Beyond Capitalism

Beyond Capitalism

Recently, Ursula LeGuin asked speculative fiction writers to write about possible systems beyond capitalism for the world to move to. I am currently reading a book titled “Zen and the Art of Making a Living” by Laurence G. Boldt.

Boldt writes in the first chapter:

“About the time the Industrial Revolution was really getting into gear, political revolutions were everywhere replacing kings with parliaments, presidents, and promises. The key promise was that the common man would soon be king. He would possess for his own the kingly prerogatives of power, leisure, and security—power over his station in life, the liberty of leisure, and the security of property.”

Boldt goes on to discuss that capitalism was intended to provide us all, via the free market, with labor saving devices that would ensure our leisure. Capitalism was how through the exchange of goods we would all benefit and become kings of our own castles—whether they were mansions or a trailer. The dream was to obtain power, leisure and security.

What other virtues did we lose track of?

While we were focusing on power, leisure and security, what other virtues and conditions did we lose track of? If we explode the myth of our modern existence, what has the work of most people resulted in? Do we have lives of leisure?

I remember seeing videos of what the future would look like, as predicted by people in the 1950s. The work week was supposed to be shorter. Household chores were to be done with “push button” ease. Everyone was to live in cleanliness, safety and comfort. Leisure.

While the vision of life in the future from the 1950s was a specific kind of rosy view, our reality is not comfortable for most. Recently, a United Nations official investigating poverty in the US in Alabama was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world. Read More.

Further, while things recently have grown more extreme as income inequality has grown, in the US the free market has not been benefiting everyone. More and more families are in poverty. A few years ago a report was issued in the US that stated 1 in 3 American adults were in collection for non-payment of debt. Read More.

Capitalism is Not Serving Us

Capitalism is not serving the majority of us. For instance, most Americans are working longer hours with fewer days off. Further, we have little power in a world where the very rich can influence elections that make them richer. Worldwide, this coveted western existence with our twin obsessions of owning things and consuming, has lead to the degradation of the environment and a pan-global culture lacking in meaning.

With things as they are, what if we step off the treadmill? What if the goal is no longer “more”? Ever more and more “Gross National Product”. Or more clothes, money, electronics, etc.

Further, what have we forgotten about? The environment. Or perhaps our inner lives. Our humanity. Creativity. The ability to have the freedom to direct our lives. The ability to see our own identity beyond what we do for a living. Duty. Wisdom. Peace. Connection to our communities, to our families, and to other people.

Imagine

What if in a future economic system value was placed on not pulling resources from the earth, but rather recycling? What if there was value in not making money but rather being wise? Or clever enough to find creative ways to do with less? What if there was value in work that nurtured the soul?

Before you scoff at these suggestions, remember that you live inside of our societal myths and we are firmly embedded in the “rightness” of our current economic system. Perhaps, in 200 years if humanity survives climate change and the current great extinction, our notions of owning, having and consuming will shift. Maybe, in that time period, this age will be looked on as Golden Age because people will live in a time of scarcity. Or maybe, they will live with more balance and look back at this time periods as a period of obscene over-consumption and stupid degradation of our habitat. Maybe there will be a shift in thought. What future systems can you envision?

Time


The concept of time changes over the course of a lifetime and for different circumstances. When I was a child summer vacations felt as though they went on forever and the distance between birthdays was just unfathomable. It felt like I had all the time in the world. When I visited South Africa the time went by all too quickly. Currently some mornings I read and research for several writing projects I am working on and two hours seem to fly. Other days I have to wait for service people and the time drags. Time is very relative.

A year ago I sent my mother flowers for Mother’s Day just as a part of the annual routine. I didn’t know it would be the last time I would send my mother flowers for Mother’s Day. Currently, I am receiving daily emails from the company I ordered flowers from asking if I would like to place an order for my mother this Mother’s Day. Last Mother’s Day feels like an eternity ago. When I sat with my mother last fall as she was dying the time went too quickly. I regretted not spending more time with her over the last few years. Her death was a smack upside the head that we really do only get so much time on this earth and being conscious of this and choosing how we spend time is important.

Currently I am working on being the person I envision being. I find I need to project management my efforts and my time. I also will easily work 80-90 hours per week and not acknowledge my accomplishments. I need to make lists to both organize myself to get everything done and to recognise when things are done.

Never before have I had quite such a grasp of how valuable my time is. Currently every morning, I review my schedule for the day and create a list of things/tasks to get done. And then I start. Never have I felt so compelled to get things done and to not waste time.

I am in a kind of transition time right now. I came to the awareness a while ago that whatever we put time and energy into is what will develop. In part I came to this on my own and what solidified it was researching and writing a biographical essay about Ai Weiwei. Ai Weiwei is probably the most influential modern artist alive at the moment. For years he worked as a day laborer (and incidentally learned to gamble and is a top-tiered blackjack player) and refused commissions that would lead his art away from his vision. He worked tirelessly and remained committed to his ideal.

I have been reading about permaculture and ecology lately. When old growth forests are cleared, if the land is allowed to regenerate on its own a type of scrub will grow in to protect the soil and water table and begin to heal the land. Weeds are beneficial to the land because they bring nutrients to the soil, can penetrate the hard pan, prevent erosion, etc. Don’t underestimate the benefit of weeds. But then as caretakers we have to come in and make choices about the use of the land. If we are wise we will imitate the progression of a natural forest and plant plants and trees that will create a full habitat for animals, insects, birds, humans, and the plants.

During transition times for people, it is a little like the time of scrub growing in. Opportunities pop up that relieve anxiety but may not be in alignment with one’s vision for what one would like their life to be. There is great deal of flailing around and trying to figure out what will work and be beneficial. More than a few weeds will come in and present ideas and more. I guess it is this task in this time period to envision what one’s life should look like in the end and engineer backwards. And then no matter if time seems to move slowly or fast, be productive or flailing, just keep working towards the vision. Try out different things and figure out what will work.

So the quality of time is relative. Time in terms of how it feels in passing is relative. But if one invests time and energy in a vision of what one wants to accomplish this is the only way to make it happen. We only have now and I want to make the best of it.