Coincidentia Oppositorum: The Evolution of Humanity Through the Unity of Opposites
This piece serves as a basic outline of my revolutionary spiritual political philosophy. It was written in late 2016 as a submission for a school political magazine which was unfortunately never published due to budgetary issues. I've decided to publish it here in celebration of May Day 2017. This is the single longest piece of written work I've put out to date; I assure you it's well-worth the time.
NOTE: In place of the conventional but overly wordy “He or She / Him or Her,” this piece uses gender neutral “S/he / Hir” pronouns to refer to any nonspecific individual.
"Truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two." --Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
"Our uniqueness is real on one level, but on another level, it's fairly illusory. It's sort of a coincidentia oppositorum, you have to hold these two antithetical things in your mind at once in order to correctly perceive the proper level of ambiguity that's resident in reality. It ain't simple, folks." --Terence McKenna
I begin here with a statement you're unlikely to hear from the divisive ideologues who tend to dominate modern political discourse.
Both the Right-wing emphasis on the significance of personal responsibility and the Left-wing emphasis on the significance of oppressive social systems are important and righteous.
It is a major misconception of our culture's dominant ideology to imagine that the two are opposites in constant conflict, when in reality, Self and Other are two inseparable aspects of the same phenomenon, like wave and ocean, cloud and sky, or leaf and tree. Both an individual's personal choices and the larger social system in which they are made are essential in determining the destiny of that individual. The Self, by its very nature, has an individual as well as a collective aspect. It is a persistent illusion of our minds, indoctrinated by our confused culture, that our identity as “this particular person” is more important, greater, or more real than our identities as the human species, the animal kingdom, life itself and the earth which gives rise to it. This cultural error in understanding is a consequence of a broken system which creates economic incentives for each of us to prioritize the needs and wants of the individual self over those of the collective or universal self, inevitably cutting each of us off from a major component of our own identities, and leaving us feeling alienated, isolated, lonely, and incomplete.
While each of us shapes hir identity and decides what to make of hir life with hir own decisions, the choices we are able to decide from are provided to each of us by the world. And though each present decision affects which choices we will have in the future, the legacy of past decisions the world made for us (as well as decisions the world continues to make for us in the present and into the future) is never entirely overwritten. Classism, Racism, Sexism, Ableism and other patterns of collective perception and subsequent behavior will always have a certain incontrovertible effect on each of us. Even if we do not directly suffer from them or enact their violence upon others, our experience of and behavior in the world are still, one way or another, affected by their coexistence here with us.
Despite this, in some cases, the individual can in hir conscious decisions exercise a capacity to transcend, or at least not to be entirely defined by these influences. With the right awareness, willpower, and a bit of luck, a white person indoctrinated with racist ideology can unlearn it and choose to think and act differently than hir unconscious biases would incline hir. Under similar conditions, a black person prevented from liberty and success by institutional discrimination can likewise find a way, however challenging, to some acceptable degree of freedom and prosperity.
Here's another surprise cutting through the veil of the mainstream political culture's false dichotomies:
Both the Right-wing view of government and the Left-wing view of business are correct.
The government and private business are two aspects of the same oppressive entity-- capital. Almost every elected official is friends or family with, as well as heavily funded by, the ultra-rich members of the business elite, and many are themselves former or future employees and bosses of big business. There is effectively no difference between the two. Government is a huge corporation; corporations are miniature governments. The same elite caste of modern nobles and aristocrats controls both, each with the same goals: increasing their personal power and making more money (though distinct, the two go hand in hand; more money grants more power, and more power makes it easier to make more money).
As was mentioned previously, our present social and economic system is founded on the principle that each individual satisfy hirself, even (and so, often) at the expense of other individuals in hir collective. This is of course essentially impossible, as the individual self can never find true, *complete* satisfaction outside of its connection to its collective complement (not to say that satisfaction is found by seeking others' approval, but rather that it is found in a self-respect which is intrinsically incomplete if it is not based in one's contribution to the happiness of others in at least equal measure to the happiness of oneself). Despite this, however, the human mind is so powerful and convincing that most of us go our whole lives chasing impossible things and making ourselves believe we're happy with it without ever questioning the fundamental ideological basis of our neurotic and self-defeating behavior.
