SPIRIT, MONEY AND MODERNITY
Anitra Nelson, NOTES FOR PANEL DISCUSSION
What is our agenda for a new world that is fair and just in a social sense and sustainable in terms of nature? We need a clear vision of that future. We also need consensus on our strategy to establish that future. We need to propose concrete activities and relationships for popular control of production and democratic distribution of goods and services based on caring and sharing at every level.
I emphasise caring because it is an approach that implies sharing. Caring means becoming responsible for. Caring is the antidote to alienation. Caring also implies acknowledging ones vested interest in the social and natural world. When we look at the wisdom of the elders that David Suzuki talks about, it is a profound acknowledgment of the privilege that our social and natural worlds offers us in terms of an experience that is wondrous and mysterious. While the word sharing is implied in caring, sharing goes beyond caring to highlight what we receive back because others care. Sharing is a necessity related to our interdependence within our social and natural worlds. To dominate, to eliminate is to diminish those worlds. This is where all the principles of capitalism and economic growth flagrantly oppose real plenty, real opportunity and real growth.
So I am arguing for a new world based on the principles of caring and sharing. I am arguing for caring for the whole world, the visible things we can sense and name and those less tangible abstract experiences like love and fear that are a complex synthesis of concrete forces. And, in caring, we share. We share material resources and ration fairly. We exercise skills and willingly learn and teach skills. We participate jointly in a rich array of cultural activities. In other words, in a political, personal, economic and cultural sense we care and share.
At present our world is geographically and architecturally arranged to support hierarchy. I work in the Faculty of the Constructed Environment at RMIT where we teach urban planners as well as social workers. So we are analysing urban conglomerations, in particular, all the time. In our new world I believe we will need to become small; I believe that small makes caring and sharing possible. In terms of buildings for homes and social activities and workplaces we will become decentralised.
I think that political self-management requires small group solidarity alongside planetary size associations involved with the broadest levels of environmental management. Small, relatively autonomous groups based on self-sufficiency can be linked to responsibilities for land just as Aboriginal clans and nations had a loyalty to territory even though most were mobile nomads. We need a similarly frugal attitude to our resources and small locally appropriate technologies. This is not just the end of money and the state-so that we can directly manage our own lives-but the end of unnecessarily large industry.
The concept of basic needs has been elaborated in United Nations documents for several years now. Besides adequate food clothing and shelter, people have a right to personal security, companionship and community. The ways that basic needs are fulfilled is slowly coming to be seen more like an art, of social context, than a science, of the delivery of material services.
Aspects of a World that is
SOCIALLY JUST AND ECOLOGICALLY SUSTAINABLE
participatory democracy free self-expression
direct political CONTROL personal IDENTITY
(vs choice) (vs individualism)
anarchistic, small scale to co-operative, responsible
planetary level associations self-reliance
PRODUCTION and cultural DIVERSITY
DISTRIBUTION(consumption) encouragement of
based on satisfying basic an extensive and
human needs for all. diverse range of
Assess and share ecological and cultural activities and
human resources and services popular participation
directly in terms of concrete qualities
and quantities. Nurturing all
and human skills within the limits of
Encourage principles of caring and sharing re: natural resources, technologies, human skills and basic needs. This approach requires: transparency and consistency in actions and words; directness in communication; diversity of opinion and lifestyles; fairness and curiosity in the mysteries of the known and unknown worlds; sustainable practices.
Today people cover the earth and we are knowledgable from local practices and imported knowledge about the capacity and possibilities of all kinds of resources in all sorts of landscapes. Although many aspects of self-sufficiency are achieved most efficiently in the small scale and locally, issues of global sustainability are related to medium and large scale perspectives related to resource carrying and sharing possibilities that involve water air and soil pollution. THINK GLOBAL , ACT LOCAL. We need to govern ourselves at a series of levels that involve negotiation over use rights and responsibilities from small groups-couples and families-through to continents and our planet as a singular unit.
Substantive democracy, direct control, requires consensus decision making by as many participants as possible, with advocacy style representation of the rest. Already environmental and social movements over the last generation have increasingly experimented with various forms of:
and, in the process, have challenged gender roles and cultural intolerance.
How many examples do I have to give? Friends of the Earth and so many specific and broader based environmental associations. S11. The plethora of womens and multicultural groups in the arts. Independent film makers and dramatists. Street theatre. Community radio station and even television stations. All these institutions around us are our working models of new forms of co-operation that embody a sense of caring and sharing absent or distorted by conventional top-down government and capitalist institutions, even unions (as Marx predicted).
Our main barriers in the increasing influence of such associations are precisely the institutions that Marx identified as in need of abolition, not just reform., i.e. money and the state. Many social and environmental associations are frustrated by the formal and authoritarian structures created by capitalists, politicians and bureaucrats. Their advance needs forums like this where people discuss possibilities that allow us to dispense with the market and adversarial parliamentary democracy.
I know you're pressing me for how this works on a wider and more concrete level but this is where issues associated with ideas, ideals and ideology reappear and where seeing money as expressing or symbolising a relationship is so important. When you begin a love affair with abstract concepts like unity, harmony and support, you also begin with trust and confidence that when things dont go smoothly, you'll work it through. We have to look at social institutions and our role in our community like we look at those kinds of intimate relationships. This is an art not a science.
