Writer. A Caffeine dependent life-form. Original Hopeful Rational Inquisitive IngeniousPhotographer Sailor Philosopher Happy. Serial Chips and Salsa Eater.Curious and ambitious. In-between sofa cushions.
Artificial intelligence has developed fast. It’s everywhere from Siri too Alexa. It’s even in our Android recommendations.
Robots and bionic technologies that improve or turn out to be a portion of humans raise many prickly legal and ethical questions. They will be programmed by humans to carry out tasks that many people can only dream of doing.
For example if a brain-computer interface is used to communicate for someone in a vegetative state, are these messages legally binding?
If a robotic body part (made for humans) is implicated in a murder, who is at fault? If a human with a prosthesis is still subject to the ordinary laws of human governance, should machines be entitled to the same legal rights and punishments, or does the very fact that their autonomy is at the discretion of human designers thwart the question of independent rights altogether?
Drawing up any kind of regulatory framework is a tricky issue, and not simply because policy-makers are faced with a haze of perpetual obfuscation – the kind of questions that tend only to inspire further questions, rather than conclusive answers – but because they find themselves entrusted with the punishing responsibility of preserving ethical norms without hampering the potential for technological innovation. Philosophy students should consider the advance of artificial intelligence in light of ‘existential risk’ – a department in Cambridge, the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, was set up for the explicit purpose of studying the threat of risks which have the capacity to destroy mankind.
“If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be,” Musk recently tweeted. He claimed it was worser than North Korea.
Musk agrees: “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not — they were harmful to a set of individuals within society, of course, but they were not harmful to society as a whole.”
Google has been experimenting with self-driving cars. But what if a self-driving car is about to crash and it has to make a mathematical decision between saving the driver and crashing into a crowd, or avoiding a crowd and crashing the car with the driver in it?
“I love that smell of the emissions!” –Sarah Palin, 2011
When we talk about ecology and the condition of the planet, we must understand that it is all in the confines of the power structure of today. The planet is looked upon as a source of resource and something conquerable by humanity. Those who place too much importance on the life and wellbeing of the planet are considered backward or misguided. Societies that placed sufficient importance on the health of the planet as essential to their own survival have been called aboriginal, and this is really just a way of saying ‘savages.’ As humans in the modern age, we have all been taught that the planet is lower on the scale than we are, that it exists simply to serve us. We mold it to serve us in whatever way that we see fit. It is a hierarchical system that exists where natural environments exist to serve humanity for whatever it may desire for it to become. The very first revolutionary act is to understand and grasp the fact that this is not the case.
Exploitation of the planet, in fact, is just another form of the exploitation that is continuous in our modern society. Classism, sexism, racism, nationalism, and xenophobia are all instruments in this same system. Right now, many crises are being piled up on top of one another. Social crisis, environmental crisis, international crisis, the immigration crisis, terrorism crisis, and what is important to understand is that these all come from the same source. The economic order that the world currently lives by one within which the drive for profits overrides everything else like never before.
The current ecological crisis that the world faces, known as ‘Global Warming’, is directly linked to the way that our global economy functions.
The health of the planet and free-market fundamentalism are two concepts that run in contrast to one another. Both cannot succeed at the same time, one has to win and the other, lose. As of now, it is the market fundamentalism that is winning. State power is now subservient to the power of multinational corporations, and this means that even state laws don’t have the authority to enforce environmental legislation. In 1997, the Ethyl oil corporation filed a lawsuit against the government of Canada because Canadian environmental law violated their right, under NAFTA, to extract oil. Ethyl used a specific chemical, known as MMT, in the production of their gasoline that was proven to have negative effects on humans exposed to it. (NAFTA and Environmental Law. 1997.) The neoliberal economic system has given rise to weak states that simply exist to protect the flows of capital between businesses. One of the major holes in market universalization is that incentive for protection of the environment hardly exists.
“Global warming” and “climate change” have become shorthand terms that are used to describe the ecologic catastrophe now taking place. The problems with such terms are that they don’t grasp the danger and the threat posed by continuing the current track. Terms such as planet destruction or environmental plunder. But the critical question that needs to be asked is when we know so much about the environmental damage being done and what is causing it, why is it carrying on at such a tremendous pace? The answer lies in the economic structure the world has now transitioned into.
Economy rises, Earth falls.
One of the biggest issues that are presented by the current ecological crisis is that these problems are not limited by borders. This is demonstrated when we look at China’s coastal cities and the amount of smog from there that is then blown over the island Hong Kong. The smog is coming from Guangdong Province in China, directly to the north of Hong Kong, the capital of China’s manufacturing. The amount of pollution in Hong Kong’s air that is blowing from China makes up between 60 and 70% deadly chemicals in the air. 2016 saw 1,600 premature deaths in the city linked directly to the air problems. (Where the Wind Blows: How China’s Dirty Air Becomes Hong Kong’s Problem. 2017) This is not just using the worst city as the example, in fact, Hong Kong’s air quality doesn’t even fall into the 15 cities with the worst air quality. (About 80% of all cities have worse air quality than what’s considered healthy — here are the 15 with the worst air pollution. 2016.) 13 of these cities fall in countries that have rapidly developing economies, China, India, and Saudi Arabia.
