February 13, 2005
My elder daughter has sent me an extract of a post from a chat forum which I think is worthy of further consideration, not just by ourselves, but by every government, every captain of industry, and every would-be politician. In sending it to me my daughter has added the rider that she intends to respond to the poster on the chatboard, but can't, at the moment, think of what to say.
Having read it, I can see the dilemma, for there is so much in this that I am at a loss as to where to begin to comment! Reading it, and my daughter stresses that most of her friends feel exactly the same way on many of these issues, I am not surprised that so many young people have simply walked away from politics, from voting, and from what is on offer to them. Far too often the control freaks now running, seemingly, every Western government have so bound these youngsters up in "protective" legislation and ringfenced those with limitations placed on access to education, good jobs, and a range of other things, that it has stifled their ability to carve their own way in the world. It has stifled initiative and suppressed freedom of choice.
The big question they all ask, is where does humanity go from here? It is very certain that our politicians, our civil servants, and a goodly portion of my own generation would reply - nowehere but straight on exactly as we have done before! Yet, as the writer of the article I have pushed into the extended post below will tell you, none of that option is sustainable! We need to create a new way forward - something fresh, innovative, and far less restrictive - but, what?
I make no apology to the writer of the article I have reproduced here, I hope that he will take my doing so as an indication that I share his concern and feel it should be aired with a wider audience. Perhaps someone out there will have a positive response - and be able to start the ball rolling toward a solution!
This Post comes from a Chatboard called Maddoxmania. It was written by one of the "Administrators" who I am told is in his 20's and Canadian. It is worth a careful read and some serious thought!
"This is posted here, but makes reference to some posts in other sections.
I apologize in advance for having no jokes in this, but I’d like to get it on (electronic) paper none the less, because it takes up entirely too much of my thoughts during my waking hours. What bothers me, to make my point very quickly, is that there is no hope left. I’m going to post this as a counterpoint to the ‘feel good’ posts that some other members have posted here, most recently being a well written piece Ash posted. I’ve thought long and hard, and I fail to see what we have to be hopeful for.
As I see it the future, our future, was decided hundreds of years ago, and nobody seems bothered by this in the least. It’s like thought one day decided to take a back seat to discovery.
Every year we are confronted by the progress of the human species; material goods in unprecedented numbers, that satisfy almost our every need and whims. It’s easy to forget that under all the great accomplishments we make there is a very fragile and very flawed system supporting us.
The species would never survive without a system of organization, especially not at the numbers we’ve achieved. The system we use to organize our labour and industry is fundamental in our sustainability, and for the future development of our planet. Why is it then that we’ve stopped developing systems? Are we really fooled into thinking we’ve found the right one? Is market capitalism really the best we can do? It seems to me, and I’ve thought on it long and hard, that we’ve been pigeon holed into two or three competing systems, none of which are sustainable, or offer us any real hope.
Market capitalism is praised constantly for being logical, realistic, and successful, but what it fails to be is sustainable. If left to pure market capitalism we’d have been screwed long ago, so what we’ve done is installed temporary solutions to ease the burden the system creates, while still enjoying the great benefits. I’m not saying that there are not great benefits, such as material wealth and technology that would be unthinkable in another system. Capitalism, however, relies on growth to sustain itself. Without the ability to grow a market will die. If there is no chance to expand the wealth we have, then it won’t be re-invested. The problem with a system based on indefinite growth is that it is impossible to grow forever. All our activities consume some of our limited resources, and capitalist industry consumes a lot of it. The results are astounding in creating material wealth and products, but it has to end somewhere. Resources run out, there is a limit on how efficient and cheap you can make labour, there is an end to growth. When growth is done, then capitalism will be done. Existing wealth will be hoarded, millions will be left without. We can see the effects today all around us. The masses of unemployed, where there are no jobs to be found. Manufacturing is employing more automated systems, and more foreign slave labour than ever. The sea of unemployed will be such a burden that the system will never be able to maintain them. Add to this the sentiment within a capitalist society that a man should benefit from his labour and capital, and that charity should be left to the market, and you begin to see the huge humanitarian crisis that MUST happen. It seems all but inevitable that when the bottom drops on industry, those not in a position of relative power will have a choice to rebel or starve.
