When you realize the ship is sinking do you stay on board and reroute or jump overboard and rebuild?
There is no right answer, but I see the people and projects in this series as examples of the many ways to save our ship.
So you’ve realised you’re on the Titanic of Western society - S.S. Capitalism. The ship drivers have told you it will never sink but you’ve started to get suspicious.
Maybe you’re confused as to why the ship only serves us plastic wrapped, manufactured fish from other oceans when we could fish for ourselves.
Maybe you think its weird that we keep going to dangerous lengths to drill for fuel, destroying clean waters when we could just tap into sun, wind, and resources that won’t deplete.
Maybe you’re sick of being charged too much rent to stay on the ship, or sick of working longer hours to pay off your mortgage to stay on the ship, or sick of getting paid an unlivable minimum wage for these long hours?
Maybe you’ve peaked around the control room and noticed that only a handful of the richest people are driving. They keep steering the ship towards capturing more money, ignoring the needs of passengers while telling them that the money will trickle down.
Maybe the more you see how interconnected all this is and how powerful those ship drivers are, you might start to feel powerless. But you are the opposite! There is no one right way to save this ship so it’s time to consider some options and see what works for you.
The main decision ahead is — do you stay or do you go? Do you want to stay on board and try to reroute the ship or do you jump overboard so that you can live by your ideals and start building a model for a new ship?
First let’s consider what’s in your privilege pack — this is your backpack full of privileges and disadvantages that you were born with and carry with you at all times. Others will judge you based on the money, race, gender, sexuality, religion or nationality that comes in your privilege pack, but remember that you are not your pack. Maybe you were born on the deck of S.S. Capitalism, not quite part of the 1% in the control room, but not down below where your passport gives you immigration issues, your skin color invites police to stop and frisk or even shoot you, or your neighbourhood has more drugs and crime than grocery stores and good schools. If you were born on the deck, you probably have more time, money and proximity to the control room so consider using this for good. But remember to listen to those who are rising up from down below, they are the leaders of this struggle to reroute. If you are down below, remember that you have already lived through the impacts of S.S. Capitalism’s destruction route and will continue to bear a majority of these burdens, so you don’t need me to tell you what resistance looks like.
Now that you’ve examined your privilege pack, think about where you could put your assets to good use. Also think about what qualities you might have in general — are you a good communicator? Do you like doing things with your hands? Do you like teaching people, or would you rather do things and lead by example? Do you like to think about things for a while and have a set plan, or would you rather just hit the streets and take action? Does group conflict freak you out? How about conflict with authorities?
Now take a look overboard and see how you feel. There are lots of different row boats down there and plenty of people who have jumped and started building alternatives to S.S. Capitalism. Some are way far out, like permaculture communities and ecovillages. Some might be happening pretty close by, like worker owned co-operatives, towns going off the grid, and people turning food deserts into food forests in that vacant lot you always ignored. Sometimes its hard to see what they’re doing down there because its so small scale, local and grassroots. Sometimes when they yell up at the people on the deck, the deck people only hear murmurs. Or they yell back “get a job, you dirty hippy”. But down there they are creating the change they want to see.
Now look back on board. There are plenty of things you can do on the ship if you’re worried about leaving your lifestyle and your friends up here. If you’re down below you can build solidarity and rise up in an unstoppable mass. And as we noticed before, if you use your privilege and stay on the deck, you’ll be closer to the people whose minds you want to change — both the drivers in the control room and people on the deck who may not realise they are contributing to the problems — they are way more likely to hear you if you educate, research, and advocate on their level. And it’s not just talk on the boat. I bet you already do things that make minor rerouting adjustments like exchanging favours without pay, making DIY products, or working for a rad social enterprise that values social benefit as much as profit.
You might get tired of either approach. On board, you’re participating in the system which means contributing to the problem even if your job is rad and you buy all the ethical products you can afford. If you’re in a row boat you could get frustrated watching the ship head towards ice bergs while you fish, or you could drift so far from the ship that no one can see or join you. But remember that there is no one right approach — hop on, hop off, and treat each action like an experiment, testing what feels right for you and makes the most impact.
Whatever you do, don’t forget that you can’t do it alone. Try tying your row boats together to catch people when they jump. Try teaching the deck people how to fish for themselves. Try forming coalitions of deck people, below-deck people and row boat people until you’re too big too fail. Your choices are infinite so start trying.
P.S. I wrote this intending for it to be a coloring book (for adults or really thoughtful kids). If you are keen on illustration and want to collaborate, contact me.
P.P.S. My jury is still out on whether or not we should blame all our problems on capitalism - maybe I should call the ship S.S. Neoliberalism? S.S. Patriarchy? Greed? I don't want to demonize everyone who benefits from being able to start a business or sell their labor. I acknowledge that a lot of my privileges were made possible within capitalism, but I like to think we could find a system where we meet all our basic needs without exploiting others and the earth? I would love to hear your thoughts.