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Green Is The New Black

Is it really easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of Capitalism?

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‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world, than the end of capitalism”.* You’ve probably heard something like this before, the idea that we are so bound by the confines of our current system that we are unable to imagine another way. Climate scientists say that capitalism as we know it is incompatible with a thriving planet. We know we need radical change, so why is it so hard to imagine a world without capitalism?

Capitalism has been the dominant global economic system longer than living memory. Its central characteristics are competitive markets, a price system determined by supply and demand, private property and wage labour. For most of us, these are things we view as ‘normal’ because the system we have always known has shaped our worldview. The consequence of this is that when we talk about systemic change, we often mean changes within the current systems rather than reimagining and starting all over. In essence, Capitalism is a worldwide, entrenched ‘limiting belief’. In the way we remove limiting beliefs in our personal lives, we can also remove them as they pertain to our collective culture.

We necessarily spend a lot of time on critical analysis of past and present climate policy and coverage. This is essential work but it can be a depressing space and spending too much of our time and energy there is ultimately very depleting. Burn out in climate spaces is climbing in a cruel parallel with rising temperatures. There is a conversation emerging around the benefits of investing our time in imagining, without constraints, what a truly equitable and sustainable future could look like. (Spoiler: Capitalism is not invited.)

“Futurism”

There are things that we have accepted as reality and we operate within the parameters of that reality. We tend to forget that the systems humans created were created to serve them in some way. And our current systems were designed to serve the dominant culture of the time. 

“Futurism” is beginning to really find its place in social justice and environmental circles. It’s also frequently referred to as “future-imagining” or “utopia-ing”. Essentially, the concept of Futurism is allowing ourselves to imagine the best possible future without constraining ourselves to what might be realistic or achievable relative to how things are now. Setting the bar as high as possible and remaining optimistic about working towards it.

The world of science-fiction is characterised by its vision and fantasy. The genre has a plethora of sub-genres where devotees explore parallel realities. Art and science-fiction genre, “Solar punk” is one example of a futurism movement. Unlike the more dystopian ideas of “cyber punk” and “steam punk”, Solar punk is utopian. It is a movement that imagines an alternative future based on clean energy and collaborative social ideals. At the centre of solar punk is the idea that humanity and nature can thrive together.

We need Futurism to help us first conceive of, and then create, a world without Capitalism.

 

IMAGE DESCRIPTION | As seen from the movie, “Black Panther”. Anglea Bassett, who plays “Ramonda” is in the foreground. She is wearing an ornate, all-white gown with large shoulder details and headdress which has been inspired by traditional African garments. On her left, is Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri. She is dressed in an elaborate dress, with some similarities to a gladiator, with a large neckpiece and beaded chains on the bodice, shoulders and in her hair. Behind them, are several women dressed in orange tube tops and sarongs holding spears.

 

Afrofuturism

Another example we would be remiss not to mention is Afrofuturism.

“Afrofuturism is the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science and technology seen through a black lens. The term was conceived a quarter-century ago by white author Mark Dery in his essay “Black to the Future,” which looks at speculative fiction within the African diaspora.”

Octavia E Butler, an Afrofuturism, feminist writer and scholar, became the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. Her books, such as Parable of the Sower, are revered by fans and are essential reading for dreamers of a better future.

Featuring Black characters in science fiction stories is not the goal, creating science fiction from a Black perspective is the goal. Artists like Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu draw inspiration from Afrofuturism in their aesthetic and music videos. But perhaps the most well-known manifestation of Afrofuturism in popular culture is 2018 Marvel movie, Black Panther.

But before we dive headfirst into the future of our wildest dreams, we need to take a closer look at Capitalism and how we arrived at our present reality.

How did we get here?

To understand how we came to be in this predicament, we have to understand how our current Capitalist ideals came to be. Life, as we know it in the 21st century, has been shaped by a number of concepts that have become the dominant culture. The systems we have in place have their roots in Colonialism. There is unfortunately a lack of awareness of the impacts of European Colonialism, and how the ideologies it forced on the rest of the world still affect us today. 