What the cities with the highest rates of pollution all have in common is that they are centers of either production or transportation hubs for the movement of manufactured goods. Let us first look at the Hebei Province of northern China, which contains 6 of China’s 10 cities with the worst air quality. (Hebei has 6 of 10 most polluted Chinese cities in 2016. 2017.) Baoding, the largest city in Hebei, is right in the middle of the epicenter of the crisis and sees some of the thickest smog around the country. Residents of the city report that they can literally taste the smog and that it has a metallic flavor to it. (Welcome to Baoding, China’s most polluted city. 2015.) Hebei houses the nation’s biggest coal deposits which play a large role in the emissions that are being generated, but also this region houses outdated boiler systems within homes that burn coal and result in increased emissions. To put this in real figures, the World Health Organization (WTO) issues what is called an Air Quality Index (AQI), and they have deemed anything above a 300 to be unfit for human consumption, and yet cities in Hebei regularly surpass a rating of 500. (Air pollution in northern Chinese city surpasses WHO guideline by 100 times. 2016.)
The mining and use of these fossil fuels are not simply resulting in a change to the climate and surrounding environment but is greatly hurting a population. How can a company expect its workers to be productive when they are suffering from the effects of what they are producing and using to heat their homes? What is clear from this is that the modern world’s current addiction to petroleum is having a devastating effect on both the environment but also the population. Yet there has been no viable alternative that has ever been able to compete with these oil giants.
The response of the capitalist world to the growing crisis has been a futile attempt to merge environmental protections into the market system. This is generally known as ‘green capitalism, and it is aimed at giving incentive to private companies reducing their carbon footprint by making it more profitable. The problem with this kind of thinking is that these forces want to achieve change without really changing anything. They want to achieve radical change in the relationship between humans and nature but aren’t willing to make the systematic changes needed for this to happen. While the heart is in the right place on these theories, what is clear is how futile they are. The most prominent of these policies is the carbon credits trading schemes. This is intended to keep levels of emission at a baseline for companies, a government issues an allowance for this baseline number, but if exceeded the baseline is passed additional carbon credits are easily available for purchase. Since the launch of this scheme throughout the EU in 2005, results haven’t produced the type of change that intended. The biggest problem here is that lobbyists keep influencing nations to raise the emission caps to the point where producers haven’t had to make cuts yet, and the permits now are so plentiful that no change in practices will have to implement for quite a long time. (The EU Emissions Trading System: Failing to Deliver. 2007.) As of 2013, the credits were being auctioned off to bidders who were willing to pay the most, with the money paid being used to invest in renewable energy. (Diversified Climate Action: The Top-Down Failure and the Rise of Emissions Trading. 2013.)
The trend of environmental consciousness has led to the rise of ‘Greenwashing’ and this is when a company attempts to draw in more customers by making claims of how it is environmentally friendly. This comes in the form of a product claiming that a soap bottle is made from recycled plastic, or a xerox machine that brags it’s made from recycled material and yet gives no information about the hazardous chemicals with which it prints. Another way in which we see this is with labels that read ‘chemical free’ or ‘eco-friendly’. In reality, nothing is chemical free. All living forms on the planet contain chemicals. A claim like ‘eco-friendly’ is so vague that it is impossible to be verified. There is no standard certification for such a claim. (The Six Sins of Greenwashing. 2007.)
In the case of Greenwashing, the practice is quite grim. Companies are using the idea of environmental conservation as a marketing ploy while continuing to pollute the earth. Nowhere have I found a bigger case of greenwashing than the oil giant, Chevron. A brief viewing of their website will offer you the option to read their self-declared ‘corporate responsibility’ reports. This will tell you about how they are committed to defending human rights, protecting natural resources, and responsibility removing their waste from oil wells. Then comes the tab about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and Chevron is absolutely dedicated to reducing their carbon footprint. They are so committed that they include almost zero solid numbers about their emission levels. Meanwhile, their plan for cutting future emissions by stopping random spurts from the wells. (Greenhouse Gas Management. 2015.) While Chevron does go about trying to cut emissions in their during the stages of production, and this should be accounted for, they neglect to mention they are producing the product that is the leading cause of emissions in the United States! (Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. 2015.) Chevron can claim that they are acting as part of the solution, but it is absolutely the case they are causing the problem.
In a perfect world, a capitalist market economy would be able to punish those who damaged the environment while rewarding those who advanced sustainable practices. This would then make it far more profitable to be environmentally friendly, but this is a total fantasy. Multinational corporations would only relocate their base of operations. Such a plan would only be feasible on an international level, and states have sacrificed much of their sovereignty en route to ensuring non-stop economic growth.
Neoliberalism: The Bottomless Pit of Consumption
Environmental destruction by no means started with the rise of neoliberalism, but it has increased the level of devastation. We can peg the start of the neoliberal system to between 1970 and 1980, the first rounds of deregulation can be found in the Jimmy Carter Presidency and then increased under Reagan. By the 1990s, the system was going global, and the consumerism that had been present in the western world was spreading to the third world. Within this period, as reported by the Center for Sustainable Systems at Michigan State University, between 1970 and 2010, the emissions of greenhouse gases annual average increased by 83%. (Greenhouse Gases. 2016.) The rise of worldwide consumerism has meant an increase in the use of fossil fuels, and now they account for 65% of emissions.
