Beyond capitalism

Beyond the lightspeed, er, capitalism barrier! (own work, CC-BA)

JHK had a great podcast with Shaun Chamberlain regarding the late David Fleming’s Lean Logic, and it convinced me to check out both Lean Logic and Surviving The Future.  There is some overlap in the two books, but they are still both worth reading.  In the preface to the latter, the Editor’s Preface quotes Ursula Le Guin (writer of many well regarded SF stories) who said these possibly prescient words in 2014:

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us – the producers who write the books, and make the books – accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write.

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art – the art of words.

As we all know, SF folks have made some on the mark predictions, and have missed many others.  Who would have predicted we’d have supercomputers in our pockets?  Sociological change is something that seems even more fantastic.  Safe and legal birth control; legally protected same-sex marriage; gays and lesbians in the US military are all par for the course today, and these things would have seemed impossible even fifty years ago.

Modern capitalism and its handmaiden modern finance is built upon infinite growth, and with a finite planet, this isn’t a sustainable system.   This obvious statement isn’t popular, but anyone who knows a bit of math and and won’t handwave explanations of modern finance, fiscal policy and our monetary system knows this is true.  It seems like capitalism is inescapable, but as Ursula notes, so did the divine right of kings at some point in time.

There are other social models out there, and some have existed outside the mainstream from time to time; (pirates in the 1700s) and potlatch societies come to mind.   In the modern world, other ways of achieving social status (like Stack Exchange), exist, where your contributions to the community are given a numeric value, which gives you prestige and privilege.   Of course, any system can be ‘gamed’, but the key element here is that alternatives to capitalism might exist.  Even in spite of problems with the Burning Man world (as noted earlier), some of the tenets there might be part of a new way of running the world, sans capitalism.  For sure, modern capitalism does appear to truly unsustainable, so something else is going to have to replace it.


  • What other alternatives to modern capitalism are there?   Modern “socialistic” countries may be only capable of being sustained with abundant fossil fuels (i.e. Norway), or with smaller and more uniform populations (see The Almost Nearly Perfect People for a summary of Scandinavian culture).
  • How might this change away from modern capitalism happen?  Will it go with a bang, or a whimper?
  • Can you build a complex society, capable of sending people the moon, building complex devices (such as microchips), and doing mega-projects (such as dams, bridges, etc.) without a financial system looking like the one we have now?   Would it matter?
  • The real question is when; how long before this all becomes a distant memory?







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