an anti-capitalist manifesto, of sorts

Ok, so my brain is completely and utterly fried because I just finished all my finals for my 3rd trimester of grad school!

Some quick math tells me that 3 trimesters = 1 year. There you have it, one year of graduate school studying capitalism is done! Hoorah!

I just finished my final project for my Systems Thinking course and wanted to share it, because it’s kind of cool that I just did this for school. (hint: you can just scroll down to the bottom if you are impatient, but there are some good nuggets of info in this here post!)

We had to create our own manifesto based on what we learned in the course about systems thinking. There were some examples to look at. One was the famous Bread & Puppet Why Cheap Art? Manifesto, which you should take a look at because it is awesome. And Bread & Puppet is awesome. The other example was from Futerra, a British Sustainable Communications Company. Check out their 10 Rules for Communicating Sustainable Development. It’s pretty interesting and I always like to see what infographics communications folks are putting out there.

I learned a lot of things in my systems class. My third group project consisted of mapping the seed industry. If you want, take a look at this amazing info-graphic of the Seed Industry System Mapping my teammates came up with!

We took two different paradigms and mapped them side by side to see what that looked like. On the one hand, we had a Monsanto-controlled, monopolistic, system that reflects the seed consolidation, GMO seeds and patent industries. On the other hand, we looked at small-scale organic locally-focused seed companies. They supported biodiversity, resiliency and a multiple bottom line for the businesses. Our major learning from that activity was that the feedback loops that keep the GMO seed conglomerates thriving are what tears down the Small-scale organic seed industry. Which sucks and is sad. However, on the flip side, the existence of the Small-scale organic seed industry tears down the GMO seed conglomerates. Basically, when you have two competing systems (Industrial sized monopolies vs. Small-scale diversity), their strengths are their opponents weaknesses.

Also interesting from that project was when we looked deeper at the ideas of resiliency and biodiversity. The GMO folks up at Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta are patenting life by creating genetically-modified seeds so that way they can have a monopoly on life. (Yes, it is absolutely crazy.) The seed system they are creating, however, is so incredibly fragile because of how homogenous it is. On the other hand, the decentralized seed system of the small-scale organic seed companies is incredibly resilient because it cannot be easily wiped out.

If we apply these ideas to the economy, we see that centralized economies based on monopolistic conglomerates are much more fragile than decentralized economies, which contain a large amount of diversity and resiliency. Basically, decentralized systems are more resilient systems and are more conducive to diversity (of human experience, of life, of whatever). Yay decentralized!

Did that hurt your brain a little bit? Mine too. So, check out this thing I made for my final project for my systems class. Very Bread and Puppet inspired. Pretty fun to make. If you get inspired to make some manifesto of your own, would you please share it with me!

ps- if you click on the manifesto, it will open a new screen and you can read it better!

anticapitalistmanifesto copy

anti-capitalism insight #1

Over the last two semesters, I have been taking a Systems Analysis class. I think it’s an incredibly awesome and useful way to look at problems. Maybe because one of its founders, Donella Meadows, was a farmer? Just saying. Systems thinking offers a specific lens to understand the way specific systems operate within the context of larger systems and paradigms, as well as offer insights into the strongest leverage points for enacting change. Well duh, of course I love anything that is focused on creating systemic change!

Also, let’s be clear here, systems thinking is not any different than a lot of thinking folks already engage in/do. It does have some great and useful tools for understanding systems. And I think for folks that already understand the world as a complicated interconnected web of systems – the prison system, non-profit system, healthcare system, decision-making systems, etc. – it is not necessarily teaching utterly new information. It does, I think, provide some really great guiding questions for better understanding systems we operate within (consensually or not) and thinking through our approaches to creating lasting change.

Two of the best questions I think I’ve learned to ask are: what are the goals of this system and what paradigm does this system fall under? To find these answers, Meadows and others encourage you to step back and just watch what happens in the system: what actions take place, what tangible things occur in the system. In other words, figure out what the system actually does, not what it claims to do, thinks it does, or wants to be doing. Everything that happens in a system falls in line with the systems goals and the larger paradigm that the system operates under. That will give you the system’s goals.

For example, one of my project groups looked at the School to Prison Pipeline –an interconnected subsystem of both the Prison System and the Educational System. If we listen to what those in charge tell us, the goal of the system is to Create Safe Learning Environments for Students. However, by looking at what is actually happening in the system – mostly black and brown students and students from poor neighborhoods being taken out of schools and pushed towards the prison system – we can see that the goal of the system has nothing to do with learning environments.

(I am still learning this and working on honing these skills, so this analysis may be a little shaky.)

a quick digression….

Last weekend in Finance class we went over a case study. Here is a brief overview: there is a Canadian jewelry company that is doing great in Canada and looking to expand into the US market. They can either do it by going to trade shows or by hiring sales rep. Presented with a whole bunch of numbers and costs and expected sales, what should they do?

After going through all sorts of financial calculations – break even time, return on investments, sensitivity analyses, blah blah blah – it occurred to me that a basic question was not asked: If they are doing so well in the Canadian market, why do they need to expand into the US market?

Ok, so what does Systems Thinking, the School to Prison Pipeline and a Canadian jewelry company have to do with each other?

One of the major issues we talk about at school is the Economic Growth Paradigm! Everything about economics says Grow! Grow! Grow! Expand your company! Increase market share! Increase GDP! Bigger is better! If you’re making a profit, make more of a profit! Don’t be satisfied, ever!

Which leads me to my biggest – and maybe most obvious – insight around what anti-capitalist alternatives might look like: NOT GROWING! HAVING LIMITS! This might look like being satisfied with what you have. Meeting your needs (or maybe just a little more) and then calling it quits. Creating a business that is locally based and leave it at that. Creating products that are useful and last a long time (I’m looking at you planned obsolescence).

There are so many implications it blows my mind. And yet, we are bombarded with the message of Grow! Grow! Grow! So what would it look like if companies stopped growing? If the economy stopped growing? What would it looked like if people were satisfied with what they had?

For me, as a business owner, I am trying to figure out if its possible to act in accordance with this tangible piece of what anti-capitalism might be. And especially if it’s possible to do so within the current capitalist structure. I’m looking at what it means to create a new paradigm. I’m thinking about what it would mean to create an alternative mindset and if that would actually tangibly do anything to change the material conditions of those who get screwed over day in and day out by capitalism.