Friday, July 25, 2008

Social Capitalism

Our world's aging economic system is literally creaking at the hinges, and the signs are all around us. Global greed and ignorance, ably abetted by the disregard for regulation, has ignited a crisis of epic proportions. Visionary author and futurologist, Jeremy Rifkin, examines the labour issues in his excellent book, 'The End Of Work':

In 1995, 800 million people were unemployed or underemployed worldwide. Currently, more than a billion people fall in one of these two categories. The great issue at hand is how to redefine the role of the human being in a world where less human labour will be required in the commercial arena. We have yet to create a new social vision, and a new social contract, powerful enough to match the potential of the new technologies being introduced into our lives. The extent to which we are able to do so, will largely determine whether we experience a new renaissance or a period of great social upheaval in the coming years. The twenty-first century will increasingly be characterized by a transition from mass to elite employment as more and more agricultural, manufacturing and service work is performed by intelligent technology. Based on current and projected trends, in the year 2050, less than five percent of the human population on earth, working with and alongside intelligent technology, will be required to produce all the goods and basic services needed by the human race.

Peter Drucker says quite bluntly that the disappearance of labor as a key factor of production is going to emerge as the critical unfinished business of capitalist society. It's not as if this is a revelation. For years futurists such as Alvin Toffler and John Naisbitt have lectured the rest of us, that, the end of the industrial age also means the end of mass production and mass labor. What they never mention is what 'the masses' should do after they become redundant. Up to now, productivity gains have been used primarily to enhance corporate profits, to the exclusive benefit of stockholders, top corporate managers and the emerging elite of high-tech knowledge workers. If that trend continues, the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots is likely to lead to social unrest, with more crime and violence.

Yet, its conventional wisdom that the new labor-saving technologies of the Information Age should be used to free us for greater leisure, not less pay and growing underemployment. Of course, employers argue that shortening the work week and sharing the productivity gains with workers will be too costly and will threaten their ability to compete both domestically and abroad. That need not be so, however, competitiveness currently equates to productivity, and that usually triggers the natural impulse for lay offs. As more and more workers are placed in temporary, part-time and contingent employment and experience a decline in wages, purchasing power diminishes. Even those workers with permanent jobs find their wages and benefits falling. The quickened pace of corporate re-engineering, technological displacement and declining income can then be seen in stagnant inventories and sluggish growth, which in turn set off a new spiral of re-engineering, technology displacement and wage cuts, further fueling the downward drift in consumption.

Today, millions of workers are leased out to employers by temporary and professional employment organizations, the so-called 'just in time' work force. Others who once enjoyed full time jobs with benefits are now working under short-term contracts or as consultants and freelancers. Thus, the second Achilles heel for employers in the emerging Information Age, and one rarely talked about, is the effect on capital accumulation when vast numbers of employees are reduced to contingent or temporary work and part-time assignments, or let go altogether, so that employers can avoid paying out benefits, especially pension-fund benefits. As it turns out pension funds have served as a forced savings pool that has financed capital investments for more than 40 years. If companies continue to marginalize their work forces and let large numbers of employees go, the capitalist system will slowly collapse on itself as it is drained of the pension funds necessary for new capital investments.

With the market economy less able to provide permanent jobs and with the government retreating from its traditional role of employer of last resort, the civil sector may be the best hope for absorbing displaced workers. The opportunity now exists to create millions of new jobs in the civil society. But freeing up the labor and talent of men and women no longer needed in the market and government sectors, for the creation of social capital in neighborhoods and communities, will cost money. The logical source for this money is the new Information Age economy; we should tax a percentage of the wealth generated by the new high-tech marketplace and redirect it into the creation of jobs in the nonprofit sector and the rebuilding of the social commons. This new agenda represents a powerful countervailing force to the new global marketplace

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The War On Democracy

Having travelled throughout Latin America for a year in 1984, the abiding memory of that time was the close similarities with South Africa. Similar societies ravaged by the same third world scourges of poverty, illiteracy and corruption. In addition these countries were also deeply scarred by military dictatorships, equally as venal as systemic apartheid. Much of what we know about our recent history is reflected in the political narrative of Latin America; many of our current challenges coincide and, hopefully, so will our future successes. John Pilger's latest film examines these issues and provides the customary fearless reportage:

