A key to figuring out how to resist capitalism, earth-destroying mega-technology and velveeta culture is learning how to re-define our values based on what it means to be fully human, awake and free. All of us who’ve grow up within this system internalize its values in subtle as well as more obvious ways. In other words, perhaps without even realizing it we start to define what we like and don’t like, what we are willing to strive for and what we dismiss, what we see and what fades into the background based on a value system defined by an economic, technological and cultural environment structured by capitalism.
The capitalist economic system requires all participants to simplify their thinking and behavior to pursue narrow goals: the most efficient, quick, cheap method, technology or form of organization. It is important to understand that although these goals are easy to understand, they don’t really mean anything — they are means to an end, but the end itself (more stuff, more growth at the lowest cost) doesn’t really have any ultimate meaning. Capitalism has no internal way to determine whether anything — including, in particular, constant growth and cheapeness — is actually good. In fact, on an ecologically finite planet, limitless growth is not good. Capitalist growth may kill us all if we can’t somehow stop it soon. Just having more stuff does not make human beings happy or make their lives meaningful.
Because capitalism is designed around constant competition, the pressure to pursue its very narrow goals is almost irresistible for companies, communities, and individual people. If any element of the system rejects the pursuit of efficiency, others who are more efficient will out-compete the resister who will be forced out.
Human beings are not machines. We are not merely cogs in an economic machine. It makes no sense that psychologically, culturally and in our day-to-day decision making we should primarily pursue efficiency, the lowest costs, and other valueless means-to-an-ends forms of thinking.
The most fundamental aspect of being human is our ability to experience raw emotion, wonder, love, freedom, pleasure and sensation. These are experiences totally outside the awareness of economics, corporations or computers, but each of us knows they are what makes life meaningful on a deep level. When your face is stained with tears — of happiness or sadness, but in either case being-ness — those are the moments you know you’re really alive.
Humans seek freedom, self-determination, adventure and challenges, whereas corporations, hierarchical authority structures and machines seek control, order, routine and the easiest, quickest and most boring solution to problems. Humans seek to express their humanity — we sing, write, draw, dance and rebel. Only living creatures can love, which is an irrational emotion that is also essential and even magic. It is the glue that makes society possible, makes our lives worth living, and can give us the strength and courage to organize, resist the capitalist destruction of the world, and survive. Yet love is totally invisible to capitalism — computers and corporations can’t love. These structures can’t comprehend solidarity that is based on love and that doesn’t depend on trading something for something else.
To create a new society, we have to figure out ways to resist the social structures and institutions that oppress people and are destroying the earth. We have to create alternative institutions that can meet people’s needs based on cooperation, sharing, free will, beauty, pleasure and ecological sustainability. Doing these things means we are re-organizing our priorities away from mainstream goals such as achieving success and getting material possessions.
To the extent the process of our struggle as well as our goals are based on human vs. system values — and to the extent we’re conscious of when we’re being guided by system-values and when we’re being guided by human values — we can decrease burnout by increasing our sense of meaningfulness. We won’t be seeking one path in our politics while self-judging our lives based on internalized values from the system. The part of our mind structured by the system is filled with a lot of “shoulds” that upon closer inspection may not make a lot of sense. It can be easy for our “reasonable” system-mind to doubt our human impulses for adventure, freedom and ill-advised love that can leave us dangling out on a limb.
Taking a different path or doing it yourself for your own reasons will be slower, more difficult and often very confusing and messy. Resisting the global machine means you’ll miss out on the treats it has to offer, and it may role over and crush you if you don’t step out of the way at the right moment. The funny thing is that a lot of times, enjoying easy treats makes you feel empty, while seeking complex, tough pleasures makes you feel alive and engaged. Taking the human and therefore sometimes irrational and inconvenient path seriously and following it with all your heart is what the world needs most right now. We’ve gone as far as we can with making things fast and cheap — now its time to build something meaningful and human.