Escaping From the Box of Capitalist Realism
“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”
It’s knackering, isn’t it? Life. Well, not life per se, but this life.
This life, we’ve all created, as a world, as a society, is really bloody tiring.
Capitalism — in particular, this form of late-stage capitalism — is just exhausting.
In some ways it’s good, sure. But in a lot of ways it’s bad.
But can we change it? Can we come up with something better?
Nope. We’re all too tired. We’re too tired to think of an alternative way of living.
We’re too tired and we’re too entrenched in the system.
How can you know what’s outside the box if you’re locked inside it?
Winston Churchill once said:
“Democracy is the worst form of government. Except for all the others.”
That sentiment can just as easily apply to capitalism.
We know capitalism is flawed, inherently, but then so too are all the other economic systems we’ve tried (or theorised).
Capitalism causes unimaginable suffering and destruction, and though it also brings riches and comfort, it’s difficult to suggest that the positives for some are worth the myriad negatives for many.
In other words, capitalism is very much far from perfect.
What else is there? Communism? Socialism?
Socialism and Communism - if we’re talking about the Socialism of the likes of Venezuela, and Communism as in “anywhere that can viably have been defined as Communist without falling into the “no true Scotsman fallacy”” are both worse than current capitalism.
That’s my personal opinion. In my view, each of those systems limits individual freedoms in a way I find unacceptable. Of course, to the South East Asian worker on less than a dollar an hour who made my shoes, maybe a Communist system would be more appealing.
Regardless, I think most of us in the West can agree that Communism is off the table for us now. Full-blown Socialism, Venezuela-style, also seems unappetising. What’s the point in nationalising everything if the underlying system is corrupt?
If we’re talking Socialism in terms of Nordic country systems, well, that’s basically Social Democracy, right?
Realistically, that’s simply a correction, an adjustment to capitalism, to cap the excesses. That’s not a new system, it’s just an improvement. Which is fine. But it’s not what we’re looking for.
Coming up with an alternative while couched in the system itself feels like a cognitive impossibility. Back in that box, trying to get out.
That block, that barrier that can’t be crossed, is the essence of Capitalist Realism.
Capitalist Realism was formulated by the anarchist thinker Mark Fisher as a means to describing the current mental stagnation we find ourselves in, in terms of attempting to formulate an alternative political and economic system.
Like Francis Fukuyama’s conception of the post-soviet world as “the end of history”, Fisher’s Capitalist Realism is a description of the perceived lack of possibilities and progress within the political and economic sphere — a malaise, an immovability — being locked in the box.
We can’t get out of the box by unlocking it, because the lock is on the outside.
So we sit in the box and we sulk. And we moan. And maybe we move some stuff around inside the box. Tidy it up a little. Make it a bit nicer to live in.
The thing is, we’re still sitting in the box. And shitting in the box. And the box is now all covered in shit but we’re still sitting in it, ‘cos what other choice do we have?
That’s Reflexive Impotence.
The feeling of sitting in your own shit and thinking that, though this is clearly unpleasant, there isn’t any other way of doing things, so you just keep sitting there.
But what if we could cut a hole in the side of the box?
Fisher effectively suggests that this would be the technique to employ were we to truly seek to replace capitalism with something else.
Make a hole, a small hole, and wiggle our finger in it till it got bigger and bigger. Big enough, eventually, for us to get out.
Even better if the hole already exists.
In fact, this capitalist box we’re in has loads of holes. Climate change, gross inequality, declining mental health.
Pick one and stick your finger in it.
Because the Realist element of Capitalist Realism relies on us taking the notion of capitalism as “the only way” as a given.
It requires that we look at the waste and the destruction and simply say “well, there’s nothing else. This is all there is, all we can have.”
It will only take for one of these holes to get bigger. Big enough that we can actually glimpse through it, to the alternatives outside, for this illusion to be shattered.
And so through the inevitability of destructive climate change or unacceptable inequality, we may, in fact, find a way out of the box.
When the hole gets too big to ignore, more and more people will start putting their fingers in and peering out. And eventually, someone will get out and others will follow.
I’m fucking tired. You’re fucking tired. We’re all fucking tired.
Tired of this bullshit, tired of this goddamn box.
But don’t just wallow and sit in your own shit. Look for the holes, stick your finger right in there, and one day, we’ll all get out.
Jackson Rawlings is a political philosopher, writer and thinker with some big ideas about how we can change the world for the better.