What is neoliberalism? It’s a government strategy in which market forces and private industry are the drivers of social advancements. State power is wielded to defend market mechanisms, and services once provided by the state are turned over to the private sector. Massive privatization is met with deregulation and a lowering of corporate taxes, and state expenditure is phased out. Nik Heynen lists the following traits as the definition of neoliberalism,
-regressive reforms of state taxation and rollbacks in redistributive spending;
– privatization of services formerly provided by and through the state;
-reinforcement and extension of private, exclusive, and individuated property rights;
– liberalization of state regulations specifically governing trade and investment across international borders, though in uneven and contradictory ways that reflect not only the ideology of free trade, but also the political interests negotiating often highly selective and confusing blends of liberalization and protectionism;
– emphasis on state austerity and fiscal retrenchment with an associated defunding or outright cancellation of a wide array of social services, but again, in contradictory ways that are often combined with entrenchment of so-called supply side spending, e.g. development projects, programs to support economic innovation and competitiveness, and of course military investments;
-workfare, and other incentive-based schemes aimed at disciplining workers and civil servants (and at least nominally at increasing productivity and efficiency), accompanied by deregulation and reregulation of labor markets;
– the restructuring of state regulatory apparatuses in ways that tend to enhance private and corporate authority over economic, environmental, and social action;
– offloading and decentralization involving both the rescaling of governance up and down from nation-states, as well as the recruitment of volunteer, civil society-based organizations to undertake many functions formerly provided by states.
Neoliberalism is the state model, but when it is present in the international, it creates a system commonly known as globalization. As John Quiggin describes the relationship between these two concepts in the following way, “in a globalized world economy, governments have no alternative but to adopt neoliberal economic policies of privatization, deregulation and reductions in public expenditure.” (Interpreting Globalization. 2005.) What this means is that economic sovereignty that nation states once enjoyed has become a thing of the past, and borders have no effect on the flow capital. States are simply in place to keep business flowing.
Neoliberalism looks to privatize, and thus bring market value, to as much as possible. This has extended to natural resources and basic necessities for sustaining life such as water. The privatization of water is very dangerous policy to enact because it changes the object from providing water to all citizens to providing profits for stockholders. What this means is that people no longer have a basic right to live when even the most basic needs can only be met by paying a price. Privatization is sold to the public as a way to boost quality and lower costs through the competition on the free market, but when dealing with a resource such as water, competition is hard to come by. There aren’t very many massive water sources for sale for others to compete in this market. When it comes to a choice between improving quality or cutting service to raise profits, it is the profits that win out.
With the cutbacks in social spending, investment in infrastructure has to come from private entities, and the more environmentally friendly infrastructure is more expensive than the basic roads and bridges, yet offers no profit incentive for private investors to chose this over the basic infrastructure. On this point, the forces of big capital are right. There is a need to change and improve these green technologies to make them not only better for the earth but to also create a price incentive. Infrastructure such as wind farms may cut down on pollution, however, they are far from the end all final solution for clean energy. Wind farms, collectives of turbines in a small area have also contributed to climate destruction and soil degradation. This is nowhere as prevalent as in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Oaxaca is unique in its location in that the lay of the land allows for the trade winds stream to blow through the region. Right above the Panama Canal, at the very bottom of Mexico sits this isthmus of land known as Oaxaca. This has caused many private energy companies to flock here to get into the subsidized clean energy game. Some of the world’s largest wind farms have been constructed here on what was once used as farm lands. These for profit energy companies have left the local population in the dark, literally. Many of the region’s residents are living without any electricity. The energy that is being produced by these wind farms, in fact, are not even connected to Mexico’s energy grid. (WIND DEVELOPMENT OF OAXACA, MEXICO’S ISTHMUS OF TEHUANTEPEC: ENERGY EFFICIENT OR HUMAN RIGHTS DEFICIENT? 2010.) this is what neoliberalism looks like when it meets environmentalism. It exploits the population and indigenous people who were located in this region for hundreds of years. This may be saving a few emissions from the atmosphere, but it is still existing in this capitalist mode of exploitation for power.
One of the justifications for the winds of Oaxaca was that this projects would bring about increased wealth through more job opportunities for the local population. While this is true, the jobs that were meant were not the high paying engineering jobs but jobs that would serve those professionals in their relocation. Grocery markets, shopping malls, fast food, and chain restaurants would come to the region to serve the well to do engineers coming to help construct the turbines and perform maintenance. (Aeolian Politics. 2015.) While Mexico’s intentions were good, to limit the emissions they were producing, what happened was that the energy companies saw the profit incentive of this region and used the state’s excuse to damage the community.
Within this system, how can a state protect the environment when it has no authority over the corporations who operate within their borders. As pointed out with the example of Ethyl in Canada, corporate rights are of the highest priority now. No longer the safety of the people and the environment in which they live.
State power is now in the business of assisting corporations to succeed and provide the best environment for investment. The constant growth that the world currently thrives upon just isn’t sustainable in the long run. Right now what we have seen in the past decade is many environmental groups begin to join forces with many businesses that claim to be on the side of climate revival. The opposite is also very prevalent, dropping out of society and running off to live in a secluded communal space in some far off part of the country. This is so removed from the mainstream that you are, for all intents and purposes, no longer a factor. It is a sign of submission that social-ecological is not possible. The only true solution is between these two extremes, anti the current order while standing firmly within society.
