I was drifting through cyberspace recently, not really absorbing the words in front of me, when I came across a sentence that tripped me up, so to speak, and forced me to pay attention.
That sentence read: “The pain you feel is capitalism dying.” The writer went on to explain that it hurts because we are inside this dying system, we are inside this unsustainable form of civilization while it is undermining the life support system we call Earth, and what is perhaps most unsettling about this is that it’s not yet clear what comes next; nor is it obvious that the global problems we face even have smooth, painless solutions. The hour is dark and a bright new dawn is not guaranteed.
“The pain we feel is capitalism dying.”
The words left an impression on me I think because they describe that strange, existential ache that we probably have all felt at some time or another, when contemplating how we should live our lives in a world that seems so tragically off track. I am referring here to the emotional or what one might even call the spiritual challenge of living in an age of crisis; of living in an age when the myths and stories that have shaped and grounded our cultures and even our identities have begun to breakdown, unsettling our sense of purpose and place in a fast-changing world.
But this crisis of meaning in our culture, if I can put it that way, presents itself to us, I think, as a heavily disguised but tantalizing opportunity. One of the most promising aspects of the biological world we live in is that the cycles of nature embrace death and decay as a necessary part of rebirth – as anyone who composts knows very well – and if we understand this, then we can see that as the existing form of life deteriorates in the face of environmental limits, new ways to live will inevitably evolve, and are evolving, like green shoots peeking out of the widening concrete cracks in capitalism. Our challenge is to face this inevitable breakdown with defiant positivity and set about turning today’s crises into opportunities to reinvent ourselves, our cultures, and our economies in more localized, more resilient, more humane ways. We are, it seems, like tiny microbes inside this massive, decomposing system, being challenged to work creatively in our own small ways, building the soil from which a diversity of new worlds can emerge. In short, I would say that we are being challenged at this moment in history to compost capitalism, and in the rich soil of resistance bring renewal to our task, our collective task, to seed a new Earth story.
– Sam Alexander is co-director of the Simplicity Institute and a lecturer at the University of Melbourne