Many argue that the selfish impulse guiding this system, and the resultant abuses by the powerful people in government and business towards the less-powerful people they (purportedly) represent and employ, is an inherent consequence of human nature. Reviewing this argument in light of the interdependence of self and other, it is clear that this is an incomplete analysis. Yes, self-interest is a primary driving force of human behavior, and a system which subordinates the needs of the self to those of the other would be no more rational or satisfying for anyone involved than one which does the opposite. However, the reason why self-interest has become so paramount in human society is not because it is inherently more powerful in human beings than empathy and compassion, but because we have continually allowed our state-of-being and behavior to be defined by ancestral traumas which no longer need affect us.
Our cavewo/man very-great grandparents did not have the global society and technological advances necessary for humanity to cooperatively produce and distribute the goods needed for our survival. They lived in a much more dangerous and uncontrolled world where it was often necessary to put oneself before others in order to survive. Though our circumstances have changed, we still carry with us their inflated self-preservation drives, walking around all tensed-up through our lives as if a saber-tooth tiger might still appear around any corner; this irrational tension and distrust of life is reflected in a larger system of resource distribution carried out primarily by competition, as if there still weren't enough to go around. Of course, there is nothing wrong with competition in itself-- in fact, competition is often a fun and healthy motivation for individuals or teams to excel at a given task-- but members of a humane society should only be competing for extras, not basic needs. Olympians compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals, not for the simple right to live, as we must do in our current system.
So here's where our previous symmetry breaks down. Left-wing philosophies identify this malignant social and economic system as capitalism. Right-wing philosophies have no such analysis (I include here nominally “Left-wing” pro-capitalist ideologies such as liberalism and progressivism, which critique capitalism's more blatant consequences without attacking their systemic origin), or instead diagnose the problem as “crony capitalism,” “unfettered capitalism,” “corporatism” etc. I will address these analyses shortly, but first, a basic explanation of what exactly capitalism is...
Capitalism may be defined briefly as a socioeconomic system or mode of production under which state-enforced property rights legislate that most of the resources and tools necessary for producing goods (in Marxist terms, the means of production or capital) are to be owned privately, rather than shared as a common heritage of humankind (as we do with roads, tap water, library books, public parks, etc.). Under these circumstances, those who do not own such means (workers) are compelled to sell their ability to labor upon those resources with those tools to produce goods for the profit of the owners (capitalists). Workers may have a (limited) choice of which capitalist enterprise to sell their labor power to, but without capital, they must submit to wage labor, or starve. Even though the workers are the ones who actually do the work involved in creating the capitalist's products, the capitalist exerts total authoritarian control over what work they do and how they do it, and keeps for hirself most of the profit that their work generates.
Now, some will argue that this is the capitalist's right, as s/he must have had to work hard in order to acquire ownership of capital to begin with. This might be true, at least for the first few rounds of the capitalist game, if we had started out on a level playing field (which we didn't; America for example was built on genocidal invasion, illegal settlement, and slave labor). But a curious byproduct of this arrangement, which many capitalist apologists miss, is that owning a significant amount of capital makes it vastly easier to maintain ownership of capital, and to acquire more capital. Once you own the means of producing goods, you can make much more money than those who do not, much faster, by paying them as little as possible to do the work for you (see, for example, Walmart raking in massive profits while paying its employees so little they need food stamps to survive). You can then use that money to buy up more resources and tools, which will allow you to make even more money, even faster. You can also use the social influence that comes with money to push for, or even personally enact government policies that make it even easier for you and your friends to make money!
It is also important to note that the majority of capitalists' profits come from purchases by the very worker class whose labor builds their products. For a worker, this means that after giving capitalists most of the value of hir labor, and then paying them yet more for food, shelter, clothing, and maybe a few goodies here and there, s/he is left with next-to-nothing to show for hir efforts, and very little chance of saving up to buy some capital of hir own. In some jobs a worker can labor for years making a certain product hundreds, or even thousands of times before s/he saves enough to buy a single one of the products, much less the expensive tools s/he made them with. Thus, capital ownership creates a feedback loop in which the more you have, the more quickly and easily you can gain more, or, as the saying goes, “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.”
