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The end of the machine that produces fear?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
11th September 2011


Via.

Excerpted from David Graeber:

“There is very good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism itself will no longer exist – most obviously, as ecologists keep reminding us, because it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet, and the current form of capitalism doesn’t seem to be capable of generating the kind of vast technological breakthroughs and mobilizations that would be required for us to start finding and colonizing any other planets. Yet faced with the prospect of capitalism actually ending, the most common reaction – even from those who call themselves “progressives” – is simply fear. We cling to what exists because we can no longer imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse.

How did we get here? My own suspicion is that we are looking at the final effects of the militarization of American capitalism itself. In fact, it could well be said that the last 30 years have seen the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a giant machine designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures. At its root is a veritable obsession on the part of the rulers of the world – in response to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s – with ensuring that social movements cannot be seen to grow, flourish or propose alternatives; that those who challenge existing power arrangements can never, under any circumstances, be perceived to win. To do so requires creating a vast apparatus of armies, prisons, police; various forms of private security firms and police and military intelligence apparatus, and propaganda engines of every conceivable variety, most of which do not attack alternatives directly so much as create a pervasive climate of fear, jingoistic conformity and simple despair that renders any thought of changing the world, an idle fantasy.

Maintaining this apparatus seems more important to exponents of the “free market” than maintaining any sort of viable market economy. How else can one explain what happened in the former Soviet Union? One would ordinarily have imagined that the end of the Cold War would have led to the dismantling of the army and the KGB and rebuilding the factories, but in fact what happened was precisely the other way around. This is just an extreme example of what has been happening everywhere. Economically, the apparatus is pure dead weight; all the guns, surveillance cameras and propaganda engines are extraordinarily expensive and really produce nothing, and no doubt it’s yet another element dragging the entire capitalist system down – along with producing the illusion of an endless capitalist future that laid the groundwork for the endless bubbles to begin with. Finance capital became the buying and selling of chunks of that future, and economic freedom, for most of us, was reduced to the right to buy a small piece of one’s own permanent subordination.

In other words, there seems to have been a profound contradiction between the political imperative of establishing capitalism as the only possible way to manage anything, and capitalism’s own unacknowledged need to limit its future horizons lest speculation, predictably, go haywire. When speculation did go berserk, and the whole machine imploded, we were left in the strange situation of not being able to even imagine any other way that things might be arranged. About the only thing we can imagine is catastrophe.”

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10 Responses to “The end of the machine that produces fear?”

  1. Emlyn Says:

    “Finance capital became the buying and selling of chunks of that future, and economic freedom, for most of us, was reduced to the right to buy a small piece of one’s own permanent subordination.” and “When speculation did go berserk, and the whole machine imploded, we were left in the strange situation of not being able to even imagine any other way that things might be arranged. About the only thing we can imagine is catastrophe.”

    If I still had a pencil case, I’d write these lines on it. Brilliant!

  2. PG Says:

    David Ellerman – whose work I got to know through this blog – develops an analysis of capitalism that gives lots of hope on its positive transformation and therefore in the future.

    The key question of capitalism is not resources mismanagement. It is the employer-employee relationship. Another argument in favor of P2P.

  3. Garrett Connelly Says:

    There is nothing new in this article. I thought the idea was to quit hashing over the obvious short sides of corporatism and attempt to establish a route toward a viable future.

  4. Steve Brant Says:

    I like how this essay points to the ongoing use of fear to control people (including the advertising industry’s use of fear – of not being thin, pretty, etc enough – to get people to spend money trying to obtain some external “ideal”).

    But the idea that “When speculation did go berserk, and the whole machine imploded, we were left in the strange situation of not being able to even imagine any other way that things might be arranged. About the only thing we can imagine is catastrophe.” suggests to me that the author didn’t do his research adequately enough.

    There are a lot of people who ARE capable of imagining things being “arranged” (organized) differently, especially those of us who have studied the works of people such as Buckminster Fuller, W. Edwards Deming, and Russell L. Ackoff (all masters of the art/science of systems thinking). If you Google “steven brant capitalism is dead” you will find my essay from 2008 on The Huffington Post about what we can do (redesign our sociopolitical economic systems around abundance rather than scarcity principles). And if you go to my website, you will see a link to my interview on Fox Business News Live (yes, Fox) about “redesigning capitalism” too.

    There are solutions out there. We CAN think differently. And those who fear the future need to keep looking… because hopeful solutions exist that are capable of getting us out of this crisis!

  5. Joe Hueglin Says:

    This premise “capitalism itself will no longer exist – most obviously, as ecologists keep reminding us, because it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet,” is stated in error.

    Shades of Malthus and Ricardo: “About the only thing we can imagine is catastrophe.”

    Iceland chose not to accept “permanent subordination.” Capitalism in its essence has and will always be. Investing Time, Treasure and Talent to produce for exchange to others as a means of earning a livelihood.

  6. Joe Hueglin Says:

    So sorry did not see followup so had to post again

  7. Julia Says:

    I wouldn’t give capitalism much longer to live. It’s most likely going to die out within the next 100 years or so, hopefully in my lifetime (I’m 23 as of right now). However, the question we should all be asking is, if capitalism will inevitably collapse, what is to replace it? Will it be mutualism, anarcho-communism, a hybrid of the two, or state-socialism or fascism? That’s why I would argue we should be the ones creating the new system RIGHT NOW as the old system crashes so we can be sure that we (or our children or grandchildren) aren’t out of the frying pan and into the fire.

  8. Michel Bauwens Says:

    I agree Julia. The new system will necessarily be based on at least partially on already proven practices, which represent the seed of the new in the old system.

  9. Øyvind Holmstad Says:

    Have you seen the video (supported by the Post Carbon Institute) There’s No Tomorrow: http://permaculture.org.au/2012/02/28/theres-no-tomorrow-video/

  10. Michel Bauwens Says:

    excellent, thanks a lot!

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