The Metamovement (the umbrella term for the Occupy Movement, the Indignant Movement, the Arab Spring Movements and other anti-capitalist and pro-true-democracy movements around the world) has succeeded in drawing attention of many citizens to the fact that the actions of powerful, amoral large corporations are now much worse for the 99%, and for our planet, than those of large governments.
More importantly, there is a dawning acknowledgement that railing at governments now solves nothing — replacing politicians with others is ineffectual, adding more regulation or taxes on the rich (when there is no political will, no resources for enforcement, and infinite loopholes for the 1%’s army of expensive and well-connected lawyers to exploit) accomplishes nothing, and deregulating and allowing the ‘markets’ (i.e. the capitalist oligopolies) to solve our problems is a recipe for disaster, fraud and bankruptcy. And likewise, we can not possibly hope for or want a resurgence of “economic growth” (which accrues inevitably and entirely to the 1% in today’s hopelessly broken systems) to get us out of the hole we’re in.
The 99% is beginning to realize that, while they definitely need to make demands — for fairness and more equitable distribution of income, wealth and power, for example — to keep the corporatists’ vile excesses from getting even worse, trying to “reform” the present-day political and economic systems is fruitless, a waste of time and energy.
Instead, what is needed is for the 99% to walk away from the current unsustainable, rapacious, soul-destroying and Earth-destroying systems the 1% have so effectively exploited to their own advantage — the political, economic, work, media, education, health, and technology systems on which we are all, today, utterly dependent — and build a new culture with new systems and infrastructure, bottom-up, egalitarian, community-based, focused on the welfare and well-being of all, without the 1%’s help or the need for their support.
Just like those who walked away from past ‘civilized’ cultures when they began to crumble, we have to start now to build a new culture, and let the current one die. In fact, we need to help it die faster instead of encouraging it with bailouts, subsidies, tax breaks, artificially suppressed interest rates, cheap labour and meaningless consumption and crushing indebtedness — encouragements whose benefits accrue entirely to the 1% and are all at our expense.
To help it die faster we need to starve it — of our spending, our labour, our investment, our votes, our financial indebtedness, our tax dollars, and most of all our quiet complacency, compliance and complicity in its oppression of us all and its destruction of our planet. And in doing so we need to show solidarity with those of the 99% who live in struggling nations, by ending our wars (declared, undeclared and secret) against them, by forgiving their debts, and by giving them back the land and resources that the 1% extorted from them in collusion with the local thugs our so-called democratic governments installed and supported to run their countries.
To do all this we have to starve the growth-addicted capitalist system until it collapses (it’s already teetering), and then dismantle it and return its stolen property to the people of the local communities it has turned into social, political and economic dependants. The 1% are not stupid, though, and knowing this day would come they have worked very hard to shift the entire economy from a production one that depends on dedicated and thoughtful labour and innovation, to a financial one that depends on endless increases in spending and indebtedness, where wealth comes not from making anything useful but from the mere printing of money and the perpetuation of the illusion that only money — not anything else, not work, not love, not collaboration, not citizens’ health or well-being, not people at all — has value. They have successfully brainwashed us to believe that our only value in this society is as consumers, and as borrowers to fund ever more consumption.
It’s time to call their bluff, and tell them: We’re not buying it any more. We’re not buying any more their crappy goods made by the 99% working in virtual slavery in struggling nations. We’re not buying any more the propaganda their media spin out about the importance of GDP and “growth” and stock prices and austerity (for the masses) and the need to keep slavishly paying the crushing mortgages on underwater homes. We’re not buying any more the legitimacy of the police surveillance state created under the guise of fighting “terrorism” and now used to spy on, terrorize, destabilize and demoralize our own citizens. We’re not buying any more the crappy McJobs that are offered to us as crumbs when we leave the zombifying universities, drowning in debt. We’re not buying any more their wars, that chew up our poorest and naivest citizens as fodder in the imperialist crusade to steal the last of the world’s resources and to silence or imprison anyone who dares speak the truth about them. We’re not buying any more the worthless Ponzi scheme of stocks and bonds that provide cheap capital to shift even more wealth and power to the 1%, and the fear-mongering that if we stop believing in them we will lose our life savings and our pensions. We’re not buying any more the bailouts and subsidies and handouts to the ultra-rich and ultra-reckless 1%, that our tax dollars have been stolen to fund. We’re not buying any more that wealth trickles down and that anyone can be or do anything if she or he applies herself or himself hard enough. We’re not buying any more that our chronic illnesses and grinding poverty and homelessness and unemployment are somehow our fault. We’re not buying any of it any more.