Reclaiming the Struggle
One of the biggest problems that have hampered the ecological movement is that it has never been able to unify and assert itself into a specific role. It is plagued by internal splintering and this made it unable to produce a single message and action plan. All agree global warming is a massive issue that needs serious addressing and soon, but what the action plan should be, well… that’s another story. The way to unify is to understand that the current crisis is being fueled by the new economic order where the nation states and communities are subservient to the corporations.
In the past years, a new trend of Marxism has emerged under the name of Post-Marxism. The problem with this is that it largely throws out the basic principles, and instead focuses on cultural theory within the current world. It’s a line of thought that accepts that socialism is dead, yet is not ready to give a funeral. It wants to hold on to some aspects while saying the system is dead. For the overall program, it, as an ideology, doesn’t trust the left in power because it could lead to totalitarianism. Further, it accepts market capitalism as a system that will produce more abundance and a better quality of life than a planned economy. (A Marxist critique of post-Marxists. 1997.) Now, this is a defeatist ideology, if there has been one. One text that falls under this category is Jean Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, and it’s a text I rather enjoy. Baudrillard’s assessment is that the Gulf War, in the way that it played out on American television, never took place. The true conflict was much more savage, led by a bombing campaign that devastated the Iraqi population. Infrastructure was specifically targeted, cutting off supplies of clean water, hitting sewage lines, and bombing hospitals. All of this was going on, and yet what was being shown on CNN was US troops helping children, liberating Kuwait, and engaged in traditional combat against Iraqi forces. Thus Baudrillard contends that the Gulf War, as it happened and as it was portrayed, are actually two different events. The Gulf War, as it was shown on television, never happened. (The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. 1995.)
While this piece is very good, what it lacks is what Post-Marxism lacks in general, the understanding of class conflict and exploitation. Without this understanding, it cannot bring into focus what the reasons were behind the conflict and its portrayal. But what is the current influence of Marxism on the current world? If Post-Marxism is the only reminisce of the ideology that had such an effect on the 20th century, it is surely on its way out. Thankfully, that’s exactly the case, but Marxism is in an identity crisis. The experience of the 20th century has left many Marxists afraid of their own shadow, meaning the fear of being in power is greater than the fear of being out of power. On this same track, a conscious disconnection with the past has taken place in an attempt to reinvent itself. But what it has tried to reinvent itself as is, from an economic standpoint at least, much closer to Keynesianism than any Marxist program. State intervention to fuel development and induce a rise in aggregate demand will increase social equality, but this is not Marxism.
As an ideology, it must confront the mistakes of the past, otherwise, it is bound to repeat them in the future. The massive destruction of human life that was caused by Mao and Stalin need to be looked at from both an ideological and statistical standpoint to understand the motive and what was the desired effect. To look at Stalin, briefly, and his policy referred to as the five year plan, which caused the most deaths that occurred during his reign, we see bad economic planning on a massive scale. But beyond that, there is also a neglect for the welfare of those trying to reach the desired amount of production. Human beings are treated simply as resources to complete a job rather than as the Communards struggling to bring the USSR to modern production levels. Stalin’s goal was modernization, going from a mainly agriculture based economy to an industrialized economy by whatever means necessary. Millions of people died, but ultimately, his task was achieved. Was it all worth it? The answer is simply no. Even worse, he was judging the nation’s development in along the development of capitalist lines, and this is thinking that needs to be broken away from.
During the 1930s and 1940s, millions of socialists and communists around the world learned of the Stalinist atrocities, and yet still decided to stay on board with the project, as a whole. Why is this? Because the era they were living in was filled with death and destruction, repression and obstruction. It was simply the times in Europe. As the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, who was a young Jew in the German communist party living in Berlin when Hitler came to power, has said, the Stalin atrocities wouldn’t have dissuaded him from being part of the movement, because the goal was creating the ‘glorious tomorrow’. I think that this is really inspirational and proves that there is so much more to socialism than the USSR and Stalinism, there is the possibility of full on human liberation. It is not right to give up on the ultimate goal because a few maniacs used this as scripture to legalize the killing of millions. They were only misguided revisionists.
The ideology of Marxism-Leninism, which later branched off into the personal variants known as Stalinism and Maoism, which was what became the ideal method of rule by ‘communist’ states of the 20th century, has been discredited and should be left to the ashbin of history. This system, with its top down style of ruling, may have claimed to represent the people, but in practice became a method of repressing the people. Instead of a dictatorship of the proletariat, it became simply a dictatorship throughout the whole of Soviet history. The history of the USSR leaves no legacy for socialists to be proud of today. It not only failed to bring about the equal society Marx had written so much about, but it also failed in producing a system that succeeded in providing basic needs and freedoms to its citizens. This system, and all of its client states, should be left to a book entitled ‘how to fail at socialism 101’ because never was this a movement that represented the people, but just those in power. An elite class was replaced by party members who received the same types of privileges. This was not a progressive movement but simply posed as one to excuse its dictatorships and cult of personality.
