do?
What he calls the Machine I call ‘the Empire‘, but if you don’t know what either of us means by those terms, then you might struggle with this book. To put it another way, if you think: that we’re headed in more-or-less the right direction but with some environmental and social problems to be sorted out; that because we live in democratic societies, all we have to do is to persuade the majority of the rightness of our position and elect honest politicians to put us on the best path; that technology is going to help us solve our environmental problems; that we can incrementally change direction towards a sustainable, democratic future; and that the corporate Machine / Empire is going to stand by and allow us to do that, then this book isn’t going to make much sense to you.
But if you look at the world and you see a giant, profit-seeking beast called corporate capitalism, with its tentacles reaching into every High Street, sucking money out of your community to pay its (already wealthy) shareholders, to fund an enormous lobby industry, to pump money into our political system and to provide cushy jobs for politicians, then you’re going to understand exactly where he’s coming from, and his arguments are at least going to make sense to you, even if you don’t agree with all of them.
His message is fundamentally anti-reformist. He believes, as did Henry David Thoreau, that reforming a bad system makes it more tolerable, and therefore prolongs its life. I agree entirely, but I’m not as good as Mark at putting things into magnificent prose. I was finding that often, his words expressed beautifully something that I’d been feeling for a long time. For example, below is a passage about the Transition movement, my relationship with which has been troubling me for some time, but I couldn’t find the right words to express my frustration. Mark found the words:
Projects such as Transition Towns, a global movement of localised initiatives whose goal is to inspire and encourage communities around the world to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels and become more resilient to external shocks in the process, are another example of a reformist approach to change. The Transition Network is one of the few movements of recent times that has a genuine ability to harness the power of communities, across a wide age demographic, to face issues like ecocide and communicide in an empowering way, and for that it has to be applauded. However, unless it is undertaken within the context of a much wider resistance movement, which has as its goal a revolutionary changing of the political and economic guards, there is an argument to be made that its ability to make the intolerable a bit more tolerable, something admirable and desirable on many levels, could in fact render it counterproductive when viewed through a wider lens.
While staying out of politics, as far as one can, enables a movement to be inclusive of a wide spectrum of people in each local community, it inevitably means that a lot of people who are genuinely interested in deep and radical change have their limited time and energy taken up by endeavours that could well be deemed criminally inadequate by future generations. If the Transition movement becomes an informal part of a wider resistance movement, one that has a revolutionary overhaul of the politico-economic system as its long-term goal (and many within such movements understand that capitalism and industrialism are inherently unreformable), then it has strong potential to serve life on Earth to its fullest. Otherwise, it could just become a well-meaning distraction that sidetracks those who desperately want deep-rooted societal change.
I think he’s really tried to say it in a non-confrontational way – to persuade rather than to scold. I’m not sure whether he will have succeeded, but I’ve shown that passage to a few people in Transition and they thought it was extremely well-written and absolutely right. There’s something I find fascinating about Transition – the way it’s spread into communities and around the world. It’s inspirational, even though it really frustrates me (which is not necessarily a bad thing). It needs to be a pillar of something new – a co-ordination of networks, including community energy, community-supported agriculture, credit unions, housing and worker co-ops, open source and more – the basis of a new economy that’s controlled by communities rather than the Machine. The reason that Transition is so important I think, is the fact that it can bring concerned middle-class people with money to the fray. They’d like to be more diverse, but certainly working-class members are few and far between. I don’t see this as a problem. The working class are not going to rise up and throw off their chains any time soon, and the middle-class have the advantage of being able to move their money to support non-corporate initiatives. Their financial support would allow us to a) provide things for ourselves, b) stop feeding the corporate beast, and c) build a local, resilient, community-owned sector.
But I can’t believe that Transition members don’t see that there are powerful interests in this world that don’t want that to happen. They don’t want wealth and power (and autonomy when it comes to providing the necessities of life) to be spread amongst local communities. They want it to be concentrated – and concentrated in their hands. And they are much, much stronger than us. They own our financial system, our media and our energy and food supply. They own our houses. We work for them – we help them make profit, either directly or by facilitating the system that they control. And we give our salaries back to them, and often more, by falling into debt. Surely we can discuss the desirability of this within Transition, and whether reform is appropriate or feasible? I understand the need to appear upbeat and not be seen as confrontational. Maybe there’s something about wanting to appeal to both ends of the political spectrum – but I’ve had conversations with our prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservative party who says (and I believe him – I actually met him at an event to try to stop Tesco taking over a local pub) that he’d prefer a High Street full of local, independent businesses rather than corporate chains, and he’d welcome an initiative that helps build a non-corporate sector. We’ve even had discussions about how to keep independent businesses independent – i.e. to prevent the corporate sector swallowing them up, like Green & Blacks, Ben & Jerry’s, Innocent Drinks or the Body Shop. All those companies were supposed to be about building a new economy – a whole new way of doing business, and now they’re all owned by the Empire. Ideas below if you have any please, but as far as I can see, the solution has to be through some combination of co-operatives and sole traders (but without the option of taking on other people apart from apprentices or by forming a co-op). Writing that is much easier than achieving it.
I know that individual Transition members understand the nature of the Machine because of the kinds of events I know they’ve attended, because of the books that I know they read, and from personal conversations. I do appreciate the desire not to scare off apolitical people, but I think that focusing on building a co-operative, community-owned sector is something that Transition could embrace without compromising their non-confrontational stance. I’d hope so anyway, otherwise they’d find themselves in a less radical position (radical: from the Latin, to look at the root) than some conservative MPs – not a good place to be, generally.
If reformism makes corporate capitalism appear better, then it makes it more difficult to replace it. And replace it we must, unless we want to slide tamely towards extinction. I had a conversation with a woman whose job involved helping PepsiCo source all of its potatoes for their chips from the UK. That’s good, isn’t it? Yes, in terms of short-term environmental gain, but not when it comes to long-term opposition to the Empire / Machine. And yet she didn’t understand the need to oppose the Machine. She called herself an environmentalist, but was not radical enough to see the root of the problem in the corporate capitalist system. It can’t be reformed. In that I’m in total agreement with Mark. If we are to a) survive and b) be truly free, then it has to be replaced.
