Recapitulation: How to Save the World

The order which has been taken for granted suddenly appears queer and contingent. There is an appearance of the contingency of order. This is the main value of utopias. At a time when everything is blocked by systems which have failed but which cannot be beaten…utopia is our resource. The utopia seems to say something plausible, but it also says something that is crazy. By saying something crazy, it says something real.

Paul Riceour

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

Milton Friedman

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Buckmister Fuller

Last time, we explored how American conservatives have gone all-in on a crazy but disciplined and simple scheme, a push for a savior-driven theocracy, where Donald Trump brings the faithful to the Promised Land via an epic, final battle with the forces of evil (libs). And by contrast, we saw that liberals cannot find a similar, laser-focused plan for the future, which is dooming them to a long tail of futility and failure.

In the spirit of “that whole brevity thing,” as The Dude would say, let’s do a recapitulation of the main themes of this whole blog, because the exercise of re-summarizing can help with tightening arguments and getting rid of chaff. And as things continue to deteriorate, clarity and simplicity will become the desperate coinage of the possible.

  • Our most urgent, highest-level problem is ecological: human impact is trashing the planet. All natural support systems on Earth are in decline, many of them steeply. Global warming, accelerating species extinctions, disappearing fresh water, dying coral reefs, deforestation, accumulation of toxic chemicals and plastics, and so on. The human presence on the planet is just too big, too intense, too damaging. It doesn’t much matter whether it’s too many of us, or the negative impact of our tools and processes, or both (spoiler alert: it’s both). And it doesn’t much matter who’s most to blame: the US, China, India, Africa, or whatever. Long story short: we’ve got one planet, we’re trashing it beyond repair, and we have very little time left to save ourselves.
  • Ergo, human impact must be massively and quickly reduced. We need a tectonic sea-change in how we live on the planet, at a pace and scale that is almost inconceivable. But it must be done. Anything less is just rearranging the deck-chairs, regardless of whether that rearranging is destructive or constructive in the short-term. If we are not living in a totally different way at the end of the next couple decades, then not much at all will be living after that.
  • This immense systemic change will NOT come via the routes below. Or, to be more precise, these mechanisms cannot initiate or provide the fundamental impetus for the necessary change. They might prove fruitful later on, as expansions or enhancements to something already in motion. But these tactics cannot be used to start things off.
    • International agreements and treaties: too slow, and too fraught with finger-pointing. With Russia currently in a hot war, and China bent out of shape over an octogenarian’s visit to Taiwan, it’s not easy to imagine meaningful progress coming out of international cooperation.
    • Permanent or prolonged “victory” over your enemy in the liberal-vs-conservative battle royale. Check out my posts on the Polarization Industrial Complex if you need more background on this dead-end.
    • A mammoth Green New Deal or other sustainable infrastructure plan. First, it’s politically impossible (see the bullet point directly above). Also, if our fundamental household format remains unchanged, there is zero possibility even of sustainability, let alone the huge reductions in human impact that are necessary to actually make a difference. See post on Bigger Home Bases for more on this.
    • The regular spinning out of capitalism, letting the Market take care of things. Sure, the marketplace can be destructive, but it’s “creatively destructive,” so leaving the Invisible Hand to work its magic will result in amazing new ways to both make a buck and save the planet. Interestingly, this is the default master plan of the antediluvian GOP, and is still murmured in hushed undertones by the party’s old guard, mainly in its fundraising and reassurance modes. But tellingly, the conservative rank-and-file has tossed aside this stuffy formulation, in favor of the Trumpian Savior-Theocracy plan. If this laissez-faire scheme can’t even satisfy the voters of its home-party, it’s hard to see how it could actually deliver global ecological salvation.
  • Accepting that none of these approaches will work is difficult, because they basically encapsulate every mainstream or quasi-mainstream stance towards our troubling future. But it is imperative that we understand and acknowledge that these will NOT work, especially considering the scale and speed with which we need to reduce human damage to the planet.
  • So what do we do, if none of the above approaches will work? To tackle this, let’s draw on the quotations that open this blog post. From these thinkers, we can pull out three crucial elements for apocalyptic times like ours: the view from Utopia, the cultivation of new ideas as alternatives to current policy, and the creation of new models of reality that render current arrangements obsolete. American conservatives are already leveraging a Frankenstein version of this approach. Unfortunately, their utopia is actually dystopian, their ‘new’ ideas are cribbed from 50s TV and moldy Austrian economics, and their ‘model’ community is a mashup of Thomas Kincade canvases, Hallmark Christmas movies, and military sniper porn, served up by a romance-novel cover version of Trump, chest and AK47 glistening with the blood of libs, atop his winged steed of salvation.
  • In contrast, how could we really save the world, using a Utopian departure point, implementing new models of reality, supported by novel and relevant ideas? The way forward is outlined below. And yes, this will probably sound crazy. But, following Ricoeur, “by saying something crazy, it says something real.” More details on this plan can be viewed here.
