An exchange on Vivir Bien: Old Cosmovisions and New Paradigms
The materialization of the GT as a global project (that is, the project of adding up a critical mass of enlightened individuals to reach a tipping point towards a GT) may remain ever-elusive. In a world that has become globalized in many respects, however, an epochal transition—albeit not a “designed,” “controlled,” homogeneous, or simultaneous one—is likely to be global, as well, or at least widely spread throughout the world. Pablo Solón’s thesis that Vivir Bien cannot be achieved by any given country in isolation thus seems warranted.
The war over alternative social-ecological futures can thus only be sensibly waged if not in a unified global front, then at least in a globally networked exchange of ideas, experiences. This implies, by extension, engaging diverse (contesting or complementary) socio-cognitive and cultural frames, colored by diverse experiences of the world. The complexity of this global world, which is particularly bewildering at this historical juncture, necessarily escapes any individual observer, no matter how attentive. Interconnectedness allows for swarm intelligence, which, in turn, seems crucial for understanding the larger systemic constraints to which smaller embedded systems are subject. Interconnectedness and the ensuing cross-pollination also help to blur identity/ideological markers. Such markers can lead to “the best proposal being dropped just because it happened to come from the wrong party.”1
I am therefore persuaded that Pablo Solón hits the nail on the head when stressing the importance of fostering synergies/complementarities among diverse “transition discourses,” to use the phrase of Arturo Escobar, and initiatives around the world.2 So far systemically constrained by locked-in extractivist matrices, the indigenous-inspired retro-progressive utopia of BV/ VB cannot be further advanced without the mutual engagement with (self-)critiques of Northern ways of life. Such critiques can be found both in the intellectual sphere and in a wide range of heterogeneous movements and initiatives (degrowth, time prosperity, work reduction, universal basic income, Transition Towns, digital commoners, etc.).3
Furthermore, the above initiatives show the role of civil society evolving from either a rule-challenging (protest and resistance) or a rule-taking force (service-provision) into a rule-making agent. This shaping power of communal and civic organizations vis-à-vis centralized design and implementation is also highlighted by Pablo Solón in his essay.
Regarding whether these networked transformative forces can gather the strength to bring about a large-scale transition, I tend to be skeptical. Yet the world is rapidly changing. In Buying Time, Wolfgang Streeck makes a persuasive case for the approaching exhaustion of capitalism, while Jeremy Rifkin predicts its “eclipse” in The Zero Marginal Cost Society, insofar the coming generation embraces the empowering potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) as the unfolding historical infrastructure revolution of our age for the build-up of decentralized modern subsistence or “prosumer” economies.4 The combination of the favorable backwind provided by these latter developments and the mutual energizing of systemic activist initiatives holds some promise, however little, of seeing a GT dawning in the coming decades, before current trends push modern civilizations down the abyss of barbarization and ecological dismay of which the Global Scenario Group and the GTI have been warning for decades now.
1. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber in a panel discussion with Katja Kipping at the Conference “Genug für Alle – sozial.öko.logisch” in January 2017, Essen, Germany, organized by the Rosa-Luxemburg Foundation and the Parliamentary Block of Die Linke: http://www.nachhaltig-links.de/index.php/konferenz-2017-genug-fuer-alle/1812-schellnhuber-kipping.
2. Together with Julien Vanhulst, Federico Demaria, Ana E. Carballo, Jêrome Pelenc, and Violeta Rabi, we put forward a concrete analysis of how to “make complementarities fertile” (Miriam Lang) among three iconic development-critical discourses in a recently published article in Ecological Economics: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800917303798.
3. Consider, for example, the following: Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen, “Crisis and Continuity of Capitalist Society-Nature Relationships: The Imperial Mode of Living and the Limits to Environmental Governance,” Review of International Political Economy 20, no. 4 (2013): 687–711; Stephan Lessenich, “The Externalization Society. Living beyond the Means of Others,” in The Futures We Want Global Sociology and the Struggles for a Better World, ed. Markus S. Schulz (Madrid: International Sociological Association, 2016).
4. Wolfgang Streeck, Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, trans. Patrick Camiller and David Fernbach (New York: Verso, 2014); Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Cost Marginal Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).