The solution to market capitalism was developed a long time ago as well. They were developed not so far apart. Communism, or socialism, took into account the struggle between sustainability, industry, and growth. With everyone sharing the wealth it would seem that a sustainable industry would develop, for everyone sakes. But this system was as flawed as capitalism…more so. Where capitalism allowed for democracy and power, socialism called for the abolition of law and government, saying that they were no longer needed in a society where the impetus for social ills (disparity of wealth primarily) was eliminated. The most glaring flaw of Socialism was that it’s impossible to institute in our species. Socialism works fine for ants and termites, but in an individualistic species it is impossible, and no amount of social engineering can make it work.
History has born out this point again and again. Another great flaw with socialism is that it is open to the abuse of a charismatic leader. When law is abolished, power will be gotten by individuals with the ability to lead and manipulate others. The authority of a charismatic leader is bound by no rules or restriction, as it is in a democracy where a constitution governs a leader’s actions. Like facism, communism is doomed to become a dictatorship, and is definitely not the solution to the problems we face. There is no hope in a socialist future.
So where do we turn for hope? Where are our philosophers coming up with new ideas? Theocracy, feudalism, etc… these are all directions that most of us would consider unthinkable. Where does humanity go? It seems to me that nobody is looking for this answer. They’ve chosen one of the two classic systems to fight for and ignored the problems in both of them. Or maybe there is no solution, no way to organize us that will bring us any hope down the line, and the best we can hope for is that the shit hits the fan for another future generation. This is scarce relief for those who believe in leaving a better place for their children. I fear there is no solution to the problem of sustainability, and I really fear that nobody is looking for that solution. The best of us are too caught up with either defending capitalism, or pushing socialism, and the loser will be the species. This may not have as much an effect on those of you who believe in God, as he is your source of hope, but for the rest of us: where do we look for the answer? Who is looking for the answer?"
Posted by The Gray Monk at February 13, 2005 10:40 AM
I hope we get some comments soon - everyone seems to be struggling to reply as much as I did when I first saw this post.
The only idea I could come up with was that we needed true democracy - the internet voting system which I saw on Guido Fawkes' blog may allay some of the frustration that people feel with our current system... but that doesn't solve the problem of sustainability that the author raised...
Posted by: groendraak at February 13, 2005 11:22 PM
Re-reading it, I wish I hadn't been so repetitive.
Posted by: Mike at February 14, 2005 04:18 AM
In replying to this post, I must say I do not accept I do not accept many of the premises the author makes; also the post to me relies upon the following:-
“As I see it the future, our future, was decided hundreds of years ago, and nobody seems bothered by this in the least. It’s like thought one day decided to take a back seat to discovery.”
I have never come across any evidence to support such a claim, who set out this “blueprint”? Where is it written down? When did it happen? It simply isn’t true; yes the present is a product of what has gone before, just as any point in time (past or future) is and will be a product of that which precedes it. The market capitalism of which the author speaks was never set down as a goal, it developed from circumstances arising and it continues to develop today, there was no set date for the transition from feudalism to capitalism, it just happened, there will have been jolts and boosts, but no switch over according to a pre-arranged plan.
The author goes some way to implicitly acknowledging this with:-
“If left to pure market capitalism we’d have been screwed long ago, so what we’ve done is installed temporary solutions to ease the burden the system creates”
However he fails to realise that once you’ve installed some temporary solutions you’ve changed the system, it is now something else, it is evolving. Marx would (I think) say that it is headed towards communism.
Moving on to some of the authors criticisms of capitalism, he says:-
“The problem with a system based on indefinite growth is that it is impossible to grow forever”. Aside from the fact that I don’t accept this premise, (there are plenty of un-harnessed resources available, so it probably can carry on forever); but until it stops growing it will carry on; the author continues with re-stating basically what Marx said on the changeover from capitalism to communism. The author contradicts himself/herself from earlier, by stating that communism is sustainable, but earlier says there is no sustainable system. Personally I don’t think communism even addresses sustainability, yes in theory you will only take what you need, but there is no concept of the thing you need running out or a rationing or something you need. Communism is based on the idea of there being so many commodities, they becomes valueless.
The author asks why our philosophers aren’t coming up with new ideas (for systems of government), but I think they mean political philosophers as opposed to philosophers. For me as I see things through history, whenever a system has been thought out and planned, and later implemented, it has always been accompanied by great loss of human life and totalitarianism. The closest a successful system has come from prior thought is the United States of America, but here the founding fathers had the sense to limit the government as far as possible as opposed to planning a new system for societal/governmental organisation. I think that trying to academically think about a perfect system is just a waste of time, not least because by the time it is known about and accepted (if it is to be so) you will have decided the future some hundreds of years before, the very thing the author is against. So overall I say thank goodness our political philosophers aren’t coming up with new ideas. The best and most successful forms of government/social organisation have always developed from one thing into another; they have high and low points and may never be ideal, but what on this Earth is perfect?
