It’s us against the world, the old rhetoric goes.
Much of my experience in activist circles has been fighting old dualistic battles: rich versus poor; Keynes versus Hayek; and West versus the Other. We see our battles in black and white – left versus right – when the distinction is ambiguous and impossible to define. Everything is still a matter of structuralist dialectics. Old dry arguments that have been tried and tried again still voice themselves, despite the political climate having changed, and globalisation still rearing its ugly head.
It’s almost surreal that now, in the midst of economic crisis, both sides are clenching their fists, clutching the strings of an outdated political system. If this post-2007 crisis has shown us anything, it is that everything we have believed in is fundamentally flawed. Our attempts to create wealth out of nothing have failed, and if we reform them, we will no longer grip onto global economic domination.
And in the meanwhile we have failed to notice that globalised elements of the world that have shifted from agricultural to industrial economies – where the power of India, Brazil, China, etc fall. We ignore that Western politics is at a standstill, and that our economic system is left with is global doubt.
Our blind reluctance to accept this economic shift has meant the majority of us still cling onto our simple understanding of economics: the bosses versus the workers. But the line of difference between the bosses versus the workers is almost invisible – are the workers the people employed assistants who recruit and manage, but have about 20 layers of management above them? And are the workers those who work at minimum wage, or those who can’t find work at all?
Our concept of justice is skewed to benefit ourselves, and not speak of our own privilege. For example, the Occupy movement has continually pointed out the divide between the 1% and the 99%, but what about the divide between the 8% and the 92%? If you are literate, have shelter and have enough food, you are part of the 8%. Does that make you the oppressor? Where do we draw the line?
In so many ways we have oversimplified our movement. We do not discuss the deeply entrenched sexism, racism and within the values of society. We discuss even less the problems of cultural imperialism. We continually speak of right and wrong as if we know better than everyone else. And even worse, we spout the language of hate – against bankers, Tories, rich people, middle classes, white people, men, etc – rather than present a positive solution.
Huddled in cliques and secretive groups, we see ourselves as “different” outcasts of society, battling The Man. We like to see ourselves as special – the liberators of our oppressed fellow citizens. In this set of beliefs we feel safe. Our identity is established and secure.
Yet, our isolation from “normal” people begs a simple question: are we really that unique and enlightened to justify our megalomania?
We need to learn to stick our campaigns out. Instead of hopping from anti-globalisation to climate change to localism to anti-austerity, we need to show *how* they are all related. Change needs a shift in system, not an overnight revolution. Or we’ll just repeat the same mistakes we have always have, flow in circles around a problem rather than tackling its root cause. We need to challenge the very core of our societal thinking – we need to find our origins.
The Age of Enlightenment is when the world turned around. Suddenly instead of being mere people in a complex world, Western intellectuals began to desire control. Their grasp for power came deeply entrenched through knowledge. They aimed to own everything – colonialism a mere small part in this elaborate game. This was the birth of positivism, the birth of (scientific) racism, the birth of climate change/nuclear disaster/etc. This may have made modern medicine, but is it really worth living long lives if you live in poor mental health and only to work? There are always checks and balances.
We cannot go back, but we can make amends. We need to let go – focus on society first before trying to keep ourselves expanding. We need to accept that the more we think we know, the less we actually do. Things are not always certain, but we can improve lives. The choice is whether people listen or not. It’s hard to escape the economic hegemony that we grow up in.
Another world is possible. You just need to be open to it.