Parecon: Posturing and Progressive Posing at the End of the World
By Charles Dickey at Mar 25, 2008
I just read Michael Albert's essay "What Are We For?" trying to get the broad overview of Parecon, and I have to ask, what are we for, indeed? It's odd. When I read that title I thought it meant what are we for as in what are people for? But it turns out Albert is asking what are we for as in what are we not against? The assumption seems to be that "we" are a cohesive group of ideologues, and the question being asked is framed as: well, we know what we are all against, but what are the constructive principles of our ideology? And boy howdy does Michael Albert have a plateful of constructive principles to dish up.
I have to say I found it boring, dry reading. I can appreciate what he is trying to do, you know: lay out some broad concepts about how a large, integrated, humane economy might work. But it strikes me as false and contrived, not organic enough. Maybe that's just a problem inherent with theories, and if the concepts are developed further and put into trial and practice, good things can result.
But back to my question: what are people for? Are we workers to be arranged in a system? I think that is what I find offensive about economics, and Parecon doesn't seem to be an exception. Screw economics. People are not for economics. People are for experiencing life, and fuck all the artificial constructs.
Recently I've been reading about the peak oil phenomenon. What might life be like after the oil crash, indeed? Will Parecon or any global economic framework be meaningful then? We all may very well be dealing with vast energy shortages and struggling to eat, struggling to keep communities running, and no doubt dealing with power-hungry motherfuckers who still don't get the idea that humanity is a family with a need to work together. As James Howard Kunstler suggests in his 2005 article in Rolling Stone, "our lives will become profoundly and intensely local." And they should be.
I recognize that Parecon is theoretically concerned with and based upon grassroots, local, democratic cooperatives. I appreciate that about it, but find its aspirations to replace the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization with a different set of names kind of silly. I understand that they are to be different institutions, and I understand that they have regional and local best interests in mind. What I don't understand is why they should be necessary.
I envision an organically patterned world of interdependent communities with enough sense and humanity to understand that cooperative effort and constructive, creative work are good for everyone. This is probably incredibly naive and unrealistic, because the world is full of conniving, greedy assholes. And I appreciate that Parecon wants to alleviate some of that greediness and asshole-ishness by implementing a hierarchal/non-hierarchical global structure. But I don't have any faith in that.
What I do have faith in may be impossible. The only sensible possibility to me seems to be an organic one: an anarchy of interdependent individuals and communities that understand that it is in the best interest of us all to freely associate and cooperate. There is no need for global top-down structures. The past five thousand years of empire-building have driven that point home for me, at least. There can be no arm twisting, no "regulatory institutions" and no "binding Code of Conduct," because these things undermine self-determination. We get all bunged up around codes of conduct and regulations, no matter how well-intentioned. Parecon, practically instituted, would lead to simply another slew of nation-states governed by some high-minded global institutions that may be altruistic, but no less susceptible to corruption than the IMF itself. What kind of people do you think would get involved with such global regulatory commissions as the snazzy, hip, and progressive International Asset Agency, Global Investment Agency, and World Trade Agency? Even as shiny new (not merely reformed) institutions, the damn things would be populated by elitist ofays whose vision would be completely compromised by the global binoculars, telescopes, and blinders that they would have to constantly wear. All the cool grassroots organizations would be tiny little gps points on topographic globes viewed from these centralized command centers. Or am I jumping to conclusions? Would the bankers be out working the fields, too? Which fields, on whose topographic map?
I'm tired of systems and ideologies. I feel like I'd rather welcome the permanent blackouts of the collapsing capitalist economy, and take my chances with my neighbors as we are forced back to the land. At least then, things will quiet down, and there won't be so much asinine posturing and theorizing, elitism parading as the common good.