Is it Time to Revolutionize Capitalism?

By Daniel Pinchbeck on Thursday February 16th, 2017

Image: Unknown

The Insatiable Beast that is Capitalism

As it widens the ‘metabolic rift’ between humanity and nature in its insatiable quest for more profit, for endless growth, Capitalism has revealed a fatal design flaw. There is nothing in its internal logic to interrupt its momentum – to stop it eating its way through our planet, and ultimately collapsing our global ecosystems. Therefore, we must intervene and redirect it. The only way to do this is to make the global population aware of the dilemma, while those with the technical and creative capability design, field-test, and distribute a functional alternative.

I find it helpful to look at the problem – as if we are seeing it from outside, like space aliens observing the Earth from an observatory on a moon of Jupiter – through the paradigm of design. When designers want to make something new, they expect they will have to build and field-test a series of versions and prototypes. When the first model breaks down, they build a second version. When that version fails, they create another. They keep iterating until they get it right. Artists, similarly, experiment in their studio, destroying or painting over their failed attempts until their vision emerges.

A Capitalism diagnosisCapitalism is eating its way through our planet.

Trial and Error

When it comes to building a social, or a political-economic, system, humanity has followed these steps – experimenting, building a prototype, field-testing it, discovering where the model breaks down, developing a new prototype, experimenting, field-testing, watching it fail, and so on – over and over. Unfortunately, however, when the current version of society crashes, it doesn’t happen in the laboratory or studio. It takes place across the much broader canvas of nation-states and civilizations. It tragically utilizes human beings – swarms, masses of them – as it splatters and drips.

Perhaps the greatest systems thinker of the 20th Century was the design scientist Buckminster Fuller. Fuller combined two strains of American thought: transcendent idealism and pragmatism, in a long career. He was a prolific inventor, mathematician, and visionary. He passed through his own initiation as a young man, contemplating suicide at the age of 32, after the death of a beloved child. He decided that, rather than kill himself, he would dedicate his life to accomplishing the greatest good for humanity, without thought or consideration of personal gain. Fuller wrote many books expounding his philosophy, including Synergetics, Critical Path, Operating Manuel for Spaceship Earth, and Utopia or Oblivion – they remain very relevant today.

Buckminster FullerFuller believed we’d either destroy ourselves with our current system or revolutionize.

Fuller’s Predictions

In the 1960s, Fuller foresaw only two possible outcomes for humanity: We would either continue our current social and political arrangements and soon destroy ourselves, or we would undergo a design revolution in every arena. As part of this design revolution, we would apply our technical powers to allocate resources efficiently, working together to elevate everyone on Earth to a high standard of living and education. Even a half-century ago, he saw that we already possessed the technical means, as well as the resources, to do this. But the opportunity has been blocked by the inertia of our out-of-date political and financial arrangements, as well as the ideology behind this antiquated system.

All who are really dedicated to the earliest possible attainment of economic and physical success for all humanity – and thereby realistically to eliminate work – will have to shift their focus from the political arena to participation in the design revolution. – Buckminster Fuller

Fuller believed that the current model of work would be abolished in a truly rational society. I wholeheartedly agree with him. Deep down, nobody wants a job to occupy so much of their time. People want a mission that inspires them; that compels them to dig deep to apply their reserves of creativity, cunning, compassion, and courage.

Fuller noted that most of the work people do is a drain on the Earth’s resources. All around the world, people are driving in cars to offices, using computers, toner cartridges, and Styrofoam packages. All of this is costly from the perspective of the planet’s ecology (apparently, the words ‘ecology’ and ‘economy’ have the same root).

Self-Sufficient Living and ‘Cultivated Leisure’

It would be much more economical and efficient, Fuller reasoned, to subsidize people so they could live in self-sufficient communities where they produced their own food and energy. He proposed giving everyone on Earth who didn’t already have a mission, a “research grant for life,” in whatever subject interested them. I love this idea.

Pursuing our dreams is our purposeImagine a system that allowed us to pursue our passions, instead of working for ‘the man’.

Oscar Wilde, who was also a brilliant social thinker, arrived at the same conclusion over a half-century before Fuller. Instead of the current system, Wilde believed, we needed some form of socialism, where people shared property and reduced government to its most basic utilitarian functions. He thought that attaining a liberated society required developing our machines so they could do all of the depressing and miserable labor – the drudgery – freeing people to develop their unique individuality. Wilde saw ‘cultivated leisure,’ not work, as the ultimate purpose of human existence.

A New Vision for Human Purpose

I find it significant that the field of robotics is developing quickly, reaching the point where machines can, in fact, do all of the horrible, dehumanizing tasks. Depending on what kind of society we construct for ourselves, we could liberate ourselves from meaningless labor within the next half-century. For this to happen, we need a new vision of human purpose and possibility.