Where I dissent from Mark’s position is that there are some trappings of industrialisation that I wouldn’t want to lose. Anaesthetic, for example – if I need an operation or an amputation, I don’t want to be given a slug of rum and something to bite on. And without glasses I wouldn’t see very far. Also, I think that the internet prevents people from other countries and cultures from being demonised, and it’s probably our greatest tool when it comes to opposing the Empire and building alternatives. In more environmentally-friendly times in history, the more sustainable nature of society didn’t prevent us from regularly massacring each other. Again, the problem was Empire, which is why I prefer to use that term. From the agricultural revolution around 10,000 years ago, Empire has been the dominant institution in the world. It’s time we moved into a post-Empire era. You may point out that it’s not possible to have a laptop or smartphone to access the internet without the Empire, but it’s not true. There are high-tech co-ops, like the Scott-Bader Commonwealth or Mondragon in the Basque Country. There is nothing at all that can only be provided by the Machine, apart from Empire.
However, we can’t have laptops or anaesthetic without some environmental damage – in fact there’s very little that we can have without environmental damage to some extent. Mark might not agree with me on this point, but small amounts of anthropogenic damage the biosphere can cope with – in the same way that the biosphere can cope with volcanic activity or asteroid impacts. They may well reduce biodiversity or damage Gaia to some extent, but as long as that damage is limited, nature will repair it. I feel the same way about human activity. Repairable damage is one thing, but the damage that the Machine is currently causing has crossed a line. We’re now irreversibly damaging the biosphere, and especially diversity, in ways that are going to make us less healthy at best and extinct at worst. It’s very unwise.
So I agree with Mark that we are faced with a Machine, an Empire that is unreformable, a) because it has the raw power to stop us reforming it, b) because it’s primed to grow, which is incompatible with living sustainably on one planet, and c) because it concentrates wealth and power so much that it destroys democracy, cutting off most avenues of meaningful reform. But should violence be one of the tools we use to try to bring about real change, and what exactly do we mean by violence? I’ll cover that in part 2, coming soon.
Meanwhile, you can get the book here.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Steve Gwynne January 2nd, 2016
Hi Dave. Certainly been thinking along the same lines with others recently and at the same time considering the various options within both a reformist and revolutionary agenda. The following is the list, but for me it seems to be alot more complicated than the simple duality of reformist vs revolutionary which you yourself identify when admitting you still want IT and the necessary medical supplies to facilitate well-being.
1. Non-corporate self sufficiency communities/networks.
2. Equality and justice.
3. Horizontal forms of organisation.
4. A balance between low/medium/high impact activities.
5. Democratic ownership of the mwans of production of goods and services
6. Displacing/removing the psychopathic elements out of the system to render them harmless/inactive.
7. Internalising externalised costs.
8. Paying/compensating the ecological world for ecosystem services, loss of habitat, loss of life, extraction of minerals.
The complicatedness of the situation of how to change the system has led me variously along a continuum between the reformist and revolutionary positions with the conclusion that the overall system has features that work and features that do not work. For example it needs to be acknowledged that most if not all humans desire a certain standard of living and a certain standard of well-being in their lives and in many ways the current system in terms of the goods and services that we produce satisfies these desires. In this respect the corporate machine has a role to play since much of our goods and services require an extensive infrastructure that can only be facilitated by some version of corporatism. However I would argue that although the system in this respect is inherently a good, at present it is a system that is run very badly as result of hierarchical power structures that distributes power very unequally, distribute rewards very unequally and distributes goods and services very unequally. In this sense what is broken and needs reforming/revolution/evolution is the organisational structures that belie the production of goods and services so that the production and distribution of goods and services are within ecological limits and equitable. I.e Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares.
In this respect this takes care of the environmental dimension of Felix Guattari’s Three Ecologies and in particular the economic-ecological
So the next is the social-ecological dimension and in particular the political sphere. It is actually questionable to what extent we even need a state or even a parliamentary system if the economic-ecological dimension is running smoothly and harmonious with other aspects of the ecological world especially that in the main it is seems to be a forum in which privilaged humans with psychopathic tendencies can monopolise power and control over the production of goods and services with money being included as both a good and a service. Much of it as many people know all too well depends on implicit or explicit consent and the monopoly over ‘legitimised violence’ and furthermore is only suatained by maintaining the illusion of legal fictions in order to maintain rule and order.
This is an area that still alludes me in many ways and so is a conversation for another time except to say that a functioning social-ecological dimension must be able to facilitate sustainable and resilient (sufficiency) economic-ecological systems which would need to include equitable distribution of land to facilitate a balance between low/medium/high impact activities.
The last of the three ecologies is the mental-ecological and in terms of the continuum reform/revolution is perhaps where I would position myself as revolutionary especially in terms of achieving ecological equality and equity. This where we would need to change hearts and minds and transform hierarchical modes of thinking into more heterarchical modes of thinking. Linear thinking into curvature thinking, selfish (or psychopathic) thinking into empathic thinking, isolationism into collectivism, competition into cooperation. This is the realm of education, health and well-being and obviously the point at which the individual meets the community and the community meets the ecological world. This revolution of the mental-ecological would need to be facilitated by the revolution of the social-ecological.
So in conclusion the reformist/revolutionary debate is not clear cut and so a continuum between the two needs to be identified. Personally I’d propose using the Three Ecologies model developed by Guattari who himself developed the work of Bateson. By making a distinction between the evironmental/economic, the social/political and the mental/individual I’d propose that the evironmental/economic needs to be more reformed than revolutionarised and that the social/political and the mental/individual needs to be more revolutionarised than reformed.
