12 January 2012

ticky tacky

What does a world beyond capitalism look like? What does global justice mean? How does it work? It's pretty obvious to all that capitalism hasn't produced a fair or just social system, not even for those countries that are at its apex, never mind the billions in the third world for whom even the poorest of us are rich beyond imagination.

One of the products, (apart from the 'stuff' - together with the demand that we 'consume' the stuff), of capitalism, is the social structure itself in which some people are rich and a lot of people are poor and are obliged to work for the rich in one way or another. In a way, the more the poor produce for the rich to sell at a profit, the more they are entrenching the priviliged position of the rich and contribute to their own domination by the rich by being increasingly dependent upon them. In this social structure people are alienated in damaging ways, not only in the classical Marxist sense of being alienated directly from the fruits of their labour, but from the social structure itself which underpins it. Taken as a whole, the structure removes from humans the ability to productively pursue those things which most make humans what they should be, creative, free, passionate and productive: with drives towards beauty, music, art, literature, relationship and so forth.

Capitalism drives a wedge between those things in that the frenetic drive towards endless production and economic growth reduces humans to the level of a machine working a production line and that what we produce turns toxic and comes back to haunt us as pollution, as environmental degradation, as disenfranchised, alienated, marginalised citizens without a sense of worth or communal purpose. The whole thing is like a snake eating its own tale, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it will destroy itself in the process: and that seems to me to be a decent enough metaphor to descibe how the whole of global capitalist system operates. Worse than that, an effect of the system is to divide us from one another and put us in our little boxes. So, you go to work and produce one thing (or more likely, a part of a thing), I go to work and produce another, or provide a service, and someone provides another, health, education, whatever, and each function might be specialised, even very highly specialised, and from the outside it looks like the system works because this whole co-ordinated division of labour produces vast quantities of goods and services that we can go out to the marketplace and buy and take home to our little boxes and enjoy. But that in itself alienates us from one another because the currency of our relationship becomes reduced to a financial transaction rather than human contact: and thinking about [read: not thinking about] what the effect of that has on other human beings, our communities, our planet, is turning us lemmings rushing towards the edge of the abyss.

So, what's the alternative? We've only had civilisation on this scale for a tiny fraction of historical time and we're just in our infancy at it, so let's not be too hard on ourselves about it. But we do have to come out of our little boxes now to try to find out what social morality, what global justice is going to mean in the 21st century.

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