Redirecting power, socialising capital without a revolution: it’s possible through values

Marco Senatore

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

This article is aimed at outlining a strategy to create authentically progressive communities, and help them to spread values such as social justice within society. Through the creation of progressive communities, individuals would have the possibility to perform social roles that are consistent with their ideals, thereby going beyond the mere condition of “animal laborans” described by Hannah Arendt. Subsequently, spreading progressive values to the whole society would require to provide incentives to the political system and the economic system to endorse these values. 

The importance of values for reconnecting individuals

In January 2015 Facebook’s users outnumbered the population of China, the world’s most populous country. Our world is increasingly interconnected, but this has not prevented a growing sense of isolation and the lack of rational, open debates on issues. As Jürgen Habermas has noted, power and money are the two media that ensure the coordination among actions of individuals. Revolutions have always implied taking power or capital (in the forms of means of production) away from individuals or organisations who possessed them. But power and money are not sufficient to create communities. Moreover, politicians and corporations base their activities mostly on the ability to mirror or influence people’s ideals.

Therefore, a radical change of society would be possible only through a third medium: values, meant as criteria used by individuals to judge reality and choose the most appropriate actions. In a context where populism is spreading, what would happen if progressives formed cohesive national communities, and subsequently a global community?

Building a progressive network

Let’s consider the set of individuals of the world who share some values, such as social justice and environmentalism. While the number of these individuals is not very small, for sure many of them, in their concrete choices, have to sacrifice some of their objectives, because they depend on (or at least interact daily with) other individuals or legal organisations that do not share the same values, or even profit from pursuing opposite aims. This sense of alienation also explains why people who used to be leftist might become right-wing populists.

For instance, let’s imagine that John, Jane, Tom and Sally all share objectives such as a given reduction in inequality, a certain decrease in CO2 emissions, an improvement in emotional well-being and stronger support for old people.

Moreover, John is involved in volunteering activities that benefit old-aged people, but he works for a company that pollutes significantly, because there is no green company in his area; Jane is a psychologist who contributes to the well-being of her community, but she purchases products of a company that pays excessively low wages;  Tom pays good wages, but he sells products that turn to be unhealthy because in his community young people tend to become addicted to them; Sally is the manager of a green company, but among her staff there are landlords who ask extortionary rents to their old-aged tenants.

As these individuals do not get all they want through the economic system (i.e. the cycle of capital), they might delegate social change to politics (i.e. the cycle of power). But also politics requires compromise, and some of the objectives pursued by the four individuals might not be in the agenda of the ruling parties.

However, if the four people knew about the existence of each other, they might decide to be part of an autonomous community, that I call progressive network, where everyone is able to follow all of his or her own values thanks to the cooperation with other members. John might work for Sally; Jane might help Tom in tackling the addiction to the products he sells, and so on. This would allow the four individuals to concretely and autonomously apply their values, without just delegating some objectives to the political system.

The progressive network would be, like Facebook, boundless, in the sense that every individual who holds some progressive values might decide to cooperate with like-minded people of different countries. At the same time, this network would be a federation, formed by different progressive groups of individuals who live in the same regions and countries. Unlike the Socialist International, this federation would be formed by single individuals sharing some concrete objectives, rather than by political parties. In order to identify potential counterparts and places where to live, progressives might use the Web.

Spreading progressive values from the network to the whole society

After this first stage (that I call of emancipation), the progressive network might want to include more individuals and groups, but also parties: this would be the stage of expansion. Also this phase would associate individuals not through money, nor power, but through values.

In every country, progressives would provide an incentive to the economic system (producers, workers and consumers) to join their community. This would take place through highlighting elements such as: the higher productivity of labour in progressive groups, allowed by lack of alienation; the incentive to R&D for green firms; the possibilities for trade flows among progressive groups of different countries; the economies of scale linked with the presence of suppliers and workers who share the same values.

Moreover, progressives would also provide an incentive to the political system to foster their values. Progressive groups could do so by highlighting the positive spillovers of their activities on the rest of the regions and countries, in terms of lack of violence, better environmental standards, social inclusion, greater efficiency of public spending. And these groups might then transfer to public institutions (State or local administrations) some documents attesting to the benefits of the policies they have endorsed (e.g. green industry), so that the institutions might make the rest of the country aware of these benefits. If the State gave an economic role to these documents, they might also be transferred to the economic system and become a form of capital, able to further spread progressive values. I suggested such kind of transactions in my book “Exchanging Autonomy. Inner Motivations As Resources for Tackling the Crises of Our Times”.

Topics discussed:

DemocracyGood Society

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  1. Posted by Martin Childs

    I think our values are to large extent affected by the environment we find ourselves in. Therefore our values and commitment to democracy, equality and respect for each other would most likely be improved if we had an economic democracy. A working life in worker co-ops. There ordinary people democratically make the decisions of what to produce, what materials to use, what price to sell the products or services at and what to pay themselves to remain competitive.

    This sort of empowerment should lead to less stress during the working week and then less societal problems outside it. It could also lead to a greater involvement in our political democracy because we would naturally be more articulate, more practised at argument and discussion etc. We would as a whole be more confident in ourselves and more valuing of community, seeing ourselves as a part of and not at odds with it. Most progressive people do hold to their accepted values, but life, particularly our working life experiences, tends to wear them down or degrade them somewhat. That is why an economic democracy characterised by an ever greater number of people being employed together in worker co-ops could be such a source for true values and democracy to flourish.

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