2AnnieV January 2nd, 2016
Your comments re the Transition movement remind me of the psychological idea of ‘enabling’, wherein an addict (usually, but it applies in other mental health areas too) who is helped and supported by a carer is (inadvertently) enabled to continue being addicted/ill because the crisis point never comes. I applied the idea to my workplace in the NHS a couple of years ago: the system was failing, people were highly stressed, patients were not receiving the proper level of care, managers were incompetent – but it was all kept going by those of us who were dedicated enough to struggle on and work beyond our remit. In effect, we were enabling a broken system to continue functioning, when in fact it needed to crash. With regard the the Empire, I think we are in that process of disintegration, but it will happen slowly and messily. I love the idea that the sustainable, cooperative models will multiply, but I fear that the people with guns will create a new hierarchy and, ultimately, a new empire. For ’twas ever thus.
3nane January 3rd, 2016
Yes, we have to kick the system of the face of the planet. Change will never happen within the system Change can only come from within ourselves.
4Dave Darby January 3rd, 2016
That’s an interesting analogy, and yes, ’twas ever thus – at least since the Agricultural Revolution. But after reading Murray Bookchin’s ‘Ecology of Freedom’ it reinforces my belief that it’s not human nature. He looked at the archaeological and anthropological evidence, which seems to show that there wasn’t what we’d call hierarchy in pre-agricultural societies. Everyone worked, no-one had more possessions or a bigger hut than anyone else, and there were decision-making processes presided over by elders – often related to quite a number of the people they were making decisions for. Only after the agricultural revolution could land be ‘owned’, other people employed, surplus stored and traded, wealth accumulated etc. And only then could the most acquisitive, ruthless and cunning seize power and develop hierarchies. It makes me believe that it doesn’t have to be always thus.
5Dave Darby January 3rd, 2016
I think we can have both the internet and revolution – in fact, I think the internet might be the tool that could allow a ‘good’ revolution to happen.
Your list of desirable things is impossible to achieve without an implementable plan though. That’s what I’d like to get conversations going about. I know so many really gifted people working on wonderful projects – the kinds of things I mentioned in the article – community energy, open source, planning reform, cryptocurrencies etc etc. All wonderful stuff, but ultimately all doomed to failure within a system that opposes them, and has the power to limit their expansion. And yet most people don’t have the time to look up and talk about the bigger picture – system change. It behoves us all to do it, I think. That’s my main point.
Some other things:
You say ‘the current system in terms of the goods and services that we produce satisfies these desires’ – not for most people it doesn’t – most people live in poor countries, and there are hundreds of millions of people working on corporate plantations or corporate sweatshops ten hours per day seven days per week, in terrible conditions with no welfare state and for just enough money to eat. It’s slavery. It’s a slave empire in the same way the Roman Empire was a slave empire.
‘much of our goods and services require an extensive infrastructure that can only be facilitated by some version of corporatism’
No, definitely not – that’s why I mentioned Scott-Bader and Mondragon – and there are others. Corporatism can only exist if we don’t want real freedom and democracy. It has to go if we want those things. It’s not that it’s run badly, it’s that it’s an undemocratic hierarchy that has bought power. It’s not broken. It does what it’s designed to do very well – it serves Empire. We can say things like ‘earth care, people care and fair share’ as much as we like, but unless we get rid of empire, we can’t have them.
Yes, I agree that the parliamentary system is surplus to requirements, and as it is entirely under the control of the empire via (mainly) political funding, the lobby industry and the revolving door, it is only a tool of empire anyway. We need to be talking about what to replace it with.
The ‘hearts and minds’ thing – it seems to me that this approach could only be suggested by someone who doesn’t really see where ‘the masses’ are at. They are nowhere near understanding or caring that we live in an empire, as long as they are safe, comfortable, well-fed and entertained. But at heart, most people are kind and honest – it’s the system that’s the problem. Encouragingly, a system can change without the majority of the citizens being involved, and as long as it doesn’t compromise their comfort, the majority won’t fight against it – most don’t support this system because of some sort of ideological position, and most can see that it’s corrupt.
When you talk about economic reform and political revolution, I think that’s an interesting approach and you may well be right, although the economy would have to be reformed to such a degree that wealth doesn’t accumulate to allow the political system to be bought again – and that’s quite a lot of reform.
6Steve Gwynne January 3rd, 2016
Hi Dave .. Its a shame you come across as a tad dogmatic in your viewpoints/opinions. Certainly doesnt engender a diverse decentralised non-hierarchical approach towards creating positive change. Im not really going to bother arguing with you to be honest since Im not that interested in becoming subserviant or engaging with your self-imposed hierarchy of ideas of what is the right and wrong approach.
I suggest you read Guattari’s Three Ecologies to become more aware of the pitfalls of assuming a centralised leadership role and deploying hierarchical thinking – probably without realising it. It is available free as a pdf.
Anyway good luck in forming your cadre of revolutionaries and ridding the world of the Corporate Empire.
7Dave Darby January 4th, 2016
This is a really important point Steve. It isn’t about politeness – it’s not a social club. I don’t care what you think of me as a person – it’s about the ideas. Having said that, I haven’t been impolite to you – I’ve just disagreed with you. This is exactly how a non-hierarchical system would work. People put their opinions, other people counter those opinions. People hear both sides and make up their minds. Usually, the protagonists in an argument don’t change their minds – it’s for the benefit of other people. However – if you show me where my points are wrong using rational argument, and I can see that you’re right, I will change my mind immediately. I’ve done this a thousand times with people who I’m still friends with, even if we have different opinions. Your attitude is disappointing. I’m not forming a cadre – just do your thing.
8Steve Gwynne January 4th, 2016
Dave, the fact that you articulate and shroud your opinions in ‘we’ statements suggests that you are trying to gain control over the conversation.
You seem afraid to articulate your opinions with the prefix ‘I think’ which suggests you think your opinions are facts when they are simply opinions.
Your non-polite and anti-social club demeanour suggests to me you are more interested in competition than you are cooperation.
