The Way Out

Caitlin Johnstone discusses what it will take for society to turn away from the path of extinction and begin working in collaboration with our ecosystem.

Flood damage in Pepinster, Belgium, on July 17. (Christophe Licoppe, European Commission, Wikimedia Commons)

By Caitlin Johnstone

I talk a lot about how we’re destroying our environment with a global system where human behavior is driven by the pursuit of profit, how the power structure which dominates that system does so by violence, exploitation, oppression, and the threat of nuclear war, and how we’re all going to die if we don’t change this system.

[Listen to a reading of this article.]

Whenever I say this, I get a bunch of capitalism cultists bleating, “You just don’t understand economics bruh,” which is the line they’ve been trained to say to anyone they see criticizing capitalism. It’s silly for a number of reasons, among them the fact that nobody who regurgitates that line understands economics themselves, and the fact that one’s understanding of economics has nothing to do with the death of the ecosystem our species relies on for survival.

The claim that anyone who opposes capitalism “just doesn’t understand economics” is premised on the notion that unfettered capitalism is the best way for a civilization to attain economic growth, which is arguably true; governments like China saw their economies explode when they started implementing elements of capitalism for pragmatic reasons.

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If you want to create a bunch of stuff and generate a tremendous amount of wealth, a good way to do that is by giving the capitalist class the protection of the state so they can rake in billions of dollars exploiting the global proletariat without being guillotined.

Problem is, that only looks like a valid point if economic growth is the only value by which you judge a system’s success. If you value quality of life, overall happiness, health, average lifespan, education, eliminating poverty, homelessness and hunger, and many other possible metrics, nations like the United States are far from ideal.

If you value avoiding climate collapse, then the only way to think capitalism is the answer is to espouse on blind faith the belief that the world will be saved by greedy union-busting tech oligarchs who just want to make more stuff and send us all to space.

That’s not to say that socialism in and of itself has all the answers on this front either. Nations which have attempted socialism have not historically had the best environmental records, and even a hypothetical ideal socialist society where workers own all the means of production would not be inherently dissuaded from destroying the environment for profit.

The Un-Making of Things

What we need, if we are to turn away from the path of extinction and begin working in collaboration with our ecosystem, is a society which values the un-making of things.

Since the dawn of civilization humanity has valued achievement, conquest, invention, creation; it has valued doing things, and it has not valued the undoing of things.

Creating a new kind of machine will bring you fame and fortune and put your name in the history books, while figuring out how to clean up all the pollution caused by the manufacturing and operation of that machine will not. Discovering a new way to kill thousands of people at a time will make you rich, while choosing to sit on that invention instead of unleashing that horror upon the world will not. Cutting down a tree to make toothpicks will make you money, while leaving it to grow for future generations will not.

[Related: The Mega Machine & the Mega Crisis]

Interestingly this disparity parallels with the inequality in traditional gender roles throughout the ages. While hunter-gatherer societies were largely egalitarian, after the invention of agriculture some twelve thousand years ago women came to be generally regarded as second-class citizens because they were unable to do fieldwork or conquer other tribes for their land.

Since that time women have had very little say in the construction of our society and its values systems, and for that reason the work they traditionally do — cleaning, caring, conserving, resolving conflicts and building community — has gone unrewarded by money or esteem compared to traditional men’s work. Doing and making are valued, undoing and unmaking are not. The rise of modern capitalism poured rocket fuel on this dynamic.

Most mothers will tell you it’s a pretty thankless job compared to how much labor you pour into it from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you lay your head down at night. Because so much of her work goes into disappearing things — dirty diapers, laundry, messy floors, dishes in the sink, owwies, tears, tantrums — people who are conditioned by a society that has for millennia only valued making and doing tend to only notice when her work doesn’t get done. Their attention scans right over all the undoing she spent all day working on; it’s not paid, it’s not rewarded, and for the most part it’s not even appreciated.

In the same way, and for the same reason, people’s attention tends to scan right over the obvious solutions to the ecocidal trajectory our species has been on. Because thousands of years of conditioning have trained us to value doing things and making things and turning over a profit, our attention skips right over the simple solution right under our noses to do less and unmake things and stop pursuing profit at the expense of future generations.

When It Looks Impossible

This is why people who are awake to what’s going on in our world so often feel hopeless and despondent, and why the quote “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism” resonates with so many. Because we live in a society that has no framework or conceptual infrastructure for valuing the disappearing of things, and because making things and turning a profit has no answer for our situation, solutions look impossible.

But solutions are not impossible. They just won’t involve turning millionaires into billionaires and billionaires into trillionaires.