Colonialism, as you know, was the process through which European nations invaded the rest of the world to establish colonies and extract resources. The objective was wealth accumulation for the Colonizing nations. The process involved “dominance” over existing people and cultures that they “discovered” when their ships landed on foreign shores. “Successful” colonisation sees settlers imposing their religion, language and other cultural practices. US culture today is in stark contrast to Native American cultures that preceded it and the legacy of Colonialism is evident everywhere you look.

And the tentacles of Colonialism have been wrapped around every corner of our beautiful blue planet. From Australia to Alaska and everything in between. 

The ‘Three C’s’ of Colonialism

European Colonisation was based on three prominent ideologies; Commerce, Christianity and Civilisation. Commerce was about wealth and extractivism. In the US, the country and its economy were built off cheap or enslaved workforces. This principle is evident in modern Capitalism. But our economic structure is not the only way that Colonialism has impacted our culture. The fact that English and Spanish and two of the most widely spoken languages globally is an obvious and tangible example of the legacy of Western Colonialism. A less and rather insidious example is binary thinking. That is, viewing the world in binary, opposing forces.

“Binary systems are deeply entrenched in Western colonial beliefs. [They] exist everywhere we turn – feminine vs masculine, right vs wrong, civilised vs savage, heaven vs hell, homosexual vs heterosexual. These models represent two oppositional perspectives, but what happens to the space in between?” – Adrienne Huard, Two-Spirit Anishinaabe writer

Colonialism deployed many tactics to ensure its own success. Christianity was one way that European powers justified their exploitation of Africa and North America. Christianity represented western civilization and was the foundation for Anglo-Saxon morality. The philosophy of the “white man’s burden” saw colonisers seek to “improve” people they deemed “uncivilised”. Racial categories of “black” and “white” were literally invented by colonisers to excuse oppression and tyranny.

Individualism

Another pillar of European Colonial beliefs is Individualism. Individualist societies promote the idea that success or failure is entirely down to the individual. Self-sufficiency is highly valued and depending on others is usually deemed shameful or embarrassing. Capitalism makes us selfish. We’ve been taught you have to work for everything, that you’re not entitled to anything. This in turn causes us to feel protective of what we “earned” and less able to share. Resources have become possessions.

What if we changed that narrative? If we take collective responsibility for each other, for the society we are creating and for the conditions people live in. Ending something like the homelessness crisis would become all of our responsibility. Many Indigenous cultures had this kind of perspective – they viewed people as interdependent. All over the world, there were communities that conceptualised humans and communities as connected to one another and to their environment. Not separate from nature but part of it playing an important role in the balance.

There is no doubt that the shift to Individualism and Capitalism has played a key role in humans becoming disconnected from one another and from the Earth. A future with social and environmental justice at its heart requires a transformation towards interdependence and community.

Reimagining

Colonialism robbed us of the diversity of thought, diversity of ideas. Centuries of binary thinking, individualism and capitalism as the default has hindered progress. Afro-futurism asks us what the world would look like if African cultures were dominant. But, what would the world look like if Indigenous cultures all over the world had been allowed to thrive and evolve? What if, instead of colonising, Europeans had sought out coalition and collaboration?

The good news here is that we don’t need to “reinvent the wheel”. There was a time when the systems we know today did not exist. Capitalism is not predetermined – humans had alternative systems pre-colonialism. In “Don’t Touch My Hair”, by Emma Dabiri, Dabiri speaks of the concept of “ancient futures” – finding inspiration for a better future by looking to the customs of our ancestors. Throughout the book, Dabiri discusses pre-colonial Kingdoms, African science and mathematics, how the concept of time differed in societies around the world. 