Your hierarchy of ideas that you seem to deny suggests to me you wish to establish a consensus around your hierarchy of ideas.
In my opinion your approach seems to largely deploy criticism as a means of disempowering the cause against integrated world capitlaism rather than deploying a strategy of fluidarity against integrated world capitalism and is most certainly not how a non-hierarchical system would work. I am presuming you are infatuated with the idea of consensus and as such forming self-vindicated hierachies around ideologies.
Like I said you need to read Guattari’s The Three Ecologies. Your approach is all wrong, is very off putting and certainly led me to feel very disappointed.
To be honest I don’t feel comfortable engaging with you until
1) you have at least read The Three Ecologies
2) you realise and understand the contradictions within your initial response
3) you stop trying to build/create a consensus around your opinions
4) you start to understand that the Corporate Empire is made of individual human beings not corporations
Unfortunately for now your subjectivity is very different to mine which is not a problem in itself, but for you that is the basis on which to argue, criticise and compete. I guess that is your self-chosen path but it is not mine. For me it is all about unity and diversity which for me does not include confusing personal opinion with rational argument. For you to think that subjectivities are at the mercy of rational argument is completely missing the point in my opinion. What of the aesthetic, the art of ideas, the decentralising heterarchy of infinite possibilities.
So I agree with you. Do your own thing and if possible support others in doing their own thing if the over-arching goal is to create a sustainable, resilient and joyful future for all. In that context, any plan is to start small and creatively grow.
Good luck in your endeavours.
9Dave Darby January 4th, 2016
This may change the order of responses, because I wasn’t allowed to reply to your last post.
Steve – I will concede – you’re right that I have a tendency to state opinions as facts, and I will try to prefix them with ‘I think’ in future (although I’d say that you’re equally guilty of that – I wouldn’t dream of saying ‘you need to read…..’ to anyone, or that their ‘approach is all wrong’). I absolutely understand what you’re saying – I just disagree with you. I think that’s where the interesting conversations start.
I think that what you’re suggesting is unco-ordinated, and therefore reformist change. This is exactly what Mark is arguing won’t work in his book, and I’m agreeing with him, and disagreeing with you.
By the way, I used ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ in the article above, and the only time I use ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ is when talking about empire. This kind of conversation can only begin between people who recognise that we live in an empire – and you do. I’m not trying to impose anything here, but if someone doesn’t get that, then there’s no starting point.
Everything you’re suggesting can continue and I support it – all of it. But it’s not touching them. The empire isn’t concerned. I want to talk (more politely, maybe) with really intelligent, honest people about about how to concern them. I think that’s going to need an implementable plan, and yes, I’m sorry (if I’ve understood you correctly), I think that part of this has to be about a hierarchy of ideas. Let’s collect them and let’s evaluate them. I don’t care if my ideas don’t win – it’s not about ego. The first international was all about evaluating ideas, and Marx was able to persuade more people to try his. And this is where I disagree with Mark – which is what I’ll cover in the next article – Marx’s idea included taking force using violence, and that requires violent people to do it. After violent people take power, I want to try to persuade people that they never give it up. I think we need an idea that doesn’t involve violence. I’m interested in debating about what that idea might be – and chopping, changing, adding to, subtracting from and merging ideas.
I don’t have a blueprint. I think that blueprints can generate a religious-like fervour that can end up with people getting hurt. I’m just talking about talking – how to make better decisions / get better decision-makers. I don’t have opinions on what those decisions might be – because the various subject matters are so complicated that they’re beyond me.
Although I still disagree with you, largely about the hierarchy of ideas, you’ve made me think, and I’ll read that book. I’d like to communicate with you about it, either face-to-face, on a blog or via email or skype. I get the feeling we’d get on better face-to-face, even though we disagree.
Yes, I think that consensus is a wonderful tool, and yes, I know that the corporate empire consists of people, and people are mostly kind and honest. It’s the system, the empire that’s the problem, not the people. I think that it would be good if we talked about changing the system rather than changing people – I think that people are fine.
10Dave Darby January 4th, 2016
If you’re saying that if some people want to talk ideas and come up with something implementable, if that starts to happen you might join in if you think it has a chance of creating something better – then we can work together, we just have to agree that the idea is worth a punt.
If what you’re saying is that ideas and implementation strategies are not for you – it’s not something you want to get involved with, but hey, if something happens you’re not going to fight against it – then we won’t have that much to say to each other, apart from ‘good luck’. But no problem.
But if you’re saying that you would oppose any idea / implementable strategy on principle, then it would come down to appealing to the audience. If that’s your position, then it would involve us both asserting that the other’s position is wrong. I was involved with intentional communities for 20 years – good examples of a ‘decentralising heterarchy of infinite possibilities’. They are wonderful places, and I would advise anyone to have a go living in one, at least for a part of their lives. But without some sort of greater strategy, they are impotent when it comes to change – little anarchist cells cast adrift. The empire is too strong. I believe that we have to raise our heads and talk about systemic change, and organise, or all our dispersed efforts will come to nought.
11Steve Gwynne January 4th, 2016
Hi Dave. This article seems to encapsulate very well the various contexts/positions/viewpoints/opinions that have been expressed so far including the dichotomy between the corporate empire and human behaviour. This is why I think it is important to acknowledge the three ecologies of mental subjectivities, social relations and environmental context.
As you suggest it is a daunting task – as acknowledged by the author of the article – and will no doubt – I think as does Guattari – require a diverse platform of solutions within the context of an over-arching ecosophical approach that seeks to change/transform/maneuvere/reform/revolutionarise/modify different aspects of the overall system in different ways. In this I guess we will have to agree to disagree since for me – as the article clearly states – I think I have to work out what aspects of the Corporate Empire are beneficial since for me the underlying basis of this system is to provide goods and services but also to work out the destructive aspects of it, for example when the goods and services that it provides are used as tools of manipulation to coerce or exploit human needs/wants/desires for the benefit of the few over the many. For me these are distribution problems. Distributions of power and distributions of goods and services. So for me, in terms of a hierarchy of ideas, ecological egalitarianism is paramount and an ideology that can change the Corporate Empire into something that is beneficial for all.
