Sunday, February 14, 2010

Capitalism and Resistance, Part III: In which we consider the issues facing the movement to resist capitalism.

If you haven't read parts 1 and 2 of this series, I recommend reading them first.

It seems to me that the two things that are needed to fight this trend are radical sharing and radical trust.

Sharing, because self-sufficiency just doesn't work, because each of us worrying only about hirself just ties up resources that should be used for the people who need them now. And because some of us have bad luck before we have a chance to prepare for that bad luck, and punishing those people for that just doesn't seem right.

When I say "radical" sharing, what I mean is that (1) we can't just share when it's in our interests to (i.e., with people with whom we have formalized agreements, whom we have reason to trust, etc.); (2) we have to share more than feels comfortable, and be willing to take on real hardship for others' sake; and (3) we aim to displace the very notion of personal responsibility, rather than simply alleviate some of its consequences. This means we must destigmatize asking for help, do it ourselves often and sincerely, and not place any obligation on those who receive aid. It also means that, when it is appropriate and possible, we should share in rebellion rather than in oppression: occupy a house that is being foreclosed rather than simply distributing the payments among other community members, hold vigils outside hospitals that refuse to treat sick poor people, use guerrilla gardening, dumpstering and shoplifting as additional ways of supporting hungry people, etc.

This also needs to involve radical trust: a willingness to legitimately place our futures in one another's hands. The organizations that we use to support one another have to be the very same organizations we rely on to help us when we get sick, when we retire, when we have kids, and when we're short on rent. It's a lot to ask of those of us with middle-class backgrounds and desires -- especially since, at first at least, this can seem like a really uncertain prospect. But it will become possible, and secure even, precisely to the degree we invest in it, and we won't be able to invest fully in it if we don't make that leap of faith.

So I'm proposing the Chicago Radical Sharing Network -- following these principles, with no agenda but that which arises from attempts to meet its participants' actual immediate needs.

What do folks think? If you're interested, send me an email (you can do it from my profile).


  1. I like where you've ended up in this series, and I think you're highly skilled and condensing large concepts into plain language and directness. I wonder if my political sympathies with you might make my reading of your arguments here a lot more forgiving (in that I share many of your assumptions or have the same things in mind). I'm sure you already do this, but I think one thing that you should continue to do (especially in articles that suggest rethinking communist values) is repeatedly think of how someone who is completely opposed to your viewpoint would see your arguments. Once again, I'm sure you do this, I just see it worth talking about since this is the type of series that could be considered the most "controversial." And finally, I hate to be this guy, but have you read First as Tragedy, then as Farce?

  2. Hey Per,
    Just heard about your blog, figured I'd give it a gander.

    Main thing that occurs to me is the tit for tat part of it. It requires absolute consensus, and absolute reliability, to some degree. If there is a defector in a negotiation, that influences the ability to trust. And it becomes exponentially more difficult to trust with each defection.

    So that's sort of the way I see human nature, and by extension, the creation of economies. People inherently mistrust and horde until they need otherwise. It spikes to a point, the trust (or expectation or shadow of the future) is destroyed, and then it's a slow disintegration back to the point of origin so that the same structure can be created.

    I'm a pessimist, so that's the way it works in my head. But I've never noticed any reason to think humans can actually dramatically transform the underpinnings of how they live - merely the constructs that sit atop that.

  3. Max,

    I'm not sure I entirely agree that we need absolute reliability. If we imagine that, say, cooperation in a particular case costs each of 100 people one utile and gives one person -- say, the person who's sick -- 150 utiles, then on the whole a 67% cooperation rate makes this worthwhile. What you need isn't faith that everyone will cooperate, it's faith that lots of people will cooperate.

    It can be difficult to accept that you're going to be one of the two thirds that cooperate, rather than one of the third of people that defect. But it's probably worth it to know that even if your capacity to cooperate is destroyed -- e.g., by a crippling injury -- you'll still be supported.

    But ultimately, I'm partly relying on altruism -- something which does exist and which does matter. I don't think it's such a dramatic transformation of underpinnings, as you put it, to imagine that when this tendency is encouraged and developed, it will become more dominant.

    Mostly, I'd rather have a society where it's easy for people to be good than one in which it's hard for them to be bad.



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