Cleaning up this mess will take a lot of work and cost a lot, and the reward for that investment won’t be anyone getting rich or any power structure securing a geo-strategic advantage, it will be a future for our children and grandchildren.

The oceans for example are one of our planet’s biggest carbon sinks, and their ability to function as such is being choked off by plastics in the water. Getting that plastic out of there in an environment-friendly way won’t turn a profit like clearing a forest or drilling an oil field will, so if we leave it to the Captains of Industry nothing will be done about it. Capitalism offers no incentive to do it.

Ending growth for its own sake, producing less, consuming less, paying people to stay home instead of commuting to pointless jobs; all of these would help the ecosystem far more than producing some new battery made of strip-mined materials. But there’s no profit, so they’re overlooked as viable solutions. 

You’re only ever going to look for solutions to problems through the reality tunnel you’ve been conditioned to look through. For thousands of years human civilization has been valuing the making of more things and devaluing the unmaking of things, when the latter is what we need right now.

Disorders Are the Hidden Cost 

A hidden cost is mental illness. In order to manipulate people to buy things that they don’t need with money they don’t have to keep capitalism from collapsing, you need to keep up a non-stop barrage of trauma-inducing consumerist propaganda.

We are all suffering from various mental disorders, from the subtle to the extreme, as a result of this relentless onslaught of brainwashing. Some of these disorders are so prevalent that people assume they are normal. Everything from eating disorders and obesity, to hoarding and shopping addictions, can be traced back to advertising constantly and repetitively ringing our pavlovian bells, while also constantly reminding us that we are not perfect or whole or worthy of love (but maybe if you buy this you will be).

Many readers will attest that you don’t have to be that far along in your waking up journey to start becoming really sensitive to the psychological violence of TV advertising. A TV ad break suddenly becomes physically repellant. In the future we will look back on how coercive and non-consensual mass-scale advertising is and shake our heads in wonder that it was ever allowed to be a thing. Of course, by then, advertising will barely work because too many people will be too awake to manipulate in mass numbers.

But for now, we are manipulated by the millions into consuming massive amounts of products that aren’t good for us, don’t serve us, or are just another thing that we won’t hardly use but we need to find some cupboard space for. Ending advertising would allow so much health to rebuild in our minds and reduce consumption of materials dramatically; but ending advertising would mean ending capitalism. They are inseparable.

We have the tools now to find everything we need via word-of-mouth, but capitalism requires infinite growth. Even your mom-and-pop shop owner feels the pressure to grow in order to keep up cash flow and cover increasing overheads.

Growth is baked in to capitalism, and right now we need more than anything just to chill. Do less, be less, compete less, expect less of ourselves and each other, produce less, consume less, commute less; but take more naps, be more kind, be more gentle with ourselves and each other, laugh more, cry more, feel more, and regenerate all the energy stolen from us from a rat race that we were never gonna win anyway.

Only when we have systems in place that make this possible will we find the energy to start cleaning up our world and begin living in harmony and integrity with the very ecosystem of which we are intrinsically a part.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium.  Her work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking her on Facebook, following her antics on Twitter, checking out her podcast on either YoutubesoundcloudApple podcasts or Spotify, following her on Steemit, throwing some money into her tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of her sweet merchandise, buying her books Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative MatrixRogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone and Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.

This article is from and re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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10 comments for “The Way Out

  1. Garrett Connelly
    July 27, 2021 at 17:47

    Great article that points toward solutions that are like washing dishes and cleaning up. Wonderful writing Caitlin Johnstone, so well done I hesitate to add even what I believe might help, but I will embellish the brain washing and advertising riff just a little bit.

    Caitlin actually already pointed to the solution via “word of mouth.” So how do we get there without capitalists sending in the thought police?

    Move advertising from the business expense category to free speech. There are no tax deductions for free speech. A business wants to do free speech brainwashing? Fine. Go right ahead. Without the subsidy of a tax deduction. Word of mouth is free and as time goes by the advantage of word of mouth from small entrepreneurs will drown out repulsive flashing electronic advertising.

    Stephen mentioned in these comments a preference for evolution rather than revolution; evolution is the ultimate in non making. A conscious decision to evolve as rapidly as possible is similar to realizing the dishes won’t wash themselves before preparing a meal.

    Along the way I have discovered and reserved and

    I have also recently made a place for a new college grad of Applied Mathematics. Now I invite collaboration in design of rapid conscious evolution via these forums. I add that I am old enough to say I will be out of the way before too long. Think of autonomous democracy dot org as an old fashioned applause meter from the 1950’s. Contests are at the top of page one at constituent assembly the assembly is reached by scrolling down and clicking your preferred language.