So the question which arises is – as you point out – is how to implement ecological egalitarianism. Again for me this requires the use of the three ecologies model and so the question becomes how do we facilitate individuals to follow their own latent subjectivity which I agree is inherently kind, compassionate, loving (i.e empathetic). How do we facilitate social relations which not only facilitate individual subjectivity but also facilitates ecological egalitarianism and lastly how do we produce the necessary goods and services to not only facilitate the previous two ecologies but also do so in a way which respects the overall ecological system/world (or biosphere).
The ideas that come to mind are educational centres that are focused on ecosophy. Social centres that re-equip humans to experiment and explore infinite possibilities whether as community-based cooperatives/enterprises or network-based cooperatives/enterprises. In this I think it is necessary to facilitate people to re-use their imagination subjectively with one another in a safe, polite and courteous environment. Lastly I would suggest production centres that are ethical, eco-friendly and have sufficiency as opposed to growth as their imperative.
(Joseph Rowntree Foundation is providing funding for these sorts of activities under their Sustainable Future ptogramme).
Ultimately, for me at least, my emphasis is on creating alternatives and being the change I want to see rather than one that is engaged in a direct confrontation with an amorphous totality known as the Corporate Empire. In this respect, for me it is about changing the system by example rather than by force which I think you agree with.
12Steve Gwynne January 4th, 2016
I think I indirectly responded to this in the above post ? .. But to add. Ive been doing this work for years now which was preceded by an extensive period of my life soul-searching on various spiritual paths. What I have noticed/learnt is that in general there are too few of us since most are caught up in making ends meet usually in fulltime employment. This makes the implementation very difficult since the few I know, including myself, tend to try to do the work of 2, 3 or even 4 which invariably leads to burn-out. Here in Birmingham there are multiple projects at varying stages of implementation but all need more help to further develop. In this respect, yes to ideas, yes to implementation and yes to changing the system. But how to create sufficient livelihoods and so enable people to switch to a better paradigm. How to integrate the alienated youth who lose themselves in drugs. This is a step at time, project by project, centre by centre approach which will develop accumalatively over time. In my mind a mass revolt will change very little since at some point people need to survive and they only survive through work. So for me the strategy is both how to get people to work in an alternative system and how to get people to work in the current system but differently and with different expectations.
13Dave Darby January 4th, 2016
Yeah, agree with parts of what you say, strongly disagree with others. What you’re doing sounds good, although I don’t think it’s going to trouble the empire, and I’d like to focus on what might trouble them. I just don’t understand your initial hostility and inability to debate.
14Steve Gwynne January 4th, 2016
To clarify my hostility was in response to your hostility in that your degree of criticism was not to allow freedom of expression and innovation but to stifle it. Agreeing/disagreeing is always in relation to your own opinions and so the dialogue/debate is reduced to the conformity/non-conformity or approval/disapproval of ideas. For me the whole point of transformation is to experiment and not to re-create the pathogenic forums that enable boards of directors, the house of commons,the house of lords to vote for ideas that promote ignorance and selfishness. These democratic forums do not work and do not produce outcomes for the common good. They produce – as shown by history – to produce centralised oppression. In this respect any action that counters the perceived power of the empire is troubling since it means they must adapt.
We seem to perceive what troubles the empire very differently. The fact that we exist as insurgents to the agenda that the darker elements of the empire aspire towards is troubling to them in my opinion since their need to oppress comes from a deep seated existential insecurity. Watch how the more psychopathic elements of the empire need to deceive, manipulate and lie in order to convince themselves and others that thet are right and we are wrong. Each time they need to hide into the recesses of their psyches and fabricate reality takes them further away from their natural condition which causes them self-agonising pain. Their lives ever become more hollow and superficial when they crave to be integrated rather than ever more fragmented.
So I say continue with the work of integrating the three ecologies of the mental, the social and the environmental in whatever small way since it is, for me at least, a question of creating and sustaining the field of infinite possibilities rather than internalising the repressive power of the oppressed.
Obviously there are different intensities with probably the highest intensity to do as Mark suggests and kill and destroy the worst of the psychopathic elements as they are identified. Creating alternative systems is probably the next and infiltrating current systems next after that.
15Dave Darby January 4th, 2016
That last post made no sense to me. The thing that jumps out though, is that you seem to be conflating debate with ‘hostlity’ and ‘criticism’. It isn’t personal. Let’s leave it now.
16AnnieV January 4th, 2016
I agree that, from what we know of ancient hunter-gatherer cultures, they do seem to have been much less hierarchical and more egalitarian, but even in such cultures, women were often subordinate to men and their work was less valued. I haven’t read the book you mention – sounds interesting – but in most tribal/clan groups there are chiefs, elders, priests etc, usually male, who have a degree of power and control. So this is an old story for us humans and I can’t really see how it’s going to change. Which sounds pessimistic, I know, but I don’t feel very hopeful about the future of my species these days.
17Dave Darby January 5th, 2016
Bookchin is saying that elders / shamen / priests began to develop quite late in the day – not long before the agricultural revolution. I’ll have to read it again to see how this information was gleaned by palaeoanthropologists, but his story is that clans were pretty much an egalitarian free-for-all, without leadership, but everyone knew their role. When they moved on to a new location, old people who couldn’t walk / keep up were often left to starve, die of hypothermia or get eaten by wild animals. Middle-aged people saw what fate awaited them and decided they didn’t want it. Groups of ‘elders’ developed out of fear of abandonment, to make sure that old people were revered and looked after rather than abandoned. Later, shamens’ role as advisor and soothsayer to the elders paved the way for a priest class, and alliances were made with ‘warriors’ – strong young men who were needed to protect the elders. When the agricultural revolution arrived, the scene was set for accumulation and empires to develop via an alliance of elders, priests and warriors.