Beyond the social failures of the communist nations, the ecological catastrophe that is becoming such a phenomena in the public mind, was greatly contributed to by these countries. The goal of the communist bloc was to catch up to the production levels of the capitalist nations, as fast as possible. They didn’t bother with such limitations as environmental protections, and the results were catastrophic. As reported in the CATO journal, an institution fundamentally attached to the ideas of radically free market capitalism, undoubtedly used to discredit the socialist ideology, “It is evident that the ecological disasters of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are mind-boggling. Philip P. Micklin, a geography professor at Western Michigan University and a leading authority on the Aral Sea said, “I doubt if there has ever been an environmental problem of this magnitude” (Environmental Problems Under Socialism. 1992.) Further, this crisis was seen as a growing public health crisis even in the era of the Soviet Republics, as stated in a 1987 New York Times article, “The developing environmental crisis is causing governments all over Eastern Europe for the first time to consider scaling back local industries, like steel and chemicals, in certain areas in light of their damaging environmental effects and poor economic prospects.” (Industrialized Eastern Bloc Faces Pollution Crisis. 1987.) Such disasters were perpetrated by trying to compete with the capitalist nations, thus using their methods of development that is in complete contrast to co-existing with the natural state. It was humans versus ecology, rather than humans playing a role in the ecosystem as a whole.
The Brazilian scholar Michael Löwy is an individual who understands the need for a radical rethinking of the relationship between Marxism and the natural environment of the planet. Currently, it is capitalist forces that are doing the most destruction to the planet, and if Marxists really want to offer a radical alternative, then ecology and environmentalism need to be paramount to the movement. As Löwy explains in his book Ecosocialism, “It is true that during the first years after the October Revolution an ecological current was able to develop, and the Soviet authorities took certain limited environmental protection measures. But with the process of Stalinist bureaucratization, productivist methods both in industry and agriculture were imposed by totalitarian means while ecologists were marginalized or eliminated. The catastrophe of Chernobyl was the ultimate example of the disastrous consequences of this imitation of Western productive technologies.” (Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe. 2015.) the traditional capitalist means of production that were adopted by the USSR need to be transcended. Löwy, and his work, must be acknowledged as a cornerstone in these new lines of thought because not only does it give a philosophical link between the writings of Marx and ecology, but it also lays out solutions on how to achieve these ends. In opposition to the traditional top down communist state rule where the economy is centrally planned by the national government, this work advocates for a democratically planned economy where people would decide the economic decisions. Lowy doesn’t leave us with a vague, broadly described idea of a society. This work contains a living, breathing, 4-dimensional society, “Socialist planning must be grounded on a democratic and pluralist debate at all the levels where decisions are to be made.” (Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe. 2015.) Löwy’s insight cannot be overstated, especially because of how in depth his thinking is on the way the society would be organize and run. “representative democracy must be completed, and corrected, by direct democracy, where people directly choose—at the local, national, and later global level—between major options. Should public transportation be free? Should the owners of private cars pay special taxes to subsidize public transportation? Should solar energy be subsidized, in order to compete with fossil energy? Should the work week be reduced to thirty or twenty hours, or fewer, even if this means reducing production? The democratic nature of planning is not incompatible with the existence of experts: their role is not to decide but to present their views—often different, if not opposite—to the democratic process of decision making.” (Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe. 2015.)
What are we then to make of the populist left in Europe? It is a mixed bag, and must be looked at on a case to case basis. The major problem they present is the populist nature, they are subject to the whims of popular opinion and looking only to the short term future. Our thinking must be long term for permanent solutions, and that is why such movements should be supported, but with reasonable skepticism. Syriza, Podemos, the Anti-Capitalistas in France, and the Anti-Austerity Alliance in Ireland all have the possibility of becoming revolutionary but are currently too influenced by popular opinion. Instead of being populist, now is the time for idealism. The party must act as a vanguard, and lead the people by showing an idealistic leadership. Populism can often lead to opportunism that manipulate the direction of the movement. A prime example of this could be the German Socialist workers party when Adolf Hitler became the leader. Under this maneuverable ideology of populism, the party was taken to simply represent the fascist views of its leader. It was directed by a single individual while everyone else simply fell in line. If we look at the Five Star Movement in Italy, we see a similar party of an individual where everyone else is lining up behind the leader. This is not to say, by any means, that Beppe Grillo, the five star movement’s leader, is a Hitler-esque figure. He’s not. Only that the party is simply the party of Grillo. Similar to the Republican Party’s top members in the United States, such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, shifting the Trump agenda on many issues. Populism develops into the party of the individual, and movements have to be based on the people as a whole, where one individual isn’t special but one part of the larger movement.
How does socialism find its place in the current system, and germinate? This is one of the toughest questions we face in this era. The Brazilian Roberto Mangabeira Unger addresses this in his work The Left Alternative. He addresses this phenomenon that center-left has become occupied by elitist billionaires, and has alienated the working class base. Individuals such as George Soros have continuously preached this idea of globalization as kinder capitalism that produces more rights and more luxury consumption. But this system has done immense damage to the security and stability of working people in the first world. Unger talks about the need to reestablish the connection between the political left and the working class base, and bringing their interests together. While it is clear that Unger’s conclusion is wrong, he proposes to return to the system of social democracy and trying to make markets serve the people, what Unger does is address a fundamental flaw of the current mainstream left, a missing alternative. The center-left offers a version of what is offered by the right, but slightly toned down. Creating a new left means that we must be clearly driven and offer a radical alternative with specific ideas.
