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Postcapitalism: A global perspective is needed.

November 26, 2011

Another revolutionary intellectual in a somewhat different revolution once observed that the true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love. I might disagree with some of El Che’s methods, and I might disagree with some of his ultimate conclusions (in the sense that I do not agree that the solution to our current crisis lies in violent revolution, or in a relatively extreme form of Socialism), but here is what it says about Ernesto Guevara in his biography on Wikipedia:

 “Guevara travel(l)ed throughout Latin America and was radically transformed by the endemic poverty and alienation he witnessed. His experiences and observations during these trips led him to conclude that the region’s ingrained economic inequalities were an intrinsic result of capitalism, monopolism, neocolonialism, and imperialism, with the only remedy being world (my emphasis) revolution.”

Well, aside from the fact that my direct experiences do not come from Latin America, there’s no argument from me. My analysis is not a Marxist-Leninist one, but I do think the native peoples, in particular, of Latin America and elsewhere do have things they can teach us, and this is a subject for later entries.

As those close to me have noted, however, I seem to be motivated more by great feelings of a quite different emotion: anger. The observation is not, I admit, unfair. Anger is not, at least in my society, seen as a particularly positive emotion. On the other hand, I have to ask myself what the origins of that anger might be.

I suggest that the problem lies in that I see acts of injustice against that which I love. This leads to what some friends have described as a “righteous anger”

We tend to love that which we feel some sort of affinity to. Initially, for most of us, that begins with family, including eventually a partner with whom we may or may not have children. That said, there is, if you like, a hierarchy of acceptance. There is a saying, usually attributed to the Bedouin, to the effect of “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers”.

At what point, then, does one cease to be a stranger? The people in the next town? Glaswegians? English? Continental Europeans? Asians? Chimpanzees? Birds? Reptiles? Cockroaches? Slime moulds? Tory politicians? Bankers?

These individuals all grade into degrees of “strangeness”. Please do not think that this hierarchy of difference is a hierarchy of badness. Birds, and of themselves, are not bad, just more different than chimpanzees. The social and political systems of parts of south-east Asia may be “strange” but, where nobody is getting hurt, they’re not bad. I may have more in common with some individual Asians than I do with many born-and-bred Scots. All the above groups (except possibly the last two) have their place in the scheme of things. I may have more in common with a cockroach than a slime mould, (and have more in common with a slime mould than with David Cameron) but I don’t hate slime moulds. I love (in a platonic sense) birds, so how can I hate Asians, or English, or Glaswegians?

In that, I disagree with what appears to be a conflict-driven philosophy among some Bedouin.

This leads to an element of confusion. Some individuals in these groups (and others) are responsible for harming other individuals (and groups) that I love. The problem is to avoid category errors. For instance, one could state that David Cameron is a racist. To then state that David Cameron is English, and that therefore all English are racists (or all racists are English) is to make a category error, not to mention to state a fallacy.

The only way to reconcile this confusion is to strip the categories and bring it down to cases. Now, when I’m angry I’m as prone to making category errors as the next person, and rail against another group the racist may be a member of, when I should be railing against the racists.

My next problem, as one of my previous posts showed, lies in alienation. I like (even love) native forests, but I feel alienated from much of my own species. That’s not to say that I hate all, even most, of them. It simply means I feel alienated from many of them, simply because they harm other beings that I love. I also feel anger towards them.

Can these feelings be made consistent? Alienation from those who harm that which I love, even anger towards them, seems to me to be a natural response, even a driving force behind (hopefully peaceful) revolution. It might even be argued that the greater the feelings of love, the greater the feelings of anger. The problem for the social revolutionary becomes that of ensuring that the hate does not become all consuming, but can be directed towards peaceful change for the benefit of all.

The other problem becomes that of ascertaining how far one can go with one’s acceptance of that which is “other” into that which one loves, even into a recognition of the blurred boundaries between that which is self and that which is other. This must be a matter for the direct experience of the individual. The great thinkers on Nature of the nineteenth century, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, amongst others, recognised the need of the individual to understand his environment as an individual (as did Che, come to that). An expanded awareness that will recognise the value of all life requires that individual spiritual component – not necessarily a religious one, but one based on a personal experience of that-which-is-like-me, or at least that-which-I-can-come-to-love.

Without that change in perception we, as a species, will remain in a position where it is morally acceptable to exploit that-which-is-other. Such a change would, ultimately, become consistent with Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic (“a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”). Leopold’s biotic community would include humans as no more important, or less important, than other parts of that community. A revolutionary movement would then oppose that which tends otherwise (and, let’s face it, the activity of global capitalism inherently tends otherwise!).

This biocentric philosophy is not new. Many better philosophers than I have worked on the problem: people like Arne Næss, Bill Devall and George Sessions are merely among he most prominent examples, but it’s probably the best we’ve got in terms of ensuring not just a future for humanity, and our assumption of sovereignty over the land and the living things that depend upon it. It should not be said, however, that this analysis is one based on pure Deep Ecology. My perspective is not as Malthusian as I sometimes feel, just for a start.

It needs to be noted, for instance, that many of those most disadvantaged by the existing globalised socio-economic system lie outside those countries where the protests are happening – far beyond the reach of any media, often illiterate, and getting on with the day-to-day problems of providing enough food for themselves and their families.

It is not enough, then, for the global Occupy movement to concern itself only with demands on a national basis – for the IMF to get out of Ireland, for the City of London to become more accountable, for laws against the loophole that permits members of the US Congress to pass legislation involving those corporations in which they are investors, or even for a global Tobin Tax on financial transactions. These are necessary steps, but in no way are they sufficient if we are to build a global society where everything in Nature – including all humans – are valued.

There is, to be fair, a recognition of some of this among some individuals in, or supporting, the global Occupy movement. My humble request is for it to be given greater consideration.

 

 

 

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