Pilger wrote this about the film: The War On Democracy is my first film for cinema. It follows more than 55 documentary films for television, which began with The Quiet Mutiny, set in Vietnam. Most of my films have told stories of people's struggles against rapacious power and of attempts to subvert and control our historical memory. Described by Harold Pinter as a great silence unbroken by the incessant din of the media age, it assures the powerful in the west that the struggle of whole societies against their crimes is merely "superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged... It never happened. Even while it was happening it never happened. It didn't matter. It was of no interest".

Modern fictional cinema rarely seems to break political silences. The very fine Motorcycle Diaries was a generation too late. In this country, where Hollywood sets the liberal boundaries, the work of Ken Loach and a few others is an honourable exception. However, the cinema is changing as if by default. The documentary has returned to the big screen and is being embraced by the public, in the US and all over. They were still clapping Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 two months after it opened. Why? The answer is uncomplicated. It was a powerful film that helped people make sense of news that no longer made sense. It did not present the usual phoney "balance" as a pretence for presenting an establishment consensus. It was not riddled with the cliches, platitudes and power assumptions that permeate "current affairs". It was realist cinema, as important as The Grapes of Wrath was in the 1930s, and people devoured it.

The War On Democracy is not the same. It comes out of a British commercial television tradition that is too often passed over: the pioneering of bold factual journalism that treated other societies not as post-imperial curios, as useful or expendable to "us", but extraordinary and important in their own terms. These days, with misnamed "reality" programmes consuming much of television like a plague of cane toads, cinema has been handed a timely opportunity. Such are the dangers imposed on us all today by a rampant, neo-fascist superpower, and so urgent is our need for uncontaminated information that people are prepared to buy a cinema ticket to get it. The War On Democracy examines the false democracy that comes with western corporations and financial institutions and a war waged, materially and as propaganda, against popular democracy. It is the story of the people I first saw 40 years ago; but they are no longer invisible; they are a mighty political movement, reclaiming noble concepts distorted by corporatism and they are defending the most basic human rights in a war being waged against all of us.

In The War On Democracy, the camera sweeps across the Andes in Bolivia to the highest and poorest city on earth, El Alto, then follows Juan Delfin, a priest and a taxi driver, into a cemetery where children are buried. That Bolivia has been asset-stripped by multinational companies, aided by a corrupt elite, is an epic story described by this one man and this spectacle. That the people of Bolivia have stood up, expelled the foreign consortium that took their water resources, even the water that fell from the sky, is understood as the camera pans across a giant mural that Juan Delfin painted. This is cinema, a moving mural of ordinary lives and triumphs.

Monday, July 21, 2008

You Are What you Eat

On our planet, approximately 18% of the land mass is used for agricultural production. According to the ABIC Manifesto, this fraction cannot be increased substantially. It is absolutely essential, it claims, that the yield per unit of land increases beyond current levels given that: the human population is still growing, and will reach about nine billion by 2040; 70,000 km²'s of agricultural land are lost annually to growth of cities and other non-agricultural uses; consumer diets in developing countries are increasingly changing from plant-based proteins to animal protein, a trend that requires a greater amount of crop-based feeds. Hence the efforts, by the industrial farming lobby, for bio-engineered intervention.

Genetically modified (GM) foods, more accurately called genetically engineered foods, are foods that have had their DNA altered through genetic engineering. Unlike conventional genetic modification that is carried out through conventional breeding and that have been consumed for thousands of years, GE foods were first put on the market in the early 1990s. The first commercially grown genetically modified whole food crop was the tomato, which was made more resistant to rotting by Californian company Calgene. Calgene was allowed to release the tomatoes into the market in 1994 without any special labeling. It was welcomed by consumers that purchased the fruit at two to five times the price of regular tomatoes. The attitude towards GM foods would, however, be drastically changed after outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease weakened consumer trust in government regulators; and protesters rallied against the introduction of Monsanto's "Roundup-Ready" soybeans.