Buckminster Fuller made one error: he believed that the design revolution could happen without a major transformation in the political arena, forgetting that social systems are also artifacts of human design. As Arendt recognized, western thinkers have tended to ignore our political and social system, which has developed through trial-and-error, experiment, failure, and innovation. Also, it seems obvious that the only way we can address these areas is by changing the underlying beliefs, values, and ideology that make up the consciousness of the collective.

Employing technology for greater freedomMachines and robots could free us from meaningless labor, so we can find greater purpose.

Take these three areas: technical infrastructure, which includes agriculture, energy, industry, and so on; the social or political-economic system; and consciousness – the beliefs, values, and ideology that is reinforced and reiterated through media, laws, and education. These three main areas all work together; like three wheels with intermeshed gears that turn each other. When our technology changes, for instance, it opens new possibilities, which can change the social system as well as the collective consciousness.

As an example, we can look at the evolution of media technology, which has profoundly reshaped society over time. There would never have been far-flung Empires like Rome without a written code of laws, which could be disseminated across its territories, homogenizing how people behaved. The modern nation-state, our current form of liberal democracy, would have been impossible without the printing press, which allowed people to stay updated with regular news, so they could participate in elections as informed citizens. Following this logic, the interactive media we have developed over the last decades should also lead to a profound social transformation, beyond what we have already seen.

The power of mediaMedia has changed the modern world, and can continue to do so if used consciously.

A False Sense of Individuality

Karl Marx developed a model of how the technical, social, and ideological areas supported each other as part of a whole system. He named them ‘base’, ‘structure’, and ‘super-structure’. Marx also realized that the 18th Century revolutions had been incomplete, because they supported a false mode of individuality, protecting each man’s rights (including the right to property) against that of other men.

The revolutions of the 18th Century degraded “the sphere in which man conducts himself as a communal being.” They enshrined:

the freedom of egoistic man… Man was therefore not freed from religion; he received religious freedom. He was not freed from property. He received freedom of property. He was not freed from the egoism of trade, but received freedom to trade.

The revolutions, therefore, led to the commercial society we have today, where people protect their interests against each other.

“Workers unite: You have nothing to lose but your chains,” Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto. They wanted a worldwide revolution to liberate the proletariat – the urban workers, the industrial underclass – which they romanticized as the true subject of history. Their goal was to establish a stateless, classless society without privilege, private property, or hierarchy, where the workers would own the means of production, and all aspects of social life would be centrally controlled.

Marx and his followers believed a worker-owned society would mean liberation from domination and servitude – it would be the end of history. In practice, it didn’t work out that way. Communist revolutions led to totalitarian regimes and dictatorships. Communism became a disgraced philosophy in the West.

Che GuevaraWhat we need is a revolution of love.

Political Expression in an Authentic Society

The Venus Project, developed by the millenarian Jacque Fresco, promotes a high-tech upgrade of communism. Fresco and his collaborators foresee a ‘utopian’ future based on a ‘resource economy’ without money or political parties. Technology would be applied rationally, to create a world without social divisions, where goods would be mathematically distributed as needed. The Venus Project looks towards complete automation and computerization to liberate humanity from all forms of drudgery. 

‘Over time, automated machines would intelligently manage the earth’s resources and ultimately free humanity of all unnecessary laborious tasks,’ one proponent writes. ‘All of the world’s resources would be held as common heritage, and all people would have unhindered access to any resource, good, or product available, without the use of money, credit, barter, or any form of debt or servitude.’

In the end, I disagree with Fresco that the world should be run by super-computers. I agree, instead, with Hannah Arendt who believed that political expression is part of our human essence. Politics doesn’t have to be a corrupt puppet show. In an authentic society, the activity of politics – debate, discussion, decision- making – would be part of the fun. We would engage with it as something beautiful and true. 

Postmodern society thwarts our innate desire to participate politically. Just voting in an election every few years, marching once in a while, or signing petitions on Avaaz or MoveOn doesn’t count for much. We need new avenues for passionate participation – not just in elections every few years, but continuously. The desire for this is so effectively masked and covered up that most people don’t even feel it as something they have forfeited.

Today’s communications infrastructure could support a permanent revolution. It seems possible – let’s try a thought experiment – to build  a social networking infrastructure, via the Internet, that seamlessly supports political collaboration, direct democracy and resource sharing, based on transparent exchanges. If we had such a platform, we would also need to undertake a mass educational initiative through the media. As part of a mass movement, we would disseminate the values and principles of a cooperative, trust-based society across the world.

This is an excerpt from Daniel Pinchbeck’s latest book How Soon is Now?

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

Words By Daniel Pinchbeck

An author whose books include Breaking Open the Head, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, and How Soon Is Now?"



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6 Responses to Is it Time to Revolutionize Capitalism?

