Common Sense—Choosing Humane Values

I recently read an essay by Patrick Reinsborough titled "Decolonizing The Revolutionary Imagination: Values Crisis, the Politics of Reality, and Why There's Going to Be a Common-Sense Revolution in This Generation." It can be found at The essay was originally published in 2004.

The author is a member of the smartMeme Strategy and Training Project.

This essay jiggled a lot of ideas in me which I am noting here with some quotations.

". . . pathological values have shaped not only the global system but also our ability to imagine true change."

". . . our movements for justice, ecology, and democracy must deepen their message by more effectively articulating the values crisis underlying the corporate system. We must lay claim to life-affirming, common-sense values and expose one of the most blatant revolutionary truths of the modern era: The corporate-rule system is rooted in sacrificing human dignity and planetary health for elite profit, and it is out of alignment with human values."

". . . we must rise to the challenge of going beyond (rather than abandoning) single-issue politics."

". . . corporate power has begun to undermine the economic self-determination and political sovereignty of even the over-consumers of the global North . . ."

"The global system is mutating. Although it remains deeply rooted in its history of colonial genocide, corporate power grabs, and ecological devastation, the structure has changed dramatically over the past generation. The biggest shift has been the rise of the speculative economy. As the world financial sector has been deregulated, with many countries forced to drop limits on investment, there has been a dramatic transition in economic priorities from the production of real goods to a global casino economy based on high- risk, short-term speculation. . . . The most important aspect of this so-called 'financial revolution' is that the massive numbers represent growth in the speculative sector of the economy. Financial speculation has accelerated to the point that by the year 2000, for every $1 of international investment facilitating trade in real goods, $9 were being spent on short-term speculation."

". . . the neoliberal myth of growing prosperity. The reality is that none of the money circulating in the speculative economy feeds anyone, clothes anyone, nor does it provide anyone with meaningful jobs. Rather, the speculative economy is mostly just a way for rich people—through their corporate institutional proxies—to use the money they already have to make more. Moreover, this massive speculative economy is a powerful destabilizing force that threatens local economies and ecosystems, since speculation is the opposite of sustainability and encourages a deeper disconnect between ecological realities (limits, natural cycles of production, etc.) and the arbitrary mechanics of financial manipulation."

". . . what economists call economic growth is really the liquidation of the natural wealth of the planet. . . . It is a true doomsday economy, incapable of seeing the natural systems that sustain life as anything other than resources to be extracted. The flawed accounting of the speculative economy hides the horrible truth that what the corporate globalizers call 'progress' is really the earth's going-out-of-business sale."

He proposes "creating the political space for a critical mass of people to define the problems they face in their own lives in a systematic way that allows the imagining of fundamental change."

". . . naming the system [like 'Capitalism'] isn't merely a semantic or intellectual exercise. Rather, it is the revolutionary process through which a critical mass of people recognize the deadly design flaws of the current social order. The process of 'naming' is our way of revealing the hypocrisy, brutality, and idiocy of the corporate-controlled world in order to build the popular consciousness necessary to inspire transformative action."

He names the pathology as cancer and explores four ways in which cancer's effects on our physical bodies is similar to the corporate takeover: (1) "Cancer is a perversion by definition." (2) "Cancer rewrites the rules." (3) "Cancer masquerades as the host." For example, "ecological illiteracy masquerades as 'market forces,' monopoly capitalism masquerades as 'free trade,' and doomsday economics masquerade as 'economic growth.'" (4) "Cancer kills the host."

"Consumerism is the purest drug of the doomsday economy. It epitomizes the pathology—the commodification of life's staples and the human and cultural systems that have been created to sustain collective life."

"Advertising . . . is fundamentally dehumanizing. [It] fetishizes overconsumption, self-gratification, and narcissism."

Why do we accept this situation? Are we numb, disconnected, distracted? It's hard to resist "the digital opium den of 500-channel cable TV, the cornucopia of mood-altering prescription drugs, or now the terror-induced national obsession with unquestioned patriotism . . ."

Consumerism is, like Marie Antionette, a metaphor for our time.

The essay discusses the work of Paul Ray who, in his book The New Political Compass, "argues with statistical data that the Left/Right breakdown of politics is now largely irrelevant and proposes a new four-directional political compass." Using the compass directions, Ray assigns "the Left of New Deal liberalism and big government as 'West'" and the "cultural conservatism and the religious right" as 'East'. Ray assigns 'South' to those "who espouse the Big Business Paradigm of profits before planet and people, economic growth, and globalization." "Ray gives 'North' . . . to a grouping he calls the New Progressives, composed largely of cultural creatives and completely unrepresented in the current political system. He defines their major concerns as ecological sustainability, the corporate dominance, child welfare, health care, education, a desire for natural products and personal growth. . . . He estimates that whereas only 14 percent of the population supports the Big Business paradigm, 36 percent of Americans fall into the New Progressives category."

