Response to Michael Albert
By Charles Dickey at Mar 27, 2008
Rather than describe myself as defeatist, I know that I am a creative and hopeful individual who has been born into a suffering, catastrophic world. I am acutely aware of the suffering, the catastrophe, and I am also increasingly aware of human ingenuity, resourcefulness, and creativity. Born and raised in an aggressively capitalist, consumerist society, I am understandably distrustful of economics in general. Is this productive? Perhaps not. Is it rational? Who knows. Am I reacting and responding to the inhospitable home that surrounds me? Hell yes I am.
I cannot speak for others, and I no longer am sure if I fit into the category of ‘youth.’ Many of the youth I see around me in this university town seem to have been fully indoctrinated into capitalist ideologies of progress and infinite resource exploitation. I do not relate to them, just as I could not relate to many of my fellow students in high school and college.
I am suspicious of economic systems and ideologies. I have not studied parecon in depth and so can be nothing more at this point than an uninformed, marginal punk. Having not familiarized myself with its principles in any studious way, I can’t even be considered a critic. Perhaps I am just a reactionary, which makes me wonder, why did I recoil from it, why denounce it so vehemently with so many insurgent turns of phrases? Do I find it threatening, insulting, more of the same? I don’t know.
Maybe I felt it lacked soul.
What does that mean? Is it fair? Is it elitist, racist, sexist?
I am a profoundly intuitive and empathic person, and it has taken me all of my adult life to this point to understand what that means for me as an individual in a homogenized, globalized, industrialized culture. What it means is that, at every turn, I have been and am assaulted by a barrage of sensation and over-stimulation. For people like me, progressive industrialized culture is incapacitating and overwhelming. Integrating into it, at whatever cost, is not just unacceptable, but quite impossible. And so we are marginalized while industrial progress sweeps on. Unlike others who may be able to adjust and compromise with the inhumane demands of a product-oriented world—increasing numbers of whom are now struggling to survive in that product-oriented culture—we break down, drop out, burn out. Some are institutionalized, others commit suicide, others become half-functioning wards of the state, and others become colorful and eccentric flotsam, bobbing along the river of jobs.
It’s a state of existence that I object to. Yet I refuse to be a nihilist. I remain hopeful, if at times intensely sad or angry. And I refuse to water-down my sentiments. I’ve had over twenty-five years experience in that, and it got me nowhere.
Do I object to parecon? I don’t know. It’s a step. I am impatient, and I fear that social movements get hung up in half revolutions and stagnate. From what I can tell at this point, parecon does seem to offer an alternative economic model that will function more smoothly and productively in a globalized, westernized world. If that is true, it seems to me that it may only offer a tweaking of hegemony, not freedom from a product-oriented economy.
Like the radical student and black power activists, feminists, and hippies of the ‘60s, I object to the culture I find myself in. I understand that it is the social reality and framework that we must work within. But embedded as we are in the context of the progressive linearity of western civilization, I am suspicious of reforms. It seems that nothing less than a shift in consciousness, values, and practices—a shift towards compassion and love, and rooted intensely in nature and locality—will bring meaning back into our lives.
Meaning is what I am after, and I want it soon, today even. I don’t want to work towards it, I want to become it. To embody the meaning I want to be in the world seems the only option, and sometimes, I’ve found, I need to shout and twist to embody the frustration I often feel at being systematically denied a meaningful existence.