    • A consortium of wealthy liberals and conservatives should be recruited. They must be comfortable with being anonymous, out of the limelight. Finding a group like this that will actually work together is a tall order, so the selection of these sponsors/donors is one of the most challenging parts of this plan.
    • These patrons would fund the creation of 20-25 model communities around the country, each having 150 members or thereabouts. Each community would be funded by the equivalent of a Universal Basic Income (perhaps $1200 a month). These communities would have a diverse cross-section of residents, and would be spread out across the US, spanning ‘red’ and ‘blue’ areas. These communities should be called “Bigger Home Bases,” or BHBs.
    • The only financial support for the BHBs would be the UBI itself, plus logistical assistance to connect the communities with local resources to build their home bases (zoning boards, realtors, developers, builders, etc.). Community members would sign a 3-year commitment to the BHB, and there would a standard charter for the communities, committing them to pursue a basic set of goals: reduced ecological impact, pursuit of internal self-sufficiency, non-exploitation of co-residents, etc. The purpose of minimizing direct financial support is to replicate as closely as possible the implementation of a national UBI, where government support is significant but basic, leaving the lion’s share of agency with the people themselves.
    • While only directly supplying the UBI and logistical support for the BHBs themselves, the sponsors would invest massive resources into publicizing the life-cycle of the model communities. All manner of media would be used to cover every aspect of BHB formation: cable TV shows, YouTube channels, social media accounts, local print and TV coverage, etc. The main thrust of the BHB project is to show how a totally different household format, supported by UBI, can deliver fast and substantial change to people’s lives, giving them more financial security, while rapidly reducing their impact on the planet.
    • The success of these BHBs, splashed across the full spectrum of American media, creates a compelling working model for the future, with the prospect of immediately-reduced ecological impact. BHBs would go viral, demonstrating an incredible new way to tackle our three major issues at the same time, sharply diminishing environmental damage, economic instability, and psychological illness.
      • The ‘success’ of the BHBs is, of course, the big gamble of this whole scheme. Can people actually live together in large groups, cooperating without exploiting, living in close quarters without going bonkers? From our current nuclear-family blinders, we tend to view our present household arrangements as ‘natural,’ and any larger groupings thus seem weird. After all, if people wanted to live in large groups, wouldn’t they have just done it already? Well, actually, yes, they would do it. And they have done it, for hundreds of thousands of years. We have lived most of our time on this planet in larger tribal groupings. It is what we are evolved for, and that is how we have lived for almost all of our tenure on Earth. So BHBs would actually be more ‘natural’ for people, and that fuels my confidence that these model communities will work, and will work amazingly.
    • Building on the popular groundswell for UBI and BHBs, a new political party will be created, and the new party will run a presidential candidate. If the timeline works, the natural fit would be Andrew Yang, who ran on UBI in 2020, and showed tremendous crossover appeal to conservatives in his campaign. And he has also recently formed a new party called the Forward Party, which could be leveraged for this plan. A third party gives conservatives a credible off-ramp from the Trump theocracy, and allows liberals to finally stick it to the sclerotic Democrats.
    • The new party would run on a 3-pronged platform, sticking tightly to these planks:
      • BHBs
      • UBI
      • MMT (Modern Money Theory)
    • Aside from these 3 main pillars, the new party can cross over to conservative voters with these additional policies:
      • Shrinking government bureaucracy (UBI can take the place of a lot of piecemeal programs)
      • Promoting the repopulation of rural areas, creating a homegrown for a host of new BHBs
      • Curbing immigration in favor of helping the home countries establish their own versions of UBI/BHB/MMT (more on this below)
      • Making the federal government work for regular people, and not big banks, corporations, and aloof elites
    • The new party sweeps into power, implementing UBI, BHB-support, and MMT across the board.
      • MMT allows for massive new funding for states, helping them transition to a new legal and physical infrastructure, supporting BHBs and land rehabilitation.
      • Federal money is also invested into moving states to a light-industry, appropriate technology future.
      • With BHBs as the new basic household unit, states can pursue more creative, self-sufficient goals, as they will be increasingly freed up from the older demands of jobs-jobs-jobs, as well as from the dead-end culture wars.
    • The success of the new party sucks all of the energy out of the Polarization Industrial Complex, and Americans rapidly abandon the culture wars in favor of pursuing the concrete possibilities opened up by UBI and BHBs.
    • After a few years of runaway domestic success, the US becomes a new model for global ‘development,’ but in a much less chauvinistic way. We would be leading by example, humbly embodying a new way of rapidly downscaling a reckless way of life. Working off of the tenets of MMT, we could offer substantial financial support to countries that want to pursue the new American model.
    • The rise of BHBs sharply curtails American demand for Chinese products, and Europe’s embrace of BHBs might crater their demand for Russian energy. So perhaps even China and Russia might be pressured into radically-different economic and social policies.
    • Another distant pursuit on the far shore of this transition could be a global pivot to moving hundreds of millions of people out of unsustainable ecological areas, turning those spaces back over to nature to allow for healing. If we get to a point where money is used as a tool to accomplish the social good, as opposed to a fetishized implement of exploitation, then all things are possible.