The time for armed revolutionary struggle has passed, such tactics can only work to discredit a movement. The level of inter connectivity in the world today means that the types of revolutions that have taken place in the past could have negative effects all over the world. The socialist revolution in the 21st century will be brought about through democratic means. These revolutionary gains won’t be made overnight, it is not that the communist party will win somewhere and lead a great transformation from the top. The change will have to be led from the bottom up, only through grassroots organization power forcing democratic leadership to listen to them. The idea of the glorious tomorrow that was so popular in the first half of the 20th century, where power was turned over to the communist party and utopia would follow needs to be dismissed. If there is such a thing a glorious tomorrow, it will not be won by putting all power into the hands of one leader. It will only be possible through mobilization of the people on a massive scale and democratic struggle. If we call it the glorious tomorrow, it is not something that we can all sit back and wait to come about through electing a single leader. It will be a harsh that must be struggled for on every level of national election processes.
Gains through democratic means are the way that the revolution will play out, and supporters will be gained when life is improved. This is how the people will be mobilized, when they see the quality of life of everyone rising and they see everyone being able to obtain a basic income that covers their needs. Such gains will show the people they are needed in politics to reap the rewards.
Philosophically, what should lend guidance to the movement on top of Marx and Engels, the radical democratic anarchists must be studied. Peter Kropotkin, Murray Bookchin, and works that came out of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War are the most important documents that champion this bottom up democracy. Another figure who has often been recklessly overlooked, even in communist and socialist circle, is Gracchus Babeuf. A figure from the French Revolution, after Robespierre but before Napoleon, he organized what was called the Conspiracy of Equals. The manifesto for this group was penned by Babeuf and advocates for radical equality and the collectivization of all private property. His contribution is immense when we understand that he was writing in 1796, Karl Marx wasn’t born until 1818. (Manifesto of the Equals. 1796.) Babeuf and his conspiracy was discovered shortly before his plans were set to go into action. He was sent to his death for trying to overthrow the government. Another event that should be examined is the Paris Commune of 1871. This is another example of a citizen self-managed society where the commons as a whole owned the means of production. It took the national army to destroy the commune, but from March to May 1971, it was completely worker operated. (A Short History of the Paris Commune. 1907.) What these three events all have in common, The Catalonian democracy, the Conspiracy of Equals, and the Paris Commune, they were all born out of unrest and conflict on a national scale. The people involved did not wait for the state to come and offer solutions, they organized themselves in a fully democratic fashion. Instead of looking to political figures on the national platform to make change, let us look at ourselves as political individuals who are essential to making real change.
This passivity is a plague that has been present through all democracies. Leaving the politics to the politicians, and seeing the only duty of a citizen as going to the polls to vote. In a way, this is another expression of the Stalinist idea where a people empower a leader to guide them into the ‘glorious tomorrow’. If we look at the case of Syriza and Greece, we see that victory celebrations were being held before they had even done anything. Then everyone was upset that they made a deal with the EU. The lesson from this experience is that just a leader isn’t enough to evoke real change. When the leader changes, but not the system, we see a symmetry through most policy. The most famous example of this is the experience in the United States between the Presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Real change doesn’t come from a leader at the top, it comes at the local level from individuals organizing democratic institutions. Ignore the top and organize the locals! That is where revolution begins!
No system is as revered and reviled as capitalism. Proponents celebrate the wealth capitalism brings to nations, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world by billions: “Between 1990 and 2010, their numbers fell from 43% to 21% – a reduction of almost 1 billion people.” Most of the credit for this reduction goes to free markets and capitalism, “for they enable economies to grow – and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution.”
When you look at these results, it is easy to see why proponents of capitalism believe it to be the most moral system. How can something that increases freedom, lifespan, and happiness by reducing global destitution be considered bad?
This noble intuition tends to change when anti-capitalist systems are in place and start racking up their own collateral damage. What is wrong with the people who wish to replace capitalism and free markets with central planning and micromanaging governments? It becomes increasingly hard to understand the reasoning and motivations of ‘the other side’ the more you look at the ‘bigger picture’ of graphs and numbers.
The downside of these bigger pictures is that details tend to be left out. The price of scale is detail, and vise-versa. The adage of the bigger picture is, ‘If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he can eat many days.’
Anti-capitalists’ hearts bleed for the people, too young, too old, too simple-minded or simply too beat-down by destitution to learn how to fish. They want to protect the people who suffer now, unwilling to sacrifice those relatively few people who are unable to adapt in the present for the wealth of faceless billions in the future. The dirty details, not the bigger picture, determine their moral understanding of systems and situations.
Or so I thought until I remembered that this noble intuition tends to change when anti-capitalist systems are in place and start racking up their own collateral damage. The same intellectuals who lament the injustice of capitalism defend Stalin and Mao. The intuition that the many shouldn’t have to suffer to benefit the few, can apparently be flipped into a Spockian ‘sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’, depending on the system doing the outweighing.
Individual rights, nonviolence, concerns for suffering in the present, all go out the window when the argument for the injustices changes from ‘he’s doing it for selfish reasons’ to ‘he’s doing it for the greater good.’ What on earth is going on here?
The wildly popular science website IFLScience.com published an article about new results in the research of psychopathy. In discussing the scientific article, the IFLScience-writer casually made the following remark: “When you think about it, capitalism is an ideal playground for ambitious psychopaths – climbing the social or career ladders without a thought to those pushed out of the way.”