The next GM crops included insect-resistant cotton and herbicide-tolerant soybeans both of which were commercially released in 1996. GM crops have been widely adopted in the United States. They have also been extensively planted in several other countries (Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) where the agriculture is a major part of the total economy. Other GM crops include insect-resistant maize and herbicide-tolerant maize, cotton, and rapeseed varieties. Between 1995 and 2005, the total surface area of land cultivated with GMOs had increased by a factor of 50, from 17,000 km² (4.2 million acres) to 900,000 km² (222 million acres), of which 55 percent were Brazil.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimate that 75 percent of all processed foods in the U.S. contain a GM ingredient. In particular, Bt corn, which produces the pesticide within the plant itself is widely grown, as are soybeans genetically designed to tolerate glyphosate herbicides. These constitute "input-traits" are aimed to financially benefit the producers, have indirect environmental benefits and marginal cost benefits to consumers. In the US, by 2006 89% of the planted area of soybeans, 83 percent of cotton, and 61 percent maize was genetically modified varieties. Genetically modified soybeans carried herbicide tolerant traits only, but maize and cotton carried both herbicide tolerance and insect protection traits. In the period 2002 to 2006, there were significant increases in the area planted to Bt protected cotton and maize, and herbicide tolerant maize also increased in sown area. However, several studies have found that genetically modified varieties of plants do not produce higher yields than normal plants.

Some argue that there is more than enough food in the world and that the hunger crisis is caused by problems in food distribution and politics, not production, so people should not be offered food that may carry some degree of risk. Some opponents of current genetic engineering believe the increasing use of GM in major crops has caused a power shift in agriculture towards biotechnology companies, which are gaining more control over the production chain of crops and food, and over the farmers that use their products, as well. As a result non-aligned governments around the world started taking action. For example, in August 2003, Zambia cut off the flow of Genetically Modified Food from the UN's World Food Programme. Subsequently Hugo Chávez announced a total ban on genetically modified seeds in Venezuela, while the Hungarian government announced a ban on importing and planting of genetic modified maize seeds. In 2006, even American exports of rice to Europe were interrupted when much of the U.S. crop was confirmed to be contaminated with unapproved engineered genes.

Enforcement of patents on genetically modified plants is often contentious, especially because of gene flow. In 1998, 95% of about 10 km² planted with canola, by Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, were found to contain Monsanto's patented Roundup Ready gene although Schmeiser had never purchased seed from Monsanto. The initial source of the plants was undetermined, and could have been through either gene flow or intentional theft. However, the overwhelming predominance of the trait implied that Schmeiser must have intentionally selected for it. Although unable to prove direct theft, Monsanto sued Schmeiser for piracy since he knowingly grew Roundup Ready plants without paying royalties. The Canadian Supreme Court determined that Schmeiser had saved seed from areas on, and adjacent, to his property where Roundup had been sprayed, such as ditches and near power poles, and found in favour of Monsanto. Currently Percy Schmeiser spends a large amount of his time traveling and speaking about how Monsanto ruined his career as a farmer.

India, for example, has one of the most sophisticated Laws of Biosafety in the world. The Environmental Protection Act is science based, public interest oriented legislation created long before the commercialization of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and crops and long before the International Biosafety Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity came into force. The genetic engineering industry, in particular Monsanto, which controls 95% of all GM seeds sold worldwide, first tried to by pass India's Biosafety Law when it started field trials without approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, the statutory body for Biosafety regulation. That is why when Monsanto started field trials of Bt. Cotton in 1997-98, without approval they initiated a case in the Supreme Court of India to challenge the illegal trials. As a result commercialization of Bt. Cotton was delayed up to 2002.