The author seems to want a sustainable system, and this sounds very nice in theory, aside from the practical issues such as to by whom and how sustainability decisions are made; for a system to be sustainable it has to be fixed and rigid and as such can never develop. If I am allowed a fixed portion of resources, for my needs, I cannot exceed that, even if I wish to use those extra resources to develop something new. What if I have a greater number of children than I’m allowed will the sustainable system come and kill some? If so, which ones? If it doesn’t then where will the resources to sustain them come from?
I agree with what you write in your second paragraph, about the stifling of initiative and freedom of choice, but I challenge anyone to find examples of legislation/policy that stifles initiative and or freedom of choice in Western society that does not have communist/socialist philosophy in its inception, there may be some, but I doubt it.
Clearly I disagree with the author, and yourself about the need for a “sustainable” system; I will not say that mankind will never need such a system, but I don’t think we’re even close to that point, and a sustainable system can never in my view be desirable, merely the lesser of two or more great evils. I agree with you about the need for people to regain self-determination in their lives, and as human history seems cyclical in its nature I think a point will come when it will be politically expedient to roll back lots of existing legislation
Posted by: fdm at February 14, 2005 03:18 PM
fdm: sustainability shouldn't preclude any flexibility. I don't think the author was suggesting that the communist ideal of everyone being given fixed resources was a route to sustainability either!
My reading of his post was perhaps coloured by the fact that I was employed to write for a financial news website around the time that the tech bubble burst... democracy and capitalism are our best systems yet, but we still haven't found a system that really works for everyone.
The tech bubble was a reminder that runaway growth isn't normal. Sure, you can argue that growth measured over a hundred years will still be positive, but who can wait a hundred years for their pension fund? As it is, pension funds have traditionally invested in low risk stocks and carefully calculated the long-term returns that they can promise you on retirement. If not even they can perform to the modest heights they forecast for themselves, something's up.
Unfortunately I don't foresee a time when British politicians will repeal lots of needless legislation: we're too disenfranchised to hold them to their "politically expedient" pre-election promises. I don't think US voters have that much power over their elected representatives either: the only thing US politicians are afraid of mentioning is tax increases.
Posted by: groendraak at February 15, 2005 01:27 AM
Thought provoking. I'm certainly going to have to read the original post and the replies there.
My immediate reactions are just brief ones. Granted, they aren't deep, but I just waded into it.
-He seems to have a vision of one possible future, the one where humanity stands about until the money runs out.
There are others.
-But I do understand his frustration with the idea of Growth as the overriding principle. Growth for the sake of growth is, after all, the ideology of a Cancer. And that can be disconcerting.
-Where the growth lies is the question for me.
Communism and Socialism postulate 2 classes: Haves and Have-nots [or Capitalists and Proletariats] while Free Market Democracy postulates at least 3 of them and spends its energies on- hopefully!- protecting and increasing the Middle one.
-If that form of Middle-class growth becomes generalized, *then* perhaps we enter the realm of this 'Do Nothing' possible future, which may be more readily discernible from the vantagepoint of a Canadian, I can't say.
What I mean by that is this: A satisfied Middle class isn't 'hungry' in the same way as a poorer group. There isn't as much driving need to innovate in order to prosper.
But thats also its overwhelmingly positive aspect: A satisfied Middle class provides stability for a national economy that can't be gotten in any other way.
Sure, its a trifle boring. But from the vantagepoint of a Congolese, who's to say? Maybe thats the Ideal future.
-WRT New Markets: Well, there's that Congolese gent, but also newer frontiers: The Oceans, space, even the now-shifted & re-purposing frontier of the Net.
Posted by: urthshu at February 15, 2005 03:05 AM
groendraak, the author spoke of a time when growth had stopped, in fact spoke of the inevitiablity of growth stopping. Under such circumstances I don't see how a "sustainable" system could be flexible.
Another problem is that the author does not define their definition of a sustainable system so it is possible that when I envisage their sustainable system I'm seeing something else.
If we remove the premise of infinate growth from any system then any finite resources will either have to be rationed or the number of claimants reduced. Without a governing system, this would happen "naturally" by disease, by conquest or by disaster, but with a strong governing system, it (the system) will have to make those decisions.
I don't believe it will ever be possible to find a system that works for everyone, and the best we can aim for is the system that interferes the least.
Posted by: fdm at February 15, 2005 04:21 PM