Although it might sound like a cliché, it’s true nonetheless: we live in tumultuous times, times full of crises. Fiscal cliff and talk about gun violence in the US, debt crisis and social unrest in Europe, furthermore the ongoing and accelerating change through globalization and technology, an increasing scarcity of (certain) resources, the aggravating ecological crises… The list could go on and on, but the sheer dimensions of these problems as well as the complexity of our current system make them seem almost insurmountable.
I believe that each and every one of these problems is solvable, but yet what is really being done? If you take a close look at our societies’ problem-solving approaches, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that we are used to solving problems almost exclusively on a superficial level. One could say that we are merely curing symptoms instead of searching for the source of the problems; we find this pattern throughout our societies, in all fields of life. Some examples might help to illustrate this point:
- Modern medicine (and psychiatry, for that matter) is mainly concerned with treating symptoms. Got cancer? Get a chemo. Headache? Take a pill. Depression? Anxiety? Any other disease? Take some more pills. And if the symptoms are gone, you’re “healed“. The general motto is: Suppress and hide.
- An increasing number of people are obese and get sick because we eat so much trashy food. Our answer? Manufactured fat-free products and vitamin pills.
- The ecological crises we face – I say crises because it’s not only climate change: pollution (particularly plastic trash), species extinction, including our overfishing of the oceans – are answered with solutions like hybrid cars, more efficient production processes, wind power, banning plastic bags, etc.
- Incidents like the Newtown shooting are answered with hysteric cries to regulate guns (or even borderline absurdities), when it is obvious that this – and, believe me, I’m anything but a gun nut – will not help, at least not sufficiently (because on a global scale, there seems to be no clear correlation between gun ownership and violent deaths in general).
- Even though the banking bashing, if you will, has gone mainstream, the reaction to the financial crisis has consisted merely in a mild tightening of certain regulations (e.g., Basel III), not in a thorough reassessment of the whole sector, as it should have been.
- Instead of asking how our government debt accrued, whether it is legitimate, or even whether it is good that we live in a system built entirely on debt, our only answers to debt “crises” seem to be either tax hikes (sometimes) or cutting social services as well as other public spending (mostly).
- Instead of questioning our “need” for growth, which causes an excessive use of resources, all we can come up with is “more efficient production” – which doesn’t really solve the problem, since a growing, albeit more efficient, production still means an increasing usage of resources. And, my personal favorite: Space mining – because it demonstrates all the ridiculousness of this thinking.
There are countless examples – we can also look even deeper: The phenomenon of mass unemployment (unknown to mankind before capitalism and an essential part of the latter) has been answered by handing out unemployment benefits. Modern socialist (or, to be exact: social democratic) movements have tried to soothe capitalism for over a hundred years by building and expanding the welfare state. Almost no one is questioning any more this allegedly “natural” unemployment rate (cynicism at its best). Is it a good thing that people depend on an entity like the government (or any abstract entity, for that matter)? Obviously not, but the mainstream discourse treats unemployment benefits and other government services as if they were inherently good things; elections are won nowadays because of promises to not lower unemployment benefits or to not cut social services in general. Yet wouldn’t it be preferable to have a society in which there was no need for such services?
I hope you can see where I am going with this: As I said, these problems seem to be solvable to me, yet I think that in order to solve them we have to dig deeper, to go to their origins. Mere “Change” as it was, for instance, promised (if not delivered) by Barack Obama, is not enough; “reforms” are not enough. What is needed is a thorough approach; we need to question the underlying premises of our societies, to be prepared to change our thinking – and our behavior – in a fundamental way.
However, this thinking is not very popular. Mainstream discourse doesn’t like fundamental change. People who seek it are labeled as “radicals” – which basically puts them into one box with people like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. The implication is that radicalism – really, any radicalism – results in dogmatism, violence, oppression and chaos, and that other systems couldn’t work anyway because there simply are no alternatives; the usual argument consists in asserting that the Soviet Union was the alternative, and, well, that everyone knows how that worked out. In fact, this supposed lack of alternatives nowadays seems to be the main argument in favor of the current system – a pretty weak one, if you think about it. However, this indoctrination is still working just fine: most people, even outspoken critics of the current system, are completely convinced that there is no feasible alternative to our current capitalist/market system. It seems striking to me that intelligent people with the capacity to think critically and diversely would surrender that quickly and let themselves be convinced of this incredibly thin narrative.
If you read philosophical and historical texts, if you travel through the world, you see how diverse human behavior can be, how different societies can be. Especially anthropological studies can show us the variety of social organization. The answers are almost all at our disposal; we just have to make use of them.
So, what is this blog trying to do? Well, I will try to challenge the premises our modern society is built on. Social realities are social because they are made by society – which also means that they can be changed. It is not wrong to have premises and to build a society based on them; but you should always be aware of what those premises are – unfortunately, we aren’t. Mankind remains stuck (two centuries after Immanuel Kant’s famous dictum) – now more than ever, it appears – in its “Self-Imposed Immaturity”.
Consider this a starting point for real discourse, because this seems to me what we really need. We need to discuss things like the value of production, growth, wage labor, our (misconceived) individualism, the nature of government, hierarchy, property, and many more things. I will also write about the nature and basic assumptions of our Western philosophy, values, spirituality, and, above all, about the realm of human possibilities, about the alternatives we have. Ultimately, this is the real goal of this blog and the reason why I named it “Exploring Our Options”: because we tend to underestimate the possibilities and choices we as human beings have. We can do so much better than we are doing right now; it is our choice, and ours alone.
EDIT: The first version of this article falsely referred to “psychology” instead of “psychiatry”.
 Admittedly, I’m a child of “the West” (if you will), so when I say “our“ societies, I am mainly speaking about Western culture; yet for some of the aforementioned problems, these patterns can be observed in almost all countries.
 There is also a new documentary (Trashed) with Jeremy Irons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7xSITCH1mo
 Which can be explained very easily: it would lead to an alteration, or even dissolution, of the current system, and with it existing power structures. Since power influences discourse, it is obvious that the latter would emphasize that any other system than the current one would have disastrous results. (My proofreaders pointed out to me that by using the term “discourse” without explanation, I took for granted that every reader knows the scientific jargon. Wikipedia, as it often does, provides a good introductory explanation – a far better one than I could provide here, anyway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discourse and: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_discourse_analysis) For a good account of how the media treat “radical” movements, cf. Graeber, David (2009): Direct Action. An Ethnography, Oakland: AK Press.
As my first song, I chose “Netzwerk”, which is a very good song made by an Austrian group called “Klangkarussell”.