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Friday, January 25, 2013

Reclaiming Our Imaginations from 'There Is No Alternative'

Reclaiming Our Imaginations from 'There Is No Alternative'

By Andrea Brower
Common Dreams
January 25, 2013

We live in a time of heavy fog. A time when, though many of us
dissent and resist, humanity seems committed to a course of
collective suicide in the name of preserving an economic system
that generates scarcity no matter how much is actually produced.

To demand that all have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough
food, that absurd numbers of people do not die from preventable
disease, that utter human deprivation amongst plenty is not
tolerated, or that we put the natural laws of the biosphere above
socially constructed economic, “laws” is presented as unrealistic as
the fantasy of idealists or those who are naive to the, “complexity”
of the world’s problems.

If we create and recreate the world everyday, then how has it become
so supposedly absurd to believe we might actually create a world that
is honestly making the possibilities of egalitarianism, justice and

Capitalism — the logic of subordinating every aspect of life to the
accumulation of profit (i.e. the “rules of the market”) has become
today’s, “common sense.”

It has become almost unthinkable to imagine coherent alternatives
to this logic, even when considering the most basic of human needs
food, water, healthcare, education.

Though many have an understanding of capitalism’s failings, there
is a resignation towards its inevitability.

Margaret Thatcher’s famous words, “There Is No Alternative,” no
longer need to be spoken, they are simply accepted as normal,
non-ideological, neutral.

What sustains the tragic myth that There Is No Alternative?

Those committed to building a more just future must begin re-
thinking and revealing the taken-for-granted assumptions that
make capitalism, “common sense” and bring these into the
realm of mainstream public debate in order to widen horizons
of possibility.

We can’t leave this task to the pages of peer-reviewed journals
and classrooms of social theory, these conversations must enter
also into the family dining rooms and TV screens.

Here are some thoughts on conversation starters:

Alternatives could never work.

Does capitalism, “work”?

Even by its own indicators, as we’ve become more capitalist (i.e.
neoliberalism), economic growth and productivity has actually declined.

Today’s globalized world is too complex to organize things any

Of course the world is complex.

Each of us is a bundle of contradictions and we need look no further
than the dynamics of a single relationship to make a case for social

But things are also quite simple.

We live in a world where one billion people go hungry while we
literally dump half of all food produced.

Can we not come up with a productive socio-economic system
that also meets people’s most basic needs?

The gift of today is that we have the ability to reflect and draw-upon
many forms, past and present, of non-capitalist social organization,
and to creatively experiment with blending the best of these

The fact that we are more connected than ever before and have
advanced so far technologically gives us more possibilities, not

Because of our, “Human Nature” we can only create economic
systems based on competition, greed and self-interest.

This is not only utterly pessimistic, but plain wrong.

Again, we can start by remembering all sorts of societies that have
existed through history. Then just look around and ask the question,
what motivates you and the people you know?

Fields as diverse as neuroscience and anthropology have mounted
evidence showing humans’ incredible capacity for cooperation and
sensitivity to fairness.

We are actually all quite capable of anything; but it is up to us
to decide how to use our capabilities, and of course that will be
dictated by what our social systems encourage and teach us to

If there is one thing that can be said about, “human nature” it is
that we construct ourselves from within our societies and we are
incredibly malleable.

Freedom is only realizable through a free-market.

Attaching our values of freedom to the market is not only
de-humanizing, but it also fails to recognize how one person’s,
“freedom” to economic choice is another’s imprisonment in a
life of exploitation and deprivation.

There is no possibility for freedom and emancipation until we are
all free, and this will only come through a much richer and deeper
conception of human freedom than one that is premised upon going
to a grocery store and, “choosing” between 5,000 variations of
processed corn.

Capitalism is the only system that encourages innovation and

Progress towards what?

And how does enclosing common knowledge through intellectual
property rights, or excluding most of the world from quality
education, or depriving half of humanity from the basic life-
sustaining goods needed to function healthily, lead to greater

Just begin to imagine the innovative possibilities of a world where
all people had access to everything they needed to live, to think,
and to contribute to the common good.

Things could be worse.

Of course they could, but they could also be better.

Does the fact that we’ve lived through bloody dictatorships mean
that we should settle for a representative democracy where the
main thing being represented is money?

