In the grand scheme of things, capitalism is a blip. A flicker on the historical radar and a rather dangerous planetary-scale experiment whose results are easy to guess and hard to ignore. When you have a giant machine pushing for infinite and perpetual growth in a world with finite resources, you know it's not going to end well. Yet right now, for the average citizen of the West, a world without the hallmarks of capitalism – without Wall Street, the rat race, shopping malls, economic growth, debt and competitive consumerism – is almost impossible to imagine. The very thought of a consumer-free world opens up such a void, such a unknowingness that it scares the bejesus out of us.
Throughout history, however, there have been people willing to place themselves in that white void and be petrified, even liberated by change. The Arab Spring, which has seen ordinary citizens revolt against mighty dictatorships, is the most recent example of that human ability. And for that reason, the Arab Spring gives us hope. Hope that the world will be able to save itself from the system that has pushed the earth and its resources to the brink. That an alternative will not only be imagined but embraced in the name of new possibilities and freedoms.
The Arab Spring also shows that although we can't imagine how it will happen or where the political and personal courage will come from, it will surprise us all the more. Despite what you may have heard by now, no one saw the Arab Spring coming. Not the political commentators, not the average person on the street and definitely not the Arab 'leaders' and 'presidents.' It came completely out of the blue, after years of complacency and apathy. Even those who first took to the streets could not have realized the significance of their actions. But once they were there, together, on Tahrir Square and at Benghazi, they didn't go home – they wanted change now and more desperately than ever.
Gaddafi, who had ruled Libya for 40 years – almost as long as we have known what we need to do to stop climate change – was forced into hiding by rebels who decided that 40years was 40 years too many. For many Libyans before the revolt, the prospect of a Gadaffi-free Libya was unimaginable. Yet Gadaffi is gone now and we are given another hint that one day – when Capitalism is least expecting it – people will say that the destruction of the planet in exchange for constant economic growth is a price too high to pay. It gives us a glimmer that one day capitalism will be gone too, replaced by a new world system that places the value of our existence and the world's existence before a quick buck.
Some say that capitalism is too big to fail, that there are too many people invested in its survival. But as we discover that the survival of capitalism means the destruction of the planet, we grow hopeful of our ability to stop, look around and step into the void.