Most rich people today inherited their wealth and maintain it by exploiting this feedback loop, not by any kind of “hard work” or “business smarts.” Donald Trump is an excellent example of someone who inherited a fortune and remains very wealthy despite next-to-no hard work and repeated business failures. The man would be richer today if he'd just thrown his inheritance in an index fund, and yet he's still rich enough to shit in a solid gold toilet. A lucky few may be able to penetrate the ranks of the rich through long-term wage labor and smart savings, but by the very design of the system it is impossible for most people to do this, no matter how skillful, intelligent or capable they are.
In addition, the profit-competition driving capitalism means that all businesses operating in it must, much like a cancer or a virus, constantly strive to grow and increase their profits regardless of the effects on the larger economy. The value of money in a monetary-market system is not absolute, but relative. If you're in a room with ten other people and you have $100 and everyone else has $25 each, you are the richest and have the most control over the others, who must compete with one another for portions of your $100. But if you're in that same room, with that same $100, except now, out of the other ten people, one has $200 and the rest have $5 or $6, you've fallen behind in proportional wealth and power without losing a single dollar. Therefore, under capitalism, if you're not making money, you're losing money. This leads to countless businesses using advertisements to create an artificial demand for cheap crap that no one really needs (see your local dollar store, infomercials, and really most commercials in general lol) because they need to turn a profit, and what is most profitable is by no means always what is most needed.
It has become highly taboo in our society to directly criticize this particular -ism. It was not always this way, but after World War II, the threat to the economic interests and power of the controllers of our society represented by the rising tide of socialism became so great that they were forced to launch a propaganda campaign (through the politicians they fund and the media corporations they own) characterizing not only socialism, but any challenge whatsoever to the capitalist power-structure as authoritarian, anti-liberty, and intrinsically destructive. While the unexpected success of Bernie Sanders' presidential candidacy has significantly reduced the taboo against discussing alternative modes of production with its open use of the word “socialism," and while most of us today recognize the excessive and irrational nature of the “Red Scare,” its effects still have not faded entirely from our culture.
A great many, especially in America, the global capital of global capital (that is, the world headquarters of the international capitalist system-- sorry, couldn't resist the wordplay), believe that no alternative could ever work, or that the establishment is too powerful to be conquered. Some imagine that capitalism can only be overcome through a long, multigenerational process of gradual, incremental reforms. As I mentioned previously, others attempt to reconcile the obvious failures of capitalism with their culture's insistence on its virtues by claiming that the flaws of capitalism are in fact a result of “crony capitalism,” “unchecked” or “laissez-faire” capitalism, and so on. This incomplete analysis fails to recognize that incentives for cronyism, deregulation, and the concentration of capital into corporations are all built into the fundamental structure of capitalism itself.
Capitalism is a game where the goal is to amass as much material wealth as possible. The more material wealth you control, the more power you have to shape society; action follows money. So if you have a lot of money and want to make more (and you do, because if you don't, you're falling behind), it is in your interests to corporatize and to invest in corrupting governments and regulatory agencies to push for policies that make it easier for you to make a greater profit. These behaviors are not aberrant products of individual greed; they are incentivized by the very structure of the system. The problem is not a few greedy people who need to be punished. The problem is that capitalism encourages and rewards greed.
We have seen over and over through history that eventually all government attempts to regulate and reform capitalism are gradually chipped away and rolled back by big money; a great many of the social programs, regulations, and other policies put into place by FDR's New Deal after the Great Depression were repealed, neutered, defunded, or inadequately followed-up-on through the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations. An illustrative example is Clinton's repeal of The Glass-Steagall Act, once again allowing banks to merge their commercial and investment operations, a major precursor of the 2008 crash. Even if we could somehow establish regulations and social safety-nets which could be guaranteed against eventual repeal, this might actually be more harmful in the long run, as it would do nothing to address the problem of the capitalist mode of production's foundational exploitative relationship between capitalist and worker (in which capitalists steal the majority of the value of workers' labor). The New Deal itself, after all, was heavily influenced and pushed for by business leaders who feared a potential system-change if something was not done to appease suffering workers during the Great Depression.
