A note to a friend
I am rather hoping that anyone reading this article does not share the views contained within, at least at the outset. If they do, then perhaps they might be persuaded to take a different, and perhaps more challenging, view of how society could be organised. So, with this in mind, whether you are inclined to vote Conservative, SNP, Labour, Green, Liberal or indeed any party that believes that capitalism can be made to work in the interests of people and society, then I wish to share my thoughts with you as a friend, a fellow human being and someone who, if we met by chance, would chat about our families, interests and worries in much the same manner as most friends do.
Friends, at least close friends, tend to share problems – the concern I feel at the moment (and it is increasing year on year) is that I am beginning to lose hope for humanity and society in general. It is rather a ‘dangerous’ state of mind to share with others as they tend to immediately categorise you as a depressive or ‘miserable’ or the new media moniker ‘doomer’ and, to be frank, they probably feel uncomfortable in your company – and who can blame them? Often, and this phrase is conveniently trotted out, they say ‘you’ve got to have hope or what’s the point of living?’. Well, I absolutely love life, but that’s just the point – right now, I feel I am living a life of sorts but being denied the life that I, and I should say every other person in the world, including you, should be living. By most standards my life (or existence) is comfortable enough so perhaps you might think I should be thankful for what I have, but thankful to whom? Society in the past (at least since agrarian times) has allowed those in power – I guess by dint of wealth, armies and the power of religious doctrines – to gain control over the majority of people. The form of society has, to some extent, changed, but this still holds true: in fact, now far fewer powerful and wealthy individuals control the entire world society. Incidentally, and I felt this was a good time to mention this, those that are ‘controlled’ and who are forced by dint of circumstance to obey society’s rules are referred to as ‘workers’ a bit like an insect colony and clearly indicating that another (much smaller) group of people are not ‘workers’ – why should that be? Why do not all human beings cooperate for the general well-being of society as a whole? Yes, work will have to be done obviously, but people could be doctors, artists or scientists as well as other useful pursuits, but they would be called ‘people’, not ‘workers’.
So why am I feeling a loss of hope? Well, and I hope this doesn’t make me sound too arrogant, but I genuinely believe I know the answer (and I should point out that I am not for one minute claiming that this was my idea) – in fact, there are others that share these ideas for a solution but, as I mentioned, I want to share them with you and not them. But, being confident that you have the answer doesn’t mean that others will agree with you – on the contrary, when I have discussed these ideas, even with people close to me, they can get very agitated even aggressive at times. To be fair, very few people are comfortable with change and when one suggests that the awful things that are hardwired into current society (or to be specific capitalism) could become a thing of the past, they give you a look, either of pity or they immediately spring to defend our current way of living, because not to do so means discarding a lifetime of conditioned thought, whether through schooling, media or by indoctrination through the workplace and clearly they are uncomfortable with this prospect.
Another reaction – when the person says ‘Oh, that’s utopia or just pie in the sky’ is quite odd really, particularly when, on occasion, the very same person will agree that warfare, starvation and homelessness (to name just a few of capitalism ’s ills) are dreadful, but still vigorously defend the very system that spawns such abominations. In fact, in the most recent copy of Resurgence, Jonathan Porritt stated that for society to change entirely (ie a new world order) was, to quote, ‘Cloud cuckoo land’. Well, for what it’s worth, my opinion is that to think that capitalism can be made to work is cloud cuckoo land on steroids.
Before sharing my solution with you – and I use the term somewhat guardedly as the longer the car- crash that is capitalism goes on, the more difficult it will be to set a form of recovery in motion – I need to open up a little. I mentioned earlier my feelings of hopelessness and despair: I have thought about this in considerable depth and, I have to be honest, it comes down to a complete inability to understand why so many people, the vast majority actually, believe that our current system can be reformed, altered, tinkered with or somehow adjusted and thereby be made to work in the interests of humanity, the environment and the other species with which we share the planet. To me, the problem always demands the same answer – get rid of capitalism. So why do we not dispose of it?
Well, if there is one amazing thing about capitalism, it is its astonishing ability to ‘self-reinforce’ or to put it another way, to brainwash people into thinking that it is the only game in town. It is, in my opinion, a system that defies logic in as much as it is killing the very people who, with absolute enthusiasm, support and nourish it.
