Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Next Society 1: Some Background

I want to return again to the major theme of this blog: social change/social alchemy. 

I've been working on this blog for eight years now.  During that time, I've studied and thought a lot about, not only social transformation, but history, systems thinking, and communities as laboratories for social change.

Lately I've been thinking a bit about what we're working toward.  What would a new society look like?  How would it come about?  How likely is change to really happen?

Over the next few posts, I want to put my ideas out about where we might be heading. As someone once said, "It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future."

Nevertheless, I'd like to give it a try.

I think that one of the best ways to look at the future is to look at what's happened in the past.

I'm going to start with politics and economics.  Until very recently in history, these two were intertwined.

Here's my rapid, super condensed, super simplified, idiosyncratic version of world history:

We start with nomadic, hunter-gatherer tribes.  As I quoted in my post on Chimps, Bonobos, and Tribes (March 31, 2016),  Iain Couzin and Mark Laidre claim that “More than 99% of human history was spent in a hunter-gatherer existence..." That began to change with the development of agriculture.  There are a bunch of theories as to how that came about but with agriculture, tribes settled down and inequality grew.

Eventually the tribes grew into the city-states of Sumer, Egypt, Phoencia, Babylonia, Greece, and eventually Rome--and many of these became the seats of empire.   Rome was the biggest empire but it eventually overextended itself and had to deal with internal conflicts and corruption. Rome was finally done in by the tribal groups that they referred to as 'barbarians'. These tribes settled down into fiefdoms, new kingdoms, and new empires. This was the Middle Ages and the system that emerged from this has been called feudalism. 

There had been traders and merchants through much of history, but they were kept in control by the rulers.  In the 1600s and 1700s, the merchants began to gain power as they grew richer.  With industrialization in the 1800s, they took control and capitalism emerged.  All this has been described by David Ricardo, David Hume, and Adam Smith.

My point here is that Ricardo, Hume, and Smith described the growth of capitalism--they did not invent it.  Capitalism, like the city-states, empires, and feudalism, emerged in an organic growth process.

Karl Marx (who even many mainstream capitalist economists view as an important economic theorist) studied this process and attempted to predict the next stage.  He was influenced by Hegel's dialectical method where a thesis meets an antithesis and through their clash a synthesis emerges.  He saw the contradictions of capitalism leading to an emergent dictatorship of the proletariat.  While he encouraged and worked for a revolution, he saw this as an organic process that would occur when the situation was right.  As Wikipedia points out, "Marx accused ... other revolutionaries of being 'adventurists' because of their belief that a revolutionary situation could be created out of thin air by the sheer 'will power' of the revolutionaries without regard to the economic realities of the current situation."  While he did dedicate himself to trying to change the world, he pointed out "Communism is ... not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. ... The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence."

The person who changed all this was Vladmir Lenin, who came up with the idea of "a revolutionary vanguard party" which would overthrow the capitalist government.  He started with Russia, which would have horrified Marx, since Russia was a largely agricultural society and practically still in the feudal stage.  Rather than socialism emerging through an organic process, Lenin claimed "that capitalism could ultimately only be overthrown with revolution..."  This became the template for all the "Communist" countries, where socialism was imposed from the top rather than grown from the bottom.  We have now seen the results of that.

When people point to these countries as examples of why communism can't work, I point to Twin Oaks where communism has been working for nearly fifty years and is going strong.  The difference is that at Twin Oaks, it grew from the ground up and it's entirely voluntary to be part of it.

So, my first claim about the next society is that it will emerge organically, out of things that have been grown from the ground up, and I predict that it will come from several sources that will be strung together--that is, it will be networked.

Next: A Patchwork Politic

Quote of the Day:  "Life did not take over the globe by conquest, but by networking." - Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan


Optimistic Existentialist said...

I think the problem lies in people mixing up communism with socialism (which are not the same). Socialism most certainly can and does work. Communism did not because it imprisoned people in their own country. Just my opinion :)

MoonRaven said...

Thanks, OE,

But I beg to disagree. Really, what happened in the Soviet Union (etc) was not communism. Emma Goldman referred to it as state capitalism and I think that's closer to the truth.

Communism refers to a communal situation where all (or most) property is shared. It long predates Marx. One of the nuns in my grade school pointed out that the apostles were communists (see Acts of the Apostles).

Twin Oaks in a communist society--but it developed from the ground up and is completely voluntary. This (as I put it here) is completely different from the Soviet Union where they attempted to impose it from the top down. My point here is that any situation like this has to be grown organically rather than mandated.