Besides the straight-up pro-capitalists, the reformists, and the “prefix-capitalism” fence-riders, a growing number of people recognize capitalism's fundamental flaws, but fear to lose credibility in the eyes of its defenders should they speak out too strongly. Members of these and other pro-capitalist camps will often insultingly characterize anti-capitalists as “utopians;” they claim that those pushing for systematic change are naïve idealists who don't understand the practical limitations of the world we live in. But what is truly utopian, naïve, and impractical is to imagine that capitalism can go on indefinitely! Every past empire has fallen, and this one is clearly on its way out, with continual economic crises creating worse conditions and greater mistrust of the system. Even if this were not so, however, the most utopian and irrationally idealistic aspect of this way of thinking is its refusal to recognize that humanity simply cannot afford to keep going on this way. Why is this?
2015 was globally the hottest year ever recorded. July and August 2016 tied for the title of hottest month ever recorded. While there have always been changes in the average global temperature over time, such changes have never, ever happened anywhere near as quickly as the increase we've seen since shortly after the Industrial Revolution (you know, when we started digging tons of oil and coal out of the ground and burning it all as fast as we could and just kept on digging up and burning more and more of it faster and faster ever since), and none of them have ever taken us quite this high. If this trend continues, the earth will be too hot to sustain human life within a few centuries. Even if we slow it down or start to reverse it, we've already fucked up so bad that there will definitely be some terrible consequences within our lifetime. We're already seeing some consequences in the form of more frequent and worse droughts and heatwaves and super-storms and hurricanes, as well as the rapid dying-off of many animal populations whose habitats have been radically altered by the sudden change.
While many remain willfully ignorant to the fact that such a crisis is at hand, most of the rising generation is well aware of the severe and imminent threat posed by climate change to human life. But even among those who are aware of it, most do not realize just how extensive the problem is and how deeply and widely its roots reach. The problem here is twofold: the more-widely-recognized ecological crisis and the less-discussed energy crisis. While we're destroying our environment by releasing increasing amounts of toxic fumes into the air by burning oil & coal (as well as by tearing up the earth digging for them in the first place, plus spilling oil in the ocean and into underground water reserves regularly), we're also running out of the fuel needed to sustain our present lifestyles, and not developing replacement fuel sources quickly enough. Our energy use is on a trend of exponential growth, meaning that not only does our amount of energy use increase every year, the size of that annual increase also increases. Even our most optimistic predictions don't see any combination of the possible replacement sources (solar, wind, geothermal, tidal) as capable of keeping up the level of energy demand we're projected to need if we wish to continue going on doing things the way we've been doing them.
Now, why exactly is it that our current society requires so much energy that we need to destroy the goddamn planet in order to produce it? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the profit motive leads to a consumer culture in which companies endlessly churn out useless garbage to make a quick buck, and in which they do so at an ever-increasing rate in order to keep up with the growth of everyone else. If we want any real hope of stopping or reversing our ecological and energy crises, we need to abolish these systematic incentives for wasting tons and tons of energy (as well as for choosing cheaper and more easily available, but also more environmentally destructive energy sources like oil, coal, and natural gas over more short-term-expensive but safer and more renewable sources like solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy) and replace them with incentives for conservation, renewability, sustainability, and efficiency. The only way to do this fast enough to keep the planet habitable for human beings past the next century or two is by abolishing and replacing capitalism.
So, if you've followed me so far, capitalism is harmful to the human spirit by enforcing an unnecessary and painful division between self and other, or individual and collective, as well as by slowly but surely transforming our beautiful and abundant planet into an uninhabitable hellscape. We are guaranteed to run out of the fuel needed to keep going on this way, technology is rapidly replacing the need for human labor, and the economy keeps on crashing without ever quite getting back to the same level of functionality as before. So instead of being starry-eyed, utopian idealists, let's start thinking rationally about what the future system is going to look like, and let's start building the framework for it in the world as soon as possible.