Things are getting better.

Can we really say that things are getting better as we head towards
the annihilation of our own species?

Sure, we may have our first black president and be making small
gains in LGBT rights or in women’s representation in the workforce;
but let’s not neglect the fact that capital is more concentrated and
centralized than it has ever been and that its logic now penetrates
into the most basic building blocks of life.

I think we should give ourselves more credit than to settle for this,

Change is slow.

Slow is not in the vocabulary of the corporations who are stealing
our common genetic heritage, or their buddies who are getting
rich playing virtual money games that legally rob us all.

The enclosure of our commons and the concentration of capital is
not happening slowly.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, change is happening, what is
up for grabs is the direction of that change.

The best we can hope for is “green” and “ethical” capitalism.

The logic of this belief is fundamentally flawed because it assumes
that within capitalism, businesses can prioritize anything above the

In actuality, businesses that commit themselves first and foremost
to being truly and fully ethical and green will find it very difficult to
stay in business.

Of course there are great models of ethical business, worker-owned organic farms, for instance, but these cannot thrive and become
the dominant norm when they are functioning within an economic
structure that concentrates wealth and power in the hands of

And while we should support these alternatives that exist within
capitalism, we need to recognize that it’s way too little, way too

Structural change must (and will) happen, one way or another.

Getting rid of capitalism means abandoning markets as a tool
of social organization.

This is not necessarily true, although perhaps we would do best
without markets anyways.

Societies have existed that have used markets but restrained
oligopoly capitalism, and many brilliant thinkers have envisioned a
transition to a society structured by norms of equality and sharing
where markets do play a role.

I’m not advocating for or against any specific proposals here, but
the point is that this assumption is historically inaccurate and we
have barely begun to give serious thought to other possibilities.

People don’t care.

People may be distracted by consumerism, may only have enough
energy to struggle to pay their bills, may be fearful, may lack access
to good information... but none of these things mean that they don’t

Show anybody an image of a starving child who works in the cacao
fields but can’t afford to eat (much less taste chocolate), and they
will feel disgust.

The charity industry is thriving precisely because so many people
do feel implicated in the revolting manifestations of capitalism.

But people’s sense of outrage has been channeled away from
collective political action and towards ethical buying and holiday-time
charitable donations.

Without an honest and sophisticated society-wide conversation about
the structural issues we are facing, people’s care is reduced to
individual guilt and disempowerment.

People won’t stop consuming, plus all the poor people want what the
rich people have.

Of course they do!

Doing away with capitalism doesn’t mean resorting to primitivism,
or abandoning all of our washing machines, or leaving the poor

While of course there are limits to the earth’s resources (fossil-fuels
in particular), this doesn’t mean that we can’t organize a productive,
equitable and sustainable social order that includes many of the
comforts of modern life and excitements of technology.

We need not abandon desire with capitalism.

In fact, getting rid of capitalism gives us the best chance of having
time to organize a sustainable system of consumption before it is too

Staying hooked into capitalism may actually be the quickest route
to primitivism.

Capital’s enclosure of our commons, our common resources, genes
and even intellect, has been accompanied by an enclosure of our

We need to re-claim and re-orient what it is to be “realistic” from
the falsehoods of There Is No Alternative.

This is not a call for pure imaginations of some future utopia. It is
not a fantastic plea for a sudden and complete dissolving of all the
social structures that currently pattern our lives.

Instead, it is a call to take what is already going on all around us, all
the time cooperation, sharing, empathy and let these aspects of our
humanity that we most cherish guide our future.

To begin to re-direct and re-structure our social systems towards the
things we most desire and value, caring for and cooperating with one
another, true participation and democracy, human freedom and free
time, peace and co-existence and in doing so, to watch these things
begin to flourish.

If it is naive to believe that we can structure society to reward
goodness instead of greed and prioritize people instead of profit,
then I’m fighting until the bitter end to maintain my naiveté!

Things become possible when we believe they are possible; so let’s
start believing.

Andrea Brower is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at
the University of Auckland. She has been very active in alternative
food and global social justice movements, and spent several years
co-directing the non-profit Malama Kauai in Hawaii, where she is originally from.

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