The resultant legislation proposed by the Indian Government points at a significant shift on this issue. Instead of the current multi-ministerial committee, all powers for decision making will be concentrated in one individual who will be a biotechnologist, with skills in genetic engineering but expertise in biosafety. The proposed authority is thus centralized, individualistic, biased in favour of genetic engineering and, hence, will lend itself to easy influence by the genetic engineering industry. The Indian public cannot have confidence in such an undemocratic institution, designed to support an industry that has done everything in the last decade to undermine citizens rights and the public interest. This is a direct attempt to replace India's excellent Biosafety Law with industry friendly legislation, and to replace biosafety with biotechnology.

In a world currently reeling under massive food price hikes, the correlation seems almost too obvious to be believed. Access to affordable food has once more become a political lever; as witnessed by the plethora of food subsidies, market access regulations, production legislation and distribution agreements. Some 230 years ago, give or take, the hereditary privilege of European royalty was swept aside by the agrarian class; their impetus being starvation, despite being the producers of their nations' food. Those that seek control of the means by which humans feed themselves, will do well to heed the lessons of history.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Quotation Nation

"And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it, and reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it." — Bob Dylan

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

The 'father of the nation' is 90 years old today. As tributes pour in from all corners of the globe, we're reminded again of the truly iconic nature of the man-myth that's Nelson Mandela. Richly deserving of this universal admiration, and adoration, Mandela has received more than one hundred awards over four decades; most notably the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela himself argues that "I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances." In the revolution led by Mandela to transform a nation of racial division and oppression into an open democracy, he demonstrated that he didn't flinch from taking up arms; but his real qualities came to the fore after his time as an activist, during his 27 years in prison and in the eight years since his release, when he had to negotiate the challenge of turning the myth into a man.

Since the day he was released from prison, along every inch of the way, Mandela had to win the support of his own followers. More difficult still was the process of allaying white fears. But the patience, the wisdom, the visionary quality Mandela brought to his struggle, and above all the moral integrity with which he set about to unify a divided people; resulted in the country's first democratic elections and his selection as President. The road since then has not been easy. Tormented by the scandals that pursued his wife Winnie, from whom he finally parted; plagued by corruption among his followers; dogged by worries about delivering on programs of job creation and housing in a country devastated by greed, he has become a sadder, wiser man.

In the process he has undeniably made mistakes, based on a stubborn belief in himself. Yet his stature and integrity remain such that these failings tend to enhance rather than diminish his humanity. Mandela proves through his own example that faith, hope and charity are qualities attainable by humanity as a whole. Through his willingness to walk the road of sacrifice, he has reaffirmed our common potential to move toward a new age. And, yet, he is not deluded by the adulation of the world. Asked to comment on the BBC's recent unflattering verdict of his performance as a leader, Mandela said with a smile, "It helps to make you human."

With so much having been written about the man, the best insights can, perhaps, be gleaned from his 'lesser' successes rather than his iconic triumphs. Nowhere is this more evident than in his mediation on the Lockerbie issue. Mandela took a particular interest in helping to resolve the long-running dispute between Gaddafi's Libya, on the one hand, and the United States and Britain on the other, over bringing to trial the two Libyans who were indicted in November 1991 and accused of sabotaging Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed at the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, with the loss of 270 lives. As early as 1992, Mandela informally approached President George Bush with a proposal to have the two indicted Libyans tried in a third country. Bush reacted favourably to the proposal, as did President Mitterrand of France and King Juan Carlos of Spain. In November 1994, six months after his election as president, Mandela formally proposed that South Africa should be the venue for the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial.

However, British Prime Minister, John Major, flatly rejected the idea saying the British government did not have confidence in foreign courts. A further three years elapsed until Mandela's offer was repeated to Major's successor, Tony Blair, when the president visited London in July 1997. Later the same year, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Edinburgh in October 1997, Mandela warned: "No one nation should be complainant, prosecutor and judge." A compromise solution was then agreed for a trial to be held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, governed by Scottish law, and Mandela began negotiations with Gaddafi for the handover of the two accused (Megrahi and Fhimah) in April 1999.