Colonialism is a story of oppression but it is also a story of resilience. In spite of centuries of attempts to extinguish Indigenous communities, many have survived and a new generation is reclaiming almost-lost customs and sharing alternative systems to Capitalism. Supporting and uplifting Indigenous groups is an integral part of both social and environmental justice. Similarly, disability rights and LGBTQIA+ rights activists continue to fight against marginalisation. In order to participate in daily life, and express their true selves, they had to imagine a world that would allow that to happen. And, then they got to work to make it a reality. 

People whose imaginations of what’s possible are limited are generally people who can live with the status quo. They recognise the failings of the system and they’d like it to be better but they don’t need it to be better. Radical solutions are born in communities for whom radical change is necessary. The Black Lives Matter movement is calling for the police to be defunded and abolished because it’s the difference between life and death for their community. Indigenous land defenders risk their lives to fight against polluters and land grabs because their lives, their ancestral land and their culture, are already threatened.

Imagining a better world is not a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity. 

“Nowtopia”

Of course, the reality is that we cannot turn off Capitalism like a light bulb. A transition is necessary. Like our transition away from fossil fuels, this must start with a recognition that Capitalism is not serving us and that there is a better way. And like the transition to renewables, the shift away from Capitalism calls for investment in alternatives and the infrastructure needed to sustain them.

If you don’t believe something is possible, confirmation bias will cause you to seek evidence that you are right. If you believe something is possible, the same is true. If we want Utopia, we have to seek it out or create our own slice of heaven. And, actually, systems that prioritise human needs and wellbeing over profit can be seen in little pockets of Utopia everywhere. You just need to know where to look.

Don’t believe me? Inspired by activist and podcast host, Jo Becker (who frequently speaks of Futurism), here is a non-exhaustive list of just some of the ways people are breaking free of Capitalism and creating alternatives in their communities:

> Community gardens, kitchens and food sharing apps

> Pedestrianised streets in places like Aachen Germany (which installs a giant sandpit in the middle of the street in summer for people to hang out) and Hanoi, Vietnam which closes city centre roads on the weekend and they fill up with dance classes, street food and games for children

> Popularised by Extinction Rebellion, Citizen’s Assemblies were devised to allow communities, and even countries, to make decisions in a fair and just way. Members are selected at random, like jury service, and should reflect the gender, age, ethnicity etc of the wider population

> Public libraries – one of the few remaining places where no spending is required!

> Free theatre outside city hall in London during summer

> During COVID, an IKEA branch in Germany used an outdoor carpark for Muslims to pray during Eid so they could safely social distance

> Labour Unions have a long history of improving working conditions and rights of workers and continue to do so today

> Mutual Aid and Crowdfunding are wonderful examples of people supporting one another without needing intervention from the state or from the non-profit sector

> 4 day work week – more and more companies are rolling out a 4 day week as trials are proving incredibly successful

For even more imagination-fuel, take a look at our reading list curated for architects of a better tomorrow. How we dream now will define our future.

“What lies ahead? Reimagining the world. Only that.” Arundhati Roy, Indian writer and social activist

*this quote has been attributed to both Fredric Jameson, American Marxist political theorist  and Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian philosopher and researcher
IMAGE: Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A small silhouette of a person is looking up at a sky full of stars. There is a circle of colourful lights, orange, yellow, pink, blue and green, around them 

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Leanne has worked and volunteered in the NGO sector in Asia and the UK for almost a decade. She is a proud and passionate fundraiser who is motivated by connecting people to causes that they care about and giving them the opportunity to make a real difference. Since growing up on the West Coast of Ireland, she has always been a lover of nature, especially the ocean. Her journey towards living more sustainably and consciously started slowly through an interest in minimalism, plant-based diet, yoga and the zero-waste movement. She has attempted all of them with varying degrees of success! Seeing the Extinction Rebellion April actions in London this year was the biggest wake-up call to learn the truth about the scale of the climate crisis and Leanne now considers herself a bone fide, but imperfect, environmentalist keen to share the infinite benefits of slowing down and living more mindfully with anyone who will listen!

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