  1. I agree with Buckminster completely if & when you focus on the design revolution, you will also include the creation of a new political structure.
    The writer of this article describes ancient Roman culture as being a model for good-law-practice , however the Hittites had a far better law-practice : they incorporated most of the local laws & religious figures of countries they invaded into the law & religion of their won. So you can say the Romans law-practice is a downgrade from the Hittites law-practice.
    The current democratic proces is a farce if you take into consideration that most people in the country are very poorly informed of the real reasons governments do what they do. As stated in the last paragraph, people should be mass educated on real worldly-facts which will allow them to make real informed political decisions.
    If the interactive media of today will ever come to be under control of our current political system, there will come an end as to how far this media solution would have been able to socially transform humanity. As we all could have been aware of : the current political system is working extra hours to enable governmental (or big coopérations) control of the internet.

  2. The Marxist solution is radically wrong as that becomes a totalitarian dictatorship, top heavy. The answer lies in real revolution as in the evolution away from Marxist dictatorship developed by Bakunin and Kropotkin. The only time this has been done was in Spain 1936/38 led by the CNT giving a model to the world for a real understanding of the only successful Anarchist revolution ever. This revolution seen in Catalonia and Aragon is the blueprint for the only direction possible for freedom, autonomy, direct democracy through horizontal collectivisation to evolve creativity, production in all fields, and an identity based on respect for human values and peace. It happened but failed because of Communist/ Fascist and liberal imperialism where the fear of getting rid of capitalism could not be tolerated, while the concept of the State not being necessary was viewed as anathema. The results of this tired dysfuntional end game has to be put with the rest of the sewage as a reminder that our history is one of conflict, greed, exploitation and diseased minds – criminal psychopathy with nowhere to hide.

    • Eric man, https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a43870a759d25a79b7a0813d1d6c1067b44b0e54151c4a5f0eb207bb1dee0aa0.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/658097792c665c1a280d397f428d2eab3bc77dac9b3230c0bd69fdd5716a9b6b.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e5c380efff445c6789beaf9f8b7e8ce172fb28a006d71dc9f2ec36f059c673b7.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9af58cb60427e71273b933b50ec84dadb80f86da2896950994fd6ba92e8fd0bb.jpg don’t blame humanity for being pushed into a corner by a few bad apples… the 1st banks were created long ago and many millennia before there were long periods of humanity existing in peace….
      nowaydays this wisdom keeps some from making the mistakes you talk about and develop capabilities to think beyond “the corner we are in” and create totaly new possibilities for humanities progression into another state of consciousness… This goes slow but then again, plants do the same and plan their development years in advance… so why should humanity rush all of a sudden ? cause you want to witness the transformation ? You are in the middle of the transformation-process, but your body only spans a century at bests so cheer up, enjoy life and think like a plant !!!

      an insurrectionary process can only be an explosion of negativity against everything that dominates and exploits us but also against everything that produces us as we are…

      • Yes of course you have an important point but this does not negate the fact that the systems in place are destroying the potential for a harmony with nature. This blue print was seen in Spain in the 30s. In order to evolve our consciousness this pattern of facts should be used to provide a tried and trusted method to change from being destructive to making provision for a future evolution based on real democracy.
        There is no need to blame humanity, as you state that I do, as that is the treadmill of the political world. A revolution of human endeavour as found in the past, and used with the best science and technology is the only way,and although in its infancy is making efforts as we breath. This is not an explosion but an evolution of consciousness of a positive step reading the compass with the map.
        Study what the CNT did in Spain and just maybe you too can find the energy.

        • Okay, i understand your POV better now.
          I thought you wrote your comment with a kind of defeated sadness but I recognise the true revolutionary in your reply 🙂
          I tried reading the wikipedia page on CNT but it is a very long page , so I’ll hope to do that soon (bookmarked it).

          I stated that the quote I used prevents some people from exploding and forces them to find other way to facilitate positive change.
          I guess you do have the map, the compass and so a sense of which direction we all should go.

          I pretend that my part is telling people that there are different ways to cope with or even change today’s political TOP(few ppl) DOWN(many ppl) policy which regulates that more & more ppl go down and stay below which isn’t fair because there might always be someone dumber or smarter than you, we are all equal and deserve to be treated as such.

          I do agree that our current phase is an evolution of consciousness where each step in the 1000 mile journey takes us longer than a few seconds but ranges from months or years to take a single step forward so it’s humanity that has to have patience.
          I do not pretend to be aware of where the compass points today , I let people make up their own mind by offering them freedom of thought.
          And as such I’d like (to keep) that freedom myself too.

          Thank you for your reply Eric
          Ni Dios
          Ni el maestro,
          La anarquía prevalecerá

          • Thanks for that Alain and enjoy research about the CNT there is loads of info plus film archive on Youtube. Be well.

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