The way to Acid Communism
I will criticize capitalism here... then ask for a paid subscription. You can read Marx all you want... on your Amazon Kindle. In this way, capitalism is like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. It's like a room full of doors that all lead back to the same place.
Capitalism—more than any ideology—devours its rebellions. Kings would kill you for criticizing them, but capitalism takes nothing personally. It's strictly business. Capitalism will take your rebellion, print it on a t-shirt, and sell it back to you. How do you resist such a thing? It's amorphous, it's relentless, it's everywhere. Resisting capitalism feels like a fish resisting water. And yet some fish did resist water. That's how we're here.
The end of capitalism is both impossible and inevitable. I don't know how it ends, but it will. Every ideology is very serious in the present and looks very silly in the future. We laugh at the divine right of kings, but we have billionaire shop-keepers. Are we any less absurd?
Every empire has no clothes, and while they get away with it for a while, eventually some kid points out that they're butt naked and the whole thing comes down. I don't know how, I don't know when, but the first step is having the audacity to giggle, to point, and to say 'the emperor has no clothes!'
Capitalism Will End
If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it's that every ideology ends. Most of us don't believe in kings and queens anymore, a thought that was once unthinkable (and which still baffles people in Britain). At every point the dominant ideology says that it's not an ideology at all, which is sorta true. The divine right of kings was pretty fucking real while it lasted. Their executioner would draw out your entrails and fucking show you. Social reality is reality, until we imagine something else.
The Amputation Of Imagination
Mark Fisher calls the ideology we live in today Capitalist Realism.
Fisher has a whole book about it, but you can also understand the amputation of imagination from this comic:
The standard reaction to any re-imagination of capitalism is basically 'shut the fuck up' because we're in capitalism and it's too hard to change. Hence you get otherwise intelligent economists like Branko Milanovic (who see the problem) saying that we simply cannot change this ideology because it is reality.
Capitalist societies, after several centuries of exposure to market ideology and way of life, are structured in such a way that populations have fully accepted, and reaffirm in their daily lives, the objectives that make capitalism thrive...
It is irrelevant whether I like or dislike this situation (as Jason seems to believe). It is just that I observe how the world functions while Jason appears to me to live in an unreal world. (a response to Jason Hickel on Degrowth)
For all his keen observation, Milanovic seems to miss the fact that the world constantly changes. For him it's literally easier to imagine the end of the world through climate change than the end of capitalism. This is a profound failure of imagination, and also incoherent. If ideology created this situation, why wouldn't it create a different one? Milanovic is a critical economist, but even he insists that the emperor has clothes.
But the emperor always has no clothes. What sustains any empire is not reality but social reality, and that is constructed, not a fact. This idea of the illusion and impermance of everything is actually an ancient idea, going back through Buddhism and Hinduism (among other traditions), but westerners being children have to have everything explained from scratch.
Capitalism is just another cultural artificact, as impermanent as all that came before. What makes capitalism real is enough people believing in it (many of them at gunpoint) but if enough people point and laugh then it goes away. It is a great amputation of imagination to say that 1980s-vintage capitalism is the best we could possibly do, and so shut up and let the world burn.
We live in a social hallucination and, though we cannot change it on our own, it will change. Just because you have no individual control doesn't mean you have no power. We all have the power to dream.
Capitalist Realism puts a name to this soul-deadening feeling, that constant voice saying 'Gotcha! You said that on an iPhone!' The feeling that this is the only possible reality simply isn't correct. You can feel different, even from within this ideology. That's how every new ideology is born.
Mark Fisher was working on an alternative before he sadly killed himself in 2017. He called it Acid Communism and an introduction is all that remains. But you can pick up the browser tabs and trip on. He said Acid Communism not in the sense that everyone should take drugs or implement communism, but in the sense that we should imagine alternatives. That when the historical voice of Margaret Thatcher says "there is no alternative" we should say "fuck off, there is".
Fisher said that a spectre haunts the world, the spectre of Acid Communism.
Fisher sadly died, but the spectre remains, its realization more urgent than ever. We live in a time where capitalism has fallen on its face over and over, with the every financial crash, with its inequities and failures during COVID-19, but still the zombie emperor lumbers on. More and more fingers reach out from the crowd, saying "the motherfucker has no clothes!" but still it lurches on. Change seems impossible until it happens, and then it seems impossible that the past ever was.
I don't know how and I don't know when, and things can easily get worse, but a change is gonna come. Change is personally impossible and socially inevitable. All I ask you is to resist the amputation of your imagination and help dream it into being. Resist the urge to be 'realistic' and try to be right. This is all a social hallucination and we can absolutely trip better. People took way too much coke in the 80s and this timeline sucks. We should give Acid Communism a try.
I recorded a podcast on this with my wife Shruthi Mathews, who has read and written about this more deeply. I have actually read the book since recording it.
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