At the end of their nine-month trial, the verdict was announced on 31 January 2001. Fhimah was acquitted but Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to 27 years in a Scottish jail. Megrahi's initial appeal was turned down in March 2002, and former president Mandela went to visit him in Barlinnie prison on 10 June 2002. "Megrahi is all alone", Mandela told a packed press conference in the prison's visitors room. "He has nobody he can talk to. It is psychological persecution that a man must stay for the length of his long sentence all alone. It would be fair if he were transferred to a Muslim country, and there are Muslim countries which are trusted by the West. It will make it easier for his family to visit him if he is in a place like the kingdom of Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt."

Megrahi was subsequently moved to Greenock jail and is no longer in solitary confinement. On 28 June 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission concluded its three-year review of Megrahi's conviction and, believing that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, referred the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal for a second appeal. Fifteen years on from his initial involvement, Mandela's moral stature is bringing closure to the victims and reintegration into the world community of a country previously described as a rogue state. Mandela has frequently credited Mahatma Gandhi for being a major source of inspiration in his life, both for the philosophy of non-violence and for facing adversity with dignity. In the Lockerbie case it lives on as inescapable fact.

In the twilight years of his life, Nelson Mandela occupies his days as a celebrated elder statesman who continues to voice his opinion on topical issues. On 18 July 2007, he together with Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu convened a group of world leaders in Johannesburg to contribute their wisdom and independent leadership to address the world's toughest problems. They announced the formation of this new group, The Elders, in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday. Archbishop Tutu will serve as the Chair of The Elders. The founding members of this group also include Graça Machel, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson and Muhammad Yunus. "This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken", Mandela commented. "Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair."

Since his retirement, one of Mandela's primary commitments has been to the fight against AIDS. In 2003, he had already lent his support to the 46664 AIDS fundraising campaign, named after his famous prison number. Tragically his own son, Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS in 2006; prompting Mandela to make a heroic admission regarding his son's struggle against the disease, still a taboo subject in African culture due to it's social stigma. In recent years, Mandela spoke out less often on international and domestic issues, sometimes leading to criticism for not using his influence to greater effect. No doubt this will bring a chuckle and a brief shake of the grey, but still so wise head. Like all fathers he must marvel, and despair in turn, at the antics of his children. Hamba gahle baba.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Real Utopia

Below is an excerpt from the book: "What Is Real Utopia?" by Chris Spannos. The book is a collective effort to spell out vision and strategy for a feasible and desirable transformation of society's defining institutions. It offers institutional and social vision for the economy, the polity, kinship relations, culture, community and the environment. There are chapters on how these transformations may affect daily life in art, architecture, technology, cities, and education. The hope for the book is that it inspires others to build upon, refine, advocate and work to realize the ideas presented in its pages; including belief in a new society that is classless, self-managing, diverse, and participatory.

Utopias have a long, mixed history in Left movements. Sometimes they have propelled our imagination toward what better worlds might look like. Other times they have trumpeted heaven on earth, a world for angels rather than mortals, a far fetched leap to the impossible, where birds can play guitar and human beings are able to flap their arms to fly. Utopia, the word, has its origins in Greek, meaning nowhere, suggesting that it doesn't - and maybe cannot - exist. Still, it has been conceived as an island perfectly designed in all ways societal and moral, and an ideal place or state of being where no wrong can be done. Where utopia offers vision escaping reality it has rightly been rejected by serious Leftists. But even when vision is not pie in the sky, objections are made that any long-term goals can become a blueprint that carries inherent danger of authoritarianism with people reacting as spellbound children naively following the Pied Piper. In this book, we hope to transcend all such problems by drawing from history and real-world conditions, offering vision and strategy for what is possible in transforming society's defining institutions and in revolutionizing human existence in all spheres of life.

