Defying the Market Oct 23, 2021
What does it take to get people to reject market logic and act according to criteria other than maxing out short term personal gain?
Whether it's shopping on Amazon for price and convenience, selling a house for those sweet sweet wads of monopoly money, or driving a car to work in places with viable public transit options, the ills threatening thousands of species including our own come from an aggregation of choices.
Blaming the consumer is an obviously inadequate analysis and morally a category error. And yet in the face of large-scale ossification and intransigence from the political class and corporate capitalism, every tactical avenue should be explored.
The first response has to be to reject the premise. People do defy—or at least significantly bend—the market in all kinds of ways: family, community, kinship networks, volunteer work, care work, land defence, gift giving, actual honest-to-goodness philanthropy, mentorship, land occupation, squatting, mutual aid and so on. If we measure the value of that in aggregate, there's a case to be made that the market actually only exists because there's this larger non-market logic that stabilizes the smaller greed-driven system that feeds on it.
So the question is really about how to grow the power, and enhance the focus, of the existing defiance of market logic—enough to overcome the greater concentration and focus of power that capital achieves with shock-and-awe efficiency.
Drawing on the bending above, I think it takes a combination of the following:
Social sanction: a network of relationships where non-market values can be affirmed as shared and reinforced through relational accountability. That could take the form of judgy comments or affirmation; shunning or celebration—sides of the coin. Who do we hold up, and where do we draw the lines of social acceptability? Social reinforcement does very little on its own, and is quite destructive when there's no clear alternative to advocate for. Wielded without self-awareness, it typically falls hardest on the most vulnerable. But combined with some of the other factors in this list it is nonetheless a crucial tool that can be used for solidarity—even if it mostly isn't in its current forms.
A pathway: whether you're trying to get people to buy fair trade bananas or sell their home that they bought for 60k for a mere $300,000, there need to be clear pathways. That means well-advertised, available opportunities to start down the path and take each successive step. This could mean a storefront, a delivery service, support group, widely-circulated stories, and so on. What to do and how to do it has to be clear, and the opportunity to do it has to be available and accessible. It's a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the population that is into inventing new social forms. Establishing the new ones that have been invented takes a lot of collective effort. Which brings us to...
Organizations: every once in a while a call will go out where people will say "boycott Amazon on such and such day". And then there will even be helpful articles that list all the things to do instead. But the results are underwhelming. That's because for the most part, people don't do things spontaneously and coherently. Even the moments of seemingly emergent mass collective action are typically the result of years of organizing and organizational work. Organizing is followup, poring over spreadsheets, cooking, buttering people up, gift giving, harranguing, rallying, and showing the value of something by being willing to devote extended effort to it. And when a lot of people do it, taking turns and resting because it's exhausting, it's called an organization.
Social fabric: the mostly-invisible web of relationships that holds enough trust for people to act or change their behaviour in a specific way without worrying too much about the reasons. Not everyone is going to tinker with the philosophical foundations of western civilization and then work their way logically to a course of action that aligns with a collective need. Friendships, respect, deference, perceived self interest, influence and desire to please—among many others—all play roles in how behaviour and values circulate. Capitalism as a general trend breaks these down (because they are often impediments to capital flows and the market) and then commodifies them (because human needs are a source of value and thus potential profit).
All of which is to say: tackling the ways the market reduces us collectively, individually and ecologically is a big complex problem. For such efforts to succeed, multiple things need to be working in tandem.
I think organizing unions, or co-ops, or campaigns are all necessary. But there's a level of meta-organization that is also necessary for any of these to succeed because there we need stories, organizations, affect and daily experience to line up and that's a lot to ask of any one group.
Without laying claim to any unique insight beyond believing in that need, I will say that those of some of the thoughts behind the way SEIZE - Socialist Economy Incubation Zone is set up: a long term project to build social fabric and education around organizations that create new economic capacity that can align itself with ecological systems and human well being.
If you're interested, get in touch. But the more important point is this: I hope SEIZE is one of many experiments of this type, because we're going to need a lot more.