The essay suggests that, instead of relying on the political framework of left vs. right to provoke a holistic analysis of values that can enable social change, a better contrast "of the real debate is flat earth versus round earth. The corporate globalizers' program of ever-expanding industrial exploitation of the earth is in such deep denial of the ecological realities of the planet that it is akin to maintaining that the earth is flat. Fortunately, more and more people understand that the earth is in fact round and that we need to make some big changes to both the global system and the way we think of our relationship with the planet." It is interesting to compare this perception with that of The World Is Flat published by Thomas L. Friedman in 2005. Mr. Friedman comes off as the lackey and cheerleader of corporate globalizers.

"Everything—including the corporate global system—is very complicated. But likewise everything is very simple. There is sick and healthy. Just and unjust. Right and wrong. Despite the obvious oversimplification of binary frameworks, the language of opposing values is a powerful tool to build holistic analysis and subvert the control mythology."

"We can articulate the values crisis by showing people that corporate capitalism is no longer grounded in common-sense values. The corporate paradigm is a cancerous perversion that masquerades as being reflective of commonly held values while it writes the rules of the global economy to metastasize corporate control across the planet."

Economic theory is passé. The reality is global corporatism which bypasses internal national sovereignty and democratic institutions. It is the leading world power, period. Greed—profit and power—is built in and trumps every human value. These days every public conflict is between the so-called corporate right to gain (profit) vs. anything else. Government leaders and flunkies alike, if they decide on the basis of economic theory, always favor global corporatism—because it has mastered the word game.

"We want a world that reflects basic life-centered values."

Congress wears itself out on single issues, like whether people should be allowed to have five cats in their house. Congress distracts itself so it never has to acknowledge that the base is rotten.

A successful approach to provoking a common-sense revolution is to keep your focus on the big picture, to frame issues as part of a larger system. We can frame "our issues in such a way that they force the public debate to 'leap' over limiting definitions of the problem and elite quick-fixes to embrace systemic solutions. For example, instead of debating how many parts per million of pollution regulatory agencies should allow in our drinking water, we can challenge the right of industrial interests to poison us at all."

Fear of others—people not like you— is a weapon of the foes of the "New Progressives" and indeed of everybody whose wealth is not a direct result of global corporatism. Divide and conquer is an ancient technique of control. You can recognize it in action whenever you notice your fear of others. Do you realize this fear is unnatural? No? Then you've been brainwashed for a long time.

"FRAMING THE CLIMATE CRISIS. . . Global warming, when expanded from the single-issue context of carbon dioxide pollution and redefined as a systemic issue of fossil fuel addiction, becomes a vehicle for exposing the global system's deep design flaws. Thus it can be used not only to show the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of a fossil fuel-based economy but also to indict the system that has created the fossil fuel chain of destruction. . . . It's up to activists to ensure that people understand that a small cartel of energy corporations and their financial backers knowingly destabilized our planet's climate for their own personal gain. This may turn out to be the most devastating crime ever perpetrated against humanity, the planet, and future generations."

"Imagine two different scenarios: In the first, a decade of organizing and struggle belatedly convinces the oil barons to approve the Kyoto Protocol in its current inadequate form. As climate chaos accelerates, the oil industry plots how to maintain their monopoly during the transition to sustainable energy. In the other scenario, an empowered populace jails the oil executives, dissolves their illegitimate corporations, and uses their billions to fund the transition to clean energy. Which future would you rather live in?"

I liked Patrick's notion of "ethical shopping" and the alternative "rejection of the consumer identity altogether."

In the face of a system of injustice and destruction, we must encourage questioning. What are the questions? Is it constitutional? Is it ethical or moral? Why are you doing this?

"The mythology of American politics as populist or democratic is rapidly being undermined by the blatant realities of corporate dominance."

"We need to avoid the temptation to accept concessions that legitimize corporate control and obscure the fundamental democracy issues underlying the global crisis."

"Too often, political pragmatism is used as an excuse for a lack of vision. Pragmatism without vision is accepting the rules that are stacked against us while vision without pragmatism is fetishizing failure."

"When a system is fundamentally flawed there is no point in trying to fix it—we need to redesign it."

"It is essential that we don't waste all our energy just throwing ourselves at the machine. Resistance is only one piece of the social change equation. It must be complemented by creation."

"A politics of reality recognizes that ecology is not merely another single issue to lump onto our list of demands; rather, ecology is the larger context within which all our struggles take place. A politics of reality is grounded in the understanding that the ecological collapse is the central and most visible contradiction in the global system. It is an implicit acknowledgment that the central political project of our era is the rethinking of what it means to be human on planet earth."

"We have to confront the cancer and pull the dooms-day economy out of its suicidal nosedive. The move toward a politics of reality is the essence of a fight for the future itself. Indian writer and activist Vandana Shiva said it eloquently in her speech at the World Summit on Sustainable Development countersummit in August 2002: 'There is only one struggle left, and that is the struggle for survival.'"

"As the saying goes—for a person standing on the edge of a cliff, progress must be defined as a step backward."

Revision: 2-4-2007.