In the streets of our cities, in protest, in indignation, in revolution, in conversation, in comradeship, in community, we’re realizing that everything the 1% have told us and sold us is a lie, and we’re beginning the work at last to “buy instead” a new vision of how the world can work. A vision we are just starting to put together. A vision the realization of which we are preparing to invest our labour, our energy, our inventiveness, our passion, our earnings, our savings, and possibly the rest of our lives to achieve.
It’s a vision of people making decisions in our communities that benefit everyone, respectfully, listening and appreciating all points of view, seeking consensus, collaborating, letting the wisdom of the crowd emerge, and respecting generations yet unborn, and all life on Earth.
It’s a vision of finding meaningful, joyful, creative work for everyone, doing things we are competent, even exemplary at doing, which meet real, local, human needs and leave the planet better than we found it. And providing the products of that work generously to those who need it, and our knowledge to those who wish to do similar work, without expectation of reciprocity or payment, without fear, without competitiveness, knowing that in this way everyone in the community will look after each other, and no one need keep score of who did how much of what in this win-for-all cause.
It’s a vision of deschooling us all so that we relearn how to learn and think critically and rediscover the joy of learning what we want to learn, when and how we want to learn it, by doing and participating and watching and being mentored, and knowing that in this way we will discover the work we were meant to do, and dive passionately into the challenge of learning how to do it well, and continuing to learn, in everything we do for our whole lives.
It’s a vision of a world where information and actionable news is conveyed through conversation, dialogue, in context, where we make sense of it together, in thoughtful deliberation.
It’s a vision of living a healthy self-managed life in a healthy community, preventing rather than having to treat accidents and illness, self-monitoring, self-treating, helping each other and drawing on the wisdom of many kinds of skilled healers when needed, and, when our time comes, dying with dignity.
It’s a vision of living sufficiently, modestly, sharing and belonging (with each other, to the place we live, as part of all-life-on-Earth) rather than owning and dominating. Of entertaining ourselves imaginatively in our abundant leisure time, and rediscovering the meaning and value and joy of play.
It’s a vision of a world where the pursuit of growth and ‘progress’ are seen as folly, where envy and possessiveness and jealousy are seen as childish and unseemly, where anger and fear and sadness are transient and acknowledged by others with compassion and understanding and a desire to help heal, and where the measures of how well we are doing are the amount of love in the community, the amount of genuine laughter, and the freedom of all creatures, at last, from suffering, from confinement, and from fear. All made possible because our new culture sees the world as a place of abundance and not of scarcity, and makes it so…
Some of the people involved with and attending the Metamovement’s events are seeing the stirrings of this already. Robert Jensen is listening in, and advising us that the systems we need to replace are collapsing now and that even (perhaps especially) the 1% know it:
The inhuman and antidemocratic features of capitalism mean that, like a cancer, the death system will eventually destroy the living host… The people who run this world are eager to contain the Occupy energy not because they believe that the critics of concentrated wealth and power are wrong, but because somewhere deep down in their souls…the powerful know we are right. People in power are insulated by wealth and privilege, but they can see the systems falling apart. US military power can no longer guarantee world domination. Financial corporations can no longer pretend to provide order in the economy. The industrial system is incompatible with life.