Research into the professions (excluding inmates) where you’re most likely to find psychopaths puts CEOs at number 1 – outranking lawyers, police officers, public servants and the clergy. This seems to present a problem to the belief that capitalism and free markets are the most moral economic systems. For how is it possible that the economic system that brought us health, freedom, and happiness is also the perfect playground for psychopaths?
Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute and fierce defender of the morality of capitalism, phrased the anti-capitalist attitude as follows:
Businessmen sit in stoic silence while their pursuit of profits is denounced as selfish greed. Society tells businessmen to sacrifice, to serve others, to “give back” – counting on their acceptance of self-interest as a moral crime, with chronic guilt its penance.”
According to Brook, the fact that businessmen add to the economic growth of society implies that their selfish reasons for doing so are morally bonafide. The bigger picture is economic improvement. The actions of those acting within the system that brings about this improvement must, therefore, be moral.
A system can bring great wealth but that does not mean that people engage in it because they want to make the world a better place.
So why did anti-capitalists only acknowledge Bill Gates as a moral person when he started giving millions to charity, and not when he grew the economy and provided thousands of people with jobs and value through his company?
The difference in moral status between Bill Gates the businessman and Bill Gates the philanthropist is that people presume the primary intention of businessmen is making money, while the primary intention of the philanthropist is improving people’s lives, allegedly.
Only when the businessman turns philanthropist can the public be sure of his good intentions, and consequently good character, regardless of the abundance of good resulting from his business or the lack thereof from his philanthropic works.
I agree with Brook that this is a ridiculous situation, but I disagree with the conclusion that the moral superiority of capitalism translates to the moral superiority of capitalists simply by virtue of partaking in it.
Immoral Actors, Moral Actions
If we are to believe the data on psychopaths’ preferred professions, the claim that capitalism is a breeding ground for psychopaths might be closer to the truth than Brooks’ claim that there is no moral problem with ‘selfish greed.’
A system can bring great wealth to a great many people, and capitalism has irrefutably done this, but that does not mean that the people who engage in the system are engaging in it because they want to make the world a better place, and their short-term choices often reflect this.
The intended goal was profits, the foreseen consequences were unsafe sweatshops, economic growth, and higher standards of living.
For example, a company hiring kids in Bangladesh to produce cheap clothes for the western market does this to cut production costs and increase its profits. The reason they chose Bangladesh is that there are fewer worker’s rights, and wages are a fraction of what they are in Western countries.
It is certainly possible that the company hopes to improve the economy of Bangladesh by taking their business there, but it is a stretch to claim that the reason they moved production to Bangladesh is helping the local economy. The intended goal was bigger profits, the foreseen consequences were unsafe sweatshops, economic growth, and higher standards of living within a generation.
Depending on which of these consequences is more important to your moral sensibilities, capitalism is either predominantly moral or immoral, and capitalists are either mostly bad or mostly good.
The connection people make between the intention behind an action and the moral status of both actor and action is almost universal in discussions about morality.
Leave Personal Feelings Out of It
If we like someone, we are more inclined to agree with – or ignore – what he does, even if those things have little or nothing to do with each other. For instance, when always-smiling Obama deported 2.5 million immigrants, we heard the loud chirping of crickets from liberal audiences. Even though he deported more people than any previous president and more than all the presidents of the 20th century combined.
Conversely, if we dislike someone we are more likely to disagree with his actions, even if his actions have little to do with the reason why we dislike him. Take for instance, Trump. He announces his plans for deporting all 11 million illegal immigrants using his characteristic big mouth and boastful superlatives. Suddenly, everyone who kept silent when Obama was the deporter-in-chief finds their moral compass, all the while ignoring that Trump will be using the well-oiled deportation machine he inherited from his friendly predecessor to make good on his promises.
Self-interest is the driving force behind prosperity but that does not dissuade people from their negative intuitions about the driving principles of capitalism.
To see reality more clearly, it is important that we separate our personal feelings about a person from the actions that person performs. We don’t want to be the people who renounce capitalist violence but excuse communist violence. Neither do we want to pretend that capitalism is all fun, games, and iPhones for everyone.
We need to see reality for what it is and base our conclusions on our observations. Our heroes can commit evil actions and our enemies can create things of beauty and value. To quote a moral philosopher, “A pure heart cannot make a wrong act right; neither can an impure heart make a right act wrong.”
It is a mistake to ascribe the moral status and motivations of (some) actors within a system to the system itself. I can wholeheartedly say that capitalism is the superior economic and social system so far, based on results. I can also wholeheartedly say that capitalists can be, and often are, complete psychopaths.
Conversely, I can love and admire my socialist and communist friends because I believe them to have good hearts and genuine intentions. This doesn’t change the fact that I hold communism and socialism responsible, in part and in whole, for some of the most horrific events in human history and never want to see it implemented in another country, ever again.
A worrying consequence of the intuitive association between the intention of the actor and the action itself it that genuinely free markets, where people act in each other’s and their community’s best interest, are being viewed as universally anti-capitalist and anti-market.
Capitalism has established itself as a system that is meant for making yourself happy first, and other people second. The fact that self-interest is the driving force behind the world’s explosive prosperity does not dissuade people from their strong negative moral intuitions about the driving principles of capitalism.
