The Wicked Witch Is Dead. Why Aren't We Dancing in the Streets?
Okay, capitalism isn't dead yet. And the house is falling on us too.
But let's allow ourselves one little moment of glee at the expense of the system that's been choking the world to death for 500 years.
I know: we - that is, those of us making five figures or less, or nothing at all, or getting a social security check - we are terrified
that the demise of capitalism will be ours as well. But wasn't flourishing, healthy, arrogant, thumb-your-nose-at-the-world capitalism already killing us?
At the very bottom - the billion and a half people on the earth living on less than a dollar a day; the refugees from capitalism's violent aggressions; the victims of war zone rape and of rapacious economic interventions; the dwellers in and fleers from decimated places - the collapse of Lehman Brothers isn't the worst news they've had this year, or even this week.
And here in the U.S., most of us were living on borrowed time before the bubble burst. Every number was going up except the one on our paycheck, social security check, or social services voucher. When capitalism was strong and healthy - a couple of weeks ago - we were in a perpetual state of sticker shock: at the gas station, at the supermarket, every time the credit card bill or the tax bill or the rent or the car payment came around.
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG are too big to be allowed to fail. What about the 37 million of us living in official poverty, the 46 million with no health insurance, the 2 ½ million in prison, the 3 ½ million homeless - how come we aren't too big to fail? Capitalism has already failed most of us; now that it's failing the capitalists, suddenly it's a crisis.
They are telling us we should be very scared because capitalism is in danger of disintegrating. Might we be forgiven if just for a second we are tempted to say, "Bring it on!"
Of course, there are good reasons to be scared. The failure of capitalism, in the absence of a viable alternative, presents a terrifying danger of deterioration into fascism: the merger of the masters of corporate greed with political and military leaders; the concentration of power in the hands of a demagogic executive branch; the unraveling of democratic institutions and the rule of law; the suppression of dissent; the stealing of elections; the waging of wars of conquest; the scapegoating of unpopular minorities... wait, this is starting to sound familiar. Failed capitalism sounds a lot like successful capitalism.
And so it is. We are being told that if capitalism fails, everything we thought we had (in case we thought we had anything) will be wiped out. So we have to participate in a massive life support operation -- which will also wipe us out.
Somebody is going to have to cough up that three quarters of a trillion plus, and that somebody is us. Out of our inner city and rural schools that are already punishing our kids instead of educating them; out of the miserable safety net full of holes through which the elderly, the poor, the undereducated and the just plain unlucky are already falling; out of the meager funding that already puts a college education out of reach of so many of our kids; out of our property and income taxes and rents and fees that we already have no way to pay and still eat three meals a day.
So what's good about this crisis? For starters, it has already brought strong cries of outrage from expected and unexpected quarters; more voices than ever before are demanding that social wealth be used for the benefit of all. It has provided vindication and legitimacy to voices of dissent and change.
It has opened up possibilities. It may restore a bit of multilateral balance to the one-superpower world. It may put a check on the pre-emptive, regime-changing, shock-and-awe militarism that has brought so much suffering and death. It may open up a bit of breathing space for the Latin American experiment in not being the U.S.A.'s back yard. It may encourage the growth of an alternative vision beyond the Republicrats and the Democans. It may put the brakes on some of the greed that is plunging the earth into climate destruction. It may allow, for the first time in 500 years, a global culture to emerge that is not dominated by white people.
Above all, if we allow ourselves to imagine it, if we organize ourselves to fight for it, it opens a window into the possibility of an entirely different sort of world, one based on the wellbeing of humans and the earth instead of on short-term greed and violent aggression - a world free from capitalism.
I may be out there all by myself, but I'm going to go do a hopeful little dance in the street.