Norman Manley came to power in Jamaica in the early 1970s at around the same time as Gough Whitlam here and the Labor Party in Britain. Bob Marley supported Manley in a campaign with the slogan SOCIALISM IS LOVE. That government fell foul of the multinational aluminium companies and the economic rationalist demands of organisations like the World bank. The bottom line was money. Money is a system of divide and rule, of competition and exclusion.
When we take human needs into account the bottom line of money is no basis at all. We ditch market rationale whenever we get to the human and natural bottom line. Families and communes devolve monetary values to a common purse. In wars, when winning is the only goal in sight, money is often printed like its going out of style leading to hyperinflation. And when environmental resources, flows and services are so obviously finite, it is even easier and makes more sense to forget market rationale, private property and competition and instead move to communal, co-operative rationing and responsibility directly linking people and resources. This is what we have to learn from indigenous peoples who have reiterated through the ages that, We cannot eat gold.
Now, yesterday you got copies of a paper I gave at a recent educational conference held at RMIT University. It was descriptive and journalistic rather than academic and dense like the other material we've been dealing with. And I think those organisations discussed in that paper indicate or point towards the kind of world I'm talking about and having lived there I believe it achievable. At the end of the day its like a marriage. Its like a love affair, social institutions are social relationships. There are ideals and experiments and successes and failures. Today serial monogamy has become the most common ideal rather than once and for all marriages. We are more flexible and frank about the possibilities and limitations of certain responsibilities and modify our expectations accordingly. There can be no blueprint. This is a dive into the ocean.
at least in the meantime-
I understand the position you're coming from. Its clear that you cant make an enormous change in one foul swoop. It comes slowly. But there are small reforms that lead to or amount in an incremental way to a complete change and there are reforms that simply modify the prevailing system and make it more amenable to, lets say, a democratic majority of people. Those latter reforms are no reform at all in terms of large scale change or advance towards a new system.
For instance, my concern with giving monetary values to environmental assets like forests is that we will then reduce them to market related values and become even less concerned with their ecological qualities because we're kidding ourselves that giving them a price will protect their ecological existence. I think it is better for us to have a clear sense of the use-value qualities of forests and trees as the mainstay of forest ecosystems rather than see them as timber or even sight seeing resources. I would have thought that the water/diamonds paradox is enough to show us that translations into market prices are fraught with contradictions in the absolutely oppositional the non-Hegelian sense.
As I said certain reforms are no reform at all in terms of large scale change or advance towards a new system. Thats the main axis in discussing about transition:
Thats our measuring stick. Not money!
The state and money are authoritarian structures that generate exploitative relations between people. Representative democracy as we experience it, and the capitalist workplace and market are based on competition, success through others failures and profit. These structures are not compatible with the principles of caring and sharing. What place would they have in a society based on those principles. We break capitalistic rules when we care and share. The dialectical materialist perspective of Marx suggests that over time institutions outlive their usefulness. Early on he wrote:
the existing relationships create nothing but mischief and are no longer productive relations but rather destructive ones. Maternal protection is necessary for the first years of our life but after that can negatively limit childrens development. Production for the market and monetary exchange has made us aware of global ties and encouraged inventiveness. But now the very destructive results of those advances suggest that we need to move on.
At specific points in the Soviet and Cuban revolutionary processes, the potential and limitations of monetary pricing and market exchange were debated in a heated and detailed way. In fact at the very time that the leaders in those revolutions failed to bite the bullet over dispensing with money, they experienced counter revolutionary pressures associated with monetary power. I dont want to sound to pompous here, because in the same way as I criticise Marx, but have studied him for years because I admire his scholarly work and political intensions, I am critically supportive the communist experiments of the twentieth century and particularly I am impressed by the gains made in Cuba. Not surprisingly, my analysis of those communist experiments revolves around their lack of success in dispensing with the state and money and an associated factor, i.e. large scale technology, that I think is problematic whether run by state or private interests.
Russia and Cuba have quite different histories and as I said I assess the relative success of the Cuban revolution higher than the Soviet one. But for me the standardisation, authoritarianism and under functioning systems of production and exchange in both can be analysed as results of maintaining albeit in modified forms, the institutions of state, money and large scale capitalist technology. I strongly believe-from studying those and other nations histories-that we would be better off organising production and distribution directly in terms of qualities and quantities of resources, skills, good and services, to meet peoples basic needs and the ecological requirements to preserve and encourage biodiversity. That is ecological and social values cant be translated into market ones and they are more basic than the market so we have to devise transitional structures that embody in an ever increasing way non monetary features.
It seems to me that if we want to meet the requirements of social justice and ecological sustainability we have to do that using social values and ecological values. Nonmonetary multicentric exchange is the norm in all societies except market based ones. It means spheres of exchange that often, for instance, separate means of production from means of consumption. This means you could never exchange land, say, for shoes or card board boxes but only a plot of land for a plot of land. There are exclusive markets for particular goods. We might put food stuffs into one market. All clothing goods in another. We can use computers now, too, to take peoples orders, to provide advertising for what people want to swap, discard or have supplied. These are the kinds of transitional structures we need to be assessing the pros and cons about, experimenting with and monitoring.
Spirit, Money & Modernity