Letters.Contrary to "The Great Divide" (S/R 57) by Henry Robertson, the basic issue of "Human nature vs. cooperative democracy" has been fully answered by recent genetic and historic research: empathy, cooperation, community planning and caretaking are essential components of humankind's survival. Social Darwinism has been debunked as has the old shibboleths of humanity's innate selfishness, irrationality and laziness as reasons why participatory democracy and economic and civic grassroots decision-making can't work.
The article assumes we are faced with industrialism or de-industrialization, while it says nothing about alternatives. It does nothing to explain how we can solve problems caused by capitalism. It ignores that societies and human behavior have always changed in accordance with changing needs, changing tools, new expectations. We need not give up a healthy future because human nature is complex and imperfect. In fact, doing that subverts the natural gifts we actually are endowed with. Yet "The Great Divide" declares we have to accept the current economic systems' destructive, irrational motivation profit before every human or environmental consideration. Or we are doomed to a hellish future of dark, pre-industrial scarcity and want.
That's nonsense. We know the profit system--not human nature--needs waste, duplication, planned obsolescence, cheap labor, cheap energy, cheap materials. We know the system is built to protect that profit at any cost: conduct devastating wars, ignore the catastrophic consequences of unemployment, debt, disease, lost homes and lost futures. It places in government the best lackeys money can buy, controls access to public airwaves and media, education and information. It is a machine designed to chew up people and things and throw them away. Business as usual. Laws are rigged to protect its institutions.
Every reform is fought or twisted into a benefit or a protection, but never a solution. In fact, the system stops any research, innovation or technologic advance that interferes with its hegemony and relentless pursuit of greater exploitation--of people, of nations, of natural resources, of any and all things. We need to understand it is a system, man-made and therefore "man" can undo it. What we don't need are so-called progressives who can't separate our human ability to imagine, create and solve problems from an economic system that has become destructive to our well-being.
To balance the front-cover prominence of "The Great Divide," we need S/R to present new ideas that recognize the economic, systemic and interconnected cause of the environmental, cultural, moral and intellectual morass we face and go the next step, create a different model that fits our present needs. It's capitalism and not the fallibility of human nature that is at fault. We can cooperate, we can invent, we can learn and change. Capitalism used to need those skills; it no longer does.
So what can we do if we don't continue with this broken system? We can envision what we want and need. Build a different kind of society based on people and nature, not profit and mindless exploitation. Designed for participatory decision-making where we live as well as where we work, real democracy. It is indeed what the recent Occupy 99% movement is calling for. One model for that vision (www.PeopleForaNewSociety.org) was presented October 2011 at Occupy DC (see Teach-In videos at our Facebook page).
We need to set aside status-quo thinking and begin a new discussion: not about whether we are innately able to live and work together, discuss, plan and solve problems, all proven. Let's discuss what the next society we actually want and need might look like, how it might work. That hopeful vision for our future, a grassroots civic and economic democracy, can become the impetus and goal of a new, alternative, peaceful, transitional political process to change institutions, legal frameworks and values. We need to build a cohesive, focused and informed movement to get the political process to work for us. And we can.
Occupy has shown us two things: there is mass dissatisfaction with capitalism, and the internet and social networking has a power never before available to We The People, the majority, the 99%. What we do over the next months and years will decide much of what our future will be.
It's important to remember: History isn't over with capitalism. But it may be over if we don't move beyond it.
Jim West, People For A New Society
I entirely agree with Mr. West's last paragraph. That's my point--how do we move beyond destructive capitalism? My impression is that West wants to reform the present system democratically, not replace it. Can he envision a post-industrial (not merely post-capitalist) future or just the same old factory with a different name--the People--over the door?
I don't want to revert to the 19[th] century, let alone the 9[th]. But our species must live within its planetary means, and the signs of overshoot are everywhere. I didn't say we can't imagine and create a post-industrial world that incorporates the benefits of industry rather than a pre-industrial world with none of the benefits. But how do you do it on a grassroots, democratic scale? How much industry can you have without fossil fuels?
I wasn't trying to design a new society, but here are a couple of ideas. Restore the soil and create jobs with small farming. Use most of our remaining allowance of fossil fuels to build a renewable energy infrastructure for a comfortable but low-energy lifestyle.
I'm pessimistic (not deterministic) because even in the midst of depression Americans are too complacent to revolt against the system. The tyranny of concentrated economic power has made us abjectly dependent--and comfortable. Those who can't afford the baubles of excessive production are more likely to covet them than to seek a different way. Grassroots democracy--and real equality--can only be practiced at the small scale. Are we ready to return to that localized scale?
The cooperative side of human nature is in eternal conflict with the side of greed and domination. Historically greed and domination have won. Are we really ready to reverse that trend? Mr. West's letter, with its faith in the technology capitalism gave us, shows how hard it is to escape the mental and material traps capitalism has us in.