Hi Fam! I too am thankful for you all and for this conversation. With the whirlwind of major issues today it can be extremely difficult to find a starting point. Climate change, money’s domination of politics (not to mention of us in our everyday lives), oppression, rising inequality, neocolonialism, automated surveillance, peak resources … the list is long and each item seems to feed the others in some way.
So, I’d like to suggest a starting point: The mode of production.
This is a Marxist term (scary, I know – don’t worry, I hereby dismiss Marxism / state socialism as a failed experiment). It essentially means “How people get what they need to live.” The mode of production invariably determines the shape of society. It is how “resources” turn into goods. It is the basis from which governments derive their revenue (and their guns and their drones). This term can describe everything from hunting and gathering to advanced capitalist economies to decentralized anarchist utopias. In short, the mode of production must be central to any economic, cultural, or sociological analysis.
Currently, the dominant mode of production is capitalism (another Marxist term believe it or not). Capitalism has a lot of assumptions built into it. Here are some of those I believe to be most important:
– Unlimited exponential economic growth is necessary (3.5% per year as measured by GDP).
– Resources are effectively unlimited. (See “Backstop Resources” – the guy who came up with this idea won a Nobel Prize for it)
– Resources are inherently scarce. Where they are not inherently scarce (knowledge for example), systems must be implemented to enforce artificial scarcity in order to preserve private profits (intellectual property law).
– Capitalism is and must be the dominant system. Super-national agreements and organizations (TPP, WTO, etc.) are the embodiment of this assumption.
It’s important to remember that governments are parasitic on their economies – without the economic base there can be no government. One depends wholly on the other. It’s tempting to think that regulatory power is stronger than economic power but that is not and cannot be the case. A government must always act according to the interests of its economy or it will erode its own power and revenue.
So, here we are. I’ve spent several paragraphs discussing what most of us probably already realize: that capitalist institutions is running roughshod over people, governments, and ecosystems alike. So long as we rely on the capitalist institutions for our food, clothing, shelter, medicine, technology, and entertainment, this will be inevitable.
So how do we go about building alternatives? First, we must recognize that they exist already. Every indigenous tribe or autonomous peasant collective represents an alternative (think Zapatistas or pre-fascist Catalonia IRL). Of course each day the Dominant Culture displaces these ways of life (or tries to). On top of that, not all of us want to spend our lives toiling in the filth, however lovely that filth might be. I happen to work with computers and those require a whole lot of sophisticated capital to produce.
There are experiments currently being conducted to see if industrial productivity can be achieved on a small scale. So far, these projects – and the Open Source mode of production more generally – have yet to be disproven and look promising. Most computer servers now run on Linux, which is the shining example of Open Source success. The question is whether this philosophy of sharing that which can be shared at nearly no cost can make the jump to hardware. Can we create a new system in the shell of the old that can transcend the limitations of the legacy system?
I believe that we can and I believe we have no option but to try. By all means, we should apply patches to the legacy system to mitigate the harm it does. But this cannot be the main focus of our efforts. We are on the brink of a new technological era that enables new economic and social possibilities. There are already people working on the next thing. Please help us.
<3 Mike P.S.: I may in the next few months be working to construct an Open Source Ecology skid loader for the farming collective next to my house. If you're interested in supporting the project financially, please let me know and I'll invite you to the crowdfunding project when it is up.