Please allow me to share some examples of things that send me head into my hands and question my sanity …
In July, BBC news reported that America’s Joe Biden flew to Saudia Arabia to persuade Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to produce more oil. This news item followed an extreme and ‘unprecedented’ weather warning which, with temperatures expected to exceed 40˚C in the UK, will lead to many deaths as people are unable to cope with the heat. Scientists tell us (and have been doing so for years) it is a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels. I can honestly say that not a day goes by when the BBC news does not contain an item which, in any sane society, would give rise to immediate and serious concern and trigger action to address the consequences (often major climate-related issues), and that is not then followed by some item of trivia such as a ‘celebrity’ divorce case for example; both are given equal weight and often the ‘divorce case’ more. This was exactly what happened on the Today programme on July 12, when Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency stated on air that ‘the biodiversity crisis joins the climate crisis as an existential threat to our survival …’. This was followed by coverage of back-stabbing Tory tales as the candidates began the fiasco of bad-mouthing their opponents in the race for leadership of the party, none of whom has made any commitment to addressing the climate or any other existential threat. Incidentally, the biodiversity issue was not mentioned again that day and I could not find it on the BBC website – obviously not that important.
The subject of mental health has, however, over the last few years, occupied regular coverage in the media. As someone in my mid-sixties, I don’t remember this at all in the past – one would hear about people suffering with mental illness, but certainly not at the level it seems to be happening now. The young seem to be particularly badly affected, and who can blame them? I have to be honest here and admit to really struggling with this myself, to the extent that on occasions sleep becomes a welcome escape from the world and the idea of waking up becomes less and less appealing. Some have suggested that I might be suffering from depression; I am utterly convinced that this is not the case, although I do feel despair, anger and an absolute feeling of helplessness at having to bear witness to the horrific destruction of our very means of survival as a species that is being wrought day in, day out when, so easily, it could all be changed; it doesn’t even need a violent revolution – just a simple understanding and belief by the majority of the world’s population that capitalism needs to be ended. But it seems my feelings of being alone, apart from a very small number of other people who share these views, continue to feed the sense that perhaps I have been unfortunate enough to have been born into a species incapable of organising itself in a manner that does not put profit and the power of a tiny group before its own well-being – let alone that of the environment.
Maybe I’m being over-sensitive, maybe I should share that sense of confidence and optimism voiced by some that somehow it will all be fine – but I don’t, even leaving aside the awful spectre of climate breakdown now playing out before our very eyes alongside whether someone should have had a party or not. Should a society be comfortable with homelessness, extreme poverty or the plundering of the Earth’s resources in the pursuit of profit? Indeed, can any society call itself ‘civilised’ if it needs charitable organisations set up to address these issues? Most of us, I imagine, feel that subtle sense of personal guilt, usually reinforced by the sad and plaintive tone of voice employed by the ‘celebrity’, when asked on the Radio 4 Appeal to give a fiver for some poor child to help give it education/medicine/water/clothes – it’s not dissimilar to our religious leaders (who are also given a platform on the BBC) whose ‘Thought for the day’ usually points out that ‘we’ are responsible (personally that is) for various destructive ills, and that by believing in the supernatural these ills will miraculously disappear. There’s never a mention of what is actually causing all these awful things to happen, and thus, once more, to the listening public it becomes the ‘norm’ and ‘human nature’.
I realise that by sharing these thoughts, unlike in a conversation, a reply cannot be given. I apologise for that and in all honesty, I want someone to give me a reason to have hope when all the evidence I see around me incontrovertibly confirms anything but a hopeful outlook. I expect you are thinking ‘but what about all the people who are doing good things?’ or ‘change has to come slowly and we can only do what we can in our own small way’ – when I hear these sentiments again and again (and I have for the last 50 years), I do wonder why I bother trying to suggest that a new world order could be created almost immediately; a society where there are no leaders, no money and where all produce, whether food, clothes, houses, medicine, infrastructure, furniture and all other things produced by human effort are made freely available to those that need them, and are of a standard that will last and be of the best that the designer and maker can produce, and as a result be proud of. Just imagine a society when money, an ‘economy’, profit and everlasting ‘growth’ were things of the past – can you imagine this? If profit was no longer a motive (or to be more accurate an essential force) driving the creative species that is our human race then, we could, with absolute certainty, make these things history which, in time, we as caring people would shudder to think ever existed (see below).
There would no longer be ‘countries’ to fight over, or more specifically the wealth or trade routes contained within their borders. Instead, there would be different regions where people chose to live, happy with their links to the land and proud of the knowledge and skills particular to that place. Neither would they or anyone else be forced into killing their fellow humans in the interest of a money class or ‘for their country’.
Slavery (yes, it does still exist)
Who would feel the need to force someone to travel miles to work for some criminal employer if ‘employment’ ceased to exist? All of us would work by sharing more menial work with other personal skills that we felt best able to do to contribute to the well-being of society as a whole.
Ask yourself why people are hungry now in this society. Is there enough food to feed all people – yes. So why do they starve then? The simple two answers are:
- Farmers do not grow food for people to eat. Before you get defensive here, I remember as a child seeing reports of heaps of cauliflowers at the side of fields being covered with kerosene to make them inedible. There had been a glut and so they had been dumped as they could not be sold at a profit, and so people had started helping themselves. Remember, profit comes before hungry people. There have been countless similar occurrences since – pigs recently.
- Starving people can’t afford food. If food was produced for people to eat, no one need go without. It would be wonderful if farmers grew food for people to eat but they don’t, they grow food for profit – even the organic vegetables at the ‘farmer’s markets’.
Homes would cease to be investments or stand empty next to people begging on the streets. There would be no need for poorly designed houses crammed cheek by jowl to make the most profit out of a small, often unsuitable space and no need to fell beautiful trees to make room for the last ‘executive’ house. Would everyone want a palace? Well, would you? Would you not feel a little odd having a place with 20 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms and 4 kitchens? Would such a ‘house’ be better suited for those who desire a more communal life? Perhaps artists, or others with a shared interest. Anyway, think of all the housework you would have to do. After all, servants would also be a thing of the past.
Species decline and climate breakdown
It is true that ridding society of the dreadful legacies of capitalism and the profit motive would, in some cases, be impossible. Extinct creatures cannot be brought back, rainforests or glaciers cannot be replaced, but one could reasonably hope for some sort of recovery; there would no longer be the need to put profit before the environment (which happens now). No more would the ‘economy’ take preference over acres and acres of ancient woodland to shave a few minutes off a train journey and to provide jobs. Goods would be made to last and not to fail and thus massively reduce waste – possibly entirely.
It is unlikely that in any form of society anti-social behaviour would cease to exist entirely, but I would suggest that the vast proportion of ‘criminal acts’ involve property or the taking of someone’s money in one form or another, eg scamming, people trafficking, burglary, fraud, poaching would cease. In a society where goods were made freely available for use, how could one steal?
Need I say more? If there was no money there would be no poverty. The list could go on. There are so many parts of our current manner of organising society that are dreadful, whilst at the same time totally unnecessary. Humans do not have to live this way. Can we change? If the majority of people, which is how things are right now, believe that an ‘economy’, profit and the money system is the only way and can be reformed, and thus benefit all humanity, then please tell me how. No past reforms have worked – everything is getting worse, not better. Should we, or can we, just let an abstract idea continue to play out before our eyes while we sit and witness the destruction of beauty and the last vestiges of what makes our planet such a wonderful place? Surely we are more than that. Surely we are now at a time when we can truly cooperate with each other – all people – and share with absolute equality the wonder and wealth of the world. Are we really not able to do this? Many people have said that it will take an apocalypse to bring about world change. That does seem an awful thing to contemplate – countries on fire, trees dying in their millions, people fleeing countries desperate to find safety, people dying in their thousands of starvation, vast areas of the world becoming uninhabitable and children and civilians being blown limb from limb as their fellow human beings unleash unimaginable horrors with weapons of war. Yes, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that … Well, I did say I had the answer, arrogant maybe, but it’s quite simple really … you. And if that sounds accusatory, I apologise, it isn’t; it’s just that I can’t change society on my own.