Michael Albert suggests how the Metamovement can begin the task of building a new culture by reaching out, listening to and engaging the rest of the 99% and then moving into community-building activities like education, housing and the arts:
Why not have classes for learning? Why not have activities for creating?… Why not have a program of activities that returns people to their home locales for organizing purposes each night, or even for all but the explicit time of assembly meetings, perhaps?… [O]nce an occupation has a lot of people, have subgroups initiate other occupations in more places, all federated together and providing one another mutual aid. In the most local, neighborhood occupations, visit every home. Talk with every resident. Involve as many neighbors as possible. Determine real felt needs. If what is most upsetting neighbors is housing concerns, daycare issues, traffic patterns, mutual aid, loneliness, whatever, try to act to address the problems. Have occupations self manage and create innovations artistically, socially, and politically. Have occupations occupy indoors, not just outside… [G]o get them [the rest of the 99%], inform them, inspire them, enlist them, empower them, and they will come.
And philosopher and lifelong activist Grace Lee Boggs tells us that:
You begin with a demonstration. You begin with a protest. But you have to move on from there, and that’s what I see happening now with [the Metamovement]. The people are rightfully, righteously protesting the corporations and the domination of the culture by the corporations and the suffering that that is inducing. But out of the protests they have to move to another stage.
You have to begin doing something that doesn’t depend on exposing the “enemy”. You have to begin becoming the solution yourself instead of just protesting and challenging the enemy. We need people to be reinventing the institutions in our society: Reinventing work, so that we don’t think that having a job and being able to pay the bills is what being a human being is all about. And reinventing education, so that our young people are able to see themselves as part of the rebuilding of our society.
So many of the institutions of our society need reinventing, need re-thinking, and you [the Metamovement] need to do that. You cannot be satisfied with rebelling. You have to be aware that we are at one of the turning points in history where we need revolution, and revolution means reinventing culture.
Reinventing culture, creating a new vision that returns power to the people and strives for well-being for all, is an epic challenge, and if it is successful at all, it will take a generation or more. It starts by realizing that, as Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker has said, it is the systems that are broken, and irreparably so. The 1% have exploited them, ruthlessly and methodically, for their own advantage, but no one is in control. To reinvent our culture, so that the 99% have something else to ‘buy’, instead of trying to get politicians or other ‘leaders’ to ‘fix’ the systems, and instead of believing that the only problem is an evil, greedy 1%, we have to abandon those systems and create new ones from the ground up, that will help us achieve the vision I described above.
I’ve written before that I’m not optimistic that the Metamovement, or anyone, can succeed in this mammoth task. We’re all exhausted already, and few are up for this dangerous, risky and all-consuming challenge. It is easier, and safer, to stay in denial, to listen to the messages that promise better times ahead with patience and some minor tinkering with the existing systems. This desperate belief in the sustainability of our bankrupt and desolating culture is the Grand Delusion of our age. Its adherents run the gamut of the political spectrum and include religious salvationists, techno-salvationists, humanist salvationists, and all manner of libertarians, idealists, neo-cons, neo-liberals, free-marketers, reactionaries, denialists, wishful and magical thinkers, and of course corporatists. There are a lot of them in the 99%, and we’ll have to be patient until they’re ready to listen, and to join us.
I still think the Grand Delusion will prevail for at least another decade, and will be fuelled by exploiting the remaining resources of our planet even faster and more recklessly, and by printing even more imaginary wealth into existence, and pretending it has value. But I no longer think we’ll last until the 2030s before the Grand Delusion loses all credibility and the next Great Depression hits. And, as Sharon Astyk has said, we won’t have cheap energy to power ourselves out of it next time.
At some point reasonably soon our cartoon coyote civilization is going to look down and realize the cliff edge was back there. A growing number in the Metamovement have realized this already. There is and will be no option of clawing our way back to the cliff. Although momentum is now on our side, gravity is not. The real question is, if we don’t start right now — and even if we do — do we have any hope of learning to fly before we hit the ground?