The American plutocracy won’t like this plan, but the hidden pearl of hope is that creating the working BHB models might engender so much popular support that politicians won’t know how to resist the groundswell. Returning to our original formation of the problem, the main hurdles are speed and reach. How can we do anything fast enough and broad enough to make a difference? At first glance, it seems impossible. But we have three things going for us, and they are all crucial for this UBI/BHB/MMT plan.

  • First, modern media technology allows for incredibly fast and broad transmission of information, especially images and video. Our plan to splash the BHBs all over traditional and social media takes full advantage of this power to instantly communicate concrete, compelling models across the globe.
  • Second, human beings are still unflaggingly imitative and other-oriented. Regardless of their absolute state of well-being, people are forever obsessed with their position relative to others. We see what other people have, and we want it. This is the energy that fuels capitalism itself, and that energy can be utilized to create fast and overwhelming demand for a new way of life, for BHBs.
  • Third, the evolution of economic reality, which has been enabled by technology, has utterly changed the nature of money. The fetish of money as a physical totem is on its last legs, and the technology enabling the digitization of money has made it clear that money is ultimately representative of social and power relations, and is not a direct reflection of labor, value, or morality. With instantaneous digital bailouts of banks during the Great Recession, and with the direct injection of money to Americans during the height of the pandemic, people now know that money can be pushed to wherever we want it, overnight, and the only consideration is political: where do we push it? This growing popular understanding of the sociopolitical basis of money is crucial groundwork for the implementation of Universal Basic Income.

OK, that’s it for this recapitulation of the main themes of this blog. Hopefully, you’ll go back and read some of the other, earlier posts that flesh out these ideas a bit more. For fun, you can also check out my post on Hallmark Christmas Movies, one of my other pet obsessions.

Next time, we might check out the apotheosis of Donald Trump, the most irreligious savior-figure since…. I have no idea.

Cover Image: “Recapitulation,” by Odile Chalmin

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