A New Category
Young socially engaged people are forming a new category of human action, free-market anti-capitalism.
Markets, guilty by association and erroneous use by politicians and journalists, are in danger of being thrown out along with all other ‘capitalist’ concepts. We can see this in the reluctance of the new generation of laissez-faire entrepreneurs to describe themselves as capitalists, individualists, or free-marketeers.
Luckily, there are attempts to salvage free markets from the moral scrapheap. Going outside the known systems of the welfare state and crony capitalism, young socially engaged people are forming a new category of human action that can best be described as free-market anti-capitalism.
A free-market anti-capitalist acknowledges the free market’s power to create win-win situations, but also knows that capitalism as a system can make for lopsided win-win scenarios that sometimes more closely resemble win-lose scenarios. According to the writer and inventor of the term, Matt Ridley, the beliefs of the free-market anti-capitalist can be described as such:
Commerce, enterprise and markets are – to me – the very opposite of corporatism and even of “capitalism”, if by that word you mean capital-intensive organisations with monopolistic ambitions. Markets and innovation are the creative-destructive forces that undermine, challenge and reshape corporations and public bureaucracies on behalf of consumers. So big business is just as much the enemy as big government, and big business in hock to big government is sometimes the worst of all.”
This philosophy is reflected all over Europe where young people are setting up cooperations and creating ‘commons’.
My generation knows that voluntary human action is the basis of all prosperity, economic and social. This excludes the philosophy of central planning, but it also rejects the extremes of capitalism by creating systems that guarantee maximal reciprocity for all.
Good people doing good things. Maybe, in the future, it really is as simple as that.
David is a 19-year-old Canadian student currently attending the University of Guelph. He currently studies Public Management and economics with hopes of one day becoming an accomplished journalist. David enjoys reporting on global events and actively try to make a difference in the world.
This is a great question because throughout our childhood and adolescent years we’re always being told to “chase our dreams” but we’re never taught exactly how to do this, well, at least not in school.
There’s no specific blueprint for turning your passion into a career, but if I were to pinpoint a few things that are essential to anyone’s success, these would be it:
Build an online presence
It’s 2017 – if you don’t have even a small social media following it will be extremely difficult to build a personal brand, unless, say, you stumble across $1 million and can afford some pretty great marketing.
Start with identifying what it is you want your career to be based around – a niche. If you are a writer for example, what kind of writing will you do? What topics will you write about? The list goes on. Once you know where your passion in writing lies, create as many social media accounts as you can and centre them around that topic.
Note that the popularity of social networks is always changing and new networks are always emerging so it’s important to stay up-to-date with this stuff, but as of now, here’s my list for the most essential social networks anyone must be on if they want to build a personal brand (in no specific order)
Now it’s not easy for one person to maintain all these social media profiles on a daily basis, but try your best to post daily updates to as many networks as possible. It’s also imperative that you interact with people on these networks! Make friends, build connections, make it worthwhile. Who knows, you might meet some billionaire philanthropist on some sketchy sub reddit that just so happens to be particularly keen on endorsing your writing endeavours.
2.Create Value For People
Whatever your passion is, it needs to be worthwhile to people in order for them to buy into it. If your passion in writing is for say, poetry, you need to ask yourself how your poems can create value for those reading them.
You can write:
As long as people gain some form of knowledge or entertainment from your writing, there’s no use in pursuing a career in this writing because no one’s gonna buy it!
Another great way to create value is to teach people. Create eBooks, online courses, educational videos, etc. Offer some educational content for free, and charge them for the more advanced content. There are plenty of people online who want to learn how to become a better writer or painter, and if you can offer educational content to help them, you will have earned some money to help fund your career, but more importantly, you’ve made a positive impact on someone’s life, which is in my opinion, one of the best aspects about doing what you love.
3. Be Consistent
Once you have even a small platform to promote your writing, it is so so so so important that you stay consistent with whatever you’re writing about. Create a schedule based around the best times to post your type of content, and stick to that schedule.
For example, I write articles about international economics on my blog. I find that the most popular days to post are Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at around 9 a.m. and I always schedule my articles in advance so that my subscribers know they will have something to read at those specific time frames – this is essential to building a personal brand.
4. Be Patient
If there’s anything I’ve learned from successful entrepreneurs (and at the same time, arrogantly try to disregard) it’s that all great ideas take time, lots of time.
If you truly want to build a career out of something you love doing, you must be willing to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life only to see minimal results, and still have the perseverance to keep going. This motivation is what sets successful people apart from the average people; those who are daring enough to consistently pursue something they are passionate about are the ones deemed “crazy” by society, because they refuse to fit in with the social norm of working a regular ‘9–5’ job.
5. Make The Leap
Say you’ve done all the above. You’ve amassed a social media following of thousands (you need over 100,000 followers across several social media sites in order to monetize anything) you’ve created exceptional, helpful content for your subscribers, and you’ve been extremely consistent and patient, now what?
You make the leap.
You quit your full-time job and put all your effort into creating the business you’ve always dreamed of.
You get a loan from the bank and put it towards supplies and marketing, and then you work harder than you’ve ever worked in your entire life.
It won’t be easy, hell, it probably won’t even be fun at times, but you will actively be making a positive change in the world all while doing what you love; what more could anyone ask for?