A social and economic system which satisfies both the individual and collective aspects of The Self equally is what is necessary for the establishment of true human happiness. It cannot be said for certain exactly what this system will look like; the future is always far too vaguely connected to the present and past, and composed of far too many unmeasurable variables for it to be predicted in exact detail. It is therefore important for the modern revolutionary to avoid becoming too committed to and caught up in the specific dogmatic demands and prescriptions of any particular ideology, political or otherwise. But in general, one would imagine that such a system would be more socialist in character (social-ist, meaning centered on, guided by, and in the interests of society, as opposed to the primacy of capital under capital-ism).
While capitalist propagandists insist on defining socialism as a top-down, authoritarian government ownership of the means of production (ironic, since they don't seem to mind the workplace dictatorship of owners and bosses under capitalism), it is in actuality better understood as a system in which workers themselves democratically control these means for their own individual and collective benefit as well as that of their community, rather than for the irrational and insatiable profit-hunger of an elite capitalist class. This need not involve any loss of incentive or unfairness; in fact, by making workers themselves the owners of their work, giving them agency and a real personal stake in their enterprise beyond the wage they take home, there will be a much greater and more fulfilling incentive to deliver a product or service they can be proud of. Instead of just reluctantly going to work because they have to, like most workers do under capitalism, workers under a socialist mode of production eagerly enter a workplace where they have a real voice, like shareholders in their own company.
Such a system must be developed simultaneously from the inside out and from the outside in. This system's crude philosophy of I-over-Us is not only playing out on the grand scale, in interactions between people in the world; it has plunged its roots deep into the psyche of each individual, creating a similar dynamic in the individual's internal relationship to hirself.
The average individual lives with a neurotic, false self-control by which s/he is compelled to deny aspects of hirself which s/he does not understand or know how to integrate into hir personality. In the course of hir life s/he suffers traumas; s/he finds hirself doing things s/he knows s/he shouldn't, and experiences things too shocking and terrible to immediately understand. From hir diseased culture s/he learns to repress and hide from these wounds rather than to face them up-front and attempt to put them into the necessary context and perspective through which they can be resolved. S/he develops an artificial self-image, known in many philosophies and psychological systems as the “ego,” which excludes all of these undesirable, “other” aspects of hirself, and when thoughts and feelings from the resulting traumatized and confused sub-personalities arise from hir unconscious mind where they've been buried, s/he rejects them through psychological violence, refusing to acknowledge their internal origin or their unconscious effect on hir behavior, and wiping their occurrence from hir memory. S/he focuses on short-term instant gratification at the expense of hir future self, disidentifying with the person who s/he shall become just as s/he disidentifies with most of who s/he is deep inside, and just as s/he disidentifies outwardly with most of the other members of hir society.
This individualized system of authoritarian control within the psyche is a fractal reflection and spiritual sibling of the capitalist mode of production, in which the capitalist, akin to the ego-self, exerts absolute control over the abused and distraught workers, dismissing their suffering and their needs for vindication as invalid, “not my problem,” “their own fault.” As the oppression of the masses leads to strife, crime, and violence in the background of the false happiness of the isolated billionaire in hir gated mansion of many possessions and far-too-little soul, so too does the ego's repression of the unconscious, in Jungian terms, shadow aspects of the individual psyche breed a quiet internal pain, an unfillable void beneath the self-assured surface consciousness which toys with the same obsessive thought-patterns and superficial distractions over and over, all the while cut off from its own soul by an anxious refusal to do the work necessary to heal it.
This is where that traditionally right-wing imperative for personal responsibility comes in. The socialist revolutions of the past, though not as entirely unsuccessful and oppressive as western propaganda has presented them, failed for other reasons than just their sabotage by the capitalist-imperialist power structure (though this certainly was a significant factor). Marx made excellent diagnoses of the problems of capitalism and strategies for overcoming it, but it is my view that he and many of his devotees failed to deeply consider the need for a complementary revolution in the consciousness of the people-- a revolution not only in their awareness of their systematic oppression, but one in deeper self-awareness and mental health.