"Another world is possible!" does not have to be a vague claim never solidifying compelling visions of a better world, nor a demand glossing over the structural roots of capitalism, patriarchy, racism, imperialism, and un-sustainability. Instead we need and should want convincing vision and strategy that reaches into the roots of today's problems and seeks to replace them with emancipatory alternatives. We hope to leave behind our forbearers' baggage but carry forward their wisdom and courage. Our efforts are made easier by both the gains previous struggles have won as well as their previous failures. When looking back, we only need to turn to a period as recent as last century when movements that sought to change the world were predominantly concerned with class struggle and transformation of the economic system. Class was considered by many as the lone focus that could yield progressive social change. This conception was held by many on the Left and articulated primarily by orthodox Marxists. And though the 60s and 70s saw the emergence of "neo-Marxists," even these variations on Marxism still emphasized a core of economics with class struggle being the driving force of history and society.

In the last third of the 20th Century many social movements arose whose principle concerns were in other spheres of social life including the women's and gay liberation movements, and the civil rights and Third World national liberation struggles. These movements did not fit so easily into Marxist conceptual frameworks, at least not without considerable overhaul, with results yielding something little resembling the old Marxism. For those of us concerned with societal transformation and emancipation, the best of these New Left efforts yielded new social formations, experiences, and insights which some in turn used to inform their vision and strategy. The worst of this period, despite being rightly disillusioned with deterministic and mechanical approaches toward social change, wrongly jettisoned emancipatory aspirations and attempts to seek out understandings guiding us to a better future; and in some cases even consciously rejected truth, reason, and rationality, claiming these concepts were actually part of the problem (post-modernism).

This conceptual re-working, largely a response to overly mechanical and economistic approaches of the past, offers today's movements insight to draw from; however, we should avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel made their own contribution where they first outlined their proposal for a three-class analysis introducing what they call the "Coordinator Class. The Coordinator Class is positioned above workers who do rote and un-empowering tasks, who want higher wages, better working conditions, more control over their work, etc.; and below capitalists who own the means of production and want to lower wages while extracting more labor and progressively weaken the bargaining power of workers in order to gain more profit. On the one hand, coordinators have authority and power over workers. They do mostly empowering and conceptual work, and so benefit from their elite position. On the other hand, workers below them do mostly rote and executionary work. This matters, not only in the unjust distribution of desirable work, but also in so far as the kinds of work we do help shape and inform our skills and capacities for decision-making and participation both in our work places as well as in the institutions of society more broadly. Putting a three-class analysis in the conceptual tool box of today's social movements is only one of the many tasks critical to developing widely shared vision and strategy for the kind of classless and participatory society proposed in this book.

There is also another difference today that makes having widely shared vision and strategy for a new world necessary. Here in the U.S., across North America, Western Europe, and in many parts of the world, the passion for radical societal transformation is not present in our social movements. We are not excited about the prospects of human liberation, of fundamentally altering society's core defining institutions—of Revolution. Where is this passion among today's movements? Does the international anti-corporate globalization movement have a widely shared desire not only to fundamentally transform corporate hierarchies, markets, class structures, and property relations, but also to develop complimentary vision and strategy regarding emancipatory transformation in other spheres of life? Where is this desire among our anti-war, labor, or other social movements? Does anyone believe, as they should, that we can transcend the policies and institutions which warp our society in racist, sexist, and classist ways?

To illustrate the point, consider Venezuela. The Venezuelan population is excited about the massive structural reforms leading them to more control over the institutions which affect their lives. Nobody knows where it will lead. It could all unravel and fall apart next month. But right now Venezuelans are aroused about the possibility of winning a new society. It is not just in Venezuela, but wherever structural transformation empowers the population hopes and desires surface. Passion seemingly deepens and spreads as moves toward empowerment and structural change deepen and spread. Venezuelans believe they can win. Our own efforts should also propose vision and strategy able to inspire our movements so that we too believe we can win, one of the many reasons for Real Utopia.

Our vision and strategy should inform our understanding of who the agents of social change are, what guides and shapes them, and not send us down a century long dead end. Looking back, the predominant view among Left movements of the 20th Century was historical materialism, that class struggle was the lone driving force shaping history, society, and people. We want our vision and strategy to incorporate a modern understanding of class struggle, enriching the insights of class analysis, but also accounting for other factors that shape people and society. Therefore this book aspires to present vision for all spheres of a future participatory society on equal footing.