Also, I travelled in Tanzania for a while with an Australian man who had come from the Congo, and had lived in the forest with pygmies for a few months. He said that they woke up, the men went hunting, the women gathered fruit, nuts etc, the old people lit a fire, they had an afternoon feast, after which they smoked cannabis, which they grew around the camp, danced, sang, talked etc. until they fell asleep (sounds pretty idyllic). He said that there were no discernible leaders – everyone lived the same way and knew their role. The Wikipedia entry for hunter-gatherers says that ‘Nearly all African hunter-gatherers are egalitarian, with women roughly as influential and powerful as men.’ and that ‘Anthropologists maintain that hunter/gatherers don’t have permanent leaders; instead, the person taking the initiative at any one time depends on the task being performed’. As other primates have hierarchies with alpha male leaders, there’s a hypothesis that human intelligence developed partly because of resistance to domination – i.e. co-operation to organise groups in a non-hierarchical way.
I like to think of resistance to hierarchy and dominance as an important part of our evolved psyche, and empire just a blip. It helps stave off the pessimism.
18Mark Boyle January 5th, 2016
That’s a very thoughtful review of the book Dave, I look forward to having the discussion in person with you, perhaps the next time I am passing through London.
There is very little of that I would disagree with. The only area I would have a different opinion is in relation to your views on the Internet, anesthetics, laptops and anthropogenic damage. My perspective (this is a bit rushed for now) is that you can’t have these things and not all the things that environmentalists and activists think of as “bad”. I explore this a lot deeper in The Moneyless Manifesto, but it mostly comes down to issues around economies of scale, division of labour and so on. I write about this properly here:
Even if you could somehow magically produce some “good” industrial products and not the “bad” ones, who would decide what was good and bad? You? A government? The free market? Hippies? Capitalists? Technotopians? Anarcho-primitivists?
On an aside, it is also my view that the Internet is one of the worst experiments we’ve ever embarked on. That’s an unpopular perspective these days, amongst counter-culture and mainstream alike, but I could back it up with a lot evidence to suggest why. In short, it is damaging us on many levels. I’m also always surprised how folk who will proudly exclaim how they hate TV and don’t have one simultaneously extol the virtues of the Internet! Why is that? Yes of course it’s a medium that anyone can post stuff on, so you can get more alternative perspectives on things, but since 1998 (when I remember the Internet coming to town) do you think the world has become a better place? Most traffic on the Internet revolves around shopping, celebrity gossip and porn (which is having a seriously detrimental effect on relationships). Yes of course you can learn things on it that you may not have learned otherwise, but I would argue that the stuff we really need to learn can’t be learned by staring at a screen. And plants rarely trend on twitter. I could go on and on. It’s also a massive surveillance tool. You’re in a room with people these days and everyone is just on their smartphones or laptops.
It’s my view the Internet is 1,000 times worse partially because it is 1,000 times more addictive for many people! I’m aware of the irony of slating the Internet on the Internet.
By the way, I really like Zizek also, but I feel he’s got the same problem you’re encountering, in that you both want industrialism to continue to some degree, and so you run into conundrums that get debated ad infinitum because there is no answer to them. He’s right that a gentle Keynesian capitalism can’t work, and that totalitarian communism doesn’t work for anyone. The problem, as I see it, is that the only culture (some may call this economic model) that can work is that one that almost no one wants, as we’re all addicted to coffee, porn and an uncomfortable level of comfort.
I look forward to hearing what you’ve got to say in part 2.
19John Williams January 5th, 2016
Interesting as the review may be, I have some reservations. Both with the review and with the replies to it. “Kick it off the face of the planet…” will simply not suffice and is not realistic.
Anyone who visits this site or similar sources of information will probably have a certain degree of reformist feelings. It is not very difficult to see that the way we are headed is no longer sustainable. Unfortunately, it is “US” who are to blame for where we are today. Yes, governments, both on their own accord and as of the past centuries, pushed by large corporations, have outlived their useful lives. However, they did so long ago. Even back in the days of peasants and kings, the system was critically flawed. Still, society has chosen to accept a leader in some form of the other and follow this leader. Revolts have taken place, only to result in new authoritarian regimes, either by choice or by force.
This leaves us in a bit of a conundrum. Is mankind ready for the change that is so drastically needed? The simple answer is that it is not. Or at least, not in a “big bang” sort of way. From primary school on, humans are programmed and taught to follow and adhere. As a result, most people in their teenage and later adult years, feel most at easy following someone. Breaking away and herding them in a different direction would not solve the problem, but merely shift the paradigm. Much the same goes for the manufacturing shift mentioned. Just shifting from the current corporations to new initiatives does not “free” us from them, it merely shifts power.
As a result of the above, the change will (by default) have to be gradual. Rather than calling ourselves leaders of this change, it would be appropriate to consider ourselves free thinkers. The lucky few who are intellectually and emotionally capable of breaking with most of the beliefs we were brought up with. A limited or no attachment to material wealth is of paramount importance. This, however, does not mean we should live like paupers or beggars. There are plenty of ways to live a fulfilling and comfortable life without wanting for anything. Those who set the example to the masses should not be martyrs. Rather, should they be charismatic people with a story to tell who live by their beliefs.
It will take decades, if not generations, to effectuate an actual change on a large scale. Whether or not mankind has this amount of time remains to be seen. Let’s hope it does, or else it does not bode well. Rather than denouncing wealth, money or governments (reads like large corporations), we should encourage people to take a step back and think independently. If in the process, we stop to consume what the corporations try to feed and sell us, we’ll go a long way. Once there’s critical mass, there’s room to abolish the current system. However, let’s not encourage people to throw out their old shoes prior to them being able to make their own new ones…
20Steve Gwynne January 5th, 2016
I don’t want to spend much more time writing as I want to be doing the actual work of change on my plot which is linked to various projects across the city supplying veg, plants for making soaps and seeds for eating and seedbanks as well as constructing a low-impact hut on my plot which of course is unofficial and would require a landuse change to become official.