We must, each of us, work before anything else on abolishing and replacing our own spiritual and psychological capitalism if we wish to make a genuine effort towards healing our world. This can be accomplished through a combination of many means, including depth psychology, meditation, yoga, various spiritual disciplines (with necessary caution against any rigid adherence to dogma and a healthy understanding of the highly relative, personal nature of any such system's truth and value), certain martial arts, psychedelic drug use, and more. This effort goes hand-in-hand with the more conventionally obvious revolution in consciousness in which we perpetually strive to enlighten ourselves to the workings and contradictions of the global capitalist system, as well as ways in which it can be resisted and transformed.
From there, there are many more things we can and must do to transform our broken and expiring socioeconomic system into one that supports and reinforces the personal well-being we strive for in our self-development strategies and spreads it out to all the world. First, we must spread critical awareness of the nature of both the external-material and internal-spiritual capitalist systems of control and exploitation to anyone and everyone in our lives capable of understanding, and educate those convinced in any measure of this critique's legitimacy and relevance on strategies of combating them. Then, we must enact these strategies in our lives.
Others have outlined a greater variety of approaches to revolutionary strategy than I myself have yet discovered or considered, and debates rage on regarding which are the most effective. The best set of strategies for you personally to undertake will come from your own research taken in light of your own particular abilities and predispositions, but here I will list a few basic ones I think can and should be applied fairly universally. These are not only ways of bringing about system-change, but also preparations for its inevitable arrival.
Limit your consumption. Don't give this system any more of your money or attention than you have to to survive. Don't engage in consumerism; it doesn't make you happy and it usually funds the effective slavery of dirt-poor workers in underdeveloped countries. When you must make purchases, try to choose products from local, small companies and companies that make their products more ethically than the standard (still, don't lose sight of the reality that exploitation-free goods and services simply do not and cannot exist in a capitalist economy). Buy used and secondhand goods if possible. Develop a self-sustaining lifestyle. Learn to produce your own food and energy; it won't be so easy to get your hands on either when the economy crashes again and a loaf of bread costs $1200. Plus, you'll be preparing for a future in which food and energy are produced within the communities that consume them (as you will when you purchase locally-produced goods). Practice & support collectivist modes of production. Thinking of starting a business? Make it a worker-owned cooperative. Make a habit of stopping by your local worker-coop market or restaurant rather than a supermarket or Applebee's. We don't have to wait for this system to collapse, we can and must begin building the new system right now.
Boycott the big banks. Put your money in a local bank or a credit union instead. Boycott mainstream news media. CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and all the rest of them collectively compose the propaganda wing of the capitalist state, and are full of lies, omissions, and misrepresentations of fact designed to support the agendas of the ultra-rich who run them. Get your news from a wide variety of independent and anti-capitalist news outlets such as Democracy Now!, The Intercept, Truthdig, Truthout, CounterPunch, Jacobin, Dissent Magazine, TeleSUR, Films for Action, The Anti-Media, Mint Press News, The Fifth Column, The Pontiac Tribune, and many others. Boycott oil, gas, & coal corporations. They are in the business of destroying the planet. Try to rely primarily on public transportation and renewable energy sources, or at the very least try to carpool. Boycott the police and the military, and heavily discourage anyone you know from joining either of them. Though most members of these organizations enter them with good intentions, they each serve primarily as defenders of the property of the wealthy, oppressors and murderers of the poor and marginalized, and enforcers of the capitalist order domestically and worldwide.
If possible, elect radical left-wing candidates at the local level. The larger political system in the US is designed to preserve capitalism, and therefore hopelessly rigged against any real change at the higher levels, but having elected officials on your side, at least locally, can certainly be useful for revolutionary purposes.
Finally, organize with other anti-capitalists and fighters for social justice. Protest injustice in the streets, and exchange ideas on resistance and revolutionary strategy. Don't give up hope, this system is guaranteed to fall. What will come next, however, is a matter of whether those who saw it coming were prepared with a safety net to catch civilization. If any readers would like any more resources for information about capitalism or ego and how to dismantle either, I would be happy to oblige at Pagano.J.Matt@gmail.com. Thanks for reading, and have a happy revolution.