To contrast, a monist approach would look at one sphere of society and attribute primary importance to how that sphere affects the rest of social life. Someone looking at the economy might say we need to focus on class struggle because it is the primary force affecting all other spheres—gender, cultural, political relations, and so on. Alternatively, someone looking at power and culture would use a pluralist approach combining the political and cultural spheres seeing authoritarianism and racism as the primary forces shaping society. The same pluralist approach could be applied again using any other two focuses, say kinship and economics, to see class struggle and patriarchy as the determining factors shaping society. A third approach, and the one guiding this book, argues for a complimentary and holistic orientation which does not assume the primary dominance of any of the spheres over any of the others, but instead seeks to understand how parts of the whole are interdependent and relate to one another. It understands that a variety of interactions among the different spheres can occur and that careful observation and assessment will often reveal differing results from society to society.

Part 1 of this book, "Defining Spheres of a Participatory Society," opens with by outlining Participatory Economics, explaining briefly how parecon handles production, consumption, and allocation, where it comes from, and its implications for today. Next comes the model of "ParPolity," a political system designed as a nested council structure complimentary to parecon handling disputes, lawmaking, adjudication, legislation, and society's political matters more broadly. Further vision is offered for kinship in a better world; in particular ideas about family, sexuality, and caregiving. "Polyculturalism" is the subject of an essay, where the author explores possible interactions between different cultures and identities in accordance with the principles of participatory society. This section wraps with an interview about how a participatory economy would handle ecological considerations in a sustainable and judicious way.

Parts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 deal with "Revolutionizing Everyday Life" e.g. what a self-managed city might look like as well as strategic implications. Technology and civil engineering of the new society is explored. A wide array of international movements and assessments of revolutionary possibilities opening the 21st Century follow. Africa's post-colonial theory and development is examined; which discusses the implications of pan-Africanism, black nationalism, black Marxism, and more generally the relationship between race, class, and gender for vision and strategy in Africa. Finally, Real Utopia closes with a section titled: "Moving Toward a Participatory Society". It covers today's youth movement, this century's SDS, and the strategic relation between theory and practice. It explores the potential of assembly organizing as a strategic vehicle for emancipation. The final chapter in this section, and of the entire book, presents ten claims about the vision and strategy of participatory economics and the implications for building a "ParEcon Movement." Finally, it is my hope that this book will contribute to the growth and development of a movement aspiring to win a participatory society in this century.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Paulo Coelho Project

MySpace is collaborating with best-selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho to make a user-generated movie of his book The Witch of Portobello. Users can submit videos focusing on one of the book's characters to MySpaceTV or Coelho's MySpace page (, and up to 15 winning submissions will be molded into a video "mash-up" called "The Experimental Witch." Users can also submit songs for a soundtrack to the film, with up to 16 selected for the project.

Coelho, speaking from Paris in a conference call with reporters, said that his agent has been approached by "quite a few people" interested in buying the finished product for a 52-minute TV film. No decision on final distribution of the project has been reached, though. Witch is not the only Coelho title that will get a film treatment. Last month, it was announced that his 1988 novel The Alchemist would be made into a $60 million-plus film produced by Harvey Weinstein for the Weinstein Co. and starring, directed and produced by Laurence Fishburne.

Coelho, the Guinness World Record-holder for the most translated living author, said that Witch would be the only project that he's doing with his readers, though. "I don't have any sort of idea of what's going to happen," Coelho said, "which makes the project much more interesting. Submissions for the project, which will be promoted in 20 countries, will begin on June 16 and close on July 25, with winners to be announced on August 24. Coelho said that winning filmmakers would receive a reward of 3,000 euros ($4,638). Coelho communicates with his readers via his MySpace page and he said he finds the service "addicting."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

T-Shirt Of The Month Club

Free Eckart Tolle Seminar

"Mastering Eckart Tolle's The Power of Now", is a free webinar (web seminar) on this seminal work. The course material is based on downloadable podcasts and PDF's, featuring some of today's foremost spiritual thinkers. Registration is completely free, but numbers are limited and subject to a first-come-first-served basis.