But from my perspective there is no seperation between the evolution of humans, the development of the technosphere, hierarchical organisations, a violent self-serving state, the development of money as an organisational tool and a form of oppression, increased dominance of humans in the ecological world, massive human population increases and the control of essential human needs by corporate/business entities. All of which demand that humans must work in order to sustain themselves.
In this context, as I perceive it, most humans are co-dependant to one degree or other with a minority of humans having the balance of power over the rest but still co-dependant nevertheless – hence all the implicit and explicit addictions that are variously controlled depending on their usefulness to the status quo.
This history cannot be rewritten and it is as interesting to ask the question how did we arrive at this juncture as it is to consider how humans might co-create their systems differently in the future and how.
For me, what is important is to identify the obstacles as well as to identify basic facts that need to be incorporated into my thinking. And here I wish to reassert that for me at least the point is not to debate, or enter into a discourse of agreeing/disagreeing with others since
“Whenever you become over-serious about your opinions you immediately find yourself having to defend them. It is this dynamic that is at the root of violence.” ~ Richard Rudd. For me the point is to share our stories, share our plans and in a sense share our subjectivities and if a person feels a need to judge other people’s stories then do it in your own space with yourself. The point being listen to the stories and in your own space process and adapt your story as you see fit.
So back to what I see as the obstacles and basic facts that I need to incorporate into my story.
1) the co-dependant social relations that enable the overall system to function in increasingly dysfunctional ways.
Hence how to enable humans to think/feel both independantly and interdependantly?
2) the fact that human survival demands work.
How to create sustainable patterns of consumption/production so that they are within ecological limits?
3) grossly unequal power distributions within the overall system that impede change in the above.
How to create deep ecological equality within the ststem?
21John Williams January 5th, 2016
Steve, a quick reply indeed. No need to argue, I’ve spent too many of my good years “living the dream” to want to waste any time on that. Following your train of thought, I think there are a number of important elements to consider. Essentially, “What makes the system?”. Breaking away from the popular “doctor evil” in the form of large corporations and governments, I am of the opinion that there are many much more subtle drivers we should be looking at. 1. Education. What is education and what do we really (need to) learn? Is it maths, geography and languages or should an education be academic in the classical sense and focus on training the next generation to think independently and reason? To me the answer is quite clear. Having taught at several Universities, I was and continue to be appalled by the fact that exams for students are often multiple-choice these days… 2. Religion. This is currently a bit of a hot potato, to a large extend due to the joint efforts of corporations, governments and the press. We are pushed to fear religion. And rightly so, but not for the reasons they feed us these days. Extremists, by and large, form the absolute minority in any of the current major religions. However, religion, like education, has a very long history of indoctrination. Like “democracies”, religious leaders have long dictated huge groups of followers and even entire societies. There is nothing wrong with believing in a greater being, in evolution or in the existence of any other raison d’être. However, the morals and values that are pushed down the throats of the masses are just another means of controlling them. Creating a homogenous society gives the control to a small number of people. And this is, in my opinion, by and large, the reason that put us where we are now. Anyway, just some food for thought, should also focus on other things right now, but it’s always fun to share opinions.
22Dave Darby January 5th, 2016
Unless we take power from the Empire / Machine, we can’t stop them producing laptops, or cars, concrete, aeroplanes, pesticides, anything. The sine qua non is ending the corporate empire. After that we may indeed decide that actually, we don’t need laptops – we can get everything we need from our local communities. But at the moment, we the people can’t decide anything, because decision-making powers are firmly in the hands of the Empire. And the Empire will take us down the path of genetic modification, cloning, nuclear power, advanced weaponry, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and ever-more complex financial instruments as long as those things make money – without our having a global conversation about what we need them for, and how dangerous they might be.
I’m not saying you’re wrong about de-industrialising or getting rid of money, just that I wouldn’t like to be in that decision-making position, because I don’t know enough. I’d just like to know that those conversations were happening and those decisions were being made impartially and with intelligence, compassion and integrity. I don’t think that’s happening now.
Michael Albert gives a good example of a system that decides democratically what’s produced or not in his book ‘Parecon’. I’m not saying I agree with it, I’m just saying that a working model exists (incidentally, it’s a model that doesn’t involve money). Of course we can’t implement that model as long as the Empire exists, but there are potential ways – it’s just that they require a revolution before implementation is possible.
You ask who will make the decisions, and I think that’s the most important question. Because someone does have to make decisions, whatever system we live under. In the meantime, we could start taking the economy back from them, but they’re going to prevent us at some point, as long as they’re in the decision-making positions.
This post was about reformism vs revolution, so I want to endorse and advertise your view that reformism isn’t going to work and could actually make the situation worse, in that it makes the Empire more tolerable (not for those with no power at all – sweatshop and plantation workers for the Empire. Life’s not very tolerable for them, but they have no purchasing power and their votes don’t matter, even if they’re allowed to vote). So what we’re talking about is revolution.
Like you, I’m not interested in reformism (Steve, take note – I’m not interested in that reformist position as a political discussion. If you want to go and do practical things, then I’ll support you – you clearly want what’s for the best of all not just for yourself. But that’s not enough – if you think it is, then go and do it. I’m not interested in having discussions about whether reformism is enough, any more than I’m interested in having a discussion about whether there’s a useful role for corporations. If you think there is, we don’t have a starting point for a conversation.). But if we persuade enough people (and that doesn’t have to be a majority, by any means) that a revolution would be a good idea, then we need to organise, and that requires some sort of a vision, a plan. I’m going to argue that that plan shouldn’t involve violence, but that’s in the next post.
