First Russell Brand scandalized the twittering classes by showing more than a tiny souscient of social consciousness. Then the Pope comes out swinging with a declaration of war on Capitalism. Now David Suzuki just dropped gloves on Environmentalism as a useless attempt to modify a system that will kill us regardless of the myriad attempts to curb its bad behaviour. What just happened? Seriously – what happened to the Thacherite mantra of the 1990s “There is No Alternative”? It seems to me like the neoliberal epithet just got flipped on itself. Capitalism’s end: there really is no alternative.
Now before my fellow travellers on the left start screaming “we’ve been saying this all along” let me point out to you folks that we are the lunatic fringe. The failure of the left in the Global North is not due to a failure of the critique of capitalism. We are very good at that. We might be too good. No, ours is a failure to attain the political-cultural kingdom. Ideological infighting, criticism of those not of the left-enough flavour or the wrong left-flavour have rendered our cultural capital – har har – utterly valuless.
The shocking thing is that movements with half-formed ideas or some discordant syncretic philosophy have done more to ignite a fire under the collective imagination of the West than an entire brace of leninists, trotskyists, labour activists or what have you stomping around in the academic graveyards of the world. You’ll note I’m singling out the Global North here. The South has been much better at not surrendering the idea that human dignity should trump economic expediency. But then the boot of human ugliness is still pretty visible. In the North we’ve build a starbucks around the boot and sell latte’s to hide the taste of shoeleather.
Now I’m going to take some serious flack here. There are going to be objections that really I’m being too general. Well yes I am being general because if I started naming names we’d be here all night. But I ask you: why does it take a Argentine Pope, who may or may not have been complicit in genocide, to stand up and say what most of us have been thinking for a long time? Why is it only resonating because a Pope said it? Why has David Susuki been forced to put his boot to the groin of the Environmental movement? Because we have failed to marry critique to relevance. The world is full of distracting baubles to be sure but in the end we made ourselves irrelevant.
I want a conversation with people who understand that whose critique is purest is irrelevant. I want people around me who understand that what is to be done is not a question of programme or progrom. No one is going to agree on that. I want a thousand variations on a theme. That theme is bringing capitalism to its natural, unavoidable, necessary end. If those visions include markets, I’m happy with that, providing those markets are subservient to social priorities. They can be a thousand flavours, providing their core ingredient is the same: dignity.
I’m finished talking at people who don’t want to see the world change. They’re dead to me. They’re as dead to me as the world is likely to be if we don’t change. We’re in the season of renewal. The old cycle around the sun is coming to a close. A new one begins. I think we should stop and reflect on what other bad habits need to be slain. Who else would we like to see step out into the light and say flat out that the system isn’t just broken, it is terminal. And then I want us to ask – who among us is brave enough to pull the plug?