  2. robert e williamson jr
    July 27, 2021 at 16:33

    Great stuff Caitlin. Amazed again by your great talent that allows you to explain today’s intertwined problems by delivering to the reader the essence of your thoughts succinctly. The truth comes blasting through and makes you a force to be reckoned with.

    Time for even the wealthy masses to downsize, cut the greed from their lives and humbly address the massive problems their activities have wrought. Much suffering by the masses is the direct result of their choices. Something I learned about by patronizing the International Consortium of Investigative Journalist. The scale of their arrogance is unbelievable.

    Don’t hold your breath but set your jaw and endeavor We all must. We all must also understand our number are growing, those of us who have received and understand our wake up call.

    In reply to Gordon K I have this note. Gordon engineered obsolescence is sorry practice that can be traces to the military industrial complex. Such is the nature of the so called defense industry, perpetual arms races.

    We can all thank the demons of the nuclear weapons industry and their philosophy of “mutually assured destruction”. They would be Edward Teller and his merry group of death dealers at the USAEC – United states Atomic Energy Commission. Him and his group of haters who black balled Oppenheimer.

    Ban all nukes now.

    Thanks CN

  3. Susan
    July 27, 2021 at 13:17

    Using our buying power for good by supporting B Corporations might help too…hXXps://

  4. William F Johnson
    July 27, 2021 at 11:24

    I agree with Caitlin but would point out that, plastics in our oceans aren’t as big a deal as commercial overfishing and that, using regenerative agriculture both serve as solutions to global warming. These two very simple solutions should be mandated by govts everywhere and such mandates could lead to even more ways of negating climate change, pollution and so on. We have to begin to solve our troubles someplace and I strongly suggest these two as a starting point.

  5. GordonK
    July 27, 2021 at 11:18

    You are on to something big, but people do want stuff. I know I like stuff. The difference is, that now, they make crappy stuff. Stuff that has to be replaced in a year or two and even if it’s working fine, the new software updates make it unusable and incompatible. This all needs to change.

    I hate to be that “old guy” who talks fondly about the past, but cripes, when I was young, you had one telephone that lasted as long as your house stood. The tv was repairable. Just replace the part that burned out and it kept on going for years, perhaps a decade or more. I had fishing reels that lasted twenty years, now if you get two years out of it, you feel lucky. And anything electronic is destined for the wastebasket in two years.

    We need the right to repair first and foremost, but also somehow, a way to get companies to make quality goods again. Furniture you can hand down through the generations instead of IKEA crap that falls apart and phones that can have their software changed to work with the newest infrastructure. Blowing up the multinationals and forcing them to compete might be a very good first step, but change does need to happen and happen soon.

    The good / bad news is that with world weather going bonkers, food production is falling short and we may cut back on demand by having a lot of very hungry people leaving the planet, but I don’t think they’ll all just lay down and die quietly.

  6. Ethan Hays
    July 27, 2021 at 08:24

    You’ve got the right idea, but wow do you have some of the details wrong.

    First of all, something that really bugs me: The Gimbutas feminist fantasy of women becoming second-class citizens after humans developed agriculture is largely dismissed, anymore, less because any of the details she cited were wrong but because the entire concept has collapsed. Women were involved, women were influential, women did help create the social and economic structures; that they were less represented at the extremes appears to involve biology, not sociology.

    Second, technology is what got us here; every machine we have made has been to solve some other problem. That it created another problem to be solved is an obvious issue, but the very concept of “progress” is that the new problem is not as bad as the last one. Climate change is the first instance to challenge that situation, but it will be machines that solve the problem; indeed, the problem would already be solved if we had made the right decision and kept building nuclear plants… but it was capitalism that stopped us, because it’s hard to make money off of nuclear.

    We can’t go back; you can’t feed 8 billion people on “organic” subsistence farming. We can’t stay here; the environment is collapsing. The only way out is forward.


  7. David Klatt
    July 27, 2021 at 01:29

    The US military is the biggest polluter so anti war should be number one priority. If the war machine is not shut down then nothing else will matter

  8. Bob Dobbs
    July 26, 2021 at 20:34

    It isn’t a matter of capitalism versus socialism. It’s a matter of scale. At large scale both require authoritarianism to impose the will of the psychopath elites that inevitably occur in larger collections of people. For capitalism force is used to relinquish labor. With socialism it is force to relinquish possessions.

  9. ZoltanB
    July 26, 2021 at 18:42

    Interesting read, thank you!
    Growth for its own sake is detrimental, no doubt. Planned obsolescence might be a good example.
    While say, building a house to protect yourself of rain, cold or heat is necessary. That means growth as well.

  10. Stephen Blobaum
    July 26, 2021 at 11:11

    Evolution not revolution. I still sharpen my guillotine daily.?

Comments are closed.