For now, I want to agree with you that we need a revolution, and I’d like to talk with you, and people who understand the need for it, about how we go about generating the discussion. Because although I might disagree with you about some things, I’d rather have people like you making the big decisions instead of the people who are actually making them. I think you’d do it for the right reasons – they’re not.
23Dave Darby January 5th, 2016
Again, nothing to disagree with there. Love reformism – that’s what we do – http://lowimpactorg.wpengine.com/topics-2/. The main point I’m trying to make with this post is to agree with Mark that reformism isn’t enough to challenge the Empire, and if we don’t do that, then all the things we’d like to see are not going to happen because the Empire will stop them happening.
Reformism’s important, but I’m talking to radicals with this particular article. See here for more on that – http://lowimpactorg.wpengine.com/our-message/why-we-do-what-we-do/
24Steve Gwynne January 5th, 2016
Seem to have lost what was quite a long reply. Hopefully it pops up at some point.
But in short.
John. I think the system is built on egoic desires which leads to co-dependant dysfunctional relations.
Dave. As you know so far my story comprises of revolution with regards the mental/individual and social/political and reformation of the economic/environmental.
How to create revolution is beyond me but I will certainly give over some of my imagination and as such incorporate into my story how to take control, without violence, over the entire system and so take control over society even.
25Lou January 5th, 2016
Deep Green Resistance (DGR) advocates for this, but at a different level. DGR recognizes that we need strategic resistance.
26AnnieV January 5th, 2016
I will have to read that book!
27ArthurSamson January 13th, 2016
And now we know what 3D-printing technology and natural, eco friendly fibers and resins are for! Not to mention the latest breakthrough in this area with the ability to now print translucent, 3-D glass structures with eye popping detail and intricate design; again being nothing more than easily available silicate with zero impact and an ever decreasing carbon footprint behind them. Current gen 3-D printers are in a class by themselves as the first ones conceived of a decade ago were bulky, crude, slow, expensive, and required a form of plastic that was indeed most damaging to the planet we live on. Fortunately, this tech has the oft unfair advantage of growing up during the golden era of our digital revolution, catapulting it into generational improvements that are expanding at a geometric rate that floored even NASA.
Technology that improves upon itself with increasingly more powerful computers utilizing quantum core processors that use pairs of twin particles linked together through entanglement fired down a charged tunnel, measuring their quantum super positions to each other and the tunnel upon entry and exit to skip about 19 unnecessary steps when procession I/O algorithms (WAY Cool, btw!). Regardless of how fast a traditional multicore is, or how high it can be overclocked, it is still last centuries computing technology being pushed to the utmost limit of human imagination (or insanity; the jury’s still out on that one…) and re-branded in a sleek new shell before being shipped off for consumption of the masses. Compared to products of only a few years ago, these new toys are simply that; toys for online power gamers to wave at each other across thousands of miles of internet equating to using social media to stand in the corner and wave your penis at an attractive woman across the bar using social media and selfies in the men’s room. Fun, but, will eventually get you booted from any serious computing group if touted as anything more than a gaming rig.
Quantum core IS 21st century technology, completely reinventing the way computers THINK at their most fundamental level. I’ll spare you any further boring lectures on how current ones work, but basically they use charged transistors laid down in set paths to create specific logic gates throughout the core of the CPU, and basically equates to a gihugic Plinko board where every opening slot has a puck, and they all go down together at once, bouncing off each other at various intersections on the board, but always leaving the top and arriving at the bottom at the exact same time. Bob Barker comes over, takes his sweet time counting which pucks went where and how the wound up stacked and where.
Meanwhile, on the mirror side of the stuido, Drew Carey facepalms, grabs a pair of pucks, walks down a short stairway, puts them both in the central slot, winning double the max price while holding up two fingers in a specific way to the producer, who rolls the credits while Bob is still counting on his end.
Current processors are logical, and must follow SOP every time, and the electrons must traverse the entire length of the core every single time the CPU cycles, and even though it’s blow your socks off fast now, traditional CPU’s have peaked, reaching their point of diminishing returns with a few more years, if that.
Mobile computing has also come a long way as well, and thanks to what is known as a APU, or advance processing unit, mobile devices are now fast enough to keep up with the desktop race, but also each other. The biggest problem in this area is always heat exchange, and how to dissipate it faster. Then some genius at AMD got the idea to pool the very similar architectures of the CPU and GPU into one diffused housing, with the central and graphics processors actually supporting each other much like older multicores, but now with the added advantage of integrated infrastructures of the main transistor arrays, eliminating the graphics card entirely, lowering power consumption and heat output. Not only that, but it also eliminates much of the need for the north bridge, or more aptly the bandwidth used by the GPU when communicating with the GPU. So now, instead of having to ride a crammed and slow bus across town to get to work at a factory, you’re now on a sparsely populated, heated and/or air conditioned trolly across the corporate complex to the high speed, high energy work environment you never thought possible.
The short version is: Again, absolutely astonishing breakthrough, giving rise to the tablet and the multi core smart phone, but again, twentieth century tech. Quantum cores move at exponentially faster rate, and with current scales of nano-meter production and printing machines, it will literally use software to scan for defects in it’s construction, coding, composition, etc, and actually perform self made repairs on the next generation when it comes time to copy itself. (OH NOES RISE OF TEH MACHINES, RYYYT???).
Someone has to harvest the fibers and resin while trying to find more ways of using low impact, recycled materials to print fold-able carbon path circuits between two sheets of Mylar, taking giant steps towards removing metal from the equation as a whole. Eco impact for recycling is far less, but as mentioned before, when dealing with re-purposed metal, there will always be an impact. The most ironic part is, the very thing Cormercia put so much into to bring to consumers as fast as possible, is now one of the things helping to push them out of consumers lives at record speed!
Whoops, my bad, didn’t mean to go overboard like that. I wandered off from the tour, saw a soapbox, and couldn’t resist.
28Dave Darby January 14th, 2016
Thanks Sheldon, but how is that going to help us take the steering wheel? Or don’t you think that’s necessary or possible?