Naomi Klein is right. That’s sad - and terrifying.
Last week, I was one of almost 15,000 individuals from around the world - but mainly the United States - who participated in a webinar with Naomi Klein, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Astra Taylor who together spoke on the topic "How to beat Coronavirus capitalism". Klein noted that that number was 13,000 more than participated in a campaign call with Joe Biden the day before. Their important discussion is worth watching (see at bottom of post).
As I watched these incredibly successful, intelligent, committed and outraged women speak, I was saddened. There was nothing of substance that I would disagree with in their savage criticism of 'American' capitalism and its failure to address the needs of so many in that country. I am saddened because they and their outrage are the product of a system that I believe still worth trying to preserve, but on the face of it, not deserving of that consideration. Though I would argue that the experience of the exemplar of unfettered capitalism - the USA - is not the same as that experienced in the other democracies who have figured out how to provide basic citizen rights such as universal healthcare and education, what happens in the US has the potential to influence events around the world.
We have seen over and over in recent years that what is amplified in the US impacts all of us.
And that's why I am very uncomfortable by the rhetoric of revolution that they promote, of responding to the economic trauma that will again impact those who can least afford it, by seeking to destroy the 'virus' that caused it - capitalism. The US$500 billion big-business stimulus package approved by the Senate and confirmed by the House is seen as only the most recent outrage perpetuated by a self-serving classist and racist elite protecting the interests of billionaires over the average worker - but they vow, for the last time. With massive job losses and income dislocation real and anticipated - especially the crushing burden of student loans and consumer debt - the time has finally arrived for the 'the people' to say 'no'. The time is NOW they argue to break the system, take control and make a fairer, more equitable and sustainable world that puts the 'average' person at the centre.
My discomfort is not with the outrage. It is as noted largely justified.
The recent news out of the UK that EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou paid himself a £60 million payout as part of a £170 million dividend payment to shareholders, only to then apply for their share of the UK governments bailout of the airline industry is simply wrong, immoral, unconscionable. So too I have to say is the evident absence of any US billionaire stepping up to the plate to announce a week ago that they would fund the development and sourcing of the ventilators so critically needed in ICU's across America (something the UK's Richard Branson has done).
My fear is that in provoking the act and language of resistance, of revolution, they are playing with fire in an environment where the tinder is very, very dry.
Recent polling by Pew Research suggests that the number of Americans that consider themselves 'very liberal' constitute just 15% of Americans. It's true that those who consider themselves 'liberal' has grown from 21% to 32% over the last 20 years, but the fact is that the centre still holds at 38% moderate and 11% conservative. So 47% are potentially susceptible to their revolutionary message, with 49% for the most part not*. And most decidedly not are the 3% who describe themselves as 'very conservative'. Not unimportantly and certainly not coincidently, the Guardian newspaper has reported that just 3% of gun owners in the United States own 133 million of America's 265 million weapons. What are the odds that there is a near perfect overlap of those two 3%'s?
The coming social dislocation and disruption will be fertile ground for agitators - actors with good and bad intent - of all sorts. I submit that the state of liberal democracy is especially fragile - much more fragile than those on the far left believe - and addressing the outrage of the citizenry will require a level of nuance, tolerance and openness that I'm not seeing. How can it be so when it is reactionary rage against the system that fuels and propels them? Put simply, revolutions tend to consume those who start them along with many innocents - with a great many more unintended consequences impacting whole societies for decades (the French and Russian examples). And in the case of the United States, the polarized numbers cited above suggest that 'political action' could resemble less as a revolution and more like a civil war.
Moreover, the calculus of rebellion in an election year where the Democratic nominee's electoral prospects will, without doubt be bound to those doing the rebelling, only works to the benefit of the current incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It's worth noting the incumbents' curious fascination with, and obsequiousness to, Russia's Vladimir Putin, who just engineered changes to the Russian constitution designed to keep him in power until 2036.
So one needs to be very careful about igniting a movement unless one is sure of prevailing - and I don't believe the populist winds blowing in the world favour such an effort.
As stated, though I hold very different views on a great many elements of their platform (their means and outcomes), I do largely accept their read of the failure of liberal democracy and capitalism to address the needs of the full citizenry - the fuel for outrage. But why must we consider just two options for the post COVID-19 future - revolution or a complacent drift to autocracy?
The issue is not about the transformation of society. My sense is that from those who identify as 'very liberal' to 'conservative', a clear majority in liberal democracies accept that a substantive transformation of society must take place, with an end result not unlike that which Klein et al are struggling for. The question is 'when'.
I submit there is a third way. How about committing to a 10-year revolution?
How about putting a date, and more importantly the resources, process, infrastructure – and accountability - in place to assure that enough has been mobilized to assure that the transformation can and will happen.
It is unreasonable to expect this 'movement' to originate from within government - certainly not at the beginning. It must come from the citizens driven by sober conviction rather than outrage, those from the broad centre who reject extremism, and the organizations - non-profits, charities, social enterprises, companies and eventually governments from every where and every sector who share a common humanist belief. The scale and scope of such an endeavour would have to equal or exceed the Manhattan Project, but with the fate of not just the US, but humanity at stake how can we afford not to undertake it?
And given that only universal prosperity in an Age of Abundance can assure or better yet define success, this Manhattan Project will yield not a pyrrhic victory, but the affluent, healthy and sustainable societies that can then attend to all of the existential issues facing us.
It just so happens that this is precisely the endeavour that Leaders Expedition was designed, prototyped and refined for. The scaffolding necessary to commence humanity's 10 year revolution is ready now.