As someone who tries to look at the big picture and find the root causal mechanisms which give rise to the problems in the world, I try not to get (too) embroiled in issues-based discussions or put too much stock into piecemeal (attempts at) solutions. For example, I have discussed in the past that fighting for* black rights, or women’s rights or gay rights is a doomed endeavor on two counts: 1) It promotes division by advocating for one group at the expense of others, inevitably creating resentment, and 2) It hacks at the branches of evil, rather than striking the root, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau.
However, I have come to realize that round dismissal of furtive steps toward a better world is no way to proceed either. Rather there is a way in which admirable but mistaken good intentions can be channeled in the right directions. More importantly, a surfeit of of proposed solutions, even those which only marginally improve on established methodologies, while still retaining many of their drawbacks, are perhaps a mandatory first step in a paradigm shift.
If this is sounding a little abstract to you, well you’re in good company, cause I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about either.
Let’s make things a little more concrete with a tangible example, shall we?
A while back my friend Kelton and I were talking about the problems with our monetary system and how best to make the transition to a resource-based economy. Acknowledging the difficulties with challenging people’s unwavering faith in the dollar, Kelton brought up the examples of alternative currencies which were being used in other parts o the world, specifically the WIR. I remember at the time I was pretty dismissive of the WIR and other forms of alternative currency because by operating through the mechanism of scarcity, sooner or later they would all be plagued by the same problems our current monetary system faces (i.e. usury, money supply expansion/inflation through credit, hoarding, etc). But as I thought about it more, I saw the merit of this first step in a new direction. Perhaps by creating new currencies and backing them with something tangible like our future labour,** we could break the stranglehold of established national currencies and by doing so create openness to the possibility of a world without currency.
You see, I likened it to religion…
More specifically Christianity. Religious freedom is taken for granted in most parts of the world. True, in certain countries, communities and families it is taboo to question the accepted faith but as the descendant of two families from two of the most Catholic countries in the world (Italy and Portugal) I never felt afraid of being burned for heresy by becoming agnostic, then an atheist and then evolving from there into whatever I am now. To what do I owe such freedom and latitude on the part of my family and community? Well there’s no one answer, but I suspect Martin Luther and Henry VIII had a little something to do with it. You see by openly addressing problems with the church establishment Luther emboldened others to be more vocal about their grievances. On the other hand, by forming his own church, Henry VIII, for better or worse, broke the stranglehold monopoly of Catholicism in Europe. I’m not gonna say these developments came with no costs or violent schisms, not am I foolish enough to believe they addressed the root causal mechanism which makes people indoctrinate others into ideologies in the first place. But what I am saying is that if these first few furtive footsteps were not taken, I might not be able to write so cavalierly about my own lack of faith without you reporting me to an inquisitor.
Still I can’t help but think that if I were contemporary of Martin Luther watching him nail his 95 theses to the door of the church I would be that guy discouraging him by yelling, “Hey Martin, you’re not digging deep enough! Have you ever asked why we have religion in the first place?!” People were ready to bring grievances to the church but they weren’t quite ready to abandon it altogether. Martin Luther knew this on some level and appealed to his audience.
So going forward I will endeavour to be a little more patient with ideas that seek to break established power structures even if they don’t address causal mechanisms. Certainly I will try and reason with my well-intentioned comrades and try and help them see a broader picture, but its not for me to pooh-pooh good ideas that I deem too narrow in scope. For even if they are only interim fixes, anything would be an improvement at this point.
*Even rhetoric like “fighting” demonstrates an immaturity about how to deal with problems we face effectively. We frame everything as an epic battle against good and evil rather than understanding the mechanisms which give rise to such problems and ameliorating them.
**It could be argued that are current dollar, being a fiat currency is already backed by our labour (or at least the public’s faith in it) since we are no longer on a gold standard. In fact some go further and state that the U.S. went bankrupt in the early 1930s. However, the problem with such arguments is that people who advocate a gold standard don’t realize that the value of gold is all arbitrary speculation rather than empirical and absolute. Indeed, outside of its technological applications gold has necessity for our survival.