The end of capitalism?

10/10/2014 § 6 Comments

I went to hear Naomi Klein speak on Monday at an event in London. She is the author of “No Logo” which I read 12 years ago. I found it a very sharp and articulate account of how large businesses are seeking to extend their sphere of influence in order to turn the world into products which can be sold for private gain. Her latest book is called “This changes everything”. As I understand it (I haven’t read the book yet) she makes an explicit link in the book between climate change (and other negative impacts of human behaviour on the planet) and capitalism, in particular the sort of neo-liberal capitalism that has predominated in Western countries since the days of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.too-much

I found her very articulate and passionate on Monday. As I understood it, one of her points was that this is an opportunity for the left-wing, those on the other side of the political spectrum from the neo-liberals, to get their way at last since only through left-wing measures involving lots of state spending will any plausible solution emerge. Time for capitalism to step back and socialism to step forward perhaps?

Much as I admire Naomi Klein, I cannot buy into this. I’m really bored of “isms” – I have seen communism (or at least the tail end of it, when I lived in Russia) and socialism and capitalism and they all seem to be about a group of powerful people, mainly middle-aged or elderly men, promoting their own pet solutions and then pushing them through against opposition. They all seem predicated on growth as the only solution to humanity’s predicament. I’m not at all convinced that there is any solution to humanity’s predicament – we deal with our predicament by living it, not by rushing towards some fantasy perfect future.

It’s time we started finding new language. I know I am for societies which allow and encourage initiative and creativity, and reward people who are willing to follow their hearts, their passion. I know I am not for societies which relentlessly seek to crush the human spirit on the wheel of progress and growth, societies that systematically make the rich richer and more powerful and make the poor and downtrodden pay for it. I know I am not for a society that seeks dominion over the Earth, but rather for one that seeks connection and joyful union with all life.

What sort of ism do we call that?



§ 6 Responses to The end of capitalism?

  • Well said, Patrick. Completely with you. My own work with people in the natural environment addresses how we might move beyond a worldview that puts us, humans, at the top of the tree taking it for granted that the earth is a resource for us. We think we have rights, but forget that responsibility that comes with any rights; and that’s the best case scenario in this hierarchical model.

    Until we can begin to move beyond two things – one, this deeply-engrained anthropocentrism to a worldview that is at least shifting towards recognition of our being only one part of the natural world, and embedded in a vast interconnected web; and, two, the fact that it’s impossible to have unlimited growth on a finite planet – until then, things, I believe, can only unfold as they have.

  • donsalmon says:

    One way of getting past “isms” is to recognize it’s not a structure, institution or political framework “out there” but rather, a way of seeing, or knowing (or not-knowing) – a filter that most of us in the modern world are looking through – thinking we’re seeing what’s actually there but only seeing dimly (as in a mirror, I think St. Paul said?).

    Iain McGilchrist has some very nice mirror cleansers:>) For a nice overview, see here:

    • Thanks Don. I hadn’t come across Iain McGilchrist’s work before. I read the page you directed me to and will now have to add his book to my reading list! There is a lot of mystery around the interaction of right brain/left brain and body that he is illuminating.

      • donsalmon says:

        Sure. Be aware there are a lot of misunderstandings of his work. Stephen Kosslyn, a harvard neuroscientist, totally misrepresents it, as does Owen Flanagan. A very simple guideline to keep in mind: McGilchrist is fully aware of the 1960s/70s pop psychology about boring reason = left brain and wonderful intuition/emotion = right brain.

        Both hemispheres are involved in reason and emotion, intellect and intuition.

        The key is attention: the left is more active when we are attending to the world as something objective, we are detached from it, it is “out there”. Our attention is on the details. The right is more active when we are immersed in our experience, our attention then, is on the whole. Both are absolutely necessary and valuable. However, McGilchrist suggests that the right mode – that of seeing the whole, should be primary, the left only secondary

        Remember when Thatcher said there is no such thing as society, there’s only the individual? And you know the Americans love Ayn Rand, who celebrates the selfishness of the lone individual, and hates the idea of “serving” the whole. This is left brain or left mode attention raised to a level of severe psychopathology.

        you don’t want extreme right mode, or you’ll get Northern California New Age drivel. But a balance of both – which is often seen in your postings – rather than a new ism – is what, I think, we need.

        A very very brief, simple summary of this is here:

        if you do look at McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary”, you can save a lot of time by skipping the first part of the book and reading the second half, the history. Or even better, if you want to get a very scary but I think brilliantly insightful view of our world, look at the last 2 chapters.

  • stevethorp says:

    I heard Naomi Klein on the radio on the morning of her talk (I was going to try to get there but spend the evening with my granddaughter Freya instead!). My sense was similar. Not just because of the ‘isms’ (I still believe that the collectivism that socialism (not communism) gave us in the modern era was a step forward) but because the debate simply set itself up as an ‘either-or’ argument. This was frustrating, because there were some interesting things being said and agreed in terms of how a more integral approach could come forward. The main agreement (and there were a lot in between the guff) was that the timescales are short – 15 years at the most to turn this around. Of course there are those who say its all over and so socialism and capitalist solutions are both useless!

    There’s a bit of the old leftie in me that wants to challenge your perspective on socialist men in suits – it certainly wasn’t the socialism that I wanted to be involved in – but, in practice, I think you’re probably largely right. There’s always been a Kleinian, global socialist perspective, however, that is less concerned with unions, committees and factionalism, and more aligned with green anti-racism, feminism and anti-corporate, anti-growth approaches. I think what she’d trying to do is re-align the radical community in this direction – so perhaps its best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater!


    • I suppose I am in the camp that believes we can’t turn this around – this phrase in itself makes me bridle, because it implies somehow that we are in control (whoever we is!) and that by going backwards we can return to some earlier happy existence. We have to go forward and I have no doubt that we collectively as humans, and many individuals, are going to face a lot of suffering and pain and the survival of anything like our current civilisation is by no means guaranteed. Yet I do have hope – that we will find a way through this that makes us wiser, and more collaborative and compassionate and connected (and joyful!).

      As for Naomi, I don’t want to come across as too critical, since I am still a huge fan and I am sure the book will make more people think a lot harder. And in making the link between capitalism and climate change I think she is making a really powerful statement – it is something that quite a few of us know but up to now has not been so loudly and articulately stated. I just couldn’t help